Today’s selected reading is found in the first epistle of the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Corinth, and more specifically, is found in the first nine verses of the first chapter. This epistle is the first of two epistles the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Corinth and is perhaps one of my favorite epistles to read. If you read the first epistle of the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Corinth you will quickly discover that this was a church that not only possessed spiritual gifts. But also excelled in all spiritual gifts. In fact, one of the very first things you will learn and discover about the church in Corinth was that it was a church that could very well be described as a charismatic congregation. What is actually quite interesting when you consider this epistle from Paul unto this congregation is that while it was true this congregation was charismatic, they were also carnal in nature and practice. CHARISMATIC YET CARNAL! Please don’t miss that very important concept for it is absolutely possibly for an individual to be charismatic and yet be carnal in both nature and practice. It is possible for an individual to be gifted beyond measure in all spiritual gifts, and yet be in great need of correction from the Spirit of the living God. What’s more, is that if there is one thing I have learned from my own experiences in life, as well as my study of the word of God, it’s that gifts alone aren’t enough. While this church Abe congregation was praised for the spiritual gifts it possessed, there was absolutely no mention of the fruit of the Spirit being evident and even manifested among them within their lives. GIFTS ABSENT FRUIT! GIFTS MINUS FRUIT!
There is an underlying question I can’t help but ask when reading this particular epistle written unto the saints which were at Corinth. The question is simply this: Would you rather have gifts absent no evidence or manifestation of fruit, or would you rather have fruit? The tragic reality is that there are countless men and women who would rather have the gifts of the Spirit without, apart from, absent and independent of the fruit of the Spirit. I am convinced there are a number of men and women who are sacrificing and who have sacrificed the fruit of the Spirit on the altar of spiritual gifts. There are men and women who think and even believe that the gifts of the Spirit are sufficient enough for their Christian experience, and even for Christian service and ministry. The truth of the matter is that gifts alone aren’t even good enough for Christian service and Christian ministry. There are a number of men and women who are gifted with spiritual gifts and who are servicing in the ministry of the church, and yet their lives are completely absent the manifestation and reality of the fruit of the Spirit. Tell me—what good is a ministry that may be characterized by all manner of gifts and yet lacks the evidence and manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit? I am convinced that there are a number of men and women who play a very dangerous game and get themselves into a tremendous amount of trouble when they pursue ministry with the gifts alone and yet have absolutely no fruit. If I am being honest, the Old Testament king Saul was a perfect example of being gifted and being in a position of authority and leadership and yet not possessing the fruit necessary and required to remain in the place and position he was in. ANOINTED YET WITHOUT FRUIT!
Dis you know that it is possible to enter into and even engage in the ministry of the church and yet not possess the fruit necessary and required to remain within that position. I am convinced we would be absolutely and incredibly shocked if we were given a glimpse of just how many men and women in Christian leadership today arrived there they are because of the gifts they possess, and yet there is absolutely no evidence and/or manifestation of fruit within their lives. In all reality, I am convinced that that reality which truly highlights Christian ministry is not how gifted an individual might be, but whether or not that individual possesses the fruit of the Spirit. In fact, I would dare say that in many of our churches there is a growing perception that the Spirit of the living God is actually divided. Did you catch that? I suggested that in many of our churches within and throughout this nation that are presenting the reality that the Spirit of the living God is divided because of the ministry and practice that is present within their midst. What exactly do I mean by this? How on earth could I even suggest that there could even be a growing perception that the Spirit of the living God could be divided among us within our midst? Of course we know and understand that the Spirit of the sovereign God is not and could never be divided, however, the practice and presentation of ministry and Christian living within our churches seems to suggest otherwise. There is a passage that is found within this very same chapter within the first epistle of the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Corinth which actually helps us to gain an understanding concerning this growing presentation that the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is somehow divided. Please mark the words I am about to write and mark them well, for I am convinced there are a number of churches and congregations within and throughout this nation that are presenting a false reality that the Spirit of the living God is divided—a reality that is both dangerous in presentation and practice. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Corinth in the very next set of verses within this chapter:
“Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. IS CHRIST DIVIDED? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name. And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other” (1 Corinthians 1:10-16).
If you turn and direct your attention to the third chapter of this very same epistle, you will find yet another reference to this division and this schism the apostle Paul referenced within this epistle. Beginning with the first verse of the third chapter you read and find these words: “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planters any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planters and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:1-9).
Please don’t miss that which the apostle Paul was writing unto the saints which were at Corinth, for it speaks of and reveals something incredibly powerful that we must all be aware of within our own Christian circles and churches. Before we get into the presentation of the Spirit somehow being divided, it’s imperative that we highlight and underscore a very specific reality that is mentioned and found within this third chapter. If you read the first four verses of this particular chapter, you will find the apostle Paul declaring that he could not speak unto the saints which were at Corinth as spiritual, but as unto carnal, and even as babes in Christ. Pause for a moment and consider this reality, for while it was true of this congregation that they excelled in all spiritual gifts, they themselves were not spiritual. Is it possible that we can excel in all spiritual gifts and yet not be spiritual in nature, or perhaps even practice? The church at Corinth excelled in all spiritual gifts, and yet when the apostle Paul spoke to and addressed them, he could not speak unto them as spiritual, but as carnal, and even as babes in Christ. SPIRITUALLY. GIFTED, YET UNABLE TO BE REGARDED AS SPIRITUAL! SPIRITUALLY GIFTED, YET NOT BEING ABLE TO BE SPOKEN UNTO AS SPIRITUAL! Not only did the apostle Paul declare of this congregation that he could not speak unto them as spiritual, but that he could only speak unto them as carnal, and even that, as babes in Christ. The apostle Paul would go on to write that he fed this church and congregation with milk, and not with meat, for they weren’t able to bear it, nor were they presently able to bear it. Why? Why did the apostle Paul write of and declare this congregation to be carnal? The answer is actually found in the third and fourth verses, for the apostle Paul would go on to write how there was present among them envying, and strife, and divisions, as they each walked as men. There were those within this congregation who said they were of Paul, and those within this congregation who said said they were of Apollos, thus presenting an incredibly dangerous reality within the church itself. One of the most dangerous realities and manifestations within our Christian circles is when we allow ourselves to become divided around and concerning personalities which are present among us—whether they be personalities within our own church, or within Christendom itself.
There is a question I can’t help but ask myself as I sit here meditating upon the words which are found in this passage of Scripture, and that is whether or not it is possible that we can excel in all spiritual gifts, and yet be unable to be spoken unto as spiritual. Is it possible that we can excel in all spiritual gifts, and yet we can’t even handle the meat of the word of God, but only the milk of the word of God? Is it possible that we can excel in all spiritual gifts, and yet lack and possess the maturity and growth necessary within our lives to handle the full and complete word of God? What if in such congregations and churches throughout this nation which are perceived as possessing the gifts of the Spirit, there may be the manifestation and presence of the gifts, yet the actual preaching of the word of God is as though it was spoken unto babes in Christ? I would dare say that it is possible to be spiritual gifted and yet not only not possess the fruit of the Spirit, but also possess the maturity and growth that is necessary and required within our practice. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Ephesus—words which are found within the fourth chapter of the epistle. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote unto the congregation at Ephesus, and you will gain a greater understanding of this concept of Christian maturity and growth: “And HE gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint suppliers ,according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16).
I am incredibly challenged with and by the words I read within the third chapter of the epistle which Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Corinth, for while it was true that this congregation excelled in all spiritual gifts, it was also true that they could not be spoken unto as spiritual, but as carnal. When it came to the gifts of the Spirit they excelled beyond measure, yet when it came to the preaching of the word of God unto them, the apostle could not speak to and address them as mature, but as babes in Christ. I can’t help but get the strong sense that it is possible that men and women can sacrifice spiritual gifts upon the altar of maturity and growth, and might very well be content to remain in that place. I am going to make an incredibly bold and brazen statement right now, and it might come as a shock to you, yet I feel it needs to be said. SPIRITUAL GIFTS ARE NOT A SIGN OF MATURITY! Did you catch that? What do you think about that statement? How does it make you feel? I neither recant of nor regret speaking that statement, for I am convinced that such a statement must be stated and understood within countless churches and congregations within, throughout and across this nation. I do not believe that spiritual gifts—and even excelling in spiritual gifts—is a sign of spiritual maturity, and even spiritual growth within our hearts and lives. There are countless men and women among us who would dare suggest that spiritual gifts are a sign and a mark of spiritual maturity and growth before the Lord, and yet the truth of the matter is that that simply isn’t the case. You can be incredibly gifted in the service and ministry of the church and yet possess absolutely zero maturity before the Lord who is the head of the body. The apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Ephesus concerning the giving of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers for the building up of the body, and for the unity of the body, and for the maturity of the body, and yet I am convinced there are countless leaders and ministers who are presenting the reality that spiritual gifts are somehow a mark and sign of spiritual maturity before the Lord. We dare not allow ourselves to get caught up and believe the lie that spiritual gifts automatically mean that we are spiritual mature in the Lord, for the church at Corinth possessed and excelled in all spiritual gifts, and yet they were spiritually immature. SPIRITUALLY GIFTED, YET SPIRITUALLY IMMATURE! I make absolutely no apology for making that final statement, for it is absolutely possible to be spiritually gifted, and yet at the very same time be spiritually immature. Take a look at the congregation at Corinth, and you will see firsthand how this reality is and can be absolutely true within churches and congregations within and throughout this nation, yea, even throughout the world.
SPIRITUALLY GIFTED, YET SPIRITUALLY IMMATURE! SPIRITUALLY GIFTED, YET SPIRITUALLY DESTITUTE! SPIRITUALLY GIFTED, YET CARNAL! I must say that the more I read, and the more I consider, and the more I study the words which are found within this first epistle unto the saints which were at Corinth, the more I am convinced that spiritual gifts—while they might look and sound good among us within our churches and congregations—are absolutely nothing to qualify and/or characterize us as a church that is grown up, mature, and united in the Lord. I am convinced that within many of our churches and congregations there is an underlying perception and presentation that the Spirit of God is somehow divided—a reality which we would spend a considerable time seeking to refute and reject. In order to present this case before you today, I would first direct your attention to the twelfth chapter of this first epistle unto the saints which were at Corinth. It is within this twelfth chapter that we come face to face with the description of the gifts of the Spirit which are available unto the saints and body of Christ. Consider the following words written in the twelfth chapter of this first epistle unto the congregation at Corinth: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are divinities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit ; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will” (1 Corinthians 12:1-=11).
Notice what is written within this particular set of verses written and recorded within this chapter, and you will encounter an absolutely incredible reality concerning the relation of spiritual gifts and the God whom we serve. In the fourth verse of this chapter the apostle Paul writes that while there are diversities of gifts, there is the same Spirit, while in the fifth verse the apostle goes on to write that there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. In the sixth verse the apostle Paul writes that there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. THE SAME SPIRIT! THE SAME LORD! THE SAME GOD! Please don’t miss the absolutely incredible importance of these three statements, for if our practice and our ministry somehow suggests that the God whom we serve is somehow divided within Himself, we are doing a great disservice and injustice to those who would enter into the doors of our churches. I am convinced and I would dare say that in addition to our presenting the picture and reality that the body of Christ is united, we must also present the reality that the God whom we serve is united as well. A UNITED BODY WORSHIPPING A UNITED GOD! A UNITED BODY SERVING A TRIUNE GOD! I am utterly and completely convinced that in many of our churches and congregations we are giving the impression that the God whom we serve is somehow divided within Himself—not only in our engagement of and with personalities, but also in the manifestation of the gifts and fruit of the Spirit. In the twelfth chapter of the first epistle written unto the saints which were at Corinth we find a description of the spiritual gifts which are distributed unto the church and body of Christ, while in the fifth chapter of the epistle unto the Galatian congregation we find the description of the fruit of the Spirit. Read and consider the following words which were written by the apostle Paul unto the saints which were at Galatia, and you will encounter the gifts of the Spirit as an additional manifestation within the body of Christ:
“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, sedition’s, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, reveling, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:13-26).
I feel it absolutely necessary to emphatically declare and state that the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit were not to be experiences which are manifested independent of each other. When I read the description of the fruit of the Spirit, and when I read the description of the gifts of the Spirit, I can’t help but get the strong sense that both the fruit and the gifts are essentially two sides of the same coin, and are in all reality two distinct presentations of the Spirit. There are, however, countless men and women who feel they best represent the Spirit of the sovereign God by the manifestation of spiritual gifts within their individual lives, as well as perhaps within whatever Christian ministry and service they are actively engaged in. There are those who feel they best represent the Spirit of the sovereign Lord in whatever Christian service and ministry they are engaged in by the presence and manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit. The truth of the matter is that by entertaining and presenting such a reality and distinction within our churches and congregations, we are presenting the distinct reality that the Spirit of the sovereign Lord is somehow divided. We dare not divide the Spirit of the sovereign God according to fruit and gifts, but must diligently strive to present a united Spirit. The church at Corinth seemed to present and paint a picture of a divided Christ because of their attitude toward and engagement of Christian personalities. By some speaking of themselves as belonging unto Paul, and others speaking of themselves as belonging to Apollos, and others speaking of themselves as belonging to Cephas, and still others speaking of themselves as belonging to Christ, they are presenting the false perception that Christ is somehow divided. In fact, this is why the apostle Paul asked the very important question whether or not Christ was or could be divided. Permit me to ask you this question right now: Is Christ divided? Moreover: Is the Spirit divided? Is your life—your Christian service, your Christian living, and even your Christian submission—giving the impression and suggesting that both Christ and the Spirit are divided? Heaven forbid we present such a reality to those who would be present within our churches and congregations, for we do a great disservice and injustice when we present such a reality unto those who would enter into our churches and sanctuaries.
It’s worth noting the words the apostle Paul used to describe the congregation at Corinth within the first nine verses of the first chapter, for they present us with an even greater reality which must be recognized and understood. Within these first nine verses the apostle Paul refers to the congregation which was at Corinth as “the church of God which is at Corinth,” as well as “Them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” When you continue reading within these first nine verses you will go on to read concerning this congregation that “ in every thing they are enriched by Jesus Christ, in all utterance, as well as in all knowledge. What’s more is that you will go on to read how the testimony of Christ was confirmed in them, so that they came behind in no gift, but as they waited for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote concerning this congregation how Jesus Christ Himself would confirm them unto the end, in order that they might be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle would conclude this particular section by proclaiming God as being faithful, by whom they were called unto the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. It is absolutely imperative that we recognize and understand these words, for we must remember that while the words contained within this epistle were words of correction, of discipline, and even rebuke, they were written unto those who were called to be saints, and those which had been sanctified in Christ Jesus. The words contained within this epistle must not be bring us to the place where we consider that those to whom the apostle Paul was writing weren’t saints, or weren’t part of the body of Christ. The words which we read and the words which we find in this passage of Scripture suggest that it is possible for us to be sanctified in Christ Jesus, to be called to be saints, and to call upon the name of the Lord, and yet have certain areas within our lives and within our service and ministry which need to be addressed, corrected, and yes, even rebuked. As surely as spiritual gifts do not automatically suggest and speak of spiritual maturity and growth, they also do not automatically speak of perfection before the living God. SPIRITUALLY GIFTED, YET NOT PERFECT!
The members of the church of God in Christ Jesus at Corinth were called to be saints, and were sanctified in Christ Jesus, and yet they were presenting the reality that the Christ whom they served was somehow divided through their attitude toward and association with the personalities of that generation. The church of God in Christ Jesus at Corinth were enriched by Christ in all utterance and in all knowledge, and yet there was the presentation that the Spirit of God was divided because of the manifestation of gifts without, absent of, and apart from the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit. It was true that this church and this congregation came behind in no gift as they waited for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, yet this congregation revealed the tremendous reality that it is possibly to be spiritually gifted and yet be spiritually immature. It is possible to be spiritually gifted and yet be carnal in Christ, and be unable to handle the meat of the word, and only be able to handle the milk of the word. It is possible to be spiritually gifted and yet be spiritually destitute because of the absence of the fruit of the Spirit within our hearts and lives. I am convinced that the greatest way to present the Spirit of God as united among us within our churches and congregations is through the manifestation of both the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit. The Spirit of God is not divided between the fruit and the gifts, but is united on both accounts. We must diligently strive to ensure that we have not, will not, and cannot divide the Spirit of God between and according to the gifts and the fruit. It is possible to have gifts without fruit, and it is possible to engage in Christian ministry and service according to the gifts we have, and yet not possess any manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit within our hearts and lives. At the end of the day we must recognize that both the gifts and the fruit aren’t even for, nor are they even about us, for it was Christ Himself who declared that they would know we are His disciples by the fruit we bear. What’s more, is that the apostle Paul wrote that the purpose of the gifts was for the edifying of the body, and for the ministration unto those outside the Church who would enter our midst. OH that we would thoroughly examine our Christian ministry, as well as our Christian living and recognize and understand whether or not we might be spiritually gifted, and yet at the same time be spiritually immature. Gifts have never and will never be the mark of maturity, or the mark of growth, or even the mark of unity, and we must understand that gifts that aren’t connected to and associated with the fruit only present half of the picture and make for an incredibly shallow ministry. THE SHALLOW MINISTRY OF GIFTS ABSENT FRUIT!