Gifting, discernment and abuse

This is the sermon mentioned in my article about spiritual abuse

Worship is about

               Glorifying and praising God

               Encouraging one another up /being a witness

               Hearing God speak to us?

How do we know that it is God speaking?

By Knowing our own limitations (v 1-2)

A question about Spiritual things – literally “The Spiritual (v1).  This could refer to gifts – but also to people. The two will of course be linked in the Corinthian mind. Spiritual people were the ones who had spiritual gifts.

Paul does not want the church to be uninformed/ignorant/agnostic (NLT to misunderstand) (v 1). Why? Well there are some things they will know from their own experience and that experience may not be very helpful to church life in Christ (v 2)

“You were led astray …in worshipping speechless idols.” (v2)

i.e.  man-made gods that could not speak or act, that were powerless. Some commentators have suggested that the image here is of the many processions that would go along to the temples every day a parade of worshippers and animals to sacrifice. You end up in a temple with people worshipping an idol, something that cannot speak, cannot act to help you. It’s powerless. 

Last week, we began to talk about discernment.  Now the Corinthians thought they were wise and clever but actually their own human wisdom had got them doing some silly things.

Why is this important?

We like to talk about being spiritual. I think there’s something good in that. Many of us experience a genuine hunger for meaning. We know that there is something more to life than just existing.  We are encouraged to run with this – to chase experiences.  That can simply be social experiences, even education, or the thrill of sports, delight in music, enjoying nature. These are all good things in themselves. 

BUT – an experience itself, even -and maybe especially if we look for something or spiritual or religious in it is at best just an experience and at worst can be harmful.  Why do I say this?

Answer: – Paul has told us that whilst the idols are “nothing” he’s also said that there are demons behind them.  Now this isn’t about superstition, nor about an occultic type possession. We’re not talking about the Exorcist, spinning heads and projectile vomiting.  But the Bible is clear that as well as the true God there are those who would rival him. The Bible talks about the devil as an angel created by God who wants to be God. 

How does he do this?

  • He gets us to put our trust in other people.  People become our gods and idosl whether celebrities at a distance that we obsess over or family members, teachers, bosses, even church leaders who we constantly look to for approval.  Sadly, those people can then take advantage seeking to control and abuse.
  • He gets us to put our trust in things and events.  That can include drug and alcohol dependence, money, possessions, appearance, comforting habits, food and control of food, addictions etc.

Those things are “mute” idols because they promise so much but can’t really deliver or satisfy.

Some of us will be listening to this and it’s painful to hear because it’s all too real. That’s been our experience and we arrive here feeling hurt, crushed, used, damaged, hopeless.  So at this point I want to tell you that there is good news. The Corinthians had been in the same place but had been set free from their idols -and you can be too.

But those of us who are Christians can also bring those things into the church when we put our confidence in people and put them on pedestals or when we chase experiences.

I think it’s helpful to remember Mike Ovey’s advice here.  If I simply rely on my experience and feelings then I will end up confirming what I already think, feel and believe.  I make my idols in my own image.  When God speaks I need to be ready for him to disagree with me.  He will challenge me so that I change my mind, my feelings, my actions, my beliefs.

Knowing what God will not say and do (v2)

“No-one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus”

Or no-one can say “Jesus is cursed.”  This has confused a lot of people because they’d tried to imagine a situation where a believer would say something like that.  There’ve been one or two guesses. One suggestion is that it’s not so much “Jesus is cursed” as “Jesus is a curse” inotherwords to try and curse and harm others using his name.  Another is that this is just hypothetical to contrast with saying “Jesus is Lord.”

The places you were most likely to hear people cursing Jesus were back in the Synagogues where there had been so much opposition to the claims of the first Christians or in the pagan temples. 

I think this is helpful. 

  1. A true follower of Jesus would make a complete break with their old beliefs.  As we saw in chapter 10, they wouldn’t be going back to their old gods and old lifestyle.  A believer’s life should have radically changed. 
  2. A true follower of Jesus would not give cause for those who already hated Jesus and the Gospel to curse him.

In other words, when God is speaking, when God is at work in our lives then we will see change. We cannot go on loving sin.  We will want to be more like Christ.

Knowing what God will say and do (v3)

“No-one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”

Again, this looks a bit challenging.  Is Paul really saying that the test as to whether someone really belongs to God and speak and act for him is their ability to say a little phrase.  Surely a false teacher can still turn up at church and say the special words. 

However, remember that in the early church to announce that Jesus is Lord was radical and dangerous. It’s a bit like saying “I think Tony Blair had some good points” at a Momentum rally.  More seriously, it’s akin to someone from a Muslim background declaring faith in Jesus.

Saying Jesus is Lord meant “Not the other gods we’ve always worshipped.” It also meant you were saying “Jesus is Lord, not Caesar” The emperor didn’t tend to like that much

It would at the least be career ending and family splitting for many.  For others it would mean death. 

So, someone who belongs to God and has the Holy Spirit will have made a definite decision to leave their old life behind them, whatever the cost.  They will put Jesus first.  This means that just as negatively, they won’t do things that will cause Jesus to be cursed, positively they will act and speak in a way that glorifies Jesus. People will see that Jesus is worthy of praise

This will mean

  1. Speaking the Gospel, clearly and truthfully. We’ll want to get our beliefs right and convey them accurately. We won’t duck back from talking about Jesus. We will not be ashamed of him. 
  2. We will live lives that are consistent with the Gospel

I think there’s another side to this as well.  Those tests, properly understood are reasonably straight forward. As well as teaching us discernment and self awareness, they should also encourage love, trust and unity.

You see, the Corinthians were saying that only a special few were spiritual and could be trusted but Paul says no “everyone who says Jesus is Lord is spiritual”

This means

  1. We don’t have different tiers of Christians in a hierarchy. There isn’t an elite
  2. That when God’s people gather and worship, love and care for each other, hear God’s preach that this is spiritual. We don’t have to chase some higher experience
  3. It leads to charitable engagement with other believers

It also gives balance.  We have a right responsibility to discern, to check and to challenge.  But we also learn to trust other believers’ motives.  We know that none of us are perfect and so we won’t get everything right. We also know that that are real false teachers around who can be very subtle and very clever. We need to be discerning.

But when we see someone genuinely trusting Jesus, genuinely seeking to hear and obey God’s Word, genuinely seeking to go and share the Gospel then we can and should think the best of them. Even if we think they have got things wrong, we trust their motives unless there’s good reason not to. That’s the spirit in which we challenge and correct each other. In other words, “Speak the truth in love.” I think what we’ll see here is that if their heart motive is right, then they will be teachable too.  They’ll be ready to listen, reflect and check. 

This is also a helpful solution to bitterness and suspicion.  It means I can have open and even robust conversations with others. We can learn from each other. 

And we can know that if we love Jesus and have put our trust in him that we can serve him and the body with our gifts.  I think the last point is important because sometimes we can be nervous.  If I get involved and use my gifts, will people judge me and think I’m just attention seeking? What if I make a mistake?  Well I think here, that we have encouragement to use our gifts, responsibly, trusting God to use us so others will hear what he has to say through his Word.


Next week we are going to start finding out more about all the different ways that we can be part of the church, encouraging and building one another up.  We do this when we acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. 

Let’s be ready to us our gifts, not for our own glory but for Christ alone.

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