Monday 7 August

Dave Richards is the Rector at St. Paul’s & St. George’s Church in Edinburgh and is on the Council of the Evangelical Alliance UK.  On day three of New Horizon 2017, he spoke from 1 Corinthians 12 exploring the purpose of the Holy Spirit. Here is a summary of what he had to say, brought to you by NH Media.

We are looking at the subject of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Scripture proclaims again and again that every Christian has at least one spiritual gift. If you are a Christian, you are a charismatic because every Christian is indebted to the sheer charis (the grace) of God, which is the means by which He gives gifts freely to His children. You may have two or three main spiritual gifts. The question is, what are you doing with the gifts that God has given you? How are you using them in the church, in society, in the workplace, for the extension of His kingdom and for the building up of His church?

One of the buzz words in our society and culture is “spirituality”. Everyone agrees that this is a good thing but no one can actually define it. Spirituality is found in the school curriculum in Scotland. Spirituality is to be found in bookshops and on Amazon. The only problem is that spirituality means different things to different people (climbing a mountain, doing a yoga class, listening to music,… all these can be defined as spiritual and enhancing experiences).

Over the last 20 years ago, we have recognised that we are not just physical and rational and emotional beings. Society is recognising that there is a spiritual part to our existence as human beings but as we have become more conscious of our spirituality we have become less religious. Church attendance (in Scotland) is declining at an alarming rate.

The reality is that I live in a society which is less and less religious but which actually has never been more spiritual. People are asking deeper and deeper and more profound spiritual questions. People are in a very different place from where they were in the 80s and 90s. But fewer and fewer people associate the “church” as a place that can meet their spiritual needs.

1 Corinthians 12: 1-11

First century Corinth was a hothouse of spiritual beliefs and experiences. It was an environment that is not that dissimilar to the environment we find ourselves in 21st Century Scotland and may soon be the environment in 21st Century NI. People can believe anything they like except that which the liberal elite have deemed to be unacceptable (i.e. Christianity).

Paul says he is writing “about spiritual gifts” – equally valid translations would be “spiritual things” or even “spirituality.”

The church of Corinth found themselves in a society where Greek “mystery” religions abounded. These mystery religions were “wacky” – the more extreme the experience the more spiritual and authentic and true it was considered.

Paul didn’t mince his words, he talked about the “mute idols” and he began to teach the Corinthian Christians, and us today, about true spirituality, about what it looks like and what it does in the life of a Christian.

True Spirituality is Always about Jesus

Sadly there are still people in the church who deem how real and authentic something is by how vivid the experience. Any true, real and authentic experience should be measured by how much it points to Jesus Christ. You cannot be a Christian and not have the Holy Spirit living inside you. You cannot say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.

Paul was also saying something else because to acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus was then, and now, to say that no one else is Lord. In the first century, people called Caesar “lord” but to say “Jesus is Lord” was life threatening because it was treason.

To those of us in the 21st Century who say Jesus is Lord, our first allegiance is to the kingdom of God and to the kingdom of heaven. Your primary allegiance should always be to King Jesus.

True Spirituality is Diverse but Unifying

There are different gifts but the same spirit, different kinds of service but the same Lord…

If a gift of the Holy Spirit does not point people to Jesus. If it doesn’t build people up or encourage people. If it is not offered in a spirit of love, it is not being used as God intends.

One of the most profound and deeply theological lessons I have ever learnt is this: 1 Corinthians 13 comes after 1 Corinthians 12 and before 1 Corinthians14!  Paul’s message about love comes right in the middle of these two chapters.

Paul says, the whole thing is worthless if I do not have love. 1 Corinthians 13 is often read at weddings. It has nothing to do with weddings. It is all to do with how the gifts of the Holy Spirit are used.

There is variety and equality of gifts

I find the “Network Course” helpful.  It is the best tool I have found for helping people to discover their spiritual gifts. This course teaches of three dangers around spiritual gifts: elevation, projection and rejection.

Elevation – when you think that the gift that you have is more important or more spiritual than anyone else’s.

Projection – that is when we project onto other people and we expect them to have the same passion and the same gifts that God has give us. One of the jobs of a church leader is to try and hold in tension all the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are contained in a church and to try and help people understand that different people have different gifts and passions. God gives different people different gifts.

Rejection – when you refuse to accept or recognise the gifts that God has given you. This might be through false modesty or having too low an image of yourself (“worm theology” in Scotland). Maybe somebody with the gift of administration, hospitality or service and they look at others (e.g. faith or healing etc.) and think their gifts are more spiritual. The trouble with this is that effectively we are saying God has given me the wrong gift!

One day each of us will stand before Jesus and we will have to give an account of what we have done with the gifts that God has given us. You have a responsibility. Nobody else is responsible for discovering what your spiritual gift is and for using it. It is yours and it is God-given.

There is a creative variety of gifts and expressions of the same gifts

Different people will use the same gift differently. There are different gifts of evangelism or hospitality because how you use them is determined by your personality, by your maturity and by your context. Look at the beauty and diversity of creation – that same God gives gifts in creative variety.

Gifts are for service, not entertainment

Spiritual gifts are to be used to encourage the church and extend the kingdom of heaven. The use of spiritual gifts is not a stage on which to perform.

Think about how Christians responded to the fire at Grenfell Tower. It was a remarkable demonstration of the body of Christ being the body of Christ. Not telling people what they should believe but listening, caring, weeping, encouraging, being there for people and giving them practical support. In the immediate aftermath, it was the church of Jesus Christ that stepped up. In secular Britain, it was the church that people went to.  (Yes, other faith community were involved – Sikhs, Muslims…) The church was there using their gifts, serving people, not preaching at anybody but demonstrating the love and compassion of Jesus.

The Holy Spirit comes to energise us for service

Michael Green said, “The comforter comes not to make people comfortable but to make them missionaries.”

Spiritual gifts are not toys. They are not long-service medals. They are not Nectar points or Air miles… they are given by the grace of God to point people to Jesus through you.

From the Bayeux tapestry – there is a scene that says, “William comforts his troops.” In that scene, William has a spear and he is poking his troops up the backside with his spear – he is urging them on.  The “Comforter” spurs us on to reach our broken world.

The world is desperately searching for peace, love, joy, fulfilment (etc.) and the only place they can find this peace, love, joy and fulfilment is in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit motivates and equips us to go out into our world to point people to Jesus.