I don’t think I would have enjoyed living during the time of the Old Testament, that era of redemptive history before the coming of Jesus Christ. I don’t think I would have enjoyed having to bring a blood sacrifice year after year after year, knowing that the offering up of bulls and goats could never truly and finally take away the guilt of my sin. I don’t think I would have enjoyed the long list of detailed and often bizarre regulations and laws that governed the lives of the people of Israel. I don’t think I would have enjoyed not getting to eat bacon for breakfast.
But most of all, I don’t think I would have liked the fact that only certain selected people were recipients of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps you were not aware of the fact that under the Old Covenant of Moses, only prophets and priests and kings and certain individuals who were assigned special tasks actually experienced on a regular basis the power of the Holy Spirit. And even then, you could sin or fail in your God-given task and the Spirit would be taken from you. I don’t think I would have enjoyed living under those conditions.
One of the things that makes living now, under the New Covenant, so wonderful, is what I call the “democratizing” of the Holy Spirit. What I mean by that fancy word is that all of God’s people, everyone who knows Jesus as Savior by faith alone is permanently indwelt and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This is what the Apostle Peter described in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Listen again to his famous words as he quotes from the OT prophet Joel:
“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on ALL flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).
This is what I meant by the word “democratizing” – all flesh, everyone who knows God, receives the Spirit. Whether you are male or female, young or old, free or slave, if you know God through faith in Jesus you receive permanently the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
This is what Paul also has in mind in 1 Corinthians 12:7. There he says that “to each [which means, to ALL] is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Think about what that means. It means that, by God’s good and wise design, every one of you who knows Jesus as Lord and Savior has been uniquely, individually, and specially blessed with the presence of the Spirit to minister to everyone else. You are equipped by God to manifest the presence of his Spirit so that others can become more like Jesus.
Whereas in the OT only specially selected individuals were so gifted, in the NT all Christians are so gifted. No one is left out. No one is unqualified or disqualified. It doesn’t matter if you think or feel like you’ve been left out. You haven’t. If you know Jesus, you are gifted by the power of the Spirit to serve and contribute and minister to everyone else in your local church.
However, we don’t always do what God has called and equipped us to do. Let me explain. All through 1 Corinthians 12-14, and elsewhere in Scripture (see especially Romans 12:3-8), the church is described as if it were a body. In fact, we are Christ’s body on earth. He is the head and we are individually members of his body. But just as our physical bodies sometimes suffer from disease or certain ailments or injuries, so also the body of Christ, the local church, can suffer and fail to live as it should. Although we are all indwelt by the Spirit, gifted and empowered by the Spirit, we don’t always understand this truth; we don’t always embrace it and express it as we should. It is in 1 Corinthians 12:14-31 that Paul tells us why.
The two most common spiritual afflictions in the body of Christ are actually polar opposites of one another.
On the one hand, at one end of the spectrum, are feelings of uselessness and ineffectiveness. I’m talking about those in the local church who think of themselves as expendable. They don’t matter. They contribute little if anything of value. They are unqualified and unproductive. These are people who are convinced that if they were to disappear, no one would notice and everything would continue to function just the way it always has. They are convinced they are unnecessary. The body has no need of them. They are like the appendix in the body of Christ or the tonsils or the wisdom teeth. Cutting them out of the body altogether may even be a good thing for the church.
On the other hand, at the altogether other end of the spectrum, are those who experience feelings of self-sufficiency and superiority. They alone matter. They alone are important. They alone are necessary and essential. And if others aren’t just like them, then the others simply don’t matter and aren’t needed. These are the members of the body who take pride in their gifts and skills as if they are themselves personally responsible for their effectiveness. If the first group thinks of themselves as the appendix or tonsils or wisdom teeth in the body of Christ, these folks see themselves as the brains and the heart and eyes and arms.
And when Christians in a church start thinking in these terms, the body gets real sick real fast. When some feel useless and say, “You don’t need me,” and others feel self-sufficient and say, “I don’t need you,” the body suffers, which is to say, the church suffers.
So let’s look at each of these spiritual afflictions or diseases and see what remedy Paul proposes. We’ll do that in the next article.