Allen Jackson - About Spiritual Gifts - Part 1
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It's good to be with you again. Our topic today is "Spiritual Gifts". In reality, we wanna talk about spiritual things. You know, the unfortunate circumstance for much of American evangelicalism is we imagine we're gonna outthink evil. That if we can get enough studies together and we can learn enough names, that the devil will just yield, it's as if we can pass a test that he can't. Well, I have an announcement. He knows things about the kingdom of God we will never know on this side of eternity. So we need something beyond just our intellect. Now, I'm for study and learning, but we need the help of the Holy Spirit. We need a greater awareness of spiritual things. If we will do that, there'll be a new power available to us to see the purposes of God break forth in this generation. Grab your Bible and a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart.
You know, I have been saying to you for months now, several months, and I'm sure you've heard me say it, if you occasionally listen, that our problems are essentially spiritual. That the fundamentals beneath all the things that we're seeing are spiritual problems. We see the evidence of spiritual activity in our self-destruction as a society. I don't believe you could deconstruct the freedoms and liberties and privileges and opportunities and strengths that we have known as quickly as we've watched them be deconstructed unless there was a spiritual force behind it. And I assure you, as I have done before, that economic plans or new educational procedures or rulings from the Supreme Court or a new class of political leaders will not resolve our issues.
I don't say that to be negative. I just don't think that's the heart of the problem. What we fundamentally need is a heart change, as a people. And I put myself in that group because I have taken so much for granted. I have just presumed upon so many things and imagined that they would always be there and couldn't imagine they would ever change. And they don't necessarily have to be there and they can change. I think a great example of that is the recent ruling from the Supreme Court around abortion. It was a breakthrough. As far as I was concerned, it was an expression of grace from God. We didn't vote for it, we didn't campaign on behalf of it, it was as if God sovereignly intervened to give us an opportunity to stand up for what was right.
But the change in the law has not resulted in new attitudes. We see evidence of that all around us. It's a driving component in how we vote. Not so much for those of us that think abortion is wrong; it's a driving component for those who think it's a right that they should have. Women and men still demand the right for a mother to end the life of her child. We see it all around us, in spite of the ruling of a Supreme Court. They don't intend to be encumbered by that. We are merrily mutilating children and cultivating gender confusion. And the response is, "Well, after all, it's not against the law," as if the law really governs the behaviors.
I wanna ask you a question. It's kind of a theoretical question, and a bit of an over-simplification, but I think it's helpful to get to the heart of this. Would you rather live in a nation of good people with bad laws or live in a nation of bad people with good laws? Well, I think the answer, really, is pretty simple. You'd rather be in the midst of a bunch of good people. If you have good people, you can repair the laws. If you have bad people, no matter the laws, they'll tear them down. You see, changing our laws or honoring the ones we have, it's not a bad objective. But ultimately, I believe we have to see a change of heart. We need more people with a heart for God and for God's principles. Therefore, we fundamentally have a spiritual problem. "Amen, Pastor". It's all right, I can do both halves of this. It's okay.
Well, if that's the case, we need to understand what spiritual resources are available to us. I don't believe we'll outthink evil or outwork evil or out-organize evil or out-fund evil. We've had a lot of opportunity around that and we haven't been successful. We're gonna need a different awareness of spiritual things. And we'll have to do more than study it. We'll have to decide we're going to live it out in a new way. All of us, no matter which tradition we come from, on a typical weekend around here, we'll have people from more than 40 different Christian traditions: Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, Southern Baptist, Greek Orthodox, people who've never been to church before. I mean, across the entire spectrum and, in every one of those components, every one of those camps, there is a language for spiritual things. Beautiful vocabulary, in many cases some remarkable liturgies written with both biblical and historical references to spiritual things in our midst, but we have very little intent of actually leaning in or living out spiritual things.
That has to change, or we're gonna continue to be overwhelmed by evil. The only thing evil will yield to is a power greater than itself. 1 Corinthians chapter 12 and verse 1 says: "About spiritual gifts, brothers, I don't want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols". The working title for this series for me was, "Avoid Being Ignorant". And I kept looking at it. It makes perfect sense to me, but you know the world I grew up in, calling somebody "ignorant," was a really good opportunity to begin a fight. "What's wrong with you? You just ignorant? Is that the best you know? Aren't you any smarter than that? Are you really that ignorant, boy? Didn't your mama teach you anything"? "Don't be talking about my mama".
And from there, it goes downhill pretty quickly, right? And when they're pulling you apart, what happens? "He called me ignorant. Then he said my mama was ignorant". "I didn't say your mama was ignorant". And you know, and they would go again. Well, Paul wrote to the church at Corinth and he says, "I don't want you to be ignorant about spiritual things". Now, I would remind you. Some of you know this. You've read 1 and 2 Corinthians. It was a church that had a lot of spiritual dynamics in it. They spoke in tongues, they prophesied, they prayed for the sick. So I mean, by one yardstick, from some segments of the church, you'd say it was a very spiritually vibrant, spiritually alive church. And Paul said, "You're acting like you're ignorant". You have to recalibrate a little bit.
You see, the evidence that you are spiritually aware and awake is not the demonstrations of supernatural things. I think it's the triumph of the gospel in the individual heart. It's Christ followers maturing and growing up in the Lord, of overcoming evil and not being overcome by evil. But being salt and light in our world. It's seeing the kingdom of God extended and the name of Jesus lifted up. Those things were not happening in the Corinthian community of faith to the degree that Paul thought they should, and he said, "You're acting kind of ignorant, folks. Don't point to me for your spiritual activity, the fruit of your lives is not good". And with all due respect, church, I would say we've been gathering in our buildings and listening to our sermons and singing our choruses and even doing our Bible readings and convening our Small Groups, but for the most part we've been spiritually ignorant.
We've imagined that the greatest powers in our life were something other than something spiritual. We thought it was more economic or political or our profession or our family, sister, something. We've treated God as if he was some sort of a secondary or perhaps even a tertiary resource. You know, if all else fails, pray. No, pray if anything fails, first. And invite God into the midst of whatever. We just haven't lived it out, and I know we're in church and the right answer's Jesus, but I'm looking for a different outcome 'cause we cannot continue the trajectory we're on. The current momentum held in place will lead our children to a forfeiture of their freedoms. And the church is the line of defense against that.
So I wanna take a moment and see if we can get a little better definition of ignorance that doesn't cause a fight. It's a noun. It describes a state of being but I'm gonna submit to you it's more than just a lack of awareness. It's translated some different ways in that 1 Corinthians verse, depending on how modern the translation is. "I don't want you to be unaware". You know, the contemporary translations continue to become more politically correct. They're changing the meaning of so much of the text. You have to have a little awareness. There's not a perfect translation. The best translation, if you ask me, you know the answer: it's the one you'll read. 'Cause if you have the original language and you don't read it, it doesn't make any difference.
But that word "ignorance" has some levels of meaning and I think the first one is that lack of knowledge. You just don't know. Therefore, you're not likely to respond and there's a biblical pattern for that, Acts 17 says: "We're God's offspring, we shouldn't think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent". In the past, it said God overlooked that kind of a lack of knowledge, but he goes on to say he's made that revelation clear to everybody. But there's another layer. It's a bit more nuanced where God talks about ignorance as being a blindness to spiritual things. Not just a lack of awareness, an inability to see.
You see, if you're spiritually blind, even if you're presented with the facts, you don't see. Spiritual blindness is very prevalent in the contemporary church. If you've been involved in the occult, if you've been involved in any way in the pursuit of guidance or instruction from something other than the Holy Spirit, it impairs your spiritual vision. You don't have to intend for that to happen. You can play with the ouija board as a part of a party game and it will affect your spiritual sensitivity. You can read horoscopes, thinking you're just curious about your future, but it will impact your spiritual sensitivity. You can be involved in all sorts of New Age, Eastern religions and you don't have to intend for it to have any impact on you whatsoever but it brings a spiritual blindness to you. And our response has been, "Oh, I don't believe that".
Well, okay, you don't have to believe in the devil. He believes in you. We have ignored Scripture for so long that we find ourselves in these spiritually impaired, vision impaired, conditions. It's not just my opinion. Acts chapter 3, Peter's talking. There's been a miracle in Jerusalem. A man has been healed, and the crowd has gathered to hear the story about what's happening and Peter seizes the opportunity to tell 'em about Jesus. In Acts 3, in verse 15, he said, "You killed the author of life". You know, those are not words that would, like, build rapport with an audience. I mean, I've had some training in public speaking and I know it doesn't always show but I've never had anybody tell me that you pick a fight by calling your audience a name like from the jump, like, calling 'em ignorant or something, you know, it's not good practice.
"You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We're witnesses of this. Now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders". Can I ask you a question? When he says, "ignorance," they weren't unaware of what they were doing. They very much were. It was a very intricate plot with many layers, very nuanced. To orchestrate Jesus's arrest, his betrayal, his arrest, his execution, they had to go to the Roman governor and get an authority beyond themselves because the Jewish leaders didn't practice crucifixion. They had to gather a group of people in the streets of Jerusalem when they were presented with the opportunity of releasing Barabbas or crucifying Jesus, to get the answer right. "We want Barabbas. Crucify him".
So now, Peter's saying they acted in ignorance. Ignorance of what? They knew they were having Jesus executed. They mocked him when he was on the cross. 'Cause it was not just his audience he's talking about. Peter says the same thing about your leaders. They acted in ignorance. They were blind. You see, spiritual ignorance is more than being unaware or uninformed. It's more than just saying, "Well, that's not the way I believe," or "That's not how my people do it". You could expose yourself to spiritual forces that leave your vision impaired. Now, it's worth noting that that kind of ignorance, that kind of spiritual blindness, did not eliminate the consequences. It's a very important point.
You see, we've had a little bit of this temptation to bury our heads in the sand, it's kind of the ostrich approach to things that we don't like. "Well, I don't read those books of the Bible. They make me uncomfortable". Or "That's not a topic I major on. I just don't lead with that in my spiritual formation". As if that kind of approach would remove you from the consequences. That's like saying in the midst of a pandemic, "Well, you know, I just don't talk about COVID. I talk about happy things".
Oh, well, that's an effective life strategy. I would remind you that that first century audience, Jesus looked at them, weeping, and said, "Now, they're gonna build an embankment against you. They're gonna besiege your city and they're gonna tear it apart, stone at a time. And they're gonna dash the heads of your babies against the stones of this city because you didn't recognize the time of God's coming to you. Your blindness has a consequence". He said, "The kingdom will be removed from you," so ignorance has consequences.
There's a third way it's used in the New Testament. Ephesians chapter 4. Paul's describing a condition of heart. He says, "They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. They've lost all sensitivity, they've given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more". There's an ignorance that the Bible presents to us as just simply inexcusable. It's self-imposed. It's a hardening of your heart. "I don't wanna hear the truth. I don't wanna think about it. I don't intend to repent". We're gonna look at that more as we walk through the series. "I will not cooperate. I choose not to believe. I won't yield".
I would caution you don't be frivolous in rejecting invitations that God puts before you because every time you reject one, every time you reject an awareness, every time you reject an opportunity, every time you push back on an insight, all those little prompts that God will put in your heart or along your path or people that will present to you a presentation towards the Lord, or all of those components and things, every time you go, "Nah, I'm not listening. I don't intend to do that. I wanna do what I want". Every time you push it away, you harden your heart a bit more. The callus thickens. And the message is pretty clear.
There's a point at which that kind of willful ignorance is no longer winked at. It's no longer excused. Spiritual things. Folks, they are the pathway to a better future. They're more important than electric vehicles, they're more important than renewable energy, they're more important than a unified political class in Washington, D.C., they're more important than economic momentum. The understanding of spiritual things holds a greater potential to change your life and your family than any other single thing I know. And while we have lots of language around it, I wanna invite you to a little bit more intent.
Let's go back to 1 Corinthians chapter 12: "About spiritual gifts, brothers, I don't want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore, because of that, I tell you that no one who's speaking by the Spirit of God says, 'Jesus be cursed,' and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit".
Now, let's pause there just a moment. That first phrase, "About spiritual gifts," the word "gifts" in the older translations is italicized. Do you know what when words are italicized, if you grew up reading the King James, the world I used to live in, if something was italicized it meant it was more important. They wanted to draw the attention of the reader to it. In those older translations, it's italicized because it's a word that's not in the original language. It's been added by the editors.
Now, that's not evil. They've added the word to try to bring some clarity, but it reflects opinion, and yet you're reading it in the Bible, in the book that says "Holy" on the spine. The Greek word in that passage is a noun that does not have an equivalent in English. Gift is not there. It's just a word, it's spiritual. But we don't have that word in English. And so the different translations try in various ways to give you a meaning for that. And so I think the word "gift" here is a little unhelpful. I'll explain it more as we walk through this, but "about spiritual things, I don't want you to be ignorant". In verse 4, it says: "There's different kinds of gifts".
Now, there, we have a specific word: charisma. "But the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good". So I think you can go back to that first phrase and without doing any real injustice to the language or the intent, you could plug any one of those words in: gifts, service, working, or manifestations. "I don't want you to be ignorant about the working of the Spirit. I don't want you to be ignorant about the service of the Spirit. I don't want you to be ignorant about the manifestations of the Spirit. I don't want you to be ignorant about spiritual things".
And again, he's writing this to a church that's very spiritually active. They're not God's chosen frozen. Well, you know how we like to draw lines and go, we're more spiritual than they are? I grew up in the Methodist church. We were more spiritual 'cause the Wesley brothers wrote our hymns, right? This is Southern Baptist country. You were more spiritual because you gave an altar call and sang, "Just as I am," right? Some of you were church of Christ. You were more spiritual; you had a whole list of reasons, 'cause you were just more spiritual. Some of you were Catholic. You were more spiritual 'cause Peter started your deal. And on and on and on we go.
You know, Charismatic, we were more spiritual 'cause we knew how to spell "spiritual". We were more rebellious than most and that somehow had to be spiritual. You know, the Corinthian church for all of the exercise or the presence of the Spirit in their life, they were immoral, they were drunkards, they were gluttonous. Yeah, read it. It's like, not PG. Paul says, "Your morals are so bad in the Corinthian church, not even the pagans live like you do". So you mean, you can have spiritual activity and ungodliness all in the same pool? Yeah. And we've been so unaware of spiritual things, we haven't even known that.
So there are some specific things that I wanna look at with you over these next few sessions and I don't know exactly the pacing of this. My pacing is not always great. We're gonna talk a bit about spiritual gifts. We wanna talk about the fruit of the Spirit, ministry gifts, people empowered by the Spirit for the benefit of God's people, spiritual armor, spiritual weapons, spiritual forces of wickedness, spiritual authority. We could have made a more extensive list but seven's a good biblical number. All of them are components of an understanding of spiritual things, and all of them have points of activity and access and involvement, not just theory.
And before we go today, we wanna give an invitation to the Spirit of God into our lives. You know, in the same way that you welcome the Lord Jesus at your new birth, you wanna purposely give the Holy Spirit permission to bring guidance and leading and direction to your life. Let's pray:
Holy Spirit, I thank you for your presence in the earth, that you're here to help us, to lead and direct us, and we wanna welcome you into our lives. Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to hear and understanding hearts. We thank you for what you'll do in Jesus's name, amen.