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06.08.14 Since the Spirit Makes us One 1 Corinthians 12:4-13 Sermon Summary

by on June 9, 2014

How can recent interpretations of Pentecost be right, even though they are polar opposites of earlier interpretations?

Summary Points

  • Historic and recent interpretations of Pentecost
  • Which interpretation Paul supports
  • One reason the church exists, and why you should be a part of it
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

The most common assertion in the interpretive history of Acts chapter 2, the event of Pentecost, is that it is the reversal of the so called “curse” of Babel. In Genesis 11, all humanity collaborated in building a tower whose top reached to the heavens. As the story goes, God comes down to see what we’re up to and confuses our language so that we cannot so collaborate again. Pentecost, with the Spiritual gift of speaking in one language yet being understood by those of another language is the undoing of this “curse.”

But recent interpretation has taken the exact opposite position. In light of our growing knowledge of the diversity of cultures, some interpreters have suggested that rather than a reversal of Babel, Pentecost is actually an affirmation of diversity. What is overcome in Pentecost is not differences, but contrary purposes.

From this perspective, God honors and delights in cultural differences. Language is the epitome of culture. Just think of English in southern California (“Dude!”) versus that of Minnesooota. What Pentecost is about from this perspective is God using culture, however diverse, for the single purpose of communicating gospel.

This is also Paul’s point in his most elaborate metaphor of the church as the Body of Christ. Paul asserts that everyone who calls upon Christ receives the Spirit, and with the Spirit comes a gift, an opportunity, a service.

If Paul is right, then the church exists, at least in part, to give everyone a chance to serve. The role of the church is to help you discern your gift, to put it into practice, and by doing so to realize your God-created, Christ-redeemed, Spirit-gifted purpose.

Diversity in the Body doesn’t matter to the Spirit of God. It doesn’t matter if you think you are too old or not old enough, whether you are educated or not, whether you are new to the faith or raised in the church. It doesn’t matter if you’re married, single, divorced, widowed, straight or gay. God delights in using all this diversity.

How do I know this? It isn’t through some biblical argument or theological justification. I know this because I’ve experienced this. God has ministered to me through people in all their diversities. These ministries I’ve experienced are all from the same Spirit.

In worship at Pentecost we recognize ordered ministers. We ordain and install new ruling elders and deacons. But every week, through baptism and the supper, we recognize unordered ministers, that is, all the baptized children of God. We call upon and receive the Spirit to equip us for Christian service.

And unless we all respond to the Spirit’s call to honor diversity in others by accepting their service, and to honor diversity in ourselves by offering our service, the church is less for it. The Body of Christ becomes atrophied and disabled. The proclamation of the gospel is hindered.

So today I invite you to pray for and find your “unordered” ministry. I urge you to find how God wants to use your uniqueness, your diversity, to serve the common good and promote the Gospel of salvation.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • How does the recent interpretation of Pentecost strike you? If it is true that God honors and delights in diversity, how does it change your perspective of others different from yourself? How does it change your view of your own uniqueness?
  • Have you ever thought that you have a “God-created, Christ-redeemed, Spirit-gifted purpose”? Can you put your finger on this? What is it?
  • Has God ever surprised you by ministering to you through someone you didn’t expect? What was that like for you? What are the implications of this experience?
  • In the language of Presbyterian theology, every baptized member of the church is an “unordered minister.” Talk about your ministry, whether “ordered” by the vows of a ruling elder or deacon, or “unordered’ by the vows of baptism.
  • The Newer Testament lists various Spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and also Ephesians 4). Do these lists include a gift you possess? If so, how are you utilizing those gifts in service to the common good? If not, which gifts do you possess and how are you using them?


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