Spiritual gifts come in many shapes and sizes. The apostle Paul wasn’t shy in naming a lot of them, from teaching to tongues and from helping to prophecy. All of these gifts exist within the church “for the common good.”
We do well to remember our spiritual gifts are not for our own benefit. They are for the benefit of the body of Christ – for the church. We also do well to remember we don’t get to choose our spiritual gifts. They are given to us as the Holy Spirit wills and as God chose.
The first and preeminent spiritual gift seems to be one that is given to all Christians. There is one spiritual gift we all have together. It is a gift of proclamation. Or, perhaps more properly, it is the gift of confession. The spiritual gift we all have is the ability to confess (and to believe) “Jesus is Lord.”
The apostle Paul said it: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
A couple of things need to be said here. First, Paul probably was drawing a distinction between Christianity and the pagan mystery religions that were so popular in ancient Corinth, and out of which some of the new Christians probably came. In those pagan traditions, they may have been fond of casting off Jesus – “Jesus is accursed!”
I suppose Paul was stressing to the Christians in Corinth that to say (and believe) such a thing means the person saying it does NOT have the Holy Spirit. That person is NOT born again. That person is NOT in Christ. Christians must leave all of that behind them in order to embrace Christ. People must forsake these other belief systems if they are to enter the kingdom of God.
Second, to say (and believe), “Jesus is Lord,” is to say everything that matters. Some scholars think this was the earliest version of a Christian creed – or that it made up the first line of the earliest creed. “Jesus is Lord.” When a person professes that, he or she is pushing aside every other false god or idol or personality that would like to claim authority in that person’s life.
To say, “Jesus is Lord,” we recognize Jesus is God and Jesus is King and what Jesus commands, we must do. We are professing our allegiance to Jesus. For the Corinthian Christians – and for many Christians still today – to confess something like could be very dangerous. There might be severe ramifications to professing that “Jesus is Lord.”
And the Holy Spirit, according to the apostle Paul, is in that confession. No one says, “Jesus is Lord,” except those who have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. It’s the first gift of the Spirit – this faith we have in Jesus Christ. And that gift is operative in our lives from the moment our eyes are opened to the goodness of Jesus Christ (and to our own sinfulness) to the day we breathe our last breath.
And this confession binds us together as Christians. It is this confession that brings the church into being. The church is a gathering of people who can unashamedly say together, “Jesus is Lord.” And then they live out this confession in the way in which they use their spiritual gifts as part of Jesus’ church – the church of which he is the head.
All of this is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit binds the church together. And the Holy Spirit empowers the church to live out its life as the body of Christ.