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Discovering the Key to Spiritual Growth


1 Corinthians 1:7


Jim Davis


Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (1 Corinthians 1:7). God gave the Corinthians every spiritual gift needed to build a solid fellowship, but they were failing dramatically. The Corinthians found themselves powerless as they used their God given gifts in a worldly fashion. They lacked nothing they needed, but were failing in spiritual growth.


1 Corinthians 3:1-4

3:1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly — mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3 You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4 For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men? NIV


It all began as the new believers in Corinth lined up behind their favorite teachers. “Each group in the church was tearing down their least favorite preachers in order to build up the man they liked. Their motive was not at all spiritual. They were promoting division in the church by being partisan to one man as opposed to the others. They needed to examine their own hearts and get rid of the pride - that was destroying the church.” (The Bible Exposition Commentary. Copyright (c) 1989 by SP Publications, Inc.)


The division penetrated the fellowship further as members sized each other up according to their spiritual gifts. They measured themselves and others by their gifts—from the least to the greatest. Those considered to have the greatest gifts were considered more powerful and more important. It was wreaking havoc. Paul warned them about comparing themselves with themselves.


2 Corinthians 10:12-13

12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. NIV


Adapting worldly solutions to spiritual problems is something with which we can identify. We often measure one another much like the Corinthians. The last couple of decades have been spent quarreling over how to do church as we strive to revive churches spiritually. We compare this church to that church as we endeavor to figure out what makes for success. We compare the old style of leadership to the new style of leadership as we seek to duplicate the success of others. In captivating fashion we have upgraded the music and the presentation of the message electronically through PowerPoint’s and movie screens. We look to a person’s giftedness as we seek to fit them into our fellowships.


It is common practice to administer written test to assess strengths and weaknesses to fit a person into the fellowship accordingly. I can only wonder--how often does looking at the results of a written spiritual test prevent us from seeing God’s potential in a person? It may be a great place to begin fitting a person in, but I can only wonder how often do our test limit what God can do through a person.


What happens when we look at a person’s natural gifts as spiritual gifts and size them up accordingly? I have discovered a mechanic who becomes a believer usually doesn’t desire to be the church’s mechanic. I have discovered the same to be true with teachers, doctors, nurses, accountants, cooks, baby sitters, janitors etc. We fail to understand God can use all these people in ways we can’t even imagine.


We Must Look to God’s Greatness


The world looks to great people for great things seeking to emulate their success. The kingdom of God is much different. Jesus taught that those who believed in him would do greater things than he had done. Jesus measured greatness by one’s willingness to become least in the kingdom of heaven. He taught the least in the kingdom of heaven would be the greatest. It was his measure of greatness. Throughout the Bible God always seemed to use those least likely to succeed. When he did choose the most likely to succeed they were usually found in impossible circumstances.


God doesn’t call us because we are great—he calls us because he is GREAT. God exerted his power in Corinth through base people who brought little to the fellowship. He gave the spiritual gifts needed to make it work.


1 Corinthians 1:26-31

26 Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." NIV


In a very non-diplomatic way Paul reminded the Corinthians they brought nothing to God. In fact, they were only where they were in Christ because of God. Paul writes, “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong . . . It is because of him [i.e., God] that you are in Christ Jesus.” It is not very flattering, but it gives God the glory.


You would think entrusting the message of the gospel to that fellowship would bring defeat. To our modern day fellowships it’s comparable to casting pearls before pigs—or in the present day vernacular—putting lipstick on pigs. Of course, God does things like this to nullify the wisdom of the world.


We should constantly remind ourselves of the make up of the Corinthian fellowship. After coming to Christ, God gave the Corinthians the spiritual gifts they needed to build the fellowship. God didn’t give the gifts to make them important or powerful. The gifts were not a measure of their potential. The gifts were to make them useful as they looked to the ONE who made it possible.


The Corinthians were encouraged to take note of what Christ had done for them as they looked back at their past.


1 Corinthians 6:9-11

9 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. NIV


Salvation is a gift from God--it goes beyond becoming religious. Spiritually the Corinthians had nothing of which they could boast—except Jesus Christ. They were given the free gift of salvation along with every spiritual blessing needed.


Ephesians 2:6-10

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. NIV


It is becoming increasingly obvious that we must move beyond human potential. Somehow in our religious approach to Christianity we’ve missed the point. We go through life believing we are saved by grace as we use our human potential religiously expecting God to bless us. How often does looking at our giftedness and studying the mechanics of church growth through the eyes of human potential blind us to the real power of God?


We must trust God’s grace to confirm God’s work in us. Paul reminded the Corinthians that the spiritual gift given to them was to confirm God’s work in them. They began measuring themselves by what God was doing through them and lost sight of what God was doing.


1 Corinthians 1:4-7

4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way — in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. NIV


We must trust God’s grace to work in us individually despite all our efforts.


1 Corinthians 15:9-11

9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed. NIV


Paul writes, “ . . . by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Paul worked harder than all of his peers, yet it wasn’t Paul working, it was the grace of God that was making it all happen.


To truly understand a person’s potential you would have to understand God’s potential. It cannot be measured by what we hold in our hands. A cursory understanding of the Scriptures should teach us we couldn’t even begin to imagine how God can use the weakest of the weak.


1 Corinthians 1:18-25

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:


"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;

the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."  


20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. NIV


God can do more through the weakest person than we could ever imagine.


Ephesians 3:20-21

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. NIV


Paul’s advice to the Corinthian problem was very personal. He instructed them to stop looking to their spiritual gifts as the source of their strength. Instead, he pointed them solely to the all-surpassing power of God.


2 Corinthians 4:7-12

7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 12 So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. NIV


The gifts were given to the Corinthians to reveal God’s power. Paul asks, “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7.) They had lost sight of God’s power as they relied on their gifts for strength to accomplish. Sadly, the Corinthian’s approach to Christianity was destroying the very thing they were endeavoring to build—the temple of God.


1 Corinthians 3:16-23

16 Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple.


18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a "fool" so that he may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness"; 20 and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile."   21 So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. NIV


The Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead desires to bring Christ to life in each of us.  Before this can happen we must come to grips with our spiritual death. Coming to grips with our spiritual death forces us to look beyond ourselves. We are forced to look beyond whatever gift or blessing God has given us to the ONE who gave us the gift. Becoming a Christian is about allowing God’s Spirit to work in me—to lead me—it is about allowing God to accomplish his will through me.  I can’t force it to happen through religious activity. I can’t make it happen by out doing others or comparing what I have to what others have.


1 Corinthians 3:5-7

5 What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 6 I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. NIV


God’s power to the weakest of things is demonstrated every day in the natural world. It is amazing how an acorn planted under a sidewalk comes bursting through it over time. It is almost unbelievable, but it is God’s power at work.


God’s Spirit was alive in the Corinthians. He was there to bring their lives to fruition just as he brings the acorn to life as it breaks through the concrete sidewalk. Paul speaks of it as the sanctifying work of the Spirit. His work begins the moment we decide to believe in Jesus Christ.


2 Thessalonians 2:13-15

13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. NIV


Too often we are led to believe becoming religious sanctifies. Paul speaks of the sanctifying work of God’s Spirit as we choose to believe. The Spirit of God works in our lives to bring us to obedience, he gives us the strength to believe and obey as he sets us apart as God’s own possession.


1 Peter 1:2

To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, 2 who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: NIV


God chose to save the world through Jesus Christ. It is Gods spirit at work in us, through us and around us that is busy sanctifying—setting us apart to be obedient to Christ. The Corinthians were looking to their spiritual gifts as a means to growth. They lost sight of the work of God’s Spirit. 


Initially Paul Was Spiritually Blind


There was a time when Paul prided himself in his religious faith.


Philippians 3:4-6

If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. NIV


Paul came to the point where he believed in Judaism but lost sight of God. Paul’s faith was in the law he received rather than the ONE who gave it. Paul’s confidence came from faith in his ability to excel in Judaism. It was paramount to having faith in himself.


Galatians 1:13-14

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. NIV


Paul was a master at keeping the religious laws. He excelled religiously. He excelled beyond his peers, but it wasn’t enough. In Romans Paul is transparent about his futile struggle to be religious. It was the battle between being religious and becoming Christian through the grace of God.


Romans 7:10-25

10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.


13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! But in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it produced death in me through what was good, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.


14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do — this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.


21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! NIV


In these verses Paul relates his experience of living under the law of God without Christ—prior to becoming a Christian. The religious activities Paul relied upon to bring life brought death. Paul’s religion led him to cry out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” His religion prevented him from discovering the sanctification only God provides. When Paul came to know Christ he cried out, “Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!”


Surprisingly, many Christians don’t live much different than Paul prior to his believing in Christ. We measure ourselves by our spiritual gifts—by what we are able to accomplish. It misdirects our focus.  Christianity is about the kindness of God working in and through me to recreate me in the image of Christ so that I can use what he has given me to his glory.


Philippians 2:12-13

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed — not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence — continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. NIV


Salvation is about God’s working in me to bring about his desire in me to live according to his purpose. God is at work in me to lead me to act according to his purpose for me. It is a gift of God--I cannot earn it or make it happen through religious activity.




We take our religious test to determine our “spiritual gifts.” We use our test results as a compass to point us in the right direction. We use them religiously to accomplish our desired goals. Why not take a new approach to life. Simply ask God to begin his work in us so that we may act according to his desires—his purposes. It is how God reveals the riches of his grace to a lost world.