1 Corinthians 12:1-3 “You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.”
In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul wants to teach us about spiritual gifts. But before he gets to the gifts, he explains what it means to be spiritual. It is not a term that applies to unbelievers, at least not properly speaking. The majority of the Christians in Corinth were converts to the Christian faith. They had been pagans. They followed “mute idols.” There was nothing real there, no spiritual energy or power–at least nothing positive. People weren’t repenting. They weren’t turning from fear to faith. They didn’t know God and his love, because they didn’t know Jesus.
Here is Paul’s takeaway: Spiritual gifts aren’t mere matters of good morals or natural abilities. You can find both of those in the pagan religions. In most categories, perhaps, the most decorated athletes, the most creative artists, the savviest entrepreneurs and businessmen, the cleverest inventors are not Christians. These people may all be “gifted.” But theirs are not spiritual gifts.
Spiritual gifts are possessed only by people who have the Spirit of the true God. There is one sure-fire test of this: “…no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Paul is not talking about the ability to form these sounds with your mouth, the ability to pronounce the words “Jesus” and “is” and “Lord.” Any verbal person can do that. He is talking about people who say these words and sincerely mean them for themselves. If a person can’t or doesn’t do that, then the Holy Spirit is not present, and the individual has no spiritual gifts.
“Jesus is Lord” is a pregnant statement of faith. People hear the word “Lord,” and many minds think first of obedience. It is true that those who recognize Jesus as their Lord intend to live under him and follow his rules. But it is more than that.
A Lord is a person with authority, someone who has power and control. With Jesus, this is true of our entire life experience. It applies to everything about our relationship with him. “Jesus is Lord” means that Jesus is my Rescuer. I did not have the power or resources to deal with my sins myself. I couldn’t keep myself from committing them. I had nothing with which I could pay for them, no way to make amends for my guilt. So my Lord Jesus came to the rescue. My King fought his way to my side. He endured the elements of a hostile world to get to me. He took the brunt of the attacks evil villains and enemies of my soul launched at him on the way. And when he reached me, he died in my place to spare my life and set me free. He brought forgiveness for my sins and healing for my heart. He did it, not helpless me, because Jesus is my Lord, and he had the power to rescue me when I was powerless to help myself.
“Jesus is Lord” means that Jesus cares and provides for me. We are inclined to think about government and rulers as people who take money away from us. Complaints about taxes go all the way back to the “Robin Hood” legend. Farther than that, they go all the way back to ancient times, and even play a part in the story of Jesus and the people who surrounded him so many centuries ago.
But Jesus turns this all around. He is a different kind of Lord, a Ruler and King who gives his wealth away. He uses it to feed and clothe and care for the people he has claimed as his very own. Those who confess, “Jesus is Lord,” acknowledge this at every dinner prayer, as they bow their heads and ask Jesus to bless their food and thank him for giving it to them. “Jesus is Lord,” then, is the grateful appreciation of rescued people who are blessed by their gracious Master’s generosity every day. It is an understanding of Jesus that can only be worked by the Holy Spirit. And it is fundamental to the understanding of our spiritual gifts.