Spiritual Gifts – 1 Corinthians 12

Two weeks ago we moved into a new section of 1 Corinthians where Paul began to address the lack of order in the worship gatherings of the Corinthian church. He began by rebuking some of the women who were dressing immodestly and acting dishonorably toward their husbands. Then he confronted the church’s lack of order and unity in the midst of celebrating the Lord’s Supper. This week he continues to address their lack of order in worship by correcting their confusion regarding the use of spiritual gifts.

12 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know 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. 

1 Cor. 12:1-3

As usual we need to understand a little bit of the background of the members of this church in order to comprehend why they were acting the way they were and why Paul says the things he does. Before many of the Corinthians became followers of Jesus they were pagans who worshipped a multitude of gods. In their former religious practices they took part in dramatic and bizarre practices of ecstasy which was considered to be the highest form of religious experience. Some of these ecstatic practices included frenzied hypnotic chants, drunkenness, and even sexual orgies.

Spiritual Gifts Glorify Jesus

So before Paul begins teaching on spiritual gifts, he lays down a broad principle for discerning matters regarding spiritual gifts. He teaches them to judge things by how they relate to Jesus Christ. If we’re not sure if something is a spiritual gift or a misconstrued version of one, we can ask, “Does this supposed spiritual gift glorify Jesus? Does it promote the true Jesus, or a false one?”

Jesus taught this same principle, saying that when the Holy Spirit would come, He will testify of Me (John 15:26), and He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you (John 16:14). The ministry of the Holy Spirit is not to promote Himself or any man, but to glorify and represent Jesus. So Paul teaches us that we can trust that the true ministry of the Holy Spirit through spiritual gifts will be according to the nature of Jesus and bring glory to Him. With that introductory principle noted, Paul launches into his teaching on spiritual gifts by explaining that these gifts are for the common good of the church.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,[a]and to still another the interpretation of tongues.[b] 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines

1 Cor. 12:4-11


Spiritual Gifts Are For the Common Good

Paul begins and ends this section about spiritual gifts by explaining that they come from God and they are distributed by Him as He determines. Notice the reference to the Trinity in verses 4-6:

There are different kinds of gifts, 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.

There are different gifts and uses of gifts but verse 7 explains that we are all gifted by the same God for the same purpose – the common good. Our spiritual gifts are not given to help us, they are given so that we might help others as the church is built up to maturity.

Beginning in verse 8 Paul lists several gifts that God gives for the good of the church (this is clearly not an exhaustive list as others are mentioned in 12:28, Eph. 4:11, and Rom. 12:6-8). He mentions:

-The message of wisdom – insight into doctrinal truth

-The message of knowledge – the ability to apply doctrinal truth to life

-Faith – probably an unusual measure of trust in God beyond that exercised by most Christians

-Gifts of healing – the ability to restore health (for example – Acts 3:7; 19:12)

-Miraculous powers – may refer to exorcising demons (Acts 19:12) or inducing physical disability (Paul and Elymas – Acts 13:11) or even death (Peter and Ananias and Sapphira – Acts 5:5, 9).

-Prophecy – the ability to declare a message of God for His people

-Distinguishing between spirits – to differentiate the Word of God proclaimed by a true prophet from that of a satanic deceiver

-Speaking different kinds of tongues – the ability to speak an unlearned language–

-The interpretation of tongues – the ability to translate an unlearned language

We will go into more detail with some of these gifts and the questions they bring up when we get to chapter 14 which talks about speaking in tongues. I know you will have questions about these things such as: Is speaking in tongues referring to foreign languages or ecstatic language? Are the more miraculous gifts still in operation today or were they just available during the apostolic period? But for today I want us to focus on the fact that Paul doesn’t answer any of those questions in chapter 12, rather he teaches that God is the giver of all of these gifts and they are given for the common good.

It’s important that we understand that there are many different types of gifts and they are all important. This knowledge helps us to appreciate a few important principles that Paul is going to spell out as we move on in chapter 12, namely: that we are dependent on one another in the body of Christ, every member has a ministry to perform within the body, and we cannot fulfill Jesus’ mission alone – we must have others, with different gifts than us, to help.

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by[a] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

1 Cor. 12:12-26

The Importance of Every Part

If you are a follower of Jesus, it is crucial that you understand that your identity is not only with Christ, but with His body as well. Verse 13 tells us that we were baptized by one Spirit into one body. The church is your family. You represent the church and the church represents you. It is important for you to understand this because you have a role to play. You are not saved to just sit on the bench, every member of a church has a God-given responsibility to serve because they’ve been given God-given gifts for that very purpose. Unfortunately, many people don’t serve because they feel that they’re not as gifted as others and Paul wanted to correct that thinking, so he used the human body as an illustration.

He imagines different body parts talking to each other and it helps us to see the truth behind how we feel about ourselves or others within the church sometimes. He imagines the foot feeling like it wasn’t a worthy part of the body because it’s not a hand or and ear feeling inferior because it’s not an eye. But then he imagines the opposite, what if every part of the body were an eye or an ear, that would be awful because we’d miss so many other important functions.

Of course it is the same with us. You may feel like your spiritual gift isn’t as important as someone else’s gift, but you’re wrong. Every gift is vital and Paul reminds us in verse 18 that God has arranged the parts of the body just as He wanted them to be. We need every single person here at UBC doing their part if we are going to run at full capacity. We need people who will serve on committees and sit through meetings. We need people who will mow the grass or pull weeds. We need greeters and ushers and teachers. We need people to make coffee and set up tables and chairs. We need people who can play instruments and sing. We need people who can teach and preach. We need people who will open up their homes and host others. We need people who enjoy working with children and teenagers. We need people who are loud and outgoing. We need people who are quiet and thoughtful. We need YOU. And here’s something you may not completely understand yet, you need to serve if you want to grow spiritually. There’s only so much growth that can take place by reading and studying and thinking. Some growth only takes place when we take action. When you use your gifts you are forced to depend on God’s power. You are forced to exercise your faith. And you are enabled to grow in your relationship with God because you are acting in obedience to Him by stewarding what He has gifted you with. Every member must have a ministry if you want to grow to maturity in Christ.

Not only is it important for you to understand your worth in the body of Christ, but we must understand how important every other member is as well. It can be easy to overestimate our worth and judge others because they’re not gifted in the same way we are and Paul warns against this as well. He says in verse 21 that they eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” We need to recognize that we are all gifted differently, so our service is going to look different from one another. And rather than being judgmental in this way, we should be thankful and grateful for the different ministries and contributions that each other makes. As we recognize this, it leads to unity. Paul explains in verse 25 that he is teaching these things so that there is no division in the body, but rather, that each part should have equal concern for each other.

In the next and final section for today, Paul sets out to begin correcting a false view the Corinthians had. It is obvious from what comes at the end of this chapter and what Paul has to say in chapters 13 and 14 that the Corinthians held the miraculous gifts in higher esteem. They were especially proud of speaking in tongues and they were using this gift inappropriately, so Paul set out to correct their behavior and he begins down this road in verses 27-31 as he lists some gifts in an order that has the more miraculous gifts listed of lesser importance.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[a]? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

1 Cor. 12:27-31

SEEK THE GREATER GIFTS

In the next and final section for today, Paul sets out to begin correcting a false view the Corinthians had. It is obvious from what comes at the end of this chapter and what Paul has to say in chapters 13 and 14 that the Corinthians held the miraculous gifts in higher esteem. They were especially proud of speaking in tongues and they were using this gift inappropriately, so Paul set out to correct their behavior and he begins down this road in verses 27-31 as he lists some gifts in an order that has the more miraculous gifts listed of lesser importance.

By the fact the Paul used numbers with the first three gifts it appears that he was teaching that while they favored the more visible and outward gifts such as speaking in tongues, the first three gifts were greater because of their value in building up the body of Christ. Paul taught in Ephesians 4:11-13 that, “…Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” So Paul was attempting to correct the Corinthians’ use of the gift of tongues since they were using this gift primarily because of their fondness for self-expression rather than building others up. Paul concludes this chapter by telling them to pursue the greater gifts – that is – the ones that build up the body rather than the ones that have the potential to bring attention to self.

CONCLUSION

For us today, we can take away several principles from chapter 12 that will help us as individuals and as a church:

-We can recognize spiritual gifts from false practices by recognizing whether they bring glory to Jesus and build up the body of Christ.

-We can know that true spiritual gifts exemplify the fruit of the Spirit.

-We must remember that there are many different gifts and all of them are important.

-We need to understand that part of our obedience to God is the use of our spiritual gifts to build up the church and to bring Him glory. No member of the church should be sitting on the sidelines or in the bleachers.

-As we see others serving, we can be reminded that it is God who distributed the gifts for His church and for His glory and we should be encouraging and grateful to our church family as we see them serve in the ways that God has gifted them.

We are given spiritual gifts by God to build up His church and when we put our gifts to use we can achieve things that we could not do in our own power. When we use our gifts: we grow closer to the Lord, the church grows in maturity and obedience, and we live in unity and joy with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

No matter how young or old you are, you are gifted to serve here at UBC and we need you!

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