The gifts of the Spirit
What thoughts or questions do you have about gifts from the Spirit?
Paul has written a letter to the church in Corinth who need to be pointed away from thinking just like the rest of the world thinks and to consider Christ – the only LORD to worship and the only Saviour of the world. Knowing this changes everything we do.
We cease boasting in people and boast in the Lord. We stop thinking of freedom as an invitation to have everything but turn our hearts to serving Christ, even with our bodies. From Chapter 8, we are warned to flee idolatry but rather glorify God in everything. Chapter 11 turns to a positive view of worship as the theme of worship and relationships is examined. The Lord’s Supper shows us that we are no longer a people who worship in order to get something, but we worship because we have already received in full. The final chapters of 1 Corinthians celebrates how amazing it is to know God and adopt the same character as him. We are no longer tossed individuals in the world responding to things in anger and division but we are a saved people who worship together in love and truth.
What were the people in Corinth doing that Paul didn’t like? We are about to read the passage and hear Paul talk about things gifted by the Spirit of God to the church. About healing and prophecy and miracles and tongues. Were these things happening in Corinth? Was it wrong? Should we get these? We’ll deal with those questions as the study goes on. Whether we know what the church was doing or not has little benefit to what Paul says to us about them. Much wisdom from the scriptures is overlooked when we go looking for background info to shine a light on any passage. The bible has been put together to listen to from any nation in any time.
Read 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
What did you see? (Observation)
- The primary Spiritual gift (1-3) to call Jesus Lord
- One Spirit, One Lord, One God (4-6)
- Different gifts but still the same Spirit (7-11)
The primary Spiritual gift (1-3) to call Jesus Lord
“Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.” Ironically, I also don’t want you to be uninformed (or ignorant) about this first verse! Although all major translations say spiritual gifts or gifts of the Spirit, the word gifts is not a given in the Greek text. The Greek word used means ‘pertaining to the spirit’, or ‘spiritual’ and the translations have looked forward to Verses 4-11 to look at what the spiritual things is pointing to. We could read, Now about the things pertaining to the Spirit, or Now about spiritual things. See how the major translations are correct and yet, if we are uninformed, we presume that there is a special thing or things called spiritual gifts. The way the rest of the passage plays out will not be affected by this nuance very much BUT the existence of the phrase: spiritual gifts gives license for the uninformed to discuss grand powers as a right in their spiritual experience. The only place in Scripture where the phrase spiritual gifts is ever actually used rather than implied is in Romans 1:11 where the usage in context is clearly about strengthening one another by the truth of the gospel. Note also 1 Cor 1:7 mentions gifts but does not carry with it spirit. The full words of this section plus Chapter 14 explore gifts given through the Spirit. We desire to listen intently without jumping to a world where Christians automatically get super powers.
“You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols.” Paul uses the word pagans (gentile, nations, people) as the pre-Christian diagnosis for all. Before coming to Christ, we were all pagan. When we enter this world, we are of the world. We are fleshly and ignorant of the true God. In many and various ways, we are lead to worship false gods. We love to adore things or people. But adoring the One True God is just not in our nature. By default, says Paul, we will be idolaters. Ephesians 2:1-9 (esp V2) expresses it well. There are many and various superstitions around that go unchecked. There are many gods that we can trust and hope in for future security. Even worship in the Christian realm can be misused as merely a superstition – until it is transformed by the knowledge of the True and Living God through the word of God. The doctrine of total depravity describes that we are unable to muster knowledge or belief in God on our own.
“Therefore…” Paul’s assertion in Verse 2 gives him confidence to say what follows. The effect of knowing that we will all be mislead away from God gives the following conclusion.
“…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.” If our human nature cannot take our hearts and minds to worship the True and Living God in truth (but turn to mute idols) then anyone who professes Jesus to be Lord can only do this by the Holy Spirit. Of course, anyone can mouth these words, or read them off a book, but coming to God is only ever a work of the Holy Spirit. The first thing to know about spiritual things and spirituality is that we need the Holy Spirit to bring us to eternal life. The primary gift of the Holy Spirit is to give us the knowledge of eternal life through the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the work of an entirely different spirit to curse Jesus, to reject Jesus.
One Spirit, One Lord, One God (4-6)
“There are different kinds of gifts…service…working…” Gifts and service are both outward in nature from something to something else. God gives gifts, and service is something done for the benefit of others. Working is about activity and effort. Perhaps it is a triune thought about the source and direction of use. That is, God gives gifts for the benefit of others, not simply the one who receives so that their work can be an expression of God’s good work in the world. Whether these three words are meant to be three sides of one thing or whether they are three different areas of thought will become clearer as the passage goes on.
“…the same Spirit distributes…the same Lord…the same God at work…” The emphasis in these three Verses is the unity of the source. The church is one because our God is one. God is at work in calling and saving the church. The Lord is the revealed Lord Jesus whom we serve. And the Spirit is at work in all of the works of God to distribute and call and teach and save. Notice the matching of gifts distributed by the Spirit. The Lord is matched against service. And our work is matched with the work of God. While 1 Corinthians began with the trouble of division in the church, Paul is celebrating the source of unity! Our Triune God is the foundation of the church and the supplier of all its needs. The church is to reflect the unity of God. Though many, we are one. No division in the church even though there is division in the distribution of gifts. Note that different and division are related words. We embrace unity as we celebrate our differences because we recall that our source and service are founded in One God who is at work in all of us. Just as God is one and yet demonstrates His diversity within the Trinity, the church recognises it’s many gifts and services and works and thanks God for being the resource for all of us.
Different gifts but still the same Spirit (7-11)
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Note that any benefit that we receive from knowing God and receiving from Him is for the benefit of the church (and the world). If we recognise a blessing from God, it is not to be put in your back pocket and sat on. Use it. Express God who has manifested the Spirit in you through gifts that you are able to use for the benefit of others. Gifts for service put to work.
“…through…by…the Spirit…” Recall that when we were simply people in this world, we were led astray to mute idols (V2). When we do or say anything under the expression of Jesus as Lord, this is a manifestation of the Spirit within us. This is the logic of Paul here. If it is for Christ, it is through or by the Spirit. If it is against Christ, then it is something else.
“…a message of wisdom…” This would imply wisdom from God rather than wisdom of the world which Paul condemned in the early part of this book (2:6). Wisdom is presenting the truth of God into this world in a practical way. We see how we are best to live and act and react in the world under the grace of God. In Chapter 2, Paul speaks much on wisdom and declares that the wisdom from God is not something that anybody in this world could possibly have mustered up. We declare something that no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor mind conceived. Wisdom from God is God given. It is through the Spirit. It is to have the mind of Christ. And it seeks to know nothing else but Jesus Christ and him crucified. (2:2). If someone claims to have spiritual wisdom and does not proclaim Christ – it is not the same spirit we wish to be fed from.
“…a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit…” Chapter 8 focused on the word knowledge. It shows an understanding of matters. It emphasises understanding and intellect rather than virtues like kindness, patience and love. It is neither a good nor an evil. It is a building block for what we choose to do with our knowledge. The greatest truth about knowledge is not about what we know but about being known by God. The Spirit will guide us to true knowledge but knowledge without love is nothing. As Paul says, knowledge puffs up while love builds up.
“…to another faith…” It must not be presumed that some will have the gift of faith and others may not. This letter implies a number of times that all in Christ must have faith (2:5; 7:22; 13:13; 15:14, 17; 16:13) But perhaps there are those who manifest a faith from God that feeds the faith of those around them. That is, faith in the church is caught as we stand beside those whom God has especially gifted with faith. I do not mean by this what some might think I mean: that we have faith tanks that can be filled little or much and that the more faith, the greater our relationship with God. Like the faith that can move mountains! I simply mean that while some may manifest their worries and timidness, others can give courage as they manifest their trust in God. This too is not a measure of a person’s worth before God since it is a gift of the Spirit – they didn’t do this of themselves.
“…to another gifts of healing…miraculous powers…” The list of examples gets more and more ‘interesting’! We know that Jesus had the power to heal and perform miracles. We know that the apostles received similar gifts. We certainly believe this to be the work of God when the result of these gifts and powers are to profess and proclaim Jesus as Lord (keeping the context in mind). We also acknowledge and appreciate that healing happens and in many and various ways, God manifests miracles in people’s lives that sometimes can be difficult to explain. The question remains: ought we expect to receive gifts like these in the church or not? If we had these gifts demonstrated all the time and across the ages everywhere that Jesus was preached then we might calmly say that yes, of course healing and mighty powers goes hand in had with Christian churches. When we notice that this is not happening then we ask: are we doing something wrong or are we looking for the right things. Let the bible answer. The spiritual things that Paul is discussing are all shown to be from the One Spirit when Jesus is proclaimed Lord. This is the purpose of the gifts. Healing and miracles are not a fringe benefit of being Christian – one of the perks like the prosperity gospel implies. Healing and miracles are FOR the gospel. Paul will continue to work through this issue over the next few chapters. If the point ain’t Christ then there is no point.
“…to another prophecy…” Paul will again emphasise this gift in 14:1. Prophecy is done to strengthen, encourage and comfort the people of God. Is prophecy about predicting the future? Is prophecy about speaking the word of God? To cut to the chase and keep things short: both are given to us in the Word of God. The closed canaan of Scripture reveals who the Messiah is, how the wrath of God is real and is paid for at the cross, how the world has a non-disclosed use-by date, how God’s love is demonstrated and given at the cross. All that must be known about God has been made known. While Paul wrote this letter, the full measure of Scripture had not been written yet. The church would hear from God as the Spirit saw fit. If we have prophecy today it is by those who bring the word of God (the bible) to the hearts and minds of the church to strengthen, encourage and comfort people.
“…to another distinguishing between spirits…” 1 John 4:1 helps us to understand this and link it to the previous gift of prophecy.
“…speaking in different kinds of tongues, and … interpretations of tongues.” Paul will later show that you need the latter for the former to be useful. These tongues are best understand as different languages. Note that in Acts 2, when people spoke in tongues, it was clearly for the benefit of those who understood those languages. Paul mentions tongues of angels elsewhere but never endorses it or even confirms that such a thing is anything more than hyperbole. Again, this gift of the Spirit is for the sole purpose of communicating the word of God to people. None of the gifts have steered off course of this agenda.
“All these are the work of the one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” We must concluded from this section that nobody is to boast about what they are able to contribute to the church of God since it is all flowing from the one Fountain. And not even a Fountain to be approached and taken from – the Spirit distributes and the Spirit determines who, where and when gifts are given.
What did we learn? (Meaning)
So three lessons flow from this: all church work is fed from one Spirit; all gifts given are for the purpose of proclaiming Christ as Lord; and no gift is given in order to be kept to oneself. Division in gifts but no division in the Giver or receivers. Variety in practice but no variation in purpose.
Now what? (Application)
Topic A: What classifies as a spiritual gift? The passage talked about gifts, service and works. The list of gifts were particularly aimed at what we do with our mouths because this is the clearest way of proclaiming the gospel. When we proclaim the gospel we must use our words. But let us not overlook our service and work toward one another. The qualifying mark of a gift of the Spirit is that it points people toward the Lord Jesus Christ. The first and most important and essential gift of the Spirit that we all must embrace and use is the gift of the gospel, first for ourselves and then to those around us. The premiere need of every church is the news of salvation through Christ and that He is the Lord of all. If that is the only gift that you ever receive, you are eternally better off than many souls who do not know it.
Topic B: When will I know I’m using a spiritual gift? Let’s not equate spiritual gifts with super powers. The work of God is subtle and almost always goes on without much attention. As you meet together this week, with a chocolate biscuit in one hand and your bible open in the other, and you open your mouth and encourage the people of your Growth Group that Jesus Christ is Lord – risen from the dead and He is Lord. That the passage in 1 Corinthians 12 is a message from God to encourage us that we all worship and serve the One True God. And show love and care for somebody that you have learned to do because you know the love of God – you are using your gifts given to you, not from your own brilliance but by the grace of God. Can you share other moments when you or others can be exercising their spiritual gifts for the benefit of others?
Topic C: Our church is equipped and built up by the power of the Spirit of God. Do you ponder whether you belong to a spiritual church? Do you lament sometimes that our church could be more spiritual? Let’s remember that it is God who equips, he distributes, he determines how his church will be fed and grow. It is God who is at work. It is Jesus Christ whom we serve because He first served us. It is the Spirit of God who gives life through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let us never forget that the power of God is the gospel itself (Romans 1:16-17). The Spirit of God works through the word of God to teach and to correct and to rebuke and to grow. The fruit of the Spirit is unity manifest in love, kindness, gentleness. If we proclaim Jesus as Lord, then we can only do that by the power of the Spirit of God. No man can lead us back to God without the power of the Spirit.