Category Archives: Holy Spirit

1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Building the church

Discussion Question

Share a time when you experienced being a foreigner! (It could be when everyone around you was speaking another language, sharing an in-joke, or participating in an activity you had no idea how to do) How did it make you feel?

(This is a little sharper and more pointed… Share a time when you were almost completely selfish and did something for yourself at the expense of the needs of others. How did that play out?)

Background (Context)

1 Corinthians 14 continues the discussion Paul began at 1 Corinthians 12:1 about spiritual gifts (or spiritual things). We know that the church of God in Corinth was divided, competitive and boastful. They would do almost anything to one-up each other and regularly acted in ways that were not loving. Having sought to open their eyes to the radical gifting of everyone in the church from God (12:7, 27) and the importance of each other and the inter-relatedness of each other (12:14, 20, 25), Paul turned his mind to the antidote to much of the Corinthian dramas in chapter 13. They were urged not just to “love each other” but to pursue the “way” of love (12:31, 14:1). With this new understanding of the “body” and of love in front of them, Paul turns in chapter 14 to (what looks like) a specific problem in Corinth – they have determined what the “greater gifts” (12:31) are, and they have determined incorrectly!  In a tongues vs prophecy showdown, they have backed the wrong team and are causing more problems!

Read 1 Corinthians 14:1-25

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The greater gift is prophecy (1-5)
  • The importance of making sense in the church (6-12)
  • Why this matters for believers (13-19)
  • Why this matters for unbelievers (20-25)

The “greater gift” is prophecy (1-5)

“v.1…especially prophecy” Paul helpfully draws the threads of ch.12-13 together and makes his point – prophecy is the greater gift. 

It will be important for your group to use careful interpretive (exegetical) skills from this point forward in this study. “Prophecy” and “tongues” both carry meanings throughout this passage that are carefully defined by the passage. If your group brings its own definitions to the text (ie. prophecy is predicting the future) they will get very confused. There is a great opportunity to help your group learn again how to be great Bible readers – encourage them to allow context to determine meaning. Tongues will be defined in v.2. Prophecy will be defined in v.3.    

“v.2 speaks in a tongue”  You will notice in your footnote that the text may also read “in another language”. There is a debate as to whether this use of the word “tongues” refers to other languages (like the experience of the apostles in Acts 2) or a spiritual language understood to have come from God. Again, let the context of verse 2 define the meaning not a footnote or a different passage referencing tongues or languages. What does this verse say? …to God…mysteries… 

One of the questions often asked is whether the gift of tongues still exists. As you read this part of the Bible, you will see that there is no reason given in the text as to why it couldn’t. Some say that now we have the Bible we no longer need mysterious or miraculous gifts for we have the voice of God in the text. That is true, but it does not negate the gift nor God’s capacity to give it! This chapter regulates how tongues ought to be used in the church and when they ought not be. In the experience of many, where tongues are spoken today the teaching of this chapter is largely ignored. The goal of Paul is to ensure that gifts are used to build up the church and not confuse or divide. 

“v.3…strengthening, encouraging, comfort”  Prophecy is understandable and immediately applicable to the church. Tongues are mysterious and by themselves help no one.

v.4 …themselves…the church” the crux of the matter. When a gift is being exercised in church (the body) it ought to be for the benefit of the body (12:7, 26-27). Prophecy does that. Tongues does not.

v.5 …greater” the conclusion to the question of 12:31. But there is a caveat here – interpretation. The key to Paul’s thinking is …edified. Therein lies his goal for activity in the church. It ought to build up and grow the church, not just individuals (12:7). Anything that happens in the church that is not for the common good ought not happen. Note here that it looks like tongues+interpretation is of equal value to prophecy. Paul will have something to say about that in v.18-25.

The importance of making sense in the church (6-12)

“v.6…revelation…” There are many gifts of “greater” value than prophecy. Not all the gifts mentioned are easily defined but what is clear that whatever the 4 speaking gifts are here they are intelligible and “good” for the edification of the church (in comparison with unintelligible tongues).

“v.7-8…pipe… harp… trumpet…” Intelligibility and clarity of  sound or noise is important for interpreting the tune or message. 

“v.9 So it is with you” This is a verse that shows Paul is speaking into a Corinthian issue. They are gathering in church and some people are just “speaking into the air” and not intelligibly edifying (building up) each other. 

“v.12…build up the church…” Selfishness and self-indulgence are excluded in the church. If only the Corinthians had heard this (and believed this) many years before. You may want to take a moment for the group to evaluate their own hearts and motives for serving in church. Do we serve to build up the church or build up ourselves. 

Why this matters for believers (13-19)

“v.14…mind is unfruitful” I don’t think this indicates that the speaker is in a trance and their mind is blank or vacant, but that there is no learning or building up or encouragement or growth from words that do not make sense. Again, let the context guide your reading!

“v.15-16…understanding… Amen…” Note the variety of ways Paul is using words that are synonymous to make his point that body work ought to be for the common good. It may be worth going back and getting the group to see them all again and see that what we do in church is for each other and not just an individualistic journey of spiritual adventure and delight. We gather to edify each other!

“v.19…ten thousand words…” Tongues are not useless but neither are they super useful in the body. Intelligible words are better than everything else.

Why this matters for unbelievers (20-25)

It seems likely that Paul is seeking for another way to show the Corinthians that the high estimation they make of tongues is misplaced so turns his mind to unbelievers. These verses appear to be the most confusing in the passage as v.22 says that tongues are a sign for unbelievers but in v.23-25 unbelievers respond negatively to tongues. It would be a good exercise for the group to lean into this confusion and to see how they respond. We want to encourage our groups to grapple with difficulty and not just throw their hands up in the air despondent that the Bible is too confusing. 

Don Carson articulates 7 separate ways of viewing this contradiction, all of which have difficulties. The most likely takes account of the Isaiah quote in v.21 (surprise, surprise, the context of the passage helps!). In the days of the prophet God spoke to his people in languages they could not understand and they still did not listen and were condemned.  The other languages were a negative sign for the people that did not draw them to God but continued to push them away because of their hard heartedness. Spiritual tongues do the same. The unintelligible word makes them think that believers are out of their mind and that the Chirstian message is foolishness. 

But when intelligible words are spoken (v.24) they are convicted of sin and can in the end come to know God (v.25). 

It appears that the key to understanding v.22 is to recognise that: (a) the “sign” of tongues is not positive but negative. (b) the purpose of prophecy in v.22 (see the word “for” and the way it indicates purpose) is that there is benefit from prophecy for unbelievers, but it’s core purpose (v.3) is for believers.  No unbeliever can come and worship God if what they are hearing is not intelligible and no believer can be built unless the word they hear is intelligible.  

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The purpose of our time in church is to build each other up. We ought to show ongoing concern that all the activities that take place are for this purpose. Tongues were being exalted as a spiritual language that (perhaps) the Corinthians were claiming indicated a more spiritual person. Paul says no! Tongues are not helpful and ought only be used with an interceptor so that they can be helpful but the prophetic word is best! You may see resonances with the use of tongues today. Some people will argue that tongues are a sign of genuine faith or genuine conversion. What do you think Paul would say to that?

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: What is the sign of true conversion? Some churches have argued that true conversion to Christianity and following Jesus takes place when one experiences a baptism of the spirit that leads to speaking in tongues. What are the true signs of conversion according to this passage? What are the true signs of conversion according to other passages? How might you respond to a challenge to your conversion as to its authenticity?   

Topic B: Building up the Church. What takes place in church that builds up (edifies)? What takes place in church that might not build up the body? What ought we do in church to further build up the body? How do you think an unbeliever would respond if you brought them to your church service last weekend? Where are our moments of unintelligiblity?

Topic C: How are you using your personal gifts? It is always worth pausing as we did at v.12. Are we using the gifts God has given us for the building up of the church or the puffing up of self or are we just sitting in the body waiting for others to serve us? Are we working for the common good or the personal good? How might you start a conversation with someone who looks to be making church all about themselves? How do you need to change to make sure the way you are doing church is actually about others?  

1 Corinthians 12:12-31

God’s body parts

Discussion Question

Name three body parts that you could live without. What difference would it make to your life without those three?

Background (Context)

Division in the church has been a considerable theme in this whole book. There have been divisions over which leader is best, legal issues, freedom in Christ issues and selfish seclusions. In Chapter 11, Paul dealt with the disunity in the church manifested at the Lord’s Supper which was harmful and damaging to the church. There was a double meaning with regard to the Lord’s Supper because it refers to the body of Christ. This refers to Jesus’ literal body that was hung on the cross. It also referred to the bread that is an image of remembrance for his body. It is, as we shall see clearer here, also the church that has come together because of the sacrifice of Christ. His body has given life to the body which is the church. If the church is one body, there ought to be no such thing as division because, who would ever think that a body should be dismantled like that. A head needs a neck…

Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-31

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The principle laid out (12-14)
  • What this means for the ‘lesser’ parts (15-20)
  • What this means for the ‘greater’ parts (21-26)
  • Putting some flesh on the principle (27-31)

The principle laid out (12-14)

“Just as a body…so it is with Christ.” Verse 12 is simply put but holds the full weight of this passage. The end of the sentence points us to Christ. This is not simply instruction on how to relate to other people at church but about our relationship with Christ and His body. The principle of this passage is quite clear and simple and will not take much time to understand it. The outworking of this is a little trickier but the hardest part will really come down to who is this included in this passage! If we presume that all at church are part of Christ’s body then this becomes a message of church organisation and structure or something like that. If it refers only to the real body of Christ who are truly born again then how do we discern who is and who isn’t part of the body of Christ? It may then set a huge discussion in motion but hopefully we will come back again to understanding that the body of Christ is a creation of God the Father since it is the church of God that we are referring to. And Paul, in his entire letter has been addressing it to all the saints at Corinth – the church of God, sanctified in Christ and called to be holy. We will teach the principle to all at church and live it out and those who are not truly part of the body will be revealed eventually.

“For we were all baptised by one Spirit…all given the one Spirit to drink.” Using the power of context: Paul wrote in Verses 1-11 about the Spirit distributing gifts to believers and the primary gift is the truth to call Jesus Lord. We become members of the body of Christ as we declare Jesus as Lord by the Holy Spirit – we are baptised in this way. We drink as the Spirit has distributed to each one gifts. The theme of unity, or anti-division, is continued as Paul talks about Jew v Gentile and slave v free. The point of Verse 13 is the same as Verses 1-6. We come to Christ and are enriched in Christ by the work of the Spirit.

“Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” Here is the new angle that Paul wants to focus on. Being one in Spirit does not make us clones of one another. What we do and how we express our service and works for God will differ and yet will continue to be sourced by the One Spirit and for the good of the church. We then look at what it means to be a body (church) made up of different parts. In applying this text, we need to keep in mind the different layers of what church means. It needs to be applied at the level of the local church, at the level of partnering churches (the Anglican structure), and at the global or universal church (which is every representative body of the authentic Spirit of God). And yet, the primary application will be the local gathering.

What this means for the ‘lesser’ parts (15-20)

“Now if the foot should say…” Verses 15-17 are fairly straight forward. Paul has given a good illustration toward what he is saying. Those who feel themselves to be of less worth to the body should not think that they are not part of the body. These words are here to give courage to those who feel they have little importance to the body. You can live without feet. Many brave humans have demonstrated that. But this is not a lesson in what we could possibly get by without. It is about knowing that the body is the body – no matter how small. In fact, it is when a lesser thing is lost that the rest of the body needs to compensate for the loss! Paul will cover that later.

“…in fact God has placed the parts in the body…just as he wanted them to be.” Have you ever wished that you could speak like that person can? Or if you could play an instrument or sing like that person. Or if you could be as charismatic as that person! Here we are told that God has placed people in a church like instruments in an orchestra. Nobody seeks out to be the oboe player! But the many parts make up the glory of the whole and God Himself has orchestrated that. We’ll see that some of the parts do not even look good when you point them out. But we must thank God that they are all part of the body. If we were God, we would just make every Christian a well toned, beautiful, intelligent, well-off person. You know: Come to Christ and your life will look amazing like the person on the cover of this book! But, the church is about saved sinners who come together because of the great mercy of God.

“If they were all one part, where would the body be?” Paul’s logic is that a body, by definition, has parts. If it did not have parts then it would simply be an object: square, cube, eyeball, etc. The body has to have parts and if the parts are not present then there is no body. So, if you are at church, and engaged with the gospel, you are a part of the body. That is the perspective we all should have.

What this means for the ‘greater’ parts (21-26)

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’” Now we look at the perspective of those who seem to be more important at church. Their perspective is to be the same: don’t dismiss the other parts because it will damage the body that you are a part of.

“But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it…” It’s fun to think of all the parts of your human body and consider which parts are ‘less honorable’ or ‘unpresentable’. Which parts of the human body lacks honour? Perhaps the feet. Of course, there are parts of the body that we do our utmost to protect and guard and never flaunt around! And yet these parts are very special to us! If that has grabbed your imagination and raised your eyebrows, then good. Now consider the church. Are there parts that we should care for and protect and treat with utmost respect even though we may not place them out the front.

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” As the body of Christ we move through highs and lows together. When you cut your hand, the rest of your body is aware of it and compensates. It stops and treats the suffering part. It provides rest for that part while the rest of the body functions a little less vibrantly as it did before until that body part is healed or recovered. We ought to look for a connectedness in our church like this. Growth Groups are just one way of being connected so that we can care for one another. But make sure that your group is not just talking about theology but also listening and rejoicing and praying and lamenting over the things of life – especially as we grow in our maturity in the gospel together.

Division in the church should disappear when we see one another as part of the one body. But now Paul will put some specific details onto his initial principle.

Putting some flesh on the principle (27-31)

“Now you are the body of Christ…” We have been referring forward to this verse a little bit but it has finally come. We are the body of Christ. A great truth which says: you are not Anglican or Baptist. You are a member of Christ’s body.

“…and each one of you is part of it.” For those who are wondering who all this applies to, it is all who are reading and engaged with this text. If you are attending church then you are to react to this news that you are part of the body. We treat all as potential or actual members of the body of Christ. Those outside the church are highly unlikely to be members of that body since it is a very Christian response to actually attend church! Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car! BUT…garages are made for cars and churches are made for Christians. Churches are the number one location that people give their lives to Christ. There is no other comparison (I don’t mean that conversions only happen under the roof of a church building but that conversions 9/10 times happen as a result of someone being in contact and engaging at church. People don’t arrive at church generally saying, I’m saved and thought I’d come to church. Rather, they say, I’ve been thinking of getting back into church and then some time later give thanks that they did because it was there than they found Christ.

“And God has placed in the church…” Remember that God has made up our physical bodies exactly how he planned them to be with special parts and indispensable parts etc – God has placed parts in the church too.

“…first…apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then…” There does appear to be a hierarchy here of gifts which correspond to the parts of the body that seem to be of greater worth – yet they are not greater than the other parts of the body. They are key pieces of the body and the order of apostles, prophets and teachers seems interesting and significant. He ends Verse 30 with instructions to desire the greater gifts. So Paul, while maintaining unity and equality in the church as many parts of the whole, he is also drawing attention to some gifts as of higher value. Let me put it this way, when churches do not have these parts, the body really suffers. Miracles, healing, helping and guidance appear to sit on a second rung to apostles, prophets and teachers.

Teachers – This is the least controversial gift. Some people are capable of teaching. They are able to learn stuff in a way that they can then present to others to know for themselves. They are instructors. When applied to the church, teachers are trainers of the faith through the word of God. Is this the preacher? Preaching and teaching appear to be two separate and yet closely linked things (Matt 11:; Romans 2:21; 1 Tim 4:13; 5:17). Preaching is like exhorting which is to direct people strongly in a direction and yet teaching is more like instruction on scripture. Preaching would go hand in hand with teaching. Not simply knowledge of the scriptures but what to do about them.

Prophets – You may have a gut feeling about what a prophet does cause you imagine a wise old monkey sitting with a stick in its hand and when people come to enquire of the creature, they make strange markings on the wall and predict what the future will hold. But we will rather reflect on what the scriptures tell us about prophets. A prophet is someone who speaks the words of God. It might be helpful to look at the example of Aaron in Exodus 7:1. Moses was feeling incapable of doing what God had told him to do before Pharoah and the people of Israel. God then instructs that Moses will be like God to Pharoah and that Aaron will be your prophet. Aaron is not described as a prophet of God but a prophet of Moses. So that, what Moses intends to say, Aaron will speak the words. He will be like Moses, speaking the words of Moses. Now, sometimes, the Old Testament prophets would take a word from God to the people and it will contain aspects about the future. But by and large, they were expounding the words of God in relation to the promises of God in the past. Yes, they were announcing the words that God speaks. But the words were not a brand new message that contradicted anything that God had said previously. Two judgments are made concerning a prophet: 1) does it contradict what God has already said? 2) did what the prophet say was going to happen come to pass? If either of those are false then the prophet is a false prophet. While the scriptures were still open for addition in the New Testament times, it seems that the gift of prophecy was present and Paul even says to pursue it. Now that the scriptures are complete, it is a fair argument to have whether prophecy has ended, become less frequent, or does it continue under the banner of preaching the gospel to all nations. The word of God has come and His Spirit has been poured out to believers so that we can talk about the result of people believing or rejecting the gospel.

Apostles – The third (and first word) in the list has a double meaning. The word means sent one. And so, all of us who have heard the gospel and the call to go and make disciples are a type of apostle. Paul described himself as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ (sent by Christ 1Cor1:1). He pleaded that surely the church in Corinth recognised his apostleship because they are the proof or seal of this title (1 Cor 9:2). It is a word that can be used widely by someone who has been sent by someone else or by a church (Acts 15:22). But it also has a specific use when we talk about the Apostles of Christ. Paul and Peter and James and John and the other men (not Paul or Judas) who were Jesus’ twelve disciples. Their ministry establishes the first century church and gives us the final word of God in the scriptures. We teach that the scriptures closed with the death of these Apostles. Our church is built upon the Apostolic teaching which is the Word of God about Jesus Christ.

The gifts we ought to hold as key to the body of Christ is the apostoloc teaching, the word of God spoken and the teaching of this word to the whole body. It’s like the head is a significant part of the body because of the brain and the mouth which feeds the rest. It doesn’t change the lesson that the whole body is the body. It does teach that there are those roles that are incredibly necessary for the church to be the church.

“Are all…do all…Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.” Each part of the body will demonstrate different gifts, but as the body overall, there are greater gifts that we need the body to include. These are the gifts of the gospel being presented to the church through teaching the very word of God as handed to us by the apostles.

“And yet I will show you the most excellent way.” This sentence is the intro to the infamous Chapter 13! It almost wipes out everything that we have said because it points us to love. BUT, love without proper teaching soon becomes greed and lust. The most excellent way of love is best understood when the body is taught to understand it well. And then the body will all, every part, express and experience the great gift of love.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Anyone in the church is to see themselves as part of a greater thing than themselves. Those who feel unhelpful and insignificant must understand the blessing that they are for being part of the body of Christ. Those who have significant parts to play must understand that they too are only placed there by the mercy and grace of God for the benefit of all who are there. The WOW gifts of healing and miracles are to be reoriented to lesser than the message of Jesus Christ who gave his body and blood for the life of the church of God.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The joy of being you. You are wonderfully and beautifully made. Like everybody at church, you have Christ to thank for your salvation and your knowledge of God and all His works. The Spirit that you have is the same Spirit that all the members of the church have. No more and no less. You are special because Christ died for you. And you are a member of the body of Christ. You may not be something else that you would love to be but that is a distracting thought away from the best thought that you have been made by God, saved by God and sealed by God with the Holy Spirit. What a blessing you are when you know and love that.

Topic B: The joy of knowing others like you. The body of Christ is made up of many parts that all do their part just as God has made them to be. We are all growing in Christ and being transformed, that is a work in progress that God has promised to complete. But look around at what God is doing in the lives of others at church. Praise God for the servants, the workers, the speakers, the encouragers, the prayers, the readers, the visitors and the faithful men and women who have held the gospel in this place for decades.

Topic C: Be keen for better things. A church that sits on the routine of rosters and meeting times will lose sight of the greater gifts. What we ought to eagerly desire is the word of God to feed us and grow us. If we are one body with many parts, then all of the parts can work together to ensure that what we love best is good spiritual food. And that food is the word of God spoken to us. Taught. Exhorted. Applied. At our church, we meet weekly in large public times to sing and to pray and to hear the bible read and taught. We meet mid-week in smaller groups to coach one another in life through Christ by reading the bible, teaching one another and caring for how we are each progressing in the faith. We also hope to commend and support everybody in a habit of good personal and family bible times. Just as an organism will eagerly desire food to survive, the body of Christ must eagerly desire to be fed by the word of God. That, after all, is how the body with all it’s parts learns to live together as one through love.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

The gifts of the Spirit

Discussion Question

What thoughts or questions do you have about gifts from the Spirit?

Background (Context)

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

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • 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.