Studies in First Corinthiansby Bob Burridge ©2018
Lesson 29: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (ESV)
Gifts for the Church
One of the great heart-warming experiences is to watch children opening gifts. They get so excited about them, and they usually aren’t afraid to let it show.
Christmas time is specially wonderful when there are children around to open their packages. With cameras taking pictures, and adults watching their every move, the kids tear at wrappings and amazingly know how to get into those hard to open boxes, with seeming indifference to all the attention they’re getting.
Of course they’re quick to pass the package on to the nearest available adult when they get one of those impenetrable plastic bubbles things often come encased in. They might show some excited impatience as the adult goes off to find tools: scissors, knives, and pliers to get through the packaging. Then they wait while the hundreds of twisties are unwound that hold the little pieces in place. Then there’s the hunt for the right size batteries to make things work.
Then once their treasure’s set free from its factory fastenings and made to work, they become lost in the wonders of imagination as they try out their new possessions. They might have to be reminded to thank the person who gave the gift for his kindness. It’s even hard to pry them away to come to the afternoon’s delicious Christmas dinner.
When those Christmas Day family pictures are taken we often find in the finished product that little eyes were looking off longingly toward the pile of gifts rather than at the camera. And, now and then, we discover in the treasured photographs a smuggled in toy or two held in hands that wouldn’t let them go while we posed and smiled for memory’s sake.
Gifts are good things, particularly when they’re given in love. We should appreciate them, and make good use of them to the best of our ability. But there are some real dangers too.
It’s easy to become obsessed with our gifts like little children at Christmas time. We can become so lost in their wonders, that we forget the bigger picture of what God’s doing around us. The gifts others receive can make us jealous and covet what they have. The things that are ours can stir up self-centered pride and bragging..
Part of maturity is appreciating the love that gave the gift, We have to keep its enjoyment in perspective with our responsibilities and obligations. We also need to appreciate the gifts others receive, and be glad with them.
God’s spiritual gifts to us as his church are the most wonderful things we can receive. This next section of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians deals with problems caused by immaturity in how we receive and appreciate God’s gifts. Paul seems to be responding to an issue that had been brought to his attention about these struggles in the Church at Corinth.
This section of the letter begins with chapter 12.
1. Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.
2. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led.
3. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
A lack of understanding can lead to serious abuses. These next three chapters were to help them learn how to handle their gifts in a responsible way.
The word “gifts” doesn’t actually appear in verse 1. Literally it says “and about the spirituals …” [“tōn pneumatikōn” (τῶν πνευματικῶν)] Paul had a broad range of spiritual benefits in mind. Translators often bring in the word gifts from verse 4 because generally speaking all the things he’s writing about here are freely given by God.
What God gives to different believers, comes in different ways, and in different amounts, for different purposes.
The Corinthians were not appreciating that very well. Some abused the gifts God gave them. They became prideful of them, or were jealous of what God chose to give others.
Paul directed them back to the time before they became Christians. Many of those in Corinth were Gentiles converted from pagan religions. Paul described newly converted believers in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 2:11-13, “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands– remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
In their past these new Christians were guilty of worshiping idols. They bowed to and hoped in mere statues and pictures that couldn’t speak. They were human inventions, things dreamed up that didn’t represent anything real.
When Paul mentions “mute idols”, he may have had Psalm 115:4-7 in mind; “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.”
Yet in their former spiritual darkness, they bowed and worshiped these objects. They even let these imagined deities lead them astray. We humans are blind and gullible while we’re cut off from fellowship with the true God.
The greatest gift of all is the regeneration of our lost souls by God’s grace. Before their salvation, many of them, Paul included, cursed the name of Jesus, the name they now were honoring as their Lord. They didn’t get where they are by anything they could take pride in. It was a work of grace, the moving of the Holy Spirit, which stirred their hearts to faith.
So Paul reminds them of this by some very simple reasoning. Very literally Paul wrote, “No one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Cursed is Jesus’, And no one is able to say ‘Lord Jesus’ except by the Holy Spirit.” The word “accursed” or “cursed” translates the Greek word “Anathema” (ἀνάθεμα).
There can be no doubt that it isn’t just the words we say, but the soul’s trust that matters. Anyone can repeat words. But not everyone says them sincerely. A true profession of Christ can only come from a heart changed by grace.
That’s what Jesus warned about in Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ ”
The point is that anyone who curses Jesus – is speaking without the Spirit’s leading. Those who truly declare his lordship – do so by God’s grace only, not by their own power or choices. So if they credit their faith and entire spiritual life to God’s grace, certainly they need to realize that all their gifts are by that same grace.
To be jealous of what God gives others is to rebel against God’s wise distributions. To be prideful of the good gifts we have is to steal God’s glory instead of being humbly thankful.
All the provisions and abilities found
in the Church are from God.
4. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
5. and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;
6. and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
7. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
These statements don’t refer to totally separate things. We use our gifts as we get active serving in various ways. All our various gifts, ministries, and activities are evidences of God at work in his Church.
God is the source of every good endowment and blessing we receive. The word for “gifts” in verse 4 is “charismatōn” (χαρισμάτων). It means things that are freely given. It comes from the root verb “chari-ō” (χαριω) which means to show grace, or kindness. That’s where we get our word “Charismatic” which we usually use today for certain supernatural gifts.
The word for “service” in verse 5 is “diakoniōn” (διακονιῶν) . It means services given to help others. Our word “deacon” come from it. The Deacons are to humbly serve the needs of the church family. The word translated as “activities” is “energaematōn” (ἐνεργημάτων). Things we are energized to do.
The word translated as “who empowers” in this verse, “ho energōn” (ὁ ἐνεργῶν), is from the same root word. Our word “energy” comes from this Greek word. God energizes the people in his church to be able to carry out some amazing things.
Yet in all this diversity, there is only one who gives all these gifts. The source is the one who is Spirit, Lord, and God. God is spirit as to his nature, He is Lord as to his Sovereignty, and he is God as to his power. He distributes skills, opportunities, and desires to each as he sees fit. 1 Peter 4:10, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:”
Similarly here in 1 Corinthians Paul points out that the purpose of the gifts is the common good. God gives us different jobs to do, and skills to accomplish each task. We should never become jealous or proud of others who have different gifts and assignments. Instead we should work together as a true family to benefit the church.
One of the founding principles of our country is stated in our nation’s motto: “e pluribus unum”. It’s a Latin expression which means, “out of many, one”. It was proposed in 1776 by our Founding Fathers for the Great Seal of the United States. 6 years later it was officially adopted, and was used on many of our coins. Our nation was strong because our diversity was used to jointly support our common goal: to preserve and promote the ideas of liberty and justice as stated in our founding documents.
As with our nation, so also in the church: We shouldn’t let diversity become a divisive focus, or let our unity be something we take for granted. We need to avoid being torn apart by jealousy, strife and self-centeredness. When we diverse people unite we can promote something greater than we are as individuals. We become stronger and our differences serve the whole body, not just the ourselves. Together we preserve the bond that holds us together.
Teachers, laborers, lawyers, or students shouldn’t use their skills to become so powerful that they take advantage of weaker groups to get more for themselves. They should use their skills responsibly, respecting the bond that makes us one.
In the church, each of us is important in God’s larger plan. Some can teach skillfully. Others have more time to pray. There are those who can cook foods, provide rides to church, repair things, or mow the lawn. Some are can organize the business, vacuum the carpets, pull weeds, or watch the children. Each person needs to appreciate the skills of others, and work without jealousy or self-importance. This unity of those with different skills is what makes the church strong.
We need to treasure what holds us together along with what makes us different.
There is great variety in the gifts God gives his church.
8. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,
9. to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,
10. to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
11. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
This list of 9 gifts is representative of the abilities the Holy Spirit gives to individual believers in Christ. It’s not meant to be complete. In other places they are divided in other ways. Here it’s intended to show the diversity that comes together in our union as the body of Christ.
These gifts were specific to the church at the time Paul wrote. This was a transitional time in the unfolding of God’s plan. It was a time when new revelation was still being given. There was no completed New Testament to guide the new believers and their churches. There was a need to authenticate God’s messengers and message.
That era ended when the New Testament was completed. The gifts in the church today are different. But the point Paul is making is still important.
Some were given the utterance (word) of wisdom.
8. “For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, …”
Wisdom is the ability to understand the importance and relevance of what we know. In Godly wisdom, we see how circumstances and judgments we make fit with God’s word, his warnings, promises, and his larger plan.
The gift here is the “utterance of wisdom”. Some translate it as the “word of wisdom”. There are two primary Greek words in the New Testament which are often translated by the word, “word”.
– One is the word “hraema” (ῥῆμα) which is used about 91 times in the New Testament. It refers to actual words themselves. The things you look up in a dictionary, the individual words you write in a letter or speak in a sentence. For example this is the word Paul used when he wrote in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
– The other word is “logos” (λόγος) which is used well over 300 times in the New Testament. This word is more about the expressing of an idea, communicating it so that others will understand something. John 1 begins by telling us that Jesus was the “word” sent from God to bring light to darkness. It isn’t referring to a dictionary word that stands for Jesus. It meant that he was the expression of God here to reveal his truths to us.
The word Paul uses here in 1 Corinthians 12:8 is “logos” (λόγος). The gift is not just written words about wisdom. It’s not “book knowledge”. It’s the Spirit given ability to express Godly wisdom so that others can benefit by it. These are the teachers, Pastors, Elders, many parents, and other lay-people in the church specially gifted to be able to make true biblical wisdom understood.
Some were given the utterance (word) of knowledge.
8. “… and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,”
Again, here the term “utterance” is sometimes translated as “word”. It’s the same word (logos) used about wisdom.
What is uttered to others in the church here is “knowledge”. This knowledge is made up of the facts God makes known to us by revelation and preserved for us in Scripture. Some in the church are specially gifted by the Holy Spirit to express this God-given knowledge effectively.
Some were given faith.
9. “to another faith by the same Spirit …”
That’s the ability God implants in his children that convinces them of the truth and to personally trust in it. It makes them rest confidently in what God says and to depend upon the Bible’s reliability. Faith isn’t an irrational or blind trust. It’s based on revealed truths from God’s word.
This basic trust in God is common to all believers by grace, but to some it is given in a greater way. Their more fully yielded confidence in God’s word and promises is a shining example to all of us.
Some were given the gift of healing.
9. “… to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,”
All healing is from God: whether it comes by our immune system which he created or by medical treatment. At times when the Bible was being given, God moved his prophets to supernaturally heal some. It wasn’t done just to relieve suffering. It was only done in isolated cases to prove his power behind the gospel message.
Some in those early congregations were specially gifted to be able to supernaturally heal as the gospel was beginning to be spread and there was a need to show God’s power behind it. Among those able to heal supernaturally were the Apostles, and evidently some others in these newly formed congregations
Today, now that the Scriptures are complete and fully authenticated by the miracles performed back then, we pray for God to use the skills of medical people, medicines, and our immune system to bring relief when it is God’s will to do so. When we get well, God alone is to be thanked.
Some were given the effecting of miracles.
10. “to another the working of miracles, …”
Miracles aren’t just the amazing answers to prayer when we’re cured of disease, or when lost souls are transformed. Those are clearly amazing and are God’s work. But this word refers to special supernatural acts where physical laws were clearly set aside so that people would know that God’s messengers had true revelation to communicate. This was a very special gift to some in New Testament times, but it should not have been coveted by others.
Some were given prophecy
10. “… to another prophecy, …”
God has always provided us with his prophetic word. In Apostolic times it came by direct communication from God to some specially gifted individuals.
Today we have the prophetic word in our Bibles — truly a great gift to the church. The Apostle Peter put it this way in 2 Peter 1:19, “And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts,”
Some know the Bible far better than others. We all should share what we know and seek those who know it well to be our advisors.
Some were given the distinguishing of spirits
10. “… to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, …”
False teachers were a very serious concern in Corinth. They’ve always infiltrated the church in every era. Some were specially gifted at recognizing error when it came disguised as truth. Our Bibles are the guide we use today when God no longer speaks to us by a continuing supernatural revelation.
Some were given various kinds of tongues
Paul goes into this issue in much more detail later in chapter 13.
10. “… to another various kinds of tongues, …”
The gift of “speaking in tongues” has to do with God’s warning in the Old Testament to Israel, that one day he would use foreign speaking people to judge his apostate nation. During the first century when the Jewish church was dissolving into one that included all nations, God gave the gift of speaking in tongues to some to fulfill the prophesy of Deuteronomy 28 and Isaiah 28.
Some were given interpretation of tongues
10. “… to another the interpretation of tongues.”
It doesn’t mean “translating” what the tongues speakers said. It meant “interpreting” the meaning of the sign gift. The word here is “hermaeneia” (ἑρμηνεία) from which we get our English word “hermaneutics”, the science of interpreting Scripture. Some were called of God to explain the prophetic meaning whenever this sign gift was heard.
11. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
God provides his church with a variety of gifts so that together they meet all her needs. In every period of history, we all need to work together unselfishly, appreciating everything everyone else brings to the body of Christ and keeping our attention fixed on the great goal that unites us together: that we honor God in all of life, and declare his grace and glory to others.
A God Honoring View of Our Gifts
Sometimes kids ask, “What did you get for Christmas?” It could be a very good question, if it’s asked out of real interest in the other person. But often it’s asked to compare who got the best or the most things.
Sometimes grown up Christians can be more immature than some children. Are you appreciative of the great diversity of gifts and personalities God gathers into his family? Do you see how important it is to use what you have or can do to help your church family be strong? Do you sometimes wish your gift was different? or greater? or that someone else’s was less?
Jealousy, covetousness, and pride are things that still linger in our redeemed souls. Until our Lord takes us out of this word and prepares us for eternity, those sins will always be there at times and to some extent.
But it was grace that transformed pagans into God’s children, that made each of us love the Lord and trust in his saving mercies. It’s that same grace that distributes to each of us our opportunities, interests, and skills.
To be most greatly blessed, and to be of greatest service to our Lord and to his church, we should lend all we can of ourselves for the good and growth of those gathered together in the family of God.
We’re called to keep our focus on the greater things — not just what makes us unique. When we blend our skills into the larger plan of God as it unfolds around us, we rise up above our worries and anxieties, and find ourselves as a joyful and productive members of the family of Jesus Christ.
(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)