Today, let’s look at spiritual gifts as Paul instructs the Corinthians. We will look at these gifts in their origin, purpose and use. We’ll see that the Corinthians were misusing these gifts. So, Paul gives them the instructions.
Let’s walk through the three chapters that give us the most extensive biblical instructions we have that are specifically concerning spiritual gifts, their origin, purpose and use. 1 Cor. 12-14.
These chapters are controversial for many. When you read 1 Cor. 12-14, you might ask: where are these gifts today? Why don’t we have tongues and interpretations and healings and prophetic revelations and other miraculous manifestations going on in our services today? The immediate answer is that something is different here today. Where are the miracles we read about in the gospels and Acts and here in 1 Corinthians? That’s always the pressing question that comes up here.
Before answering that, let me say this: Let’s not let those questions hijack the instructions of God for His church in these three chapters. In fact, let’s enter the doors of the first century church of Corinth and listen to this instruction from their viewpoint, first, before jumping to ours. There’s a lot of instruction here that we need to learn from, important things that apply directly to us whether we see miracles today or not.
So, let’s imagine hearing these words of Paul in the ears of the audience of the church at Corinth as much as possible. Are you with me? Ok, let’s open the door and look at this church…
First, the Corinthians were a mess, and so it seems was the church there. Someone wrote, these letters of Paul describe the Corinthian catastrophe! They were Christians, but weak and carnal. They suffered from divisions and immorality. They were taking one another to court. Paul even said that their meetings did more harm than good! So, before we enter this section of instructions about Holy Spirit gifts, know this: These are not mature, Holy Spirit led, well behaved models of faith for us to imitate. But… the instructions to them are Holy Spirit led! That’s why we need to listen to them even as we recognize the setting of the church who first received them. Both of those things help us learn what God wants us to know.
12:1 Now about the spiritual… there is no word “gifts” in the original words of Paul. Just, “the spiritual.” This is about more than just the gifts. It includes spiritual matters like unity, spiritual relationships, love, order in the church, even women’s roll in the assemblies. The gifts are a major part in this, but there’s more, lots more too. Paul does not want us to be ignorant about these spiritual matters.
12:2 Before they became Christians this church was largely made up of idol worshippers. This is not mainly a Jewish church.
12:3 The Holy Spirit NEVER curses Jesus. You’d think they should know that. But the Holy Spirit’s message is that Jesus is Lord. This is not to say that some pagan can’t utter the words “Jesus is Lord” but that the Holy Spirit is the source of this proclamation and He points us to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
12:4-6 One Spirit, One Lord, One God. Different kinds of gifts, services, workings. This expresses the unity within the Trinity of God, but also the diversity within the works of God within His people. The origin of the various gifts is the one Spirit.
12:7 The Holy Spirit gifts are given for the purpose of the common good. Get that! Whatever spiritual gifts we have in this church they all are for the purpose of the good of all. Holy Spirit gifts were never intended to exalt the gifted. No! The gifted have the responsibility to use their gifts for the common good. The word gift is charisma, gracious gift. It’s a spiritual power for a spiritual job for the good of others. Now he gives us a list of these spiritual powers:
12:8-10 Notice the stress on the Holy Spirit as the source. Many manifestations and powerful gifts, but one Spirit. Now in verse 11 he again stresses this: (read).
12:11 What’s the focus of all this instruction? It’s not on the miraculous powers! No! It’s on the giver, the Holy Spirit. And who determines who and what gifts are given to whom? The Holy Spirit!
One thing I’d like to point out thus far. These gifts didn’t seem to make these Christians more mature in their faith. In fact, these gifts became a problem among them so that they were divided, not united. My point here is that we might not be better off having a church packed with Holy Spirit gifted people, especially if they think they are better than others because of their special powers. Power to do miracles is not without problems. Jesus Himself said, “Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord! Did we not prophecy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and in your name do many mighty works?” And Jesus will say, “I never knew you, depart from me you workers of lawlessness.” Jesus also said, “To whom much is given, much will be required.” These powers were gifts that demanded responsible use. And God’s judgment falls heavy on it’s abusers. I wonder if that’s not at least part of why God’s Holy Spirit hasn’t given out these powerful gifts to us like He did in the early church times.
Notice also, that just because they had the Holy Spirit gifts in Corinth, they still needed the instructions from the Apostle Paul about worship, doctrine, and even correct teaching on the resurrection. Why didn’t one of THEIR Holy Spirit inspired Prophets give them this instruction? Why, if they have the Holy Spirit’s powerful miraculous gifts do they still need an Apostle to teach and guide them? This brings up another very important point: the Apostles hold the keys to the kingdom of God. They are the ones whose teachings have heaven’s endorsement. Jesus had said this as recorded in Matthew 16, and the epistles echo it. The church is built on the Apostles and Prophets, Christ Jesus Himself as the Cornerstone.
What I get here is that Holy Spirit gifted people must get their teachings and instructions from the Apostles and Prophets. For us that’s the pages of the Bible, the Holy Spirit inspired Scriptures. What I have in this book are Holy Spirit authorized words of God. The church is not the mother of the scriptures, she is the vessel through whom the scriptures were given by God’s Holy Spirit.
Back to 1 Cor 12.
12:12-13 This sums up and emphasizes what he’s said thus far. It also introduces an illustration of the body. This body illustration makes up the rest of the chapter.
12:14-30 As we listen to these words, notice again that the focus is not on the power of the gifts, but on the unity of the body and how each part is important. Verses 14-20 indicate how some Corinthian members of the church seem to feel inferior because they didn’t have the place and power of another member. Then verses 21-26 indicates that some of these gifted members look down on others. The instructions here are clear. God wants us to work together. We are not to see our place in the body as worthless, nor should we think we don’t need any other member. Everyone is a part and all are to rejoice or suffer together.
Finally, 27-31 You are the body of Christ! I love that! Each of you are part of that body. This reminds us of chapter 6:15,19-20. Jesus purchased each of us with His own blood. We are indwelled by the Holy Spirit of God, the greatest gift of all! As He sees fit, He manifests His powers in us and through us to make us Holy like Jesus Christ.
Chapter 13 demonstrates the greatest spiritual gift a Christian can have, and it is the first element of the fruit of the Spirit. Love is what builds us up into the maturity of Christ and the fullness of Christ. All the other Holy Spirit’s gifts are temporal, but love remains.]]>