The Gift of the Spirit
Topic: Spiritual Gifts Passage: 1 Corinthians 12:1–12:13
“THE GIFT OF THE SPIRIT”
1 Corinthians 12:1-13
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.
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. 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.
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
What is the most memorable gift that you ever received? Perhaps it was the realization of something that you had long hoped for but knew you couldn’t afford, and one day someone gave it to you as surprise gift. Or maybe it was a keepsake passed along to you following the death of a close relative. It could be something recent or it may be something that now exists only as a treasured memory from your childhood. It may have been something large and grand, or quite possibly it was something plain and simple. Whatever it was, it was something that was—and may still be—especially meaningful to you.
Gifts are something that we all enjoy receiving, and God is the greatest Gift-giver of all. In the Scriptures He is seen as the One who gives good and perfect gifts to His people (cf. James 1:17). There are at least nine different Hebrew words that are translated “gift” in the Old Testament, and another five Greek terms so translated in the New Testament. That tells us that the word carries a wide range of meanings in the Scriptures. Generally speaking, the term “gift” refers to “something given voluntarily without payment in return.”
In writing to the Corinthian believers, the Apostle Paul devoted a rather large section of his letter to the subject of “gifts,” specifically the “gifts” that God has graciously given to His church in order that it would function in a manner that would reveal His presence among them. We find that discussion in chapters 12 through 14, and it is introduced by the passage that we read a moment ago.
You will notice that this text begins with the familiar words, “Now concerning,” which reminds us that the writer is responding to specific questions that the Corinthian believers had posed to him (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1). Up to that point, Paul had instructed them concerning the marital and single states (chapter 7), questions related to their freedom in Christ (chapters 8 through 10), and proper decorum when the saints gathered to worship and partake of the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11). Beginning with chapter 12, he now turns his attention to disorders within the local church and specifically how they were misusing the special “gifts” the Lord had given them.
His language is once again corrective. Rather than uniting the body, these Corinthians had allowed their God-given “gifts” to divide them, thus creating a spirit of disunity and division. Paul had already pointed out in his introduction to this epistle that they were “not lacking in any gift” (1 Corinthians 1:7), and later on that each one of them had “his own gift from God” (1 Corinthians 7:7). Their problem was not that were missing certain “gifts”—in fact, they may have been the most “gifted” church to whom the apostle wrote—but rather in how they were using the various “gifts” God had given them.
As we shall see, there was diversity in the kinds of “gifts” that these Christians had received, and it was from that diversity the Lord sought to bring unity. But if unity was to prevail in the midst of diversity, then Paul needed to return to some basic instruction about how the Lord intended for his “gifts” to function in the building up of the local body. And he does that by highlighting four essentials that the church in every age must bear in mind.
In the first place, we must be willing to recognize that, as fellow-believers,
We all confess the same Lord (verses 1-3).
The specific topic that Paul addresses throughout this section is revealed in verse 1. It needs to be pointed out that the word “gifts” in verse 1 does not appear in the original text. It has been supplied by the translators for the sake of clarification, but in this case it may actually confuse the issue. Literally, what Paul does not want the Corinthians to be “uninformed” about are “spiritual matters.” The context will show “spiritual gifts” are in view, but not exclusively so. The apostle wants his readers to be aware of “spiritual things.”
This is demonstrated by eleven references to the Holy Spirit in the thirteen verses that are before us. That being considered, I propose to you that this passage is less about “the gifts of the Spirit” than it is about “the gift of the Spirit.” What I believe this passage intends to show is that “spiritual gifts” are the manifestations of God’s grace through God’s Spirit to His Church, and by themselves the “gifts” lose their significance unless they are vitally linked to the Spirit who grants them. That is the central idea that we’ll be considering.
Jews living under the Old Covenant believed that there were only two types of people in the world, those who faithfully followed Yahweh and those who were idolaters. Before coming to Christ, the Corinthians would have fallen under that latter classification. Like the rest of us, they “were pagans...led astray to mute idols,” as we read in verse 2. Their idolatrous worship had involved a number of strange practices, including—as history bears out—being caught up in emotional frenzies that often led to strange and unintelligible sounds while in a state of ecstasy. Such expressions were believed to have been “the language of the gods,” with not even the worshiper aware of what was being said.
Paul seems to be arguing in these opening verses that similar practices ought not to characterize the church when it gathers. Instead, the worshiper of Jesus should be fully cognizant of the words being spoken. There could be no edifying of the body were that not the case. Notice that Paul says in verse 3, “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.” With this statement, Paul is making a distinction between the pagan worship of false gods and the Christian worship of the one true God. The statement, “Jesus is Lord” was among the earliest of the Christian confessions. And it remains the very foundation of our faith to this day. The Lordship of Jesus Christ is not a human discovery; it is instead a revelation from God that can only be revealed when the Holy Spirit is at work.
So, all Christians confess the same Lord. In addition, both then and now, as followers of Jesus Christ...
We all depend on the same God (verses 4-6).
Although the “gift of the Spirit” is one, there are many “gifts of the Spirit.” Paul clearly expresses that in verses 4 through 6, when he writes, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”
The word “varieties” (“διαιρεσιs”) means “different kinds of” and carries the idea of “apportionment” or “distribution.” The “distribution” of the “gifts” was the direct providence of God. Furthermore, notice that all three members of the Godhead are referred to here...the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus, and God the Father. Just as there is unity in the source of the “gifts,” so there is unity in their purpose. There is clearly no division among the three members of the Godhead, and there ought not to be division within the body.
Given the manner in which the writer has constructed these verses it appears that each Partner in the Trinity has a unique role to play in specifically how believers are “gifted.” Apart from God’s oversight and governance of the “gifts,” we would be no better off than the “pagans” were in their manner of worship. But as Christians, we are dependent upon “the same God” to equip us and use us for His glory.
In verse 4, the Spirit is directly identified with the “gifts,” and for the first time in this section Paul employs the term “χαρισμα,” which means “an expression of divine grace.” In other words, the “gifts” that God gives to His Church are graciously given and sovereignly bestowed through the equipping ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Then in verse 5, the Lord Jesus is identified with the “service” (“διακονια”) of the “gifts.” That word speaks of “ministries.” It is, in fact, the word from which we get the term “deacon,” which is a duly-appointed service role within the local church. But one does not have to be a “deacon” to “serve.” In fact, since we have been gifted, every believer is compelled and equipped by their Lord to serve.
And then in verse 6, God the Father is linked with the “activities” (“ενεργημα”) of the “gifts.” This word refers to “energy” or “empowerment.” In other words, it is God who supplies the power and brings about the specific effects of the “gifts” according to His good pleasure. There is no inherent power in any “gift” or in any act of “service,” unless they are “energized” by the God who gives them.
These verses are not suggesting three different categories of “spiritual gifts,” but instead explain how the various “giftings” of God are distributed, employed, and empowered. All the “gifts” are dependent upon “the same God,” but they are manifested in a “variety” of ways for the good of the body and the glory of the One who gives them.
It is with that in mind that we are further reminded that...
We all serve the same body (verses 7-11).
It is in verse 7 that we find the thesis statement of this entire passage. Paul writes, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” Although our God is invisible, nevertheless He is real, and the manner is which His reality is made evident is through the “manifestation” of the “gifts of the Spirit.” Something is made “manifest” when it “brought into the light” or is disclosed. What Paul is saying here is that it is when the church is exercising the “spiritual gifts” in the manner in which God has prescribed, God will be most gloriously displayed.
This verse makes clear that every Christian has been given at least one “spiritual gift.” These are more than simply natural talents or abilities, and they are individually fitted to every believer. Some may have several “gifts,” while others may have fewer. Some of the “gifts” are more public and more easily recognized than others. But every individual has some function to discharge within the body, and all must work for “the common good.” They are given for the edification of the Church as a whole, and not for the benefit of the individual believer. And when properly exercised, the entire body will be built up.
In order to illustrate this thesis, Paul refers to a number of ways in which the Holy Spirit is manifested within the public assembly. This is actually one of three places where He lists some of the specific “gifts.” The others are found in Romans 12(:4-8) and Ephesians 4(:11). There is also a similar listing found in 1 Peter 4(:10 and 11). Never is it implied that the Scriptures give us a complete catalog of the “gifts,” but these are mentioned in order to demonstrate the diversity of the Spirit’s presence within the church.
Nine such “manifestations” are found in verses 8 through 10. It is clear that when it comes to “spiritual gifts,” not all are created equal. And as we shall in chapter 14, no individual “gift” within the body can be said to operate independently of the rest.
Paul begins his list of the “gifts” here by saying, “To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom (‘λογοs σοφιαs’). This would appear to hearken back to Paul’s earlier discussion beginning in chapter 1 and extending through chapter 2. There, he contrasted the “wisdom of this age” with the “secret and hidden wisdom of God” (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:7). We note that this gift, as well as several others in the list, are what might be called “speaking gifts,” the purpose of which is to communicate God’s truth.
We see that also in verse 8, where we read, “to another the utterance of knowledge (‘λογοs γνωσεωs’) according to the same Spirit.” Like “wisdom,” this “gift” stood in stark contrast with the Corinthians’ own fascination with the knowledge of this world. Many in our day believe that ours is a more spiritually “enlightened” generation than previous ones. Some would go so far as to say that we are wiser and more knowledgeable than even the writers of Scripture. If that is your belief, then let notice be served that you have not received the gift of the Holy Spirit because it is He alone who is able to open God’s glorious Truth to your mind and heart. Your first need is to turn from your sin and trust the Christ of whom those Scriptures reveal. Then you will be given “eyes to see.”
Moving on to verse 9 we read, “to another faith (‘πιστιs’) by the same Spirit.” While it is true that the “faith” that leads to salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life (cf. Ephesians 2:8), what is being referred to here appears to be an ongoing “faith” that trusts God in extraordinary ways to answer prayer according to the revealed promises of His Word. It is a “faith” that “moves mountains” (cf. Matthew 17:20), if you will.
Next in the list we read, “to another gifts of healing (‘χαρισματα ιαματων’) by the one Spirit.” The fact that this “manifestation of the Spirit” is stated in the plural—“gifts,” not “gift”—argues against a so-called “gift of healing” possessed by any certain person. Instead, Paul is saying that God is able, at times and according to His good pleasure, to bring healing to a person for the purpose of bringing glory and praise to His name. The preponderance of biblical revelation disavows the claim that it is always God’s will to heal. He brings and withholds healing for His sovereign purposes. At times he will use human instrumentation, including doctors and medicine. At other times he may bring healing seemingly out of nowhere. At other times He may bring no healing at all. Therefore, we may conclude that when Paul speaks of “gifts of healing,” he is referring to gracious demonstrations of God’s ability to raise up the afflicted in ways that are in accordance with His will.
That explanation would further apply to the opening phrase of verse 10, “to another the working of miracles (‘ενεργηματα δυναμεων’), where it speaks of God’s ability to bring to pass circumstances and events that would appear to be humanly impossible. We have all heard—and some of us may have experienced—occasions where an unlikely event occurs that has no other explanation than Divine intervention. That’s why it is called a “miracle,” and the fact that such an outcome defies what is normal and natural testifies to God’s ability to act on behalf of His people. As with “healings,” even though God’s people are often the beneficiaries of such miraculous acts, their primary purpose is to bring glory to God.
“To another prophecy (‘προφητεια’)” appears next in the list. The role of the “prophet” was familiar from Old Testament days. He was a person who spoke God’s Word to God’s people as directed by God’s Spirit. As the writer of Hebrews (1:1) states, “At many times and in many ways, God spoke...by the prophets.” Prophecy, which at times—but not always—had a futuristic element, was the primary means by which the Lord communicated His truth to His people until those messages were written down and became a part of the biblical record. The “inspired utterance” came by way of revelation and announced judgment and/or salvation. As Paul wrote these words to the Corinthians, the Scriptures were not yet complete. Today they are. Since the completion of the canon, the gift of “prophecy” no longer conveys “new revelation,” but instead proclaims the message of God that has already been received....in other words, the sacred Scriptures. Every time a message from the Word is given and received, the “gift of prophecy” is being exercised.
Continuing in verse 10, we see that “to another the ability to distinguish between spirits (‘διακρισειs πνευματων’). Specifically within the Corinthian church this would have referred to “the ability to discern, differentiate, and properly judge prophetic utterances.” Anyone could stand up in a church service and claim to have “a word from the Lord.” How was the assembly to know whether what was spoken was a Divinely inspired message or not? It would have to be evaluated according to that which had already been received as God’s truth. Therefore, this “ability” or “gift” was critical in being able to differentiate “truth” from “error” in the early church. In writing his first epistle, John charged his readers to “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). With the arrival and finished work of Christ and the final recorded Word of God, “the ability to distinguish spirits” is derived from a clear understanding and interpretation of Scripture.
Concluding the list of “spiritual giftings” that we find in this passage, Paul mentions “to another various kinds of tongues (‘γενη γλωσσων’) to another the interpretation of tongues (‘ερμηνεια γλωσσων’). These are obviously the most controversial of the “gifts,” both then and now. In fact, many believe the Corinthians’ singular preference for this “manifestation” to have been the reason Paul needed to invest the bulk of three chapters correcting their abuse of this “gift.” It is noteworthy that neither the Reformers nor the Puritans, those upon whom we heavily lean for our theological precision, wrote or spoke at any length on “tongues.” In fact, it seems to be have been a non-issue throughout much of the Church’s history. The curious interest in this “gift” in our day should cause us to tread softly and to study the Scriptures carefully.
The first mention of “the gift of tongues” in the New Testament is in Acts 2(:4-6) on the Day of Pentecost where we read that the disciples “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues (‘γλωσσα’) as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language (‘διαλεκτοs’). Today theologians debate whether Paul had the same phenomenon in mind when he wrote to the Corinthians. The preponderance of New Testament evidence seems to suggest that he did.
Those who differ would say that Paul is instead referring to a “prayer language” in this passage instead of an actual human language, such as we find in Acts 2. A careful reading of Paul’s discussion would not seem to support that view.
The questions to be asked, then, is if Lord is still granting this gift to His Church today, and, if He is, is He granting it in the same sense and for the same purpose? The answers to those questions will be forthcoming only as we see the entirety of Paul’s argument as it is developed within these three chapters. Picking and choosing verses or isolating one of these three chapters at the exclusion of the others contributes to confusion and misunderstanding.
As Paul brings this part of his discussion to a close, he reminds us in verse 11 that every “spiritual gift” is “empowered” by the Holy Spirit and “distributed” “to each one individually as he wills.” It isn’t as if God tosses the “gifts” down on the table and says, “There you are. Choose the ones you want.” Instead, He providentially determines who receives which “gifts” according to His good purposes. The manner in which He does this is something of a mystery to us. Just as Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3(:8), “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
As Christians, we all confess the same Lord, we all depend upon the same God, we all serve the same body, and finally—as we see in verses 12 and 13,
We all have experienced the same baptism (verses 12-13).
Paul writes by way of explanation, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”
The “baptism” to which Paul refers is not what initially comes to our minds. Rather than speaking of “water baptism,” as he had done earlier in chapter 1(:13-17), here he is referring to the act of “being placed into” the Body of Christ—the Church—through the saving work of God’s Spirit. It is this act that makes us “members” with one another and “with Christ.” We are “immersed” in Him and He in us, so to speak.
In Romans 8:9 we read that “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” It is the possession of the Holy Spirit—or, rather His possession of us—that distinguishes the person who knows the Lord from the one who does not. It is the Spirit who marks the beginning of the Christian life, and it is the Spirit—above all else—who makes a person a child of God. Whether we are “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free,” or any other natural distinctions, all who have renounced sin and embraced Jesus’ finished work of redemption are “one in Christ.” Have you done that? Have you been to the cross? If not, then all of our discussion this morning must have seemed to have been like an “unknown tongue” to you.
Sadly, differences of opinion related to the “spiritual gifts” have often exposed divisions within the church. God intended for there to be a diversity of “gifts” within every local church fellowship. Therefore, diversity does not have to—and should not—lead to division. In fact, God-ordained diversity is essential for the health of a church, as we shall see next Sunday. Even though the “gifts” differ, it is out of such diversity that God plans to create unity...unity that points to the oneness for which Jesus prayed on the eve of His crucifixion (cf. John 17:11 and 23). No single member of the church is likely to receive the full range of “the gifts of the Spirit,” and that is why we need one another.
Paul wrote his epistles to the churches during the transitional phase of the Church’s history as the New Testament was being composed and compiled. Today we have a full record of God’s revelation to man. You and I should be availing ourselves of every opportunity to read and study the Scriptures together. Are you availing yourself of those times when the church gathers...Sunday morning Bible study, this worship service, our evening services, and on Wednesday evenings? One day—sooner than we may expect—our faithfulness will be assessed according to the content of this Book. In the mean time “the manifestation of the Spirit” has been given “for the common good.”
Therefore, let me leave you with a few things to consider as you read through chapters 12 through 14 of 1 Corinthians in these coming days. And as you do, may you find questions of your own being raised.
- • First, is it possible that we may have we lost touch with the Spirit of God in our ongoing life together as a church, settling for the “ordinary” and “routine” and no longer expecting the Lord to show up when we gather? You and I—all of us—need His presence among us in these days...perhaps now more than ever.
- • Second, have we taken the time and effort to discover, develop, and deploy our individual “gifts” in the service of this local fellowship? Are we becoming more and more the disciples of Christ, and are we making disciples for Christ? How active a role are you playing in the ministry of this local body? In short, are you honoring the Spirit of God by exercising the “gifts” He has given you?
- • Finally, let me leave you with a question that was put to me recently: “Theoretically speaking, were God were to remove the Holy Spirit from the world, would what is happening in the average local church—including our own—remain pretty much the same?” May God grant us the ability to understand that we are totally dependent upon the grace and the gift of His Holy Spirit, and may we be able to say together, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15).