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Paul did not intend 1 Corinthians 12 to be used as a class to help people discover their spiritual gift.
There is value in having an idea about what our spiritual gift or gifts may be, but that is not the primary message from Paul.
As you can expect, Paul’s message to the church was that they should be a contrast to activities in the pagan temples. The church needed to stop any imitation of the pagan culture of Corinth.
The True and False Spirit
The pagan temples had “wisdom” speakers, who at times fell under the influence of a spirit. The practice of “speaking in tongues” took place in the temples, as well as in the church.
The first verses of this chapter refer to what happened under the influence of the Holy Spirit, or in the case of the temples another kind of spirit.
— 1 Cor.12.1 – Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.
One of the issues in Corinth was the fact that some of the church’s leaders were “puffed up” with pride. They were proud of supposed “spiritual” knowledge that they had and which other members did not.
The Greek is harsher in its literal translation. “Uninformed” is a polite way of describing the Greek word “ignorant.” It was implied that these “wise” leaders were actually ignorant of what was most important.
— 1 Cor. 12.2 – You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak.
Even though idols do not speak, they have the ability to seduce people and lead them astray to destructive behavior.
Any time we substitute some person or thing for a relationship with God, we are enticed and led astray as were some in Corinth.
— 1 Cor. 12.3 – Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
When someone spoke in tongues during a worship service in Corinth, we can be certain that they never said, “Jesus is cursed.”
When someone spoke in tongues in the Corinthian pagan temples, we can expect some did say, “Jesus is cursed.”
At this point in his argument, what Paul wanted to impress upon his readers was they should never imitate what took place in pagan temples.
They needed to be humbly led and guided by the Holy Spirit, and not by any sort of status seeking by emulating their peers in the temples.
The Importance of a United Church
The most important issue in Paul’s letter was to unify the division in the church. Nearly every chapter had the goal of a united church at its root. The same is true here.
— 1 Cor. 12.4-6 – Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
Notice how the Trinity is alluded to in these verses with the mention of the Spirit, the Lord Jesus and God the Father.
Just as Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinct but entirely one, the church should be united. Members in the church had distinct gifts, but they were to be united in their mission and service to Christ.
It is unthinkable for there to be an argument or a division among the Trinity. The same should take place in the church.
— 1 Cor 12.7 – To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
There have been many times when I have heard someone say something or do something and thought, “That didn’t come from her or him. That was the Holy Spirit at work.”
“Manifestation” simply means that the Spirit shows that he is active in a person’s life.
What is the purpose of the Spirit’s activity through people? The Holy Spirit works for the common good. The Holy Spirit is concerned that all persons benefit from his work through members in the body.
— 1 Cor. 12.8-10 – To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit.
The highest status person in the pagan temples was the man who uttered wisdom. He was called a sophist, named after the Greek word for wisdom, “sophia.”
Paul made it clear that wisdom and knowledge are not to be an issue of personal pride and status. Rather, they are an expression of the Holy Spirit’s work in a person, no more or no less.
I personally don’t think it is important to split hairs over what is the gift “wisdom” or the gift of “knowledge.”
The most important point issue is to be humbly surrendered to the direction of the Spirit. When we are surrendered to the Spirit, he can do anything he wants through our lives.
— Verse 9 – To another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit.
Paul adds to his list of how the Spirit shows that he is active in the church in this verse.
These gifts are illustrative of the Spirits activity, but they don’t exhaust all of the ways the Holy Spirit works with us.
Again, the central point is that people use whatever gift the Spirit has given them to build up the church in humble obedience to the Spirit.
— Verse 10 – To another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
Praise God for every way that the Holy Spirit works through people. God uses miracles, prophecy, discernment and tongues to demonstrate his presence and activity among people.
For example, the radically changed lives I have met at Maywood Baptist increase my faith in God. Only God could do what he has done.
I have friends who are in the Catholic and Episcopal denominations. They have told me that the Charismatic renewal (with a speaking in tongues and healing emphasis) in their churches had the effect of bringing the personal nature of God in focus for them.
Paul’s caution with the gifts is that they are activities of the Spirit and NOT human abilities. No one can be “puffed up” with pride over something that the Holy Spirit has done through them.
God’s Spirit works in us to “build up” one another and to extend God’s rule in the world.
— 1 Cor. 12.11 – All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
Verses 7 and 11 serve as a frame around this argument of Paul. In ancient literature, writers used a frame to emphasize the importance of the point the speaker or writer was making.
What is the point? All of the gifts of the Spirit are ways that the Spirit shows he is active among us.
There is no room for pride or seeking status from the Spirit’s gifts.
There is plenty of room for humility and obedience for the Spirit to work through us to “build up” the church and extend God’s kingdom.
May We Pray for You?
The Maywood Baptist Church prayer team is honored to pray for you. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or private message me on Facebook. We will pray for you.