1 Corinthians 12
1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.
2You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led.
3Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.
The pagan religions in Corinth involved drunkenness, orgies, and various hypnotic chants and ceremonies. They tried to communicate with pagan deities in these ways, and they also sought to practice divination, the process of trying to see the future with the help of the demons. These false spiritual experiences led the Corinthians astray into sin, evil, and error. They followed the demons rather than the one true God. But once they found Christ, they found a new direction, and they needed to understand what true spirituality was all about. The important thing was that they be led of the Spirit of God rather than the demons. It was thus important for them to be able to identify the work of the Spirit in their lives as opposed to the false experiences around them. The phrase “spiritual gifts” literally means “pertaining to the Spirit.” So Paul is going to communicate what pertains to the Spirit and what does not. That way the Corinthians wouldn’t be ignorant as to what is being led of the Spirit and what is counterfeit and pagan. First of all, no one curses Jesus if they are led of the Spirit because God is not going to blaspheme Himself. If any acknowledge Jesus as the apostles define Jesus as the one true God and Lord of their life, then they are led of the Spirit.
4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.
5And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.
6There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.
7But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
The same Spirit of God is behind all gifts, so all the gifts will lead to glorify God and to create unity and edification in the church. Yet there are a variety of gifts in the church, gifts being understood to be special divine empowerment to accomplish true spiritual ministry. And of the varieties of gifts, there are varieties of ministries, and of these ministries, there are a variety of effects. The same God is Lord over all, and the same God works all of these gifts. How God enables a person to serve Him, bring Him glory, and advance His kingdom differs greatly from person to person, based upon how God has gifted each. Gifts from one person to another vary because God works in very individualized ways, though that is not to say that there are some general categories of gifts, which Paul will explain shortly. The purpose of gifts is always for the benefit of the church and those outside of the church.
8For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit;
9to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,
10and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.
Some gifts include the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. Other gifts are listed in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4, namely serving, teaching, leading, mercy, exhortation, giving, pastoring, and evangelizing. V. 28 adds in helps and administration as well. Each of these has its own individual effects and is given to accomplish a particular work which God has ordained for the individual believer (Ephesians 2:10). Gifts are different than mere natural abilities because of the spiritual nature of the gifts. They require the Spirit and certain extraordinary, divine empowerment to make them function. We can be sure that God will prepare us and equip us to do His will His way in His time by His Spirit. If we surrender to Him and let Him lead us by His Word and fill us with His Spirit, He can do things in and through us that we know we could have never done on our own. They may relate to what we think we are good at, or they may not. But the bottom line is that we and others will know that God is doing something extraordinary. When the church begins to lose the extraordinary, miraculous, and a healthy dependence on the Spirit for ministry and for life, it will gradually die and have very little impact on society. But where the church is humble and using its gifts, much good can be accomplished.
It is less important to try to decide which gift a person has (and all have at least one- Romans 12:6) than to trust God to supply the power and divine ability when we need it. When God gives us a task to do, He will grace us (i.e. gift us) in order to be able to do it by His power and strength. When we obey and trust God to do what we think is humanly impossible, He will gladly give the supernatural strength to make things possible. This is His way because otherwise we would glory in our own ability and strength. God wants the glory, and thus spiritual ministry is accomplished by spiritual means by spiritual power. True kingdom advancement is never natural or of human talent but of the Spirit of God. Where we are weak, God can show Himself strong (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
Paul will explain the specifics and purposes of tongues and prophecy shortly (see v. 28 and chapter 14). Miracles, healing, faith, and discernment (or distinguishing of spirits, the spirit of truth versus the spirit of error- 1 John 4:6) are all fairly straightforward as to what they imply, though they would have been awesome to see in practice. And God still heals and works miracles. He still gives faith and discernment, but there is reason to believe that the degree and quantity of miracles and healings were much greater in the early stages of the church. The greatest miracle of all is having the Word of God given to us. If the world rejects that, no sign or miracle will matter anyway (Luke 16:29-31). But we would expect Jesus to come with miracles, and He did. We would expect His apostles to perform miracles, which they did (2 Corinthians 12:12). Yet the greatest miracle that the church must not lose sight of is the written Word of God. As Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” With the completion of the Scripture and the dying off of the apostles, the quantity and degree of miracles passed away rather quickly, as church history indicates. Perhaps some of this was due to lack of faith, but more of it was due to the fact that the foundation of the church had been laid by the apostles (Ephesians 2:20). Now, the Word could do its job along with the gifting of the Spirit to keep building the church. It is just that some of the gifts were no longer active or needed, though that is not to say that God might not use them in places where the Bible has yet to reach. It was inevitable that some gifts would pass away because such was God’s plan (1 Corinthians 13:8).
As far as the word of wisdom, it is the spiritual gift to be able to aptly apply truth to life. It makes God’s Word practical and timely, and as such, it is still very much needed today. It is possible that there was a way that this gift along with the word of knowledge were for revealing truth about God before the Word of God was written, but we are not to add or take away from what has been written (Revelation 22:18-19). Thus, if the gifts of the words of wisdom and knowledge are still active, then they don’t involve the giving of revelation, and they do involve growing deeper in understanding of God’s Word and in applying it and helping others to understand and apply it. 1 Corinthians 13:8 also indicates that the gift of knowledge will cease in some way, so perhaps this is indeed referring to the revelatory aspect of the gift of knowledge.
11But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
It seems that God gives gifts as we need them and that they might change over time as we grow and as God’s call on our lives changes. There are different purposes that He has for us along the way. Some things might require supernatural wisdom, whereas others require that we are able to teach. When we need a gift, if we are in God’s will, He will give it. That is not to say that each person may not have a set gift or gifts which God will use and develop over his or her lifetime, but it is to say that how God uses us over time might require different gifts or gift combinations. God gives to each as He wills, which is always for the good of the individual and of the body. Thus, it makes no sense to envy another person’s gifting because they are gifted not for themselves but for the body. Gifts are from the same Spirit, and they are always for the building up of the body of Christ. We must always be sure not to take credit for the work that the Spirit does in and through us as if we could have done it in our own strength. As Zechariah 4:6 says, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit.” Apart from Him we can do nothing of any spiritual value (John 15:5).
12For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.
13For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
14For the body is not one member, but many.
Christ is the head of the body, and we who are His children are all part of His body. The body has many members and pieces, each which have a specific purpose for which God has designed them, but they are all working together as one whole with Christ directing all that goes on. The body has many members, and all of us were made a part of it when we received Christ as Savior. It doesn’t matter which people group we belong to or what our earthly status was, but what matters is that we are His. Thus, we have a job to do which the Spirit will enable us to do if we let Him have His way in our hearts.
15If the foot says, "Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.
16And if the ear says, "Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body," it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.
17If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
18But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.
19If they were all one member, where would the body be?
20But now there are many members, but one body.
The foot is a part of the body, and it cannot all of a sudden decide not to be a part of the body. Just because the foot is in charge of the walking function and it doesn’t do the job of the eye, for example, doesn’t mean that it isn’t needed or is less important. The body needs the foot, and the foot must cooperate so that the rest of the body can function. When one part of the body ceases to function because of disobedience, self-righteousness, or jealousy, the rest of the body suffers. In the same way, the eye cannot decide not to be a part of the body. It cannot remove itself from the body and try to be its own body. It is merely an eye which cannot survive alone or accomplish anything on its own. It needs the brain to interpret the images and the muscles surrounding it to move it to see things. The body needs the eye just as it needs the foot and every other part. We must be careful that we don’t cease to function because the rest of the church needs us, and Christ desires to use us. The body needs the variety of parts because of the importance and distinct purpose of each individual part. The eye can’t hear, but the ear hears. The ear can’t see, but the eye sees. The eye can’t smell, but the nose can. Each has a purpose, and in the same way, each believer has a purpose and a specific function for which God has designed him or her. Rather than try to be something we are not, we will be happiest if we who are noses do the job of a nose and if we who are feet start doing the job of feet. If we were all eyes, the body wouldn’t be much of one. Thus, we need to all accept that we are made differently for different tasks, all of which fit together into a coherent whole within the local body of Christ and among the church as a whole.
21And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you."
22On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary;
23and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable,
24whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked,
25so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.
Just as it doesn’t make any sense for the eye to tell the hand that it is no longer needed or for the head to get rid of the feet, each believer needs the other. Fortunately, our head, Christ, desires to use us, for He knows our purpose and designed us to be who we are and how we are. There are some parts of the body that are readily visible and which get a lot of attention such as the eye, the arms, the hands, the ears, and so on. Yet there are other parts that are unpresentable such as the stomach, the intestines, and so on. Yet these have incredible value and an extremely important function. Yet their work is behind the scenes, and they don’t get a lot of credit or renown. There are other parts which are “weaker” such as tendons, white blood cells, and so on without which the body wouldn’t even hold together or stay healthy. Whether a “weak” part or a more hidden part, every part matters. In the end, it may be that those parts which get no notice or recognition end up with the most rewards in heaven. The key is that we are faithful in whatever role God gives us. God honors all parts of the body and will reward every part that is faithful. We must understand this so that we don’t neglect or look down on the less visible parts of the body and treat some gifts as if they are superior or more desirable than others. If we do this, there will be division as there was at Corinth, and the church as a whole will replicate the mistakes that were at Corinth by following men instead of God.
26And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
27Now you are Christ's body, and individually members of it.
If one part of the body is injured, suffering, or enduring a trial, the rest of the body ought to take note and support that part. When the human body gets an injury, all focus goes to that part. The same should be in the church. Rather than neglecting the injured part as if it is “weak” and not holding its own, the body needs to support is and help it heal so that it can do its part. When a person in the body of Christ is doing well and rejoicing, the rest of the body should also be happy. We are not in competition with each other, but it is to our advantage to have the rest of the body be healthy so that we can do our job proficiently. As Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
28And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.
29All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they?
30All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?
31But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.
Having just emphasized that no gift is better than another, just different, Paul lists out some gifts that are in the church. There are apostles, which were those commissioned of God who had seen the risen Christ and who had performed signs, wonders, and miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12). This list included Paul, Matthias (who replaced Judas- Acts 1:26), and the twelve disciples. Others served as apostles in an “unofficial” sense (apostle simply means “sent one”) such as Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Silas and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 2:6), and others (Romans 16:7, 2 Corinthians 8:23, Philippians 2:26). The official apostles served as the foundation of the church, receiving revelation from God and directing and establishing churches as to how God desired them to function. Prophets were those who declared the Word of God by expounding upon the Old Testament revelation but in the particular sense that they gave revelation for the church in this time. They also predicted the future in some instances as the prophets of old did (Acts 11:27-28), but their main job was to declare the Word of God to the church (Acts 13:1), which had not yet been written down. The church needed apostles and prophets in order to know the desires and will of God and to fully unlock the meaning of the Old Testament. Teachers helped others understand the Word of God, whether publicly through the office of pastor (Ephesians 4:11) or through other means of teaching. Then there were those who worked miracles and who performed healings, and there were those who had the less “flashy” gifts of helps (service), administration, and various kinds of tongues. Administrators can help lead and direct a church to make it function effectively and efficiently, while helpers are the people who make the church work, doing a lot of the tasks that others overlook. Tongues involved speaking in other languages so that others could hear the gospel in their own language (Acts 2:8).
Paul’s point in listing these gifts was not to rank them but to further the point he has already made that gifts are individual. The body needs them all, and none are superior in value or worth to the other. They are merely different. The Corinthians were not to value some gifts as “greater” than the other. But there were things greater which Paul is about to show, explaining about faith, hope, and love, the greatest of which is love (1 Corinthians 13:13). Rather than get caught up with gifts and who has what gift, love must prevail. If the Corinthians could learn to love, the church could be healthy and the divisions could be fixed.