Study Notes for I Corinthians 12:1-13
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In this chapter Paul begins addressing the subject of spiritual gifts, including the gifts of healing and miracles. Signs and wonders were not new to the Corinthian Christians. The pagan religions often experienced healings. The Greek god Aesculapius was the god of healing, and sick people often went to his temple and spent the night as they sought cures. Often they were healed. Archeologists have discovered inscriptions in several different Greek and Roman temples telling the stories of people who received cures from the gods of the temples.
It was not only the pagans who received cures at their temples. Jews were more likely to go to their synagogue and consult the rabbi when they were sick than they were to go to a doctor, and they were often cured.
According to William Barclay in his commentary The Letters to the Corinthians, "It is a simple historical fact that until the ninth century the Sacrament of Unction was for healing; and only then did it become the Sacrament of Extreme Unction, and a preparation for death." (p. 110)
The Corinthians came to Christianity from a culture in which miracles and healings were common, and God gave the church the gifts of healing and miracles also. The difference between the church's healings and the pagans' healings, however, was that the church performed miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit instead of by the power of an evil spirit.
Gifts from the Trinity
Paul is apparently addressing the subject of spiritual gifts because the Corinthians were experiencing some confusion or perversions in their use of the gifts, and they had apparently asked Paul for clarification. (see 7:1 and 8:1) Before he discusses the gifts themselves, he lays the groundwork.
"No one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, 'Jesus be cursed,' and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit." (v.3) b
The first thing the Corinthians had to consider when they experienced supernatural gifts was whether or not the one practicing a gift acknowledged Jesus' deity. If he or she did not acknowledge Jesus as Lord, that person was getting his or her power from the wrong source. If the Corinthians became involved with power from an evil source, they put themselves in a position to be sucked back into paganism and demon harassment.
Next, Paul underscores the divine source of true spiritual gifts.
"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men," Paul declares in verses 4 and 5.
In this declaration of the Trinity, Paul emphasizes that true spiritual gifts come from the triune God of the universe. They are not things the Holy Spirit grants on his own authority. These gifts are part of our legacy as sons and daughters of God. They are part of our inheritance when we are born from above and receive eternal life. These gifts become part of the tangible new life we experience when we accept the sacrifice of Jesus and receive a living soul and oneness with God.
Although there are many different gifts and each person's "package" of gifts is unique, they all come from the same Spirit and Lord and God. We are in Jesus; he is in us, and he is in the Father. (John 14:20) We are one with God, and God grants each of us a measure of his power.
Spiritual gifts are not the result of our seeking after the Holy Spirit. They are the result of God-Father, Son, and Spirit-granting them to us, implementing them in us by the indwelling Holy Spirit, and bringing honor to himself by our acceptance of his love and holiness.
When we accept Jesus we receive the Holy Spirit and his gifts. (Eph. 1:13, 14; 4:7, 8) Nowhere does the Bible tell us to seek the Spirit to receive his gifts. Rather it points us to Jesus. He is the one we seek, acknowledge, and believe. He grants us His Spirit and His gifts.
Nature of the Gifts
Another fascinating distinction Paul makes in vs. 4, 5 is the different qualities he assigns to God's gifts. First he links "gifts" with "Spirit". The indwelling Holy Spirit produces gifts of grace in each of us. These gifts don't necessarily have miraculous manifestations (although they may); they are what enable us to respond to each other and to God with the grace that comes only from Him.
Second, his links "service" with "Lord". The Greek work translated "service" in this text is the word used in its various forms throughout the New Testament to refer to acts of service done for the Christian community, such as waiting on tables. It's the same word used in the first century for the office of deacon.
This linking of "service" with "Lord" is interesting for two reasons. First, by mentioning service in connection with spiritual gifts, Paul is stressing that the gifts are not only sensational or "powerful". The spiritual gifts include such seemingly mundane things as being able to do menial tasks and to help with ordinary chores for the benefit of the church. Even the more sensational gifts are granted to believers for the purpose of serving the church.
Paul underscores the theme of service running through the spiritual gifts by saying, "There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord." The Lord Jesus, our sovereign God dwelling among us in flesh and blood, lived a life of authority and servanthood. He performed miracles, healed the sick, taught truth, loved the unlovable-and everything he did was an act of ministry. In this passage Paul is emphasizing that spiritual gifts are given to believers for the purpose of ministering to each other and to the world in the same way Jesus did.
Finally, Paul links "working" with "God". The Greek work translated "working" in this passage denotes power that is in action. Spiritual gifts produce real results. Paul points out that besides being gifts of grace and service, spiritual gifts are gifts of power. God's power is at work in our spiritual gifts, and because God empowers them, they will produce results.
By linking "working" or power with "God", Paul is making an association that recalls God's creative power at creation, at the cross, in our salvation-in short, Paul is reminding us that our spiritual gifts come to us from the omnipotence of God the Father. This passage reminds us of Paul's statement in I Cor. 8:6: "Yet for us there is but on God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but on Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live."
In three short sentences Paul points out the multiple qualities inherent in spiritual gifts, and he also reminds us that these gifts come not just from the Holy Spirit but from the entire Trinity.
Many Gifts, One Body
One especially fascinating aspect of spiritual gifts is that they are dispersed among the believers. God does not grant everyone the gift of knowledge or of wisdom or of faith or of distinguishing between spirits or of healing or of miracles. In fact, it seems that frequently he gives different people complementary gifts that need to be used together. In all cases, the gifts are for the building up of the church. (Eph. 4:12-13; I Cor. 12:12-26)
One particularly noticeable example of complementary gifts going to different people is listed in verse 10: "to another speaking in different kinds of tongues [also translated "languages"] and to still another the interpretation of tongues."
This suggests that the person with the gift of tongues may not actually know the language in which he is speaking. Another believer must interpret. In I Corinthians 14 Paul discusses the gift of tongues, and he suggests that besides languages, the gift of tongues might include ecstatic utterances which a believer might speak during private worship. Regardless of what exactly the gift of tongues includes, however, Paul stresses that if a person speaks in tongues in public, someone must be there to interpret, or the person should pray to be able to interpret his own message. (I Cor. 14:13)
"Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue," he say, "how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air.You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified." (I Cor.14:9, 17)
Paul does not say that when we receive the Holy Spirit we will be equally gifted in all areas. On the contrary he points out that as Christ-followers, we are to see and understand that we are all one body, the body of Christ. We are not separate individuals each carrying out our own agendas. We are to defer to each other's gifts. If one of us has a gift of wisdom, we are to take counsel from him or her. If one of us can distinguish between spirits, we are to take counsel from that person. If one of us can prophecy or heal people or speak in tongues, we are to consider his gift to be our gift.
"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good," Paul says. (v. 7) We as a body of believers must honor and respect each other's gifts and recognize that God has bestowed those gifts as blessings for each of us. Our body would not be complete without each individual gift.
Similarly, our gifts are not for our own power or honor or position. What God gives us is for the sake of the whole body. We are not to use our gifts selfishly or with pride. What we have is actually the power of God in us. He is at work, and we must depend on His promptings in us to know when and how to use our gifts.
Gifts Must Pair with Fruits
Jesus warned his disciples that "many false prophets will appear and deceive many people." (Matt. 24:11) John also wrote, "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1)
For every gift of God, Satan has a clever deception. He will even counterfeit the gifts of the Spirit.
God even provided ways that we can be alerted to the presence of imposters. Listed among the gifts of the Spirit in I Cor. 12 is "distinguishing between spirits". God grants people in his body the discernment to sense the presence of a deceptive spirit masquerading as the Holy Spirit. But he also gives us other ways to confirm whether or not a spirit is from God.
One of the first criteria for recognizing a false spirit is whether or not the person in question declares that Jesus is God and that he came in the flesh. "Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God," John says in 1 John 4:2, 3.
Another thing we must evaluate is this: does the gifted person in question teach the pure gospel, or does he or she teach "another gospel"?
"But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ," Paul says. "For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted you put up with it easily enough." (2 Cor. 11:3, 4)
In Galatians 1 Paul confronts the church for accepting "a different gospel-which is really no gospel at all." (Gal. 1:7) Judaizers had come into the church and had begun to insist that the new Gentile Christians needed to do certain requirements (especially circumcision but also feast days-see Gal. 4:10) in order to be truly God's people.
Any person who adds requirements to the gospel in order to enjoy the promises of God is preaching "another gospel".
Finally, Jesus gave a clear statement about how to identify false prophets. "Watch out for false prophets," he said. "They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:15-21)
The Spirit of God who empowers the spiritual gifts in us also yields specific fruits of the Spirit in us. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other," (Gal. 5:22-3, 25-6)
If a person exercising spiritual gifts is not exhibiting these fruits of the spirit, we have to ask ourselves if that person is actually exhibiting the Spirit of God. If the person's message does not agree with scripture, if the person is divisive or exclusive or arrogant or proud, we have to pause and ask God to clarify the truth to us. The presence of miracles and power and even crowds of converts is not the verifying mark of a Spirit-filled person.
God gifts of the Spirit to us will always make Jesus and him crucified the center of life and reality. The Holy Spirit brings unity to believers. True spiritual gifts build the body. Among truly Spirit-filled people there will be peace and respect and love and communion, and there will always be a deep, abiding loyalty to Jesus as their focus and their Lord.
Gifts According to God's Will
The gifts of the Spirit are for all believers. Everyone who believes in Jesus receives the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). God grants specific gifts to each believer according to his will. God is sovereign, and he alone determines who will receive which gift. (v. 11; Hebrews 2:4)
Spiritual gifts are for the purpose of building up the church, of making it a complete body, equipped to do all of God's bidding. God grants the gifts according to his will and according to his purposes.
Each gift is as important as the others. No body is complete without all its parts, and God makes sure each group of believers has the spiritual gifts within it that it needs. If a particular gift seems to be lacking, such as miracles, perhaps the lack is because that gift is might generate fear or confusion in a certain setting. If that gift became necessary, however, God would bestow it upon that group at the right time.
The absence of a gift does not necessarily symbolize a lack of faith or commitment or openness to the Holy Spirit. Likewise, the absence of a gift is not necessarily permanent. God gives what he needs his believers to have for whatever his purposes are.
We Grow in God
God calls us to trust him. He asks us to honor his sovereignty and to rest in his will. He asks us to let go of our desires to have control over our lives and to let him direct us instead. He asks us to rejoice in his power and authority which he gives us when we accept him.
As Christ-followers we are called to a total commitment to our Savior, Jesus Christ. We are called to accept him as the focus of our love and our life.
We are called to welcome the Holy Spirit in us who gives us gifts of grace, the mind and heart of Christ, and the power of God.
We are called to honor God with our faith, our trust, and our responsiveness.
We are to be part of the body of Christ, rejoicing in his gifts to us, and honoring the gifts of our brothers and sisters.
We are called to live in unity with Christ and with his body.
We are called to live in love.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised July 14, 2000.