The Truth About Spiritual Gifts

Paul is writing to the local church at Corinth in order to admonish the local church toward unity through maturity in the faith, not only knowledge of Christ but wisdom—which is knowledge in love. He has admonished the local church to edify one another and those outside her proverbial walls rather than be puffed up in her knowledge. He has admonished the local church to, even when observing the Lord’s supper, wait for one another so that no one goes hungry. Now, Paul changes specific topics even though his general focus does not change. He addresses spiritual gifts. Chapter 12 is one of the hotter debated chapters in Scripture because some want to lean heavily on gifts of healing and tongues, and some want to dismiss the gifts as apostolic gifts that have since ceased. Continuationists are charismatics who believe the gifts ought to be regularly practiced signs that show the Holy Spirit is moving. Cessationists believe such sign gifts are no longer necessary or desirable because the testimony of Scripture was completed in the apostolic age. Let’s see what Scripture has to say.

1 Corinthians 12:1-14

12.1 Περὶ δὲ τῶν πνευματικῶν, ἀδελφοί, οὐ θέλω ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν.  2 οἴδατε ὅτι ὅτε ἔθνη ἦτε πρὸς τὰ εἴδωλα τὰ ἄφωνα ὡς ἂν ἤγεσθε ἀπαγόμενοι.  3 διὸ γνωρίζω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδεὶς ἐν πνεύματι θεοῦ λαλῶν λέγει· Ἀνάθεμα Ἰησοῦς, καὶ οὐδεὶς δύναται εἰπεῖν· Κύριος Ἰησοῦς εἰ μὴ ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ.  

4 Διαιρέσεις δὲ χαρισμάτων εἰσίν, τὸ δὲ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα·  5 καὶ διαιρέσεις διακονιῶν εἰσιν, καὶ ὁ αὐτὸς κύριος·  6 καὶ διαιρέσεις ἐνεργημάτων εἰσίν, ὁ δὲ αὐτὸς θεός, ὁ ἐνεργῶν τὰ πάντα ἐν πᾶσιν.  7 ἑκάστῳ δὲ δίδοται ἡ φανέρωσις τοῦ πνεύματος πρὸς τὸ συμφέρον.  8 ᾧ μὲν γὰρ διὰ τοῦ πνεύματος δίδοται λόγος σοφίας, ἄλλῳ δὲ λόγος γνώσεως κατὰ τὸ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα,  9 ἑτέρῳ πίστις ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ πνεύματι, ἄλλῳ χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων ἐν τῷ ἑνὶ πνεύματι,  10 ἄλλῳ ἐνεργήματα δυνάμεων, ἄλλῳ προφητεία, ἄλλῳ διακρίσεις πνευμάτων, ἑτέρῳ γένη γλωσσῶν, ἄλλῳ ἑρμηνεία γλωσσῶν·  11 πάντα δὲ ταῦτα ἐνεργεῖ τὸ ἓν καὶ τὸ αὐτὸ πνεῦμα, διαιροῦν ἰδίᾳ ἑκάστῳ καθὼς βούλεται.  

12 Καθάπερ γὰρ τὸ σῶμα ἕν ἐστιν καὶ μέλη πολλὰ ἔχει, πάντα δὲ τὰ μέλη τοῦ σώματος πολλὰ ὄντα ἕν ἐστιν σῶμα, οὕτως καὶ ὁ Χριστός·  13 καὶ γὰρ ἐν ἑνὶ πνεύματι ἡμεῖς πάντες εἰς ἓν σῶμα ἐβαπτίσθημεν, εἴτε Ἰουδαῖοι εἴτε Ἕλληνες, εἴτε δοῦλοι εἴτε ἐλεύθεροι, καὶ πάντες ἓν πνεῦμα ἐποτίσθημεν.  

14 Καὶ γὰρ τὸ σῶμα οὐκ ἔστιν ἓν μέλος ἀλλὰ πολλά.  15 ἐὰν εἴπῃ ὁ πούς· Ὅτι οὐκ εἰμὶ χείρ, οὐκ εἰμὶ ἐκ τοῦ σώματος, οὐ παρὰ τοῦτο οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ σώματος;

The Spirit’s work (v. 1-3)

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. Therefore 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,” exceptby the Holy Spirit.

Paul uses the same language he has used previously (cf. 11:3) in order to implore the Corinthians toward understanding. He does not want them to be unaware concerning spiritual gifts. This means that spiritual gifts are not a mystery but meant to be understood. Further, Paul is here addressing the members of the local church at Corinth, not the apostolic body. Whatever Paul is about to say concerning spiritual gifts is for the local church in the First Century and is intelligible—not causing confusion or disorder but encouraging unity (cf. 14:2-19).

Paul connects the misuse, or being unaware of the purpose of spiritual gifts, to the practice of idolatry. When the believers at Corinth were pagans, unbelievers, they were let astray to idols who could not speak or work—they were mute. Therefore, Paul makes known that no one speaking by the Spirit of God curses Jesus, and no one can confess Jesus as Lord except by the Holy Spirit. From the outset of this section Paul distinguishes between the Holy Spirit and the false gods of the pagans. People worshipped idols in order to get what they wanted or merit some position in a make-believe afterlife. Contrary to this, the Holy Spirit is the one who moves His people to confess Christ.

We are unable to sincerely confess Christ as Lord without the Holy Spirit first moving in us and causing our confession—that is unconditional election. If we speak by the Holy Spirit, we will never depart from Christ because the Holy Spirit holds us fast—that is the perseverance of the saints. 

The Holy Spirit, then, is not what some have made Him out to be. He is the one who moves His people. He is not the one moved by His people. So, we cannot get the Holy Spirit to empower us or gift us or anything else. The Holy Spirit is the one effectually working, not us.

Our participation (v. 4-10)

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.

Having established that the Holy Spirit is the one working and that He does not work for us, Paul considers the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There are many ministries. Paul is not referring to programs but acts of service within the local church. Youth, senior adult, young adult, outreach, and such are not programs in the First Century. There is one body and many acts of service within that body. These acts of service, though different from person to person, honor the same Lord—Jesus Christ. There are varieties of gifts within the ranks of the local church congregation yet only one Spirit. There are varieties of effects; people are impacted in different ways by the word and Spirit of God. Yet, there is the same God who works all things in all persons—here to mean every individual. Paul is careful about his language, here. He is addressing the congregation as a whole, but he is now revealing the individuality (not individualism) of each person in the local church.

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and 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.

To each individual in the local church is given a manifestation of the Spirit. Who in the local church has a manifestation of the Holy Spirit? Each one, every individual. No one is left out. Why is each individual given a manifestation of the Holy Spirit? It is for the common good. Recognize that the gifts given to each individual in the local church are not given as sign gifts. They are given for the purpose of edification. Paul is not referring, here, to the apostolic sign gifts but gifts that edify the body of Christ. He even names some of the gifts:

  1. The word of wisdom through the Spirit,
  2. The word of knowledge according to the same Spirit,
  3. Faith by the same Spirit,
  4. Healing by the one Spirit,
  5. The effecting of miracles
  6. Prophecy
  7. The distinguishing of spirits,
  8. Various kinds of tongues, and
  9. The interpretation of tongues.

We may debate as to the meaning of these gifts but we must recognize that Paul identifies them as normative for the congregation so that each one is edified. Paul will talk about and define tongues and prophecy as we move through the coming pericopes. 

The Spirit’s will (v. 11-14)

But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

The single most important thing about spiritual gifts, according to Paul, is their origin. Paul does not want the Corinthians to be unaware. One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. It is foolish for us to think that all who are in Christ will have the Spirit manifest in the same way. It is foolish to think that all the gifts of the Spirit will manifest at all times. It is foolish to belittle others for not exhibiting one gift or another. The Spirit is the only one who works all these things according to His own will, not ours. We cannot will ourselves to have any spiritual gift, and we cannot will ourselves not to have any spiritual gift. The Holy Spirit chooses and gifts so that the body of Christ will be edified with the appropriate gifts at the appropriate times. There is no guarantee that our gifting will always remain the same. There is only the understanding that the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts to each one according to His own will for our edification in Christ.

For 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. For 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. For the body is not one member, but many.

Each individual is a member of the local church. Each local church is a member of the body of Christ. To be a member of a local church or the body of Christ is less like having our name on a roll and more like becoming the hands and feet and eyes and ears of Christ. Something about local church membership is revealed. If we are not serving for the edification of the whole body of Christ, we are not members whether or not our names are listed as such. We are baptized by one Spirit into the body of Christ. We all drink of the one Spirit together—a reference to spiritual eucharist. What Paul admonished the local church for concerning the eucharist, instructing the congregants to meet for the better rather than the worse by waiting for one another so no one goes hungry during the Lord’s Supper, is also at play when it comes to being the church. Instead of being puffed up and self-exalting, they are to be concerned about edifying one another. The body is not one member. The Christian faith is not individualistic. Lone-wolf Christianity is no Christianity at all. We cannot be part of the body of Christ by ourselves because the body is not one member. It is many. That is why we gather. Each member serves for the edification of the whole body. If our religion looks different from this, it is not of Christ whether or not we self-identify as “Christian.”

Whatever we think about spiritual gifts, it must not escape us that they are given for the purpose of edification. Let us serve one another joyfully and sincerely.


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