Gifted for the Common Good
Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Summary of the Text: In the passage, Paul begins to address another issue concerning the Corinthian public worship; the use of Spiritual gifts. He discusses the declaration of the Spirit, the manifestation of the Spirit, and the distribution of the gifts.
The Proposition of the Sermon: What are the Spiritual gifts and their purpose? Individuals within the Body of Christ are gifted for the common good of the whole Church.
Have you ever overheard another person’s conversation on the phone? It is a one-sided discussion, or at least it is from your perspective. You could liken this letter to the Corinthians (and other epistles too) to such an eavesdropped “telephone conversation.” We can hear the Apostle Paul’s statement loud and clear, but the Corinthians’ comments are muffled mutterings from the other end of the receiver. We can only hope to follow the dialogue by picking up on the contexts clues.
However, we have reached a highly controversial portion of Paul’s conversation with the Church at Corinth. There seems to be more confusion and disagreement about Spiritual gifts in the church today than ever before. What are the gifts? Are they for today? If so, how are they to operate in the church today? These questions are only the beginning of the discussion.
Regardless of the fact of the one-sided nature of the “conversation,” the discussion is complicated even more because many people do not view the following verses in their complete context (1 Cor 12-14). PLEASE HEAR THE WHOLE OF PAUL’S DISCUSSION ON THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS! (This is not to mention Romans 12.) The following series of sermons will follow the progression of Paul’s letter concerning the matter, so please understand, I may not answer the question you are longing to hear in this sermon. However, I hope to give clarity to the debated topic of Spiritual gifts by analyzing the letter’s contents and allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture. The Holy Spirit is plain-spoken through the pen of Paul, “I do not want you to be unaware” (12) (or ignorant) concerning Spiritual gifts.
Now, in 1 Corinthian 12:1-11, Paul begins to speak to the Corinthian congregations’ concerns about Spiritual gifts. It appears there is complete chaos in the public worship service at Corinth. The gifts were being used in competition against each other; instead of helping one another. Would it be surprising if the Corinthians were dividing up in the “spiritual elite,” which operated in the more spectacular gifting, as opposed to the ones who did not possess a magnificent gift? I believe that is the case!
Therefore, Paul explains that all gifts (flashy or understated) are given for the common good of the church. In this sermon, we will investigate the declaration of the Spirit, the manifestation of the Spirit, and the distribution of the gifts to reveal that all are given for the spiritual welfare of the Church.
The Declaration of the Spirit vv. 1-3
In vv. 1-3, Paul makes known the declaration of the Spirit, which in turn allows us to see the Spirit’s role of testifying of Jesus. In these verses, I would like to make three points. The first point is concerning the word “gifts” in v.1. Paul states, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware” (1). This verse could be rendered, “Now concerning spiritual brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant.” In most translations, the word gift is italicized. This indicates that in the original manuscripts this word is not there but has been inserted by translators to help the modern reader grasp the gist of the passage. Could this reveal insight into the dilemma at Corinth? Could there be certain “Spiritual brethren” which the Spirit manifest more mightily through and thus cause attention to be drawn to them? It is possible. However, regardless of the rendering, Paul is clear that he did not desire the church to be ignorant.
The remaining two points are drawn from vv. 2-3. Paul writes, “You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to 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,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (2-3). The second point deals with why Paul mentions “mute idols” and “Jesus being accursed.” D.A Carson writes,
Pagans believed that the gods were capable of influencing their objectives against others in areas of life such as athletic competition, matters of the heart, business and politics. This was done in pagan worship through the use of curses against their opponents. Sometimes they were written on lead, deposited in the temple and wells and sworn in the name of a god. A curse tablet found in the temple of Demeter in Corinth read, ‘Hermes of the underworld [grant] heavy curses.’ Jesus be cursed can be translated ‘Jesus [is] a curse’ or ‘Jesus [grant] a curse’ for the two words are lit. ‘anathema Jesus.’Cf. 16:22 ‘let him be anathema’ where the verb is in the present tense. Were the Corinthian Christians using the name of Jesus as a curse against opponents in the same way pagans did with there gods? Is Paul saying that no person speaking by the Spirit of God curses others with ‘anathema Jesus’ in order to disadvantage them? Only those led by the Spirit will affirm that Jesus is Lord. Christians were meant to be using their gifts for the blessing and the welfare of others 1
This ‘anathema Jesus’ statement may have been formulated by a misunderstanding of how Jesus was accursed for us.
The final, and most significant, point is located at the end of v. 3. Paul states, “…and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (3). In this statement, Paul reveals the revelatory role of the Spirit of God. It does not matter how grandiose a manifestation is if it does not point to the fact that Jesus is Lord. It is not the Spirit. For further clarification, the Apostle John records Jesus’ teaching concerning this testimony of the Spirit in his Gospel. First, he writes, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me,” (NASB Jn 15:26). Later it is recorded,
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. 16:14 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. (NASB Jn 16:13-14)
The biblical role of the Holy Spirit is to testify of Christ. He will magnify and glorify Christ, not any other. If the attention is given to a man or any other, no matter how supernatural the occurrence, it is not godly. Christ alone is to be honored!
In summary, this portion of the passage, Paul explains it is not his desire (I also believe the Spirit’s desire) that believers be unaware (or ignorant) of the gifts of the Spirit. If a supernatural manifestation occurs, it will only point to Christ and His redeeming work. No exceptions.
The Manifestation of the Spirit vv. 4-10
In this section (vv. 4-10), Paul addresses the manifestation of the Spirit. I would like to divide these verses into two subsections. The first part can be identified by Paul’s use of the word varieties (διαίρεσις or diairesis) 2 in vv. 4-7. The second section is vv. 8-10 and is a list of supernatural gifts of the Spirit.
Varieties of Gifts, Ministries, and Effects vv. 4-7
In vv. 4-6, Paul makes three enlightening statements concerning the spiritual gifts. In these three comments, Paul explains there are varieties of gifts, ministries, and effects. In this portion of the sermon, these terms will be investigated for insight into Paul’s understanding of the gifts of the Spirit.
First, what does Paul mean by varieties? The NLT rendering of the passage brings clarity to what is meant by varieties. It states,
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us” (NLT 1 Cor 12:4-6).
In short, Paul is giving a set of divisions or categorical list of the gifts. This list in 1 Corinthian 12 is not an exhaustive list. The reason these types of gifts are mentioned here is, more than likely, due to the situation at Corinth.
Secondly, Paul states, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (4). What does Paul mean by the word “gifts?” The word translated “gifts” is the Greek word χάρισμα (or Charisma). It means, “a gift of grace, a free gift” 3 For Paul, these gifts, regardless of type, are given by the Spirit of God through the means of grace. They are not earned or learned. (Again, please remember this Corinthian list is not a comprehensive inventory of all the gifts. See Romans 12:3-8 for more gifts).
Furthermore, Paul writes, “And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord” (5). “Ministries” comes from the διακονία (diakonia). It means “service, ministry.” 4 It is where the word “deacon” originates. I believe Paul is here alluding to the five-fold ministry gifts listed in Eph. 4:11-13. There he states,
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.” (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; (NASB Eph 4:7-12).
God gives gifted people to the church. (Could this sway the translation debate on v.1?)
Furthermore, Paul writes, “There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons” (6). The word rendered “effects” (ἐνέργημα or energêma) 5 is rendered as activities, operations, or workings in various translations (see ESV, KJV, and ASV). Energema is where our English word “energy” is derived. Therefore, these spiritual “activities” are energized by the Spirit of God for the purposes of God within the Church. The use of this word by Paul paints a picture of what is happening at Corinth. Could it be the Church at Corinth were enamored with these supernatural effects (or manifestations of the Spirit)? Absolutely, it is evident in later passages that Corinth has an issue with the supernatural signs.
Finally, Paul argues, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (7). No matter what “category” the spiritual gift falls in, it is given for the betterment of the community of faith. Also, it is important to note, that the “manifestation” or display of the Spirit is not to say the Spirit was absent without an exhibition of the gift. The Spirit is always present in the life of the believer, but at times of manifestation, the Spirit is more apparent.
In summary of this subsection, Paul uses three informative words, which shed light on the gifts of the Spirit. There are a variety of gifts, ministries, and effects all given by God to the Body of Christ. These grace-endowments are given to the Body for the welfare of the entire Body and not merely individual members (although they may be beneficial to the individual). Also, regardless, of the manifestation, if it is of the Spirit, it will testify to Christ and His work. The Holy Spirit will not speak against the Christ and His Word.
Supernatural Manifestations of the Spirit vv. 8-10
In vv. 8-10, Paul gives nine supernatural gifts given to the church by the Spirit of God. They are recorded as follows: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, effecting of miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, various kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues. We will examine each in the order Paul presents but it may be useful to note that some categorize these nine into three groups. There are the revelation gifts (word of wisdom, word of knowledge, and distinguishing of spirits), power gifts (faith, healings, and miracles), and utterance gifts (prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues). In this section of the study, I would like to give attention to the definition of these gifts and if possible give examples from Scripture. (I will only survey these gifts, especially tongues and interpretation of tongues, because the utterance gifts will be dealt with in detail later in 1 Cor 14.)
In v. 8 Paul writes, “For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit;” (8). Since there is controversy over what these two gifts are, I will begin with what is not debatable. First, the wisdom (σοφία or sophia) is defined as “skill, wisdom.” is defined as “a knowing or knowledge” 6 and knowledge (γνῶσις or gnosis) 7 Apparently, there is a difference between the two gifts just because of their separate listing. An important consideration is that knowledge is the accumulation of facts and wisdom is the application of that knowledge. However, this is wisdom and knowledge given by the Spirit of God. I do not believe Paul is speaking of mere human mental acquisition and application here, but spiritual endowments.
Therefore, the word of wisdom is the supernatural ability to speak forth the wisdom of God. One writer states, “This gift describes someone who can understand and speak forth biblical truth in such a way as to skillfully apply it to life situations with all discernment.” 8 This gift is not limited to the New Testament era. For Old Testament, examples think of Solomon and Daniel. For New Testament instances look to Stephen in Acts 6:8-10.
Furthermore, the word of knowledge is the supernatural ability to know facts, which are humanly impossible. We see this gift operating within the New Testament. First, with Jesus. For instance, Jesus knowing Nathaniel was under the fig tree (Jn 1:45-51) or the coin in the fish’s mouth to pay the temple tax (Matt 17:24-27). But that was Jesus, right? What about Philip’s knowledge about the whereabouts of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8? Or the announcement of Cornelius’ arrival in Acts 10? What about the Apostle Paul’s revelation of the shipwreck in Acts 27? Again this is not book-smarts, this is revealed supernatural knowledge given by the Spirit of God for the purposes of the Gospel.
In v. 9, Paul states, “to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit” (9). First, all believers have the gift of faith (πίστις or pistis) 9, but this would be understood more clearly as “water walking faith” (Matt 14:22-33) or “mountain moving” faith. A great endowment of faith given at the specific time for a particular purpose. A modern-day example would be George Mueller. The gift of faith is the ability to believe God regardless of situation or circumstance.
Furthermore, the “gifts of healing” is given to some members of the church. Adam Clarke writes,
Gifts of healing simply refers to the power which at particular times the apostles received from the Holy Spirit to cure diseases; a power which was not always resident in them; for Paul could not cure Timothy, nor remove his own thorn in the flesh; because it was given only on extraordinary occasions, though perhaps more generally than many others. 10
Is there any need to review all the healings in the Gospels and Acts? Also, attention should be given to the plurality of the word gifts.
In v. 10, Paul gives the remaining five spiritual gifts under consideration. Paul writes, “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” (10). First, what is the “effecting of miracles”? This gift often gets lumped in with the gifts of healing. However, it is a separate grace endowment. The word rendered miracles is δύναμις (or dunamis). [11, New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “1411”] This term is synonymous to “explosive power.” Some have stated that this is etymologically linked to the word “dynamite.” Second, is the gift of prophecy (προφητεία or propheteia) 11 In the Bible, there are two types of prophecy; forth-telling and foretelling. Forthtelling is more akin to preaching and proclaiming the Scriptures. However, there is the prophecy which falls into the foretelling category (See Acts 11:28; 21:11). Third, the “distinguishing of spirits” is the ability to discern whether a spirit is demonic or godly. Finally, then there is “tongues” and “interpretation of tongues.” The gift of tongues is the ability to speak in a language, which is unknown and foreign to the speaker. Therefore, the gift of interpretation is the ability to understand the tongues as mentioned (see Acts 2). (As stated previously, more attention will be given to prophecy, tongues, and interpretation of tongues later in 1 Cor 14.)
In summary of this section, Paul lists a group of supernatural spiritual gifts in vv. 8-10. The fact these are supernatural “effects, activities, or workings” of the Spirit should imply these are not regular everyday occurrences. However, God does in His sovereignty distribute the gifts to serve the church in its global mission. It would be erroneous to expect these incidents as normative, but also as much incorrect would be the view of them never happening. This thought brings up the next section of consideration from the test; the distribution of these gifts.
The Distribution of the Gifts v. 11
As mentioned above, God dispenses these gifts at His sovereign pleasure. This statement is not to negate the factor of human volition in operating of the gifts (See 1 Cor 14:32). If human error were not a factor, then Paul would not have needed to write on the subject. However, the gifts are given by God for His purposes.
Does everyone possess all the gifts? No. Paul writes, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (11). God is the is the Giver and chooses to who receives what gift. God alone knows what we have need of and gives the manifestation of the Spirit as He desires (v.7). It is erroneous to assert that all believers should possess a particular gift.
In conclusion, what are the Spiritual gifts and their purpose? Individuals within the Body of Christ are gracefully gifted by the Spirit of God with endowments for the common good of the Church. We have witnessed the declaration of the Spirit of God in vv. 1-3, the manifestations of the Spirit in vv. 4-10, and the distribution of the Gifts in vv. 11.
- D. A. Carson et al., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1998), 1180. ↵
- New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “1243”. ↵
- New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “5486”. ↵
- , New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “1248”. ↵
- New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “1755” ↵
- New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “4678” ↵
- New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “1108” ↵
- GotQuestions.org, “What are the spiritual gifts of the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge?” GotQuestions.org, January 04, 2017, accessed February 03, 2018, https://www.gotquestions.org/word-wisdom-knowledge.html. ↵
- New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “4102” ↵
- Adam Clarke , Commentary on the Bible by Adam Clarke: 1 Corinthians: 1 Corinthians Chapter 12, accessed February 03, 2018, http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/cmt/clarke/co1012.htm. ↵
- New American Standard Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, 1998), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “4394”. ↵