As we move on to the 12th chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul begins to address the next topic on the “list” of issues that were questions concerning church life together. The topic of spiritual gifts now rises into focus.
This actually has much in common with the preceding topics, though it may not at first be obvious. Regarding the matter of questionable practices, Paul encouraged them to not be self-indulgent, but to have the higher view of serving others (chapters 8-10). And in terms of the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11), there was to be a focus upon unity in faith and relationship with God and others. And now, relative to gifts, the same components of unity and serving others are a common theme.
1 Corinthians 12:1 – Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that 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.
There was a lot of ignorance that was a part of the Corinthian’s past when they worshipped dumb idols who did not communicate. And Paul does not want them to be ignorant about this new and living faith in Christ. Just as Jesus had taught the disciples, the Holy Spirit was the personal replacement God in their lives – guiding and instructing them as they lived life and served each other. And the Spirit was not going to speak through someone to deny the person and humanity of Christ. Such an instruction would only be coming from a false teacher, and this may well have been happening and causing confusion. Likewise, accurate teaching about Jesus could only come from the work of the Spirit.
The Corinthians should know that the source of the varying and different gifts was the same. Notice here how Father, Son and Spirit are all included …
12:4 – There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
God decides who is given what gift, and though different, the source is the same. This means that with a unified source, there is a unified and thoughtful purpose in the distribution. As Paul says next, it is for the common good. The gifts listed here are illustrative and not exhaustive. Most of these gifts are those for the purposes unique to the apostolic era before the completion of the written word of God.
12:7 – Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
This idea of varying and different gifts – given for the benefit of all when all are exercised together harmoniously – has been illustrated in many different ways. Let me illustrate as follows (writing with snow falling outside and with an inner weariness about the cold and the evils of winter) with a baseball illustration (of which there is an illustration for every contingency of life and every biblical truth) …
The Baltimore Orioles are in Florida right now in Spring Training, getting ready to play their first exhibition game this Saturday. In my world, this is far better than groundhog predictions or seeing the first robin.
It is no secret that the Orioles are currently involved in a major rebuilding effort. After a number of rather good seasons, the train came totally off the tracks last year as Baltimore posted one of the 10 worst seasons for a team in all of baseball history.
As the new baseball executive and the new field manager work together to put a winning team on the field again, they are going to need to do so with a wide variety of skills.
The team needs a variety of pitchers both left-handed and right-handed, some who will pitch multiple innings once every fifth game, and some who will more frequently pitch in specific, shorter situations. And there is a need for eight other fellows to be on the field who can catch and throw baseballs to help the pitchers do their job.
The Birds need a variety of offensive players. They need guys who are fast and who can drop base hits into open spaces, getting on base toward the goal of scoring runs. Some of these fellows will need to steal bases without getting thrown out. Other hitters need to be able to deliver hard-hit balls that go to the walls, or over them.
Everyone is needed; each skill is valuable in concert with the others. It does not help to only have pitchers and no one who can hit a baseball. And as the Orioles discovered, it does not work to build a team with too many players who only live to hit home runs, striking out most of the rest of the time … living and dying by the long ball.
Likewise in the church, all the gifts are needed. You can’t just have all pitchers teachers, or all hitters servers, or all anything else. And you likewise can’t have one category of the team church not showing up and thereby not giving their gift for the benefit of others.
You have a gift. We need it from you. You don’t have other gifts, but some of the rest of us do have them. And you need them from us. That’s why God put it together this way. He’s pretty smart.