Scripture Readings: 1 Cor. 12:1-30
In 1 Cor. 12:1-30 the Apostle Paul writes about spiritual gifts and how they have something to do with us.
In the preceding chapters he dealt with problems of Christian faith and life that had arisen in the church he had established at Corinth. Corinth was that most important city of Greece known for its commerce, culture, immortality, and religions. The problems Paul spoke to were factions in the church, sexual immorality, problems in family life, Christian and pagan relations, lawsuits among believers.
In between the problems, and even in the midst of them, is gem after bright gem of spiritual truth. These include the cross of Christ and its power; the Spirit of God as the source of spiritual wisdom, understanding and power for the believer; and instruction for those who pray and proclaim God’s message–men and women.
Noting the situation that some in the church follow Paul while others follow Apollos, Paul said, “What, after all, is Apollos” And whis is Paul?” They are servants, through whom you came to believe (1 Cor. 3:5). Each servant functions with a portion of the task God had assigned, the task God further implements.
This is the concept we must keep in mind as we come to the question of spiritual gifts: We are servants to whom God has assigned individual tasks within corporate endeavor.
What is the plan for receiving and using spiritual gifts in the life of the church? First of all to declare “Jesus is Lord.” No one can really say that “except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). To believers in Christ the Spirit gives gifts to be used in the church and its mission. To those dependent on self or other idols enthroned in their lives God’s Spirit does not reveal truth.
The Spirit facilitates differing gifts. Men’s gifts are not all alike and women’s gifts are not all alike. Therefore, we must not place men or women in frozen roles. Breaking the rigid and long-held Jewish custom in which rabbis refused to teach women, Jesus strongly affirmed Mary who was different from her own sister. She was validated in concentrating on kingdom work instead of kitchen work, as she sat at Jesus’ feet listening and learning. “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same God.” (1 Cor. 12:4-5)
Having differing gifts is essential for fullness of functioning within the church. Suppose everyone in the church had only my gifts or yours. What a limitation! Likely we do not rejoice enough in God’s plan to give us gifts that are unique; not do we fully appreciate the extent to which we need each other’s gifts.
Is there any believer in the church to whom the Spirit has not given gifts for use in the church? Perhaps a good portion of the gifts lie dormant because they are not unearthed, developed, and encouraged. The Spirit doesn’t make mistakes but determines with care the distribution of gifts. The Living Bible paraphrase of that verse says, “It is the same and only Holy Spirit who gives these gifts and powers, deciding which each one of us should have.” This scripture and others call upon us to let God be God in this matter. But there are some who presume to know who can and who cannot use the gift of proclaiming God’s message–with maleness often considered a qualification and femaleness a disqualification.
What are the gifts given to believers? And what is your gift and mine? We can know rather precisely what our gift is. Paul did. He said, “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17).
In 1 Corinthians 12, verses 8 to 10, Paul lists the Spirit-given gifts: gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing spirits, tongues, and interpreting tongues. Consider whether your gift is in that list, or in the collection Paul notes in Romans 12:6-8: prophesying, administration, teaching, sermon delivery, encouraging, contributing to the needs of others, leadership, showing mercy.
Brothers and sisters in the faith are themselves gifts to the church. Paul says in 1 Cor 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” Then he names primarily the persons rather than the gifts: apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in different languages. In Ephesians 4:11 Paul also identifies evangelists and pastors.
Of all the gifts in these lists, which is your special gift given you by God’s Spirit? I hope you will take seriously that which you know; I hope the community of believers of which you are a part will encourage and not discourage you. When we minimize our gifts, we deny the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Paul reminded Timothy: “Do not neglect your gift…” (1 Tim. 4:14) and “Fan into flame the gift of God which is in you.” (2 Tim. 1:6)
If God gives the gift of speaking or preaching, the intent is to proclaim the Divine message, not accumulate personal praises. (However, joy in exercising gifts is appropriate.) If God gives the gift of writing, the task is to express and record God’s Word of truth. If God gives the gift of singing, the opportunity is to inspire praise and edify others. If God gives the gift of caring and counselling, the responsibility is to reflect Divine care. If God gives the gift of teaching, the nurturing of searching minds should follow. Race, class, age, sex, and physical characteristics of skin, eyes, or hair will not determine whether gifts are practiced.
To encourage accountability for all gifts, perhaps congregational leaders could prepare a list of gifts and offices entitled “Your Gift(s) for the Work of the Church.” Members would then be encouraged to check areas for involvement: administration, worship, nurture, education, peace and service, evangelism, prayer ministry, hospitality, financial aid. Gifts would help to determine the mission of the congregation and not be limited to filling offices. Selecting brothers and sisters for given responsibilities would be facilitated.
Small groups could discern individual’s gifts through prayer and discussion. People interested and hesitant could then feel recognized and involved.
As he often does in his teaching, Paul uses the illustration of the coordinating parts of the human body to chow how we need each other in the work of the church (1 Cor. 12:12-21). The ear does not, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body…” The head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”
Two triple statements may help us to capture the meaning of the above passage, to keep a healthy sense of one’s own and others’ gifts, and to acknowledge that we all have limitations, we all are interdependent.
- You are gifted. You are limited. I am needed.
- I am gifted. I am limited. You are needed.
Paul says in Roman 12:6 (RSV)”Having therefore gifts that differ, let us use them.” That does not foster self-apology or discouragement of another.
What is the power for the use of spiritual gifts? The Spirit not only gives the gifts; the Spirit enables their use. Paul said in 1 Cor. 2:4, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith may not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” Continuing in verse 13, we speak, not the manner of human wisdom but patterning the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.
We have reason to believe that the Holy Spirit brings the words of Jesus to our remembrance. He had said to his disciples, “…the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). We can develop a new awareness and appreciation for such spirit consciousness. We might remind ourselves, however, that knowing the words of Christ first makes bringing them to our remembrance possible. Concerted study, prayer, and humbling of ourselves before God makes authentic our acts of service.
What a thrill to know that God wills a strong Spirit to dwell within us, weak and fragile as we are on our own. That enables us to serve God’s purposes! Paul was conscious of this in his own life; he spoke of Christ’s energy “which so powerfully works in me” (Col. 1.29).
What, finally, is the purpose of using our gifts? It is for the common good. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7). The Living Bible paraphrases this: “The Holy Spirit displayed God’s power through each one of us as a means of helping the entire church,” In Ephesians 4:11-13 Paul says the purpose is to prepare God’s people for unity in the work of service. Referring to Jesus, who gifted some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, the purpose was to prepare God’s people for serving “so that the body of Christ may be built until we all reach unity in the faith and in knowledge of the Son of God, becoming mature and attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Peter, that formerly unstable and impulsive disciple who became a strong man of God through the power of the Holy Spirit, speaks about the use of gifts and their purpose, “Each one should use whatever grace has been received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. Whoever helps serve should do it as one speaking the very words of God. Whoever helps serve should do it with the strength God provides so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 4:11).
Not of ourselves or for ourselves are gifts exercised. Our purpose is not for selfish reasons but for the good of the entire church, not to impress but to help others, not to domineer but to serve others.
Self-fulfillment, though not the primary purpose, results too. Our best physical, mental, and spiritual health is realized when we develop and put to use our unique God-giftedness: whether in teaching, singing, writing, preaching or any of the myriad ways of helping. The thrill of implementing one’s gifts in God’s work cannot be matched by any other kind of thrill. While thrilling to use one’s gift, it is killing (in a sense) to be restricted from using them. But God’s provisional hand is over our lives, amazing us by removing all kinds of obstacles, as we permit it.
Let us determine to use our gifts in such a Spirit-led way that God will be praised, Christ will always be exalted, and others will always be blessed.