1 Cor 12:1-11 – The Spiritual Gifts

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1 Cor 12:1

  1. There are three topics that Paul believes it is important for us Christians not to be ignorant of: 1) the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1), 2) God’s plan for Israel (Romans 11:25), and 3) the return of Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
    1. It is important to remind yourself of these three topics from time to time, otherwise they can easily be forgotten.
  2. In this chapter, Paul teaches the Corinthians that the spiritual gifts are meant to function as a “body”, where all the different parts of the body are equally important. Emphasizing or focusing only on one spiritual gift is wrong and shapes a deformed body.
    1. By emphasizing so strongly that we Christians are one body belonging together, we understand that the spiritual gifts are meant to function first and foremost in a congregational setting. It is when we Christians come together that the gifts come into their own because we are then in a safe congregational environment where we can support and encourage each other while helping each other not to stray into the spiritual gifts.
    2. It is important to understand that spiritual gifts should always be used in love with the aim of exalting God and helping others. Misuse of the gifts often leads to selfishness, self-aggrandizement, division, etc.

1 Cor 12:2

  1. When you study Paul’s letters in the New Testament, it’s like listening to a person talking on the phone; you only hear one person in the conversation and have to try to figure out what the other person is saying. Paul’s letters are written in a situation that he touches on in various ways, either by trying to solve a specific problem, answer a question, or encourage someone who is in a difficult situation. However, Paul does not give us much information about the situation he is writing to, because those he is writing to obviously already know their own situation. So we who read Paul’s letters must try to find out what situation Paul is writing to in order to fully understand his message. This can be done partly by studying Paul’s letters in depth, but also by researching the city in question and its situation at the time of Paul’s writing.
    1. As an example, we see in this verse that Paul writes that the Corinthians were “drawn to dumb idols”. Exactly what this means is hard to say, but since Paul brings this up in the context of writing about spiritual gifts, it probably has something to do with some form of idolatry that was somewhat similar to “Christian” spirituality. There are many non-Christian religious contexts where practitioners go into ecstasy and certainly experience this as “spiritual”, but this is a spirituality that Paul does not want us Christians to engage in.
  2. If you come from a non-Christian background, it is not impossible that you may have brought with you a faulty understanding of spiritual things, you may even have been influenced by demonic spirituality in the past. It is important to put aside all that is pagan and try to learn sound biblical spirituality.

1 Cor 12:3

  1. In biblical times, it was not at all uncommon for a person to claim to have a message from God and to be able to perform miracles. For Paul, it is important that we Christians should firstly not listen to any “prophet” who is not a Christian and professes at least the most basic confession: “Jesus is Lord”, and secondly that we should always “test” whether what a prophet says agrees with the word of God (1 Cor 14:29, 1 Thess 5:20-22, 1 John 4:21).
    1. Too often we Christians make the mistake of thinking that just because a person has been endowed with a spiritual gift, everything he or she says is a message directly from God. When this mistake is made, one of the most important messages of this chapter is completely missed: that we are one body with different parts and that we need each other. If one person has received a gift, we should rejoice in it, but we must not forget that God has given other gifts to other people, and that they are just as important for the well-being of the body, even if they are not as “cool”.

1 Cor 12:4

  1. When studying spiritual gifts, it may be useful for pedagogical purposes to distinguish between natural and supernatural gifts. Since God is the creator of us humans, he gives us all the natural gifts that we are born with, such as the gift of singing or having a mind for mathematics, but he can also give supernatural gifts that go beyond our human understanding and sometimes even defy the laws of nature. The supernatural gifts are of course not “better” than the natural ones, but in order to understand the gifts of grace and not to confuse them with other gifts God gives, it may be helpful to clarify that the 9 gifts of grace Paul goes through in this chapter are supernatural in nature.
  2. Where in English it says “gifts of grace”, in the original text it says “charisma”, which is a Greek word that comes from the word “charis” meaning “grace”. A gift of grace is an undeserved gift that God has given in order that we may serve God in the best way possible.
    1. Grace means that God has lovingly saved us from sin and given us the promise of a new eternal life, a life that he has already begun to transform with his Holy Spirit. There are no “good works” we can do to earn God’s grace, we can only gratefully receive grace by believing in Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Grace then manifests itself in our lives through the Holy Spirit’s transformation of us in various ways, including through the miraculous gifts we Christians are given to one another.
  3. All Christians have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) and can thus generally pray for the sick, prophesy, receive a word of knowledge, etc. But God’s Spirit also gives a more specific gift to each person so that they can function more focused on the specific task they have been given.
  4. By pointing out that there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit, Paul shows that there is a great diversity in the kingdom of God, but that at the same time there is also a unity in God.
  5. By describing God in three different ways; the Spirit, the Lord and God, Paul makes a connection to the contemporary diversity and unity of the Trinity.

1 Cor 12:5

  1. While not necessarily a miraculous gift in the “ordinary” sense, God may well choose to endow a particular person with a ministry as a pastor or preacher or something else. One should not be blind to the fact that there are only exactly 9 gifts of grace or the like, but rather be glad and thankful that God allows his Spirit to be expressed in us in a variety of ways, and the important thing is that it glorifies our Lord.
    1. Some of the “ministries” mentioned in the Bible are apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher (Ephesians 4:11). However, one should not look too blindly at these particular ministries; God can, if He wishes, give you a combination of these ministries or some other kind of ministry. The important thing is not exactly how you serve God, but that you serve God.
      1. For example, if God wants to give you a ministry as a singer, don’t be unhappy that God didn’t make you an apostle, but instead serve God wholeheartedly as a singer and let God’s Spirit touch people through your singing.

1 Cor 12:6

  1. God works in different ways through different people, in different congregations and in different places. You do yourself a disservice if you pigeonhole yourself or your congregation and think that God can only work in a certain predetermined way. Instead of focusing too much on a specific gift, focus on God and let him work through the church in the way he wants.

1 Cor 12:7

  1. Every Christian, without exception, has received the Holy Spirit as a gift in connection with his or her salvation. Because the Holy Spirit is in every believer, every Christian can pray for the sick, prophesy, etc. Not only that, but every Christian can be endowed with a specific gift of grace to perform a specific service for God.
  2. The idea of spiritual gifts is that we should help each other, not exalt ourselves. Spiritual gifts should be used so that they are “useful”, a blessing to others, and glorify God.
    1. When a gift of grace is abused in such a way that it puts too much focus on the person who has received the gift rather than on the person who has given the gift, then one should react.
  3. There is a danger of believing that the Spirit is not present just because we do not see his “manifestations”. But just because the Spirit does not choose to manifest himself in a very visible way does not mean that he is not present. Jesus himself says that the Holy Spirit “will always be with you” (John 14:16).
    1. Those who seek the Spirit of God only in miraculous manifestations risk missing the joyful peace of the Spirit’s constant presence.

1 Cor 12:8

  1. Wisdom
    1. According to Paul, God is “the only wise one” (Rom 16:27) and wisdom is, at its deepest level, about knowing God and his ways. Receiving the gift of wisdom from the Spirit can therefore be about both knowing who God is, but also understanding what God wants to do in a time like this.
      1. An example might be that someone who has been endowed with the gift of wisdom comes to the realization that God wants your local church to begin a ministry among addicts because God loves these people and wants to help them out of addiction. Sometimes it can take great wisdom to know what your particular church should be focusing on in your local situation.
      2. Another example might be that God is sending a message through you to a particular person in your congregation that God wants him or her to attend a Bible school and eventually go into missionary service.
      3. A third example might be when you or your congregation is in trouble and can’t think of a good solution, but God gives a “word of wisdom” that helps you come up with a solution that makes everything work out for the best (Acts 23:6-9).
    1. Jesus was known to have a lot of “wisdom” (Matthew 13:54), which was evident in his teaching and in the way he dealt with people. Jesus’ wisdom was due to the fact that he spent much of his time in prayer and conversation with his Father (Luke 5:16) and his tremendous knowledge of God’s Word (Matthew 4:4).
    1. The person in the Bible who is perhaps most associated with the gift of wisdom is King Solomon. God comes to Solomon in a dream and tells Solomon to: “ask me for what you want me to give you” whereupon Solomon asks for “an obedient heart, so that he can be a judge for your people and distinguish between good and evil”. God answers the prayer by giving Solomon both wisdom and riches (1 Kings 3:5-15).
      1. Solomon’s wisdom appears immediately after he has received this gift from God. Two women come to King Solomon and ask him to judge between them because they both claim that a certain child is theirs. Solomon then commands that the child be cut in half with a sword so that they can each have half, whereupon the real mother blurts out that the other woman can have the child as long as the child survives, while the other woman thinks it was a good solution to cut the child in half. Solomon then understands that it was the woman who cared about the child’s life who was the real mother and therefore gave the child to her (1 Kings 3:16-28).
  2. Knowledge
    1. The gift of grace “the word of knowledge” means to have knowledge of something that is impossible to know but that God supernaturally reveals.
    1. An example of the word of knowledge is found when Jesus asks Peter to go down to the lake and catch a fish. In the fish, Jesus tells him that there will be a silver coin with which he and Jesus can pay their temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27).
    1. Another example of the word of knowledge is when Jesus says of Nathanael that he is “a true Israelite, in him there is no deceit” whereupon Nathanael asks Jesus, “how can you know me?” (John 1:47-48).
      1. The word of knowledge often involves the recipient supernaturally describing things in a person’s life that are impossible to know. This knowledge often leads to the person in question being encouraged or called into service in some way.
    1. When I was a youth pastor in Bankeryd, I personally experienced this with the Word of Knowledge. Before my last semester as a youth pastor, I prayed to God and asked if he wanted me to do something special during my last time. In response, I was told that I would preach at the youth gatherings based on the book of Acts and then when I was finished I would stand on the stage and listen to the Spirit of God and He would speak through me to the young people. When the time came and I had preached the first chapter of Acts, I did exactly as God had said, I stood on the stage and listened, but I didn’t know if God would really say anything. But after a little while I got a message and I told the young people. After the youth gathering, one of the young people came up and said that the message was for that person and that she really needed to hear it at that time. Friday after Friday this continued and the Spirit of God spoke every Friday throughout that semester and pretty much every Friday one of the young people came forward and told me that the message was for them.
      1. As a matter of fact, the first few times I listened to the Spirit of God, I saw an inner spiritual vision of a garden. At first I thought this was a message to one of the young people, but as the image recurred every Friday, I finally understood that this image was a message from God to me! The meaning of the picture was that God was letting me into his own private garden, i.e. the church, and when I received these words of Knowledge to the young people, it was as if I had to go into his garden and tend the fruit trees and flowers so that they could grow to their full potential and produce good fruit. Sometimes we Christians need to be made aware of, for example, our own sin or something in our lives that we need to come to terms with, i.e. to be “corrected” or “tended” by the Spirit of God.

1 Cor 12:9

  1. Faith
    1. Of course, as the name implies, all believers have “faith”, but the gift of faith is about having a supernatural certainty in certain critical situations that God will act in a certain way.
      1. A very good example of the gift of faith is when a lame man at the Beautiful Gate asks Peter for some money, to which Peter replies, “Silver and gold I have not, but what I have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene, arise and walk.” And he took him by the right hand and raised him up. Immediately the man received strength in his feet and ankles.” (Acts 3:6-7)
        • Somehow Peter had such assurance that the lame man would be healed that he could tell the man in advance what was going to happen and then pull him up from the ground!
      2. Another example of the gift of faith is when Jesus stands outside the tomb of his friend Lazarus and cries out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”, whereupon the dead Lazarus comes back to life and comes out of the tomb (John 11).
    2. It may be important to clarify that the gift of faith is not about trying to convince yourself that something will happen, or that you may even force yourself to believe a certain way because you think it will automatically happen. The gift of faith is not something you can produce in yourself but a supernatural gift from God.
  2. Healing
    1. All Christians can pray for the sick and many who do so regularly can testify that miracles sometimes happen! But those who receive the gift of healing are especially used by the Spirit of God to pray for the sick and see many people healed.
    2. God often performs miracles and healings in order to “confirm his gracious word” as it says in Acts 14:3. Supernatural miracles go hand in hand with sound Bible teaching.
    3. Notice that the gift of grace to heal the sick is plural, which means that God’s Spirit can heal the sick in many different ways.
      1. Some have interpreted this to mean that the gift of healing can also mean that God heals the sick through doctors and nurses. Personally, I am of the opinion that God is happy to use health care to help anyone who is sick, but I don’t think one should confuse that with the gift of healing, which is a gift that leads to supernatural miracles, something that the art of healing de facto is not.

1 Cor 12:10

  1. Miracles
    1. The gift of miracle is about God performing remarkable miracles at well-chosen times that defy all natural laws.
      1. Some examples of this gift is when Jesus and Peter walked on water (Matthew 14:22-33), when Jesus commands the storm to calm down (Matthew 8:23-27) or when the Spirit of God hastily “snatches” Philip from the desert and miraculously moves him to the city of Ashdod (Acts 8:39).
  2. Prophecy
    1. In its most original form, the word “prophet” means a “mouthpiece” who simply conveys a message from God to some human being. But the gift of prophecy is also a very multifaceted gift, and can mean, for example, receiving a word of encouragement from God to someone who needed to hear it at that moment, but it can also mean that God reveals something about the future.
    2. It is extremely important that prophesying never become profiteering, i.e. that prophecy is used to make money, but that the gift leads to “encouragement, edification and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3), that the prophesied word is always in “accord with the faith” (Romans 12:6) and that care is taken to “test everything” prophesied (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21).
    3. In my personal experience, it is not at all uncommon that if you are a group of believers who gather to pray for each other, that someone gets a prophetic message to the one you are praying for. This may be that God is calling that person to a life of missionary service or that God simply wants to give guidance in a difficult choice that the person is facing.
      1. When you find that you are getting these prophetic messages to someone, it is very important that you always “test” the message. The first thing to test is whether it agrees with God’s word, and the second thing to test is whether it was really a message from God and not your own personal thoughts.
        1. How do you know if a prophetic message is from God or if it is your own thoughts? The best way to find out is to wait and see! If the message is from God, it will eventually come to pass. If the message was delivered in a healthy and stable church environment, it’s not the end of the world if it happens to go wrong at some point because it can be corrected fairly quickly and easily through humble trial. If one is unsure, it is better to tell the message one believes comes from God and invite trial than to remain silent.
    4. An example of the gift of prophecy from the Bible is when “some prophets” from Jerusalem came down to Antioch and prophesied that there would be a famine all over the world (Acts 11:27-30), which led the church to take up a collection to help those in need.
  3. Distinguishing between spirits
    1. The gift of discerning between spirits is about being able to supernaturally distinguish between the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of evil spirits.
      1. An example of this gift is found in Acts 16, where Paul meets a slave girl with a “fortune teller” who brought her masters good income by divining. Although this girl received “spiritual messages,” they were not from the Spirit of God, but from an evil spirit. Although the girl’s message was actually a most biblical and correct one: “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they proclaim to you a way of salvation,” Paul was not at all pleased that she shouted this message for days, and finally commanded the evil spirit to leave her.
        1. For a person without the gift of discerning between spirits, it may be virtually impossible to know with certainty whether a “prophet” or someone with a “spiritual message” has received these words from the Spirit of God or an evil spirit. But with this gift of grace, God can supernaturally distinguish between spirits.
      2. We should not be surprised that it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between spirits because the devil sometimes makes himself look like an “angel of light” and sends out false apostles and false prophets to try to deceive the church of God (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
  4. Speaking in tongues
    1. The word “tongues” actually means “language” and in general, tongues means that God supernaturally gives you a “prayer language” that you can use to pray to God in your spirit in words that you do not understand but that God understands (1 Corinthians 14:2, 14). Normally, this language of prayer is not an existing language but a “spiritual language” that only God understands, but on certain special occasions, the person who speaks in tongues in a supernatural way may be given the opportunity to speak in an existing language, but one that he or she has never learned.
      1. Paul wants all Christians to share in the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 14:5), but at the same time notes that not everyone receives it (1 Corinthians 12:30).
    2. As with all other gifts of grace, all Christians in general can benefit from all that the Holy Spirit does, such as speaking in tongues in this case, while God’s Spirit sometimes chooses a particular person to use especially with a special gift.
      1. In this case, it may be that someone is given the supernatural ability to convey a message from God in a language that they themselves do not know. Examples of this are found in Acts 2:1-12.
      2. Many years ago, when I was given the gift of speaking in tongues, it began with just one word that I repeated over and over again. I didn’t know what the word meant but I understood in a supernatural way that God understood. As time went on, more and more words came and today my tongues are like a language I use in my personal prayer.
        1. So I have generally received the gift of tongues, but I have also sometimes been used by God in a more specific way. On one occasion, we were praying a few paragraphs for a particular person and she happened to hear my tongues and asked when the prayer was over, “Christian, do you know French?” I replied in surprise, “No,” whereupon she told me that I had prayed in French and that she understood what I had prayed because she knew French. Apparently, God had supernaturally led me to pray a prayer in French that she needed to hear.
    3. Paul is careful to point out that speaking in tongues should generally be used for personal edification (1 Corinthians 14:4) and that one should therefore not pray in tongues uncontrollably, for example, at a church service. It is permissible to speak in tongues at a service, but Paul wants it to be no more than two or three and to be interpreted, because the whole congregation is then edified instead of just the person praying (1 Cor 14:13-33). If one does not have an interpretation of the number of tongues, it is better to pray to God silently for oneself (1 Cor 14:28).
  5. Interpretation of tongues
    1. The gift of tongue interpretation means that you supernaturally understand the meaning of your own or someone else’s tongue.
      1. When someone prophesies, it builds up the church, but when someone speaks in tongues, it only builds up the one who speaks in tongues, because the rest of the church does not understand what the one who speaks in tongues is saying. But if someone can explain what the one speaking in tongues was really asking for, then it can be edifying for the rest of the church as well (1 Corinthians 14:13-33).
        1. On one occasion, when I and some others had gathered for prayer, I prayed in tongues silently to myself, but the person sitting next to me happened to hear what I was praying, and also understood what I was praying! Even though my tongues were not a real language, the person in question was able to explain to me in a supernatural way what I had prayed.

1 Cor 12:11

  1. All these different spiritual gifts are gifts from God for the purpose of building up the church. The gifts of grace must never be used for self-aggrandizement, gaining advantage or causing division in the church.
  2. We can never ask God for a particular gift, but we must gratefully receive the gift that God’s Spirit gives us.
  3. In this verse we can see that the Spirit of God distributes his gifts “to each one”. So every Christian can receive at least one gift, and if you are reading this and have not received a gift, I would encourage you to start praying to God to receive one. Because if you do, you will soon see that God’s word is true!
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