Spiritual Gifts
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First Corinthians

Spiritual Gifts

1 Corinthians 12

In modern times one of the great divisions of the church has been over spiritual gifts. Lines in the sand tend to harden over time; there are church groups today who claim that you must be able to speak in tongues, or you’re not a real Christian. This is a gross misinterpretation of the Scripture.

Likewise, there are those who hold that no spiritual gifts exist today, as they could only be given by the Apostles. This too is incorrect; they are gifts – of the Spirit.

Which, by the way, explains why they are so inconsistent in church history. God gives them as He pleases, not as we demand them.

The situation in the early church was somewhat different, which accounts for Paul’s introduction to the subject.

The unity of the church

(1 Cor 12:1-11 NIV) Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. {2} You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. {3} Therefore I tell you 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. {4} There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. {5} There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. {6} There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. {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 the message of wisdom, to another the 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 gives them to each one, just as he determines.

You need to place yourself in their time. In those days people were very familiar with those who were demon possessed. (Speak to a third world missionary about this subject; it can be very enlightening). Their common experience was that someone who was demon possessed would give off oracular advice – which people paid for, quite liberally. This was the technique used to keep the idol worshipers coming back to the temples.

Paul, like Christ, rebukes these demons and tells them to be quiet. He would not have the word of God rely on the testimony of demons. This tells us something about them: they lie a lot. So how do we tell the difference between a true Christian, speaking with the gift of the Spirit, and someone who is demon possessed? After all, the demons testified to Christ – in terror.

The answer Paul gives is found in the formula above. In short, you’re either with Christ or against him, and the difference will soon be plain.

Different, but equal

Paul is still discoursing on his prime theme, the unity of the church. He shows us this in three ways:

· He says they are different gifts – not something we earned, gifts. If you get a different gift from God, why are you jealous?

· Perhaps you think it’s because God loves the other fellow more than he loves you. So Paul tells us there are different kinds of service. The implication is clear: it’s not just a gift, it’s a service – which implies hard work. Are you jealous of the other man’s workload?

· He then tells us there are different kinds of working. The word used is the one from which we get our word “energy.” In short, different gifts, different service because we each have our own differing capacity to work.

But all three are from the same source: the Holy Spirit.

Classification

In this section he lists both miraculous and non-miraculous gifts, without distinguishing importance. The non-miraculous gifts – see if these were what you had in mind when you heard the phrase “spiritual gifts”:

· The “message of wisdom” – the ability to proclaim wisdom to the people.

· The “message of knowledge” – the ability to proclaim knowledge to the people.

· Faith – which most of us think is worked at and earned, is here described as a gift.

The miraculous gifts are here too:

· Healing – for the body

· Prophecy – for the soul

· Distinguishing between spirits – somebody has to tell the true from the false.

· Tongues – not the exclusive meaning of “spiritual gifts.”

· “Miraculous powers” – just in case we forgot anything.

Again, all of these are from the Spirit. Why does Paul point this out to us?

· First, that the church should be united

· Second, that no one should be jealous of the gifts of another.

Do you not see it? To be jealous of the gifts of another – that is to challenge the decision God made in giving those gifts. Perhaps this is why he does not choose to give them so freely in our time.

The Great Analogy – the body

We now come to Paul’s superb illustration: the body as the model of the church.

(1 Cor 12:12-26 NIV) The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. {13} For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. {14} Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. {15} If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. {16} And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. {17} If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? {18} But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. {19} If they were all one part, where would the body be? {20} As it is, there are many parts, but one body. {21} The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" {22} On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, {23} and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, {24} while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, {25} so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. {26} If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Fundamental equality

Nothing so confuses American Christians as the phrase, “equality.” It does not mean “interchangeable.” See how Paul justifies it here:

· We all have the same Spirit – therefore we are equal before God.

· We all went through the same baptism - the same entrance ritual – so therefore we must all have been admitted to the same status.

· We all have one Spirit “to drink” – a clear reference to the streams of living water our Lord said would flow out of him. We are of the same Lord.

Mutually dependent

Not only are we equal, we are mutually dependent. We are not a gaggle of interchangeable parts; we need each other.

· If we did not have each other, the church could not survive. None of us can do all the things the church is tasked to do.

· In the process, we cover each others failings. If I’m not good at one task, someone else will be appointed to take care of it.

· We not only cover each others failings, we depend upon each others strengths. As you cover my weakness you can profit from my strength.

The absurdity of disharmony

To make the point absolutely clear, Paul now shows the absurdity of doing the opposite. It’s a great word picture; it also shows us some of our failings.

· First, you cannot be all things in the church – and you will look foolish if you try.

· If you step outside your assigned task, you make things worse. (Stick to your work).

· If you want it to go well, then work together.

· Depend upon the Spirit for your proper reward, for God will reward all according to their opportunity.

Get the point?

Paul has been at pains in this section to be both clear – and inoffensive.

· He has tried his best to exalt “the feet” – the humble – so that they will know they’re on the team too, rewarded for their tasks as well.

· He has also tried to humble “the eye” – the proud – so that pride will not interfere with the work of the church.

The objective of all this: as ever, the unity of the church.

The body of Christ

Paul now makes it explicit: the church is not just “a body” – it’s the body of Christ.

(1 Cor 12:27-31 NIV) Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. {28} And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. {29} Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? {30} Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret? {31} But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.

Paul explicitly tells them: you are the body of Christ. Why?

· First, to bring home the power of the analogy he has just drawn – to complete the application. (The teacher appreciates technique).

· Second, so you will understand that you are members in the old sense of the word – functioning parts, equal but different.

· Finally, so that you will understand that the church is not a hierarchy or building, but the people of God.

The order of the gifts

God has appointed these gifts. Paul has enumerated them; the order is therefore significant.

First, there are the spiritual gifts – those that deal with spiritual leadership.

· At the top, as is proper, is the office of the Apostle. This is the one to whom is entrusted the writing of much of the Scripture.

· Next we find the prophet – either the one who foretells the future or the one who “forthtells” righteousness.

· Last – in the first group – are the teachers. These are with us yet today.

Next are the gifts which assist others. You will see the same pattern here; the miraculous, transient gifts come first, as they bring glory to God.

· Miracle workers are first – it is a generic category.

· Specifically, those who heal are next

· But – for those who don’t have miraculous gifts – there is the gift of helping others.

Interesting, isn’t it? Not an Apostle or a prophet? The gift of teaching stands. Not one who can work miracles, or heal miraculously? The gift of helping still stands.

Finally – almost as an afterthought – Paul lists two more gifts.

· Administration – the gift of running the church.

· Tongues.

It seems almost curious that of all the gifts listed, in a list in which the order is specified by number, tongues comes last – though many today would make it first.

What shall we do?

It seems that no lesson should go by without answering that question. Just what’s the point of all this? The point has to do with your desires.

That which you desire is a measure of who you are. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. So what, then, should you desire? What should you treasure?

Paul tells you: the “greater gifts.” What are these?

· First among them are the gifts which lift the body of Christ spiritually – the gift of Apostle, of prophet (we might say today preacher) and of teacher.

· Next – if those are not within your desires – are the gifts which aid others – working miracles, healing and the simple gift of helping others.

· Finally, tongues and administration – tongues, which tempt one so much to showing off, and administration, which tends to self-importance.

But beyond all these is a greater gift: love. And that we must take up in the next lesson.

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