25. Spirituality and Spiritual Gifts - Part 2 (1 Cor. 12:4-11)
Several years ago a friend of mine orchestrated a very casual, unstructured weekend retreat for a number of Christian leaders, where all were free to exchange ideas and concerns. As the weekend progressed and it became obvious the gathering was profitable, someone suggested this become a regular event. Immediately, my friend responded that he had purposefully planned this to be a one-time event. “Why?” someone asked. “Because if you fellows thought there was going to be another meeting like this one, you would begin to assert yourselves to gain a position of leadership and power.”
This is an amazing but true statement. We may think pastors and Christian leaders are so spiritual they would never compete with one another for position and power. But those who travel in these circles know better. It is a part of our fallen nature and the very spirit we see evidenced by the scribes and Pharisees. Worse yet, it is evidenced by the disciples themselves!
The Corinthian Christians are no different. They are status seekers who judged themselves and others on the basis of their spiritual gifts. We know from the early chapters of First Corinthians that divisions existed in the church. In light of what Paul writes in chapters 12-14, it would be difficult to believe that spiritual gifts were not the basis for some divisions in the church. The Corinthians divided over different leaders, and probably the leaders who seemed to possess the most highly regarded gifts were the ones with the largest followings. Paul writes to the Corinthians to clarify the relationship between spiritual gifts and true spirituality. The Corinthian church is highly gifted, for Paul tells us they did not lack any of the gifts (1:7). Yet these saints are far from spiritual. Paul informs them that they are so fleshly he is hindered from teaching them all they need to know (3:1-3). In the course of chapters 12-15, Paul corrects many misconceptions regarding spiritual gifts and their relationship to spirituality. These words were needed in Paul’s day as well as in our own. Nearly every church, denomination, and Christian organization has its own spiritual “pecking order” regarding spiritual gifts and spirituality. Each of us needs to hear what Paul has to say on this subject. Let us study then with open hearts and minds, not to confirm what we already believe, but for correction in those areas where we may be uninformed or disobedient.
A Definition of Spiritual Gifts
Let us begin with a preliminary definition of a spiritual gift:
A spiritual gift is a supernatural ability sovereignly bestowed upon every Christian by the Holy Spirit, enabling him or her to carry out their divinely assigned function as a member of Christ’s body, the church.
In short, a spiritual gift is the supernatural ability to carry out the work of Christ through his church.
Texts which Enumerate the Spiritual Gifts
word of wisdom
word of knowledge
effecting of miracles
kinds of tongues
various kinds of tongues
(interpretation, v. 30)
Overview of Spiritual Gifts in the New Testament
In Romans 12:3-8, Paul introduces the subject of spiritual gifts immediately after he has called upon every Christian to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, the reasonable service of worship of every Christian (12:1-2). At Romans 12, Paul begins to apply the doctrinal truths he has set down in the preceding 11 chapters. Spiritual gifts are the divine enablement which empower the Christian to worship God through serving Him as a part of the church, the body of Christ. The gifts enumerated in verses 6-8 are largely the “bread and butter” gifts, those gifts necessary for the on-going ministry of the church. Paul exhorts every Christian to exercise their spiritual gift, to do what God has equipped them to do. He also indicates the dangers which accompany each of several gifts.
In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, Paul seems to focus on the more unusual spiritual gifts. These gifts probably represent those gifts most highly valued by the Corinthian saints.
In 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, Paul provides us with another list of spiritual gifts, not identical with the list given in verses 8-10. Apostles, prophets, and teachers seem to emphasize a particular function or office in the church, while there are the more unusual gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues, miracles, and healings named as well. In verses 8-10, Paul names gifts which some have, while in verses 28-30 Paul stresses that while some may possess a particular gift, not everyone does, nor should they be expected to possess it. Each gift listed is a possibility for all and a reality for some.
In Ephesians 4:11, Paul again writes about spiritual gifts. This short list of gifts is given in the midst of Paul’s exhortation for Christians to walk their talk, to practice their position and possessions in Christ (4:1ff.). In the context, Paul emphasizes Christian unity and its corollary, humility. The gifts of “apostles,” “prophets,” and “evangelists” refer to offices or functions which could be for the benefit of the church at large and are not restricted to a particular local church. Billy Graham, all would likely agree, is an evangelist. He lives far from Dallas, Texas, but his church membership is in the First Baptist Church of Dallas. No one expects his primary ministry to be in this church because his gift has a broader sphere of ministry. The gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 are not those “bread and butter” gifts (like those in Romans 12), which enable the church to live out the life of Christ on a daily basis, but are those gifted men whose gifts God uses to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.
In 1 Peter 4:10-11, Peter speaks of the gifts in two major categories, those which are speaking gifts and those which are serving gifts. Peter emphasizes the need for all who exercise their spiritual gifts to do so by divine enablement and not in the power of the flesh. Those who speak are to speak as though their words are the utterances of God. Their words should be God’s words and not their own. And those who serve should serve in the strength which God supplies. It is very easy to serve in the strength of the flesh and not by the power of the Spirit. If spiritual gifts are to produce spiritual fruit, they must be functioning by means of God’s power and not our own strength. Spiritual gifts, whether speaking or serving gifts, are a stewardship. We should employ these gifts as that which belongs to God, entrusted to us to be used for His glory, and for the advancement of His kingdom. Remember that Peter’s epistles are written in the context of suffering persecution for the sake of Christ. Peter urges his readers to live out Christ’s life and His sufferings (1 Peter 2:18-25), and this is done, in part, as we exercise those spiritual gifts He has given us through His power and to His glory.
These are the only texts which actually list certain spiritual gifts. There are other texts (e.g., Acts 4:36) which refer to certain gifts individually. Paul’s words to Timothy are instructive to us on this matter of spiritual gifts. In 2 Timothy, Paul has at least three lessons for Timothy and for us. First, in 2 Timothy 1:6, we learn that spiritual gifts must be developed and maintained. Since spiritual gifts are sovereignly given, we are responsible to employ them in the most beneficial and efficient way. Second, in 2 Timothy 2:2, we see that spiritual gifts are to be reproduced. Timothy was to commit himself to faithful men who would also be able to teach others. Third, spiritual gifts are not an excuse to sidestep our responsibilities in areas where we are not gifted. I take this principle from 2 Timothy 4:5, where Paul instructs Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist.” Some might argue that Timothy was an evangelist. Perhaps so, but it seems that teaching was his primary gift. If Timothy had been a little slack in employing his spiritual gifts (1:6), he may have been slack in other areas which were not the area of his gifts and strengths. Nevertheless, evangelism was important and necessary, even if it was not his gift.
Allow me to digress a moment to develop this thought a little further before concentrating on our text. The command to develop and exercise our spiritual gifts must never be used as an excuse for failing to obey the commands of Scripture which are given to all. Because I do not have the gift of giving, I am not excused from the commands of Scripture to give (see Romans 12:13; Galatians 6:6, 10). Because I do not have the gift of evangelism, I am not excused from sharing my faith with others (cf. Colossians 4:5-6; 1 Peter 3:14-15). Those who possess these gifts not only contribute to the body of Christ in an extraordinary measure in the area of their gifts, they also serve as mentors to the rest of the body, helping to encourage and equip us to do better in those areas in which we are lacking.
Overall Observations Concerning Spiritual Gifts
Our brief survey of the New Testament teaching on spiritual gifts thus far allows us to make some observations regarding spiritual gifts. No list of the spiritual gifts includes all the gifts mentioned in the New Testament. Each list of gifts includes some of the gifts mentioned elsewhere but has its own unique elements. There are significant differences in the way gifts are viewed, even by the same writer (i.e., Paul). In every listing of the spiritual gifts where tongues is included, it is listed last. If this does not prove that tongues are the least important gift (a conclusion a number would embrace), it at least sends an important signal to those who think tongues is the most important gift. Finally, it seems the spiritual gifts listed in the New Testament are not a complete list but only a partial listing.
Common Characteristics of the Spiritual Gifts
If there may be other spiritual gifts than those specifically identified in Scripture, how would we know them? What sets a spiritual gift apart?
(1) Spiritual gifts are spiritual gifts in that they are given by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12). These abilities are not native within us; they are transmitted to us. I know some speak of a close relationship between natural abilities and spiritual gifts, but I am unconvinced by their arguments. Spiritual gifts are given to us to enable us to do what we cannot do in and of ourselves. How frequently we speak of those who could do so much for the Lord if they were saved. They seem to think the natural abilities of men are simply baptized into one’s spiritual ministry. I see the human “strengths” of spiritual men like Peter and Paul who were set aside (perhaps even crucified) so that they ministered out of their weaknesses rather than out of their strengths (see 2 Corinthians 12:1-13).
(2) Spiritual gifts are divine enablement for service to and through the body of Christ. Spiritual gifts are not given primarily for our own edification but for the edification of the body of Christ. Spiritual gifts are divinely bestowed strengths through which we may minister to the weaknesses (and needs) of others.
(3) Spiritual gifts are spiritual in that they produce spiritual results. Spiritual gifts may be exercised through rather normal and mundane activities, but they differ from natural abilities in that they produce spiritual fruit. Spiritual gifts build up the body of Christ. A family may be facing a time of crisis or sorrow, and spiritual gifts may be exercised in ministering to them in their time of need. Someone may go to their home and clean; another may visit in the hospital; another may mow the grass. But the difference with ministry inspired and enabled by spiritual gifts is that a spiritual result occurs. Granted, the family could call a commercial lawn service to tend the yard, but the spiritually-inspired ministry of a Christian mowing the grass may produce encouragement for a Christian family or may result in evangelism if someone is unsaved. Spiritual ministry may look much the same as mere human service, but the result of spiritual service is spiritual.
(4) A spiritual gift is also a divine enablement which goes beyond the enablement the Holy Spirit gives other saints not gifted in the same way. Jesus said, “apart from Me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Apart from the miraculous working of God’s Spirit in us, we can do nothing. In this sense, nothing any Christian does will have a spiritual impact apart from the Spirit’s enablement. So when any Christian shares the gospel, the only way the unsaved person will be saved is by the working of God’s Spirit. Every Christian then has a certain measure of enablement in every area of his or her Christian duty (i.e., keeping our Lord’s commands). Those spiritually gifted in an area show a greater measure of enablement than those who are ungifted in that area. And some seem even to be more gifted than others. It may well be through the prayers of a Christian who does not have any particular gift in this area that one dying of an illness may be cured. In the ungifted person’s life and experience, a healing would be an unusual event. We should expect the one who has the gift of healing to see healings more often. It may be that this is why we find “healings” in the plural in 1 Corinthians 12:30.
(5) A spiritual gift is the divinely provided enablement to carry out a task which God has given us. I suspect that most of us have been taught that the first order of priority is to discover our spiritual gift(s), then to develop them, and finally to find a place of ministry where these gifts can be put to use. It may be the opposite in some, if not many, cases. In the Old Testament, men were divinely gifted to carry out the task God had given them to perform. Bezalel and others whom God designated to be craftsmen for the construction of the tabernacle and its fixtures were gifted by God to carry out this task (Exodus 31:1-11). The 70 elders, who were to help Moses judge the people of God, were given a portion of his (Moses’) spirit to enable and equip them for their ministry (Numbers 11:25). Elisha was given a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2:9-15). Saul was chosen by God and designated as the king, and then he was endowed with the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Samuel 9:15–10:13). The same could be said of our Lord on whom the Spirit of God descended and remained at His baptism, equipping Him for His messianic ministry (Mark 1:9-13; Luke 3:21-22; 4:1, 14; John 1:29-34).
What Was the Problem in
Corinth Regarding Spiritual Gifts?
We will be greatly helped in understanding Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts if we pause to reflect on the Corinthians’ problems in this area. We know the Corinthians are proud and arrogant (1 Corinthians 1:18-31; 4:7-13, 18-21; 5:2; 8:1; 2 Corinthians 10). From what Paul has to say in chapters 12-14 (see 12:21), we can be quite certain some of the Corinthians’ pride lay in the possession of certain gifts or the following of some with those esteemed gifts. We do know the Corinthians prize certain gifts and disdain others. This resulted in many seeking to obtain gifts God had not given them and those possessing certain “lowly” gifts feeling they had no contribution to make at all. Those possessing the visible, verbal gifts seem intent upon showing these gifts off in the church meeting (see 14:26ff.). Those with the “best” gifts feel independently self-sufficient and do not sense their dependence on less visible members of the body (12:21). Paul has some well-chosen words for these carnal Corinthians about the relationship between spirituality and spiritual gifts, words which knock the props out from under their pride and self-sufficiency.
In chapter 12, Paul stresses the nature of spiritual gifts and the necessity of each and every gift for the proper functioning of the church, the body of Christ. Diversity of gifts must not become the cause of disunity but must promote the unity and interdependence of Christians. Paul shows that the Corinthians’ assessment of the gifts is incorrect and that a wide diversity of spiritual gifts is God’s plan and purpose. Those who promote certain gifts above others fail to understand that all are not meant to possess any one of the gifts.
In chapter 13, Paul moves from the gifts themselves to our attitude as we exercise them. Chapter 13 is all about love. Without love, even the greatest gifts are of diminished value. Love is most lacking in Corinth and causes the great wealth of giftedness in the church to be nullified or at least greatly hindered. The Corinthians valued the gifts more than love, but Paul shows that while the gifts (all of them!) are temporary, love is permanent.
In chapter 14, Paul focuses on two gifts in particular: tongues and prophecy. Here he introduces a guiding principle for the exercise of any and all gifts—the principle of edification. Gifts exercised in love are those gifts exercised with a view to edifying or building up others. Tongues which are not interpreted are not edifying, for no one knows what was said. Prophecy, on the other hand, does not require an interpreter, and thus it is the more profitable gift, unless tongues are interpreted. The principle of edification Paul sets out in the earlier verses of chapter 14 should be applied in the context of the church meeting (14:26-40). In these closing verses of chapter 14, Paul lays down specific guidelines for public participation in the church meeting to be sure that the edification of others is achieved.
Chapter 15 is not unrelated to Paul’s teaching in chapters 12-14 (or earlier, for that matter). In chapter 15, Paul sets out to correct some false teaching regarding the resurrection of the dead. Spirituality is closely related to the Christian’s view of the future. Many of the errors in the church, then and now, are related to a misconception regarding the relationship of “then” to “now.” The false prophets deny that there will be a “then,” urging their followers to indulge themselves in fleshly lusts “now” (see 2 Peter). Other sincere but erring brethren believe the blessings of “then” are for us “now.” They minimize or deny that we live in a fallen world where sin will not be completely overcome until the coming of Jesus Christ, and who refuse to accept that the world in which we live is characterized by “suffering and groaning,” until the coming of that which is perfect (see Romans 8:18-25; 1 Corinthians 13:9-13).
Unity in Diversity
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.
The Corinthian church has been short-changed, buying into the error that really significant ministry occurs on a very limited band width. The important ministries are apparently those carried on by a very few of the elite leaders whose gifts everyone else covets. Less than a handful of gifts, and the same number of ministries, are considered significant by the Corinthian Christians. If any Corinthian Christian wants to play an important role in the ministry of that church, he or she will have to imitate the gifts and ministries of a very small group. The end result is a large group of people discontent with their gifts and ministries, who seek to emulate or imitate the gifts and ministries of those most highly regarded in the church (and I don’t mean Paul or other true apostles).
Verses 4-6 are meant to knock the props out from under those with an elitist view of spirituality and ministry. Paul contends that the gifts of God which equip men and women for ministry are many-splendored things. There are diversities of gifts (verse 4), diversities of ministries (verse 5), and diversities of effects (verse 6). Let us pause to reflect on each of these focal points of diversity.
There are, Paul writes, “varieties of gifts.” I have always understood this expression to mean that there are different gifts, and so there are. But I now understand these gifts to be not only many in number but also numerous in kind. Consider this illustration of what Paul means. We know that in the days of Moses, God “gifted” Bezalel as a master craftsman so that he could oversee the task of fashioning the furnishings and equipment for the tabernacle (see Exodus 31:1-5). This man was a master craftsman with skills that surpassed any other living craftsman. Another gift in the Old Testament would be prophecy (see Numbers 11:25). Kings like Saul were given gifts of the Spirit to equip them for their ministry (1 Samuel 10:10-13). In the New Testament lists of gifts, we find some gifts are linked with official functions like apostles, prophets, and evangelists (see Ephesians 4:11). Some gifts are spectacular and are not necessarily on-going gifts or ministries (apostles, prophets, miracles).163 Other gifts, like the gift of helps, may seem more mundane but are very much needed.
I am suggesting then that a very wide range of gifts is possible, and not all of these gifts may be included in the lists provided in the New Testament. I further suggest that Christians may possess more than one spiritual gift and that our gifts may in fact be a blend of gifts. This means there can be an almost infinite manifestation of “gifts” in the church. We can surely agree that sugar is distinct from salt or from flour. So these ingredients, like spiritual gifts, are quite distinct: flour, sugar, cinnamon, eggs, milk, vanilla, shortening, salt, baking soda. But if you get out the cook book, you will find that in different proportions, these ingredients will produce a very wide range of delightful eating. So it is with spiritual gifts. Christians, I believe, are bestowed with a unique blending of gifts which perfectly equips them to serve in the body of Christ where God has placed them.
Finally, I am inclined to understand that some spiritual gifts may be evident at one period of our life but not necessarily another. One may not appear to possess a certain gift at the present time, but may suddenly manifest that gift at a later time when that ability is required. Our Lord trusted in His Father from the beginning, but He was not empowered by the Spirit until the time had come for His ministry to commence (see Luke 3:21-22; 4:1-21). Paul was called as an apostle in eternity past, but he did not begin to function as an apostle until a number of years after his salvation. Not until the Holy Spirit set Barnabas and Saul apart for their apostolic ministry (Acts 13:1ff.) did Paul begin to function as an apostle. The Spirit came upon Him in a unique, unexpected way, and from that time on, Paul was designated as the leader (see Acts 13:6-13). Was Paul gifted by God to be an apostle at the time of his conversion (it seems he could have been)? But his gift was not evident until the time came for him to function as an apostle years later.
There are more than a few gifts and, when given to us in a wide variety of blends, no two Christians look or function alike. There is great diversity among Christians regarding their spiritual gifts. But, in spite of this broad diversity, there is one Spirit who empowers all, and He is the basis for the unity which we all should expect and experience in this great diversity of giftedness.
Not only is there a broad spectrum of gifts and giftedness, there is also a very broad spectrum of the ministries in which these gifts are deployed. All too often the gifts are stereotyped, usually in terms of a characterization which fits a well-known evangelical personality (and not necessarily because this individual wants it that way). When we think of the gift of evangelism, we think of Billy Graham or Luis Palau. When we think of the gift of teaching for instance, we think of Chuck Swindoll or John MacArthur. When we think of mercy, we may think of Mother Theresa. When we think of faith, we think of men like George Mueller (although he denied this). These individuals may indeed possess these gifts, but there are an infinite variety of ways in which a particular gift may be employed. The spiritual gift is the God-given ability; the ministry is the sphere in which our divine enablement is exercised. Evangelism need not occur in a large stadium and need not be practiced by a one-time exposure. It may occur in a living room, around a coffee table, and over a sustained period of time. Teaching may be done formally or informally. It does not always happen in a classroom or from behind a lectern. Not only is there a wide diversity of spiritual gifts, there is also an even broader range of ministries through which these gifts are exercised. But in the midst of this diversity, it is the same Lord who orchestrates our lives so that each of us ends up exercising our gifts in the context which He has purposed and provided.
I think it is safe to say that our ministries may change over a period of time. Certainly this was true for the apostle Paul who ministered effectively for years before functioning as an apostle. Not until after his first missionary journey did Paul begin to exercise his gifts through writing epistles, for example. Joseph appears to have been given the gift of administration. It begins to emerge when he is still a youth of 17, working for his father back home, and far surpassing his brothers in skill. His administrative skills emerge in the household of Potiphar and in the prison and finally in the service of Pharaoh. Not only does my ministry differ from that of others who have similar gifts, but my ministry ten years from now may be very different from what it is at this moment.
Finally, there are varieties of effects (verse 6). I have always understood the meaning of these words in terms of success in the past. Some teachers draw larger crowds and seem to be more effective at communicating the truth than others. Some evangelists see thousands saved in one exposure; others but a handful. There are different levels of effectiveness or success, and these levels have nothing to do with our natural skills or abilities. They are the result of God’s sovereign will, who determines how successful we will be. And this “success” has little or nothing to do with our spirituality. Jonah was one of the most “successful” prophets who ever lived; Isaiah was one of the least successful. But I think we must agree that Jonah was not “spiritual,” and Isaiah was.
I now understand “effects” more broadly. “Effects” not only refers to the success of a particular person and ministry but to the nature of the result. Follow me carefully here, for this is a very important distinction. We think far too simplistically here. We suppose the gift of teaching takes place in a ministry where there is a class, a classroom, and a podium. The “effect” of this gifted teacher’s ministry is learning, we suppose. I no longer believe it is quite that simple. The goal of instruction is not just learning, but obedience (see Matthew 28:18-20). In addition, Paul links teaching or instruction with love (see 1 Timothy 1:5; Philippians 1:9-11). Evangelism is not some special way of presenting the gospel as much as it is the proclamation of the truth of the gospel. As I look at the ministry of our Lord, I see Him teaching, not “evangelizing.” Paul tells the Ephesian saints they did not “learn” Christ in a fleshly way (Ephesians 4:17-20). In the ministries in which I have been involved, many of those saved have been saved through a teaching ministry.
I well remember an incident years ago at Believers Chapel where my friend, Bill McRae, had been teaching systematically through the Book of Romans. After Bill finished his lesson, a lady turned to the young man sitting next to her and initiated a conversation. Eventually she asked, “How long have you been a Christian?” The young man looked down at his watch and responded, “Well, about 10 minutes.”
In 1 Corinthians 14, we read these words: “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted” (1 Corinthians 14:31). The gift and ministry of prophecy produces “learning” and “exhortation.” I would have expected the gift of teaching to produce “learning,” and the gift of exhortation to produce “exhortation.” The function of a particular gift may produce a result and effect which we would expect to be the result of another gift. The gift of helps may result in evangelism or at least significantly contribute to it. We have a man in our church who carries a gas can in his car so that he can stop to help stranded motorists and, hopefully, share his testimony with them. The gift of giving and helps may produce the effect of encouragement. The gift of evangelism may “teach” those of us less gifted in evangelism to evangelize better. The Holy Spirit gives each and every Christian spiritual enablement. This spiritual gifting may be expressed in a vast number of ministries. And the end result of our gifts and ministries may be quite different than we expect. Did anyone say God was predictable? They have never read much of the Bible. Who would use a Jonah to save Nineveh? Who would want to save the Ninevites? Who would choose a Saul to become a Paul?
Do the Corinthian saints suppose that there are a select few spiritual gifts employed in very predictable ministries with cut and dried results? They are wrong! Spiritual gifts make every Christian like a snowflake—no two are alike. Every single Christian is unique by virtue of his or her blending of gifts, divinely directed ministries, and supernatural effects. How then can these saints stereotype the “spiritual Christian,” so that one or two gifts are considered significant and only a handful of ministries? We hear the expression, “You can’t compare apples and oranges.” You cannot compare them because they are not alike. And you cannot compare Christians (to determine who is most spiritual) because no two are alike. But in the face of all these distinctions, there is a fundamental unity, because behind gifts, ministries, and effects, there is One God manifested in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. Our unity comes from the very nature of God. So too does our diversity.
What the Corinthians Needed to Know About Spiritual Gifts
7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 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. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
Paul began his instruction concerning spiritual gifts by indicating these saints are ignorant of a number of truths which they need to know and which these verses are to supply. Before considering what Paul wishes to say, let us also note what Paul does not say. Paul is not endeavoring here to convince the Corinthian saints that there is no gift of tongues, or gift of interpretation of tongues, or faith. Paul is not trying to distinguish between so-called “temporary” and “permanent” spiritual gifts, because all of the gifts are evident in the Corinthian church in that day (see 1 Corinthians 1:7). I know debate rages here and now between charismatics and non-charismatics. But we must not let this debate dictate the interpretation of this text. This text is not about temporary and permanent gifts; it is about misconceptions regarding all gifts. Cessationism was not an issue at Corinth in Paul’s day.
Paul has already set down some very important principles regarding spiritual gifts. Now he sets down additional principles which we shall enumerate:
(1) Spiritual gifts are divinely bestowed upon every Christian. No one is “ungifted” in the church of Jesus Christ, for each Christian has been individually given certain gifts (“each one,” 12:7; “individually,” 12:11). The work of the body of Christ is a supernatural work, and every believer has a place in the body and the spiritual enablement to perform their ministry.
(2) Spiritual gifts are for the “common good” (verse 7). Spiritual gifts are divine empowerment for service to and through the body of Christ. They are not primarily for the benefit of the one gifted by God. It is not our glory but His which we seek. We do not strive for our edification and building up through the exercise of spiritual gifts, but for the building up of the whole body of Christ (12:7; Ephesians 4:11-16). Those who seek certain gifts for the benefit they gain have already fallen short of the mark. Self-edification may be a fringe benefit, but it is not the major focus.
(3) Spiritual gifts are a manifestation of the Spirit (verse 7). By direct statement or inference, Paul is clear that every spiritual gift possessed by the Corinthians is one given “through the Spirit.” It is the Spirit of God who lives out the life of Christ in and through us. Spiritual gifts are not an evidence of our spirituality but an evidence of the Spirit’s presence in our lives.
(4) Spiritual gifts are a manifestation of divine grace. In verse 1, the expression “spiritual gifts” is a translation of the original term meaning “spiritual.” Whether this means “spiritual things” or “spiritual people” is a matter of discussion, but the term “spiritual” is translated “spiritual gifts” in the NASB. When Paul gets to verse 4, however, he leaves the term “spirituals” behind and employs the Greek term whose root is Charis, the word for “grace.” Spiritual gifts are spiritual “graces.” They are not an indication of our merit or worth, but a manifestation of God’s sovereignly bestowed grace. There is never any basis for boasting in those things which are by grace, other than in the God Who graciously gave them (see 1:30-31; 4:7).
(5) In verses 8-10, Paul seems to list those gifts in which the Corinthians are most likely to take pride. The fleshly Corinthians are into wisdom and power. The gifts Paul sets down in verses 8-10 almost certainly reflect those manifestations of the Spirit in which the Corinthians take pride. Paul does not seek to precisely define each of these “gifts.” Some gifts are not mentioned elsewhere, and we could only conjecture as to where some of them may be illustrated or exemplified. If Paul did not find it necessary to precisely define each gift, I do not feel guilty for not doing so either. But there are many who would have us believe they know what each of the gifts named are. In particular are those two gifts, the “word of wisdom” and the “word of knowledge” in verse 8. I frankly do not have a handle on these two gifts (and some others). But I would point out that wisdom and knowledge are very important to the Corinthians. Perhaps Paul is simply reminding the Corinthians that whatever words of “wisdom” or “knowledge” they may seem to possess, they are the evidence of God’s gracious gifts sovereignly bestowed upon some of the saints.
(6) Paul does not attribute the possession of any of these gifts to the recipient, but to the sovereign will and purpose of God the Spirit. These gifts are not described as the “gift of God” which results from agonizing hours of seeking on the part of the one thus gifted. No, these gifts are sovereign graces bestowed upon the believer “just as He wills” (verse 11).
While Paul will have more to say on the subject of spiritual gifts, let us reflect on what he has said thus far.
First, spiritual gifts must not be used as a benchmark of spirituality. Spiritual gifts do not reflect on the spirituality of the one who is gifted but on the One who has given the gifts. Spiritual gifts are graces sovereignly bestowed not on the basis of merit, but on the basis of sovereign grace. Samson was chosen as one of Israel’s judges, and he was a man of great power. But he was not a man of spiritual maturity. He was a man dominated by the flesh. If the Corinthians measure spiritual status (spirituality) by the gifts bestowed, they are wrong.
Second, for the same reason, spiritual gifts are not the basis for pride. We cannot boast in that which we have not earned. Gifts are given. We cannot boast in what we have received (1 Corinthians 4:7). If we must boast, let us boast in the Lord, Who has chosen the weak and foolish things of this world to confound the wise and powerful (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-31).
Third, spiritual gifts are the basis for unity and are not intended to be the cause of division. How sad that in Paul’s day, as in our own, spiritual gifts are a divisive issue. The unity of the Godhead (the Trinity) in the midst of diversity is a pattern for the body of Christ. Spiritual gifts are given to the church so we would have to depend upon one another. Let us seek to preserve the “unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3) in using our gifts, and be careful not to destroy or divide that unity.
Fourth, spiritual gifts should be viewed more broadly, for there is an infinite variety of gifting evident in the body of Christ. Some may possess the same gifts but not in the same measure and not with the same mixture of other gifts. In addition to the wide range of gifts manifested in the church, each Christian has a unique ministry and fruit appointed for their ministry (compare John 15:16).
Fifth, we must revise our thinking concerning spiritual gifts. Most often the subject of spiritual gifts is taught in this way: We all have a spiritual gift or gifts. We are to study the Scriptures to find out what the list of options are and how each gift is defined and recognized. Then we must determine what our gifts are and develop them. Finally, we are to find a ministry where our gifts can be put to use.
While there is some truth in this view of gifts, it does not seem to square entirely with what Paul teaches about spiritual gifts. If all of the spiritual gifts are not listed in the New Testament, there must be other gifts as well. All of the gifts are not neatly defined (e.g., the “word of wisdom” and the “word of knowledge” in our text). Further, the form these gifts take (ministry) and the fruit (results, effects) are not the same for those who have the same gift(s).
I suggest we reverse some of our thinking and reject much of the remainder. God has given us a number of clear commands such as those outlined by Paul in Romans 12:9-21. Let us begin by focusing on these commands, and obey them in whatever circumstances God brings our way. In the process of obeying His commands, we will discover that God has given us a ministry, a place of service. Rather than waiting to know our gifts and then seeking to serve God and His church, let us do the things God has commanded, trusting Him to empower us and produce supernatural results through His Spirit. We should give priority to those aspects of ministry which God has given us in which the power of His Spirit is evident. This does not always mean “success” as the world defines success. It is where spiritual fruit has been produced, where the gospel has been proclaimed, and where God has been glorified. Let us not agonize over the name or the label of the gift, but let us strive to develop the gifts God has given us (2 Timothy 1:6), and employ them as good stewards of the grace of God (1 Peter 4:10-11). Let us never take credit for what God has accomplished or take pride in God’s work in us or measure spirituality by one’s gifts.
Let us be confident that if we are a Christian, God has an important place of service for us, and He will provide us with all the means necessary to fulfill our calling. Spiritual gifts assure us that the body of Christ needs us and will suffer without us. Spiritual gifts enable us to do what God requires of us.
If you have never received Jesus Christ as your Savior, as God’s provision for the forgiveness of your sins and for the righteousness required to enter into His kingdom, I urge you to receive the gift of salvation God offers to you only in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 The Samaritan woman therefore said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:7-10).
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. 27 Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Romans 3:21-28).
12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned 13 for until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come. 15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 And the gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. 20 And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:12-21).
163 I am not here arguing for a cessationist point of view—the position which holds that certain gifts cannot exist today. Those who try to defend this position may find themselves disregarding specific commands, such as those recorded in 1 Corinthians 14:39 and 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20. I am arguing that some gifts are necessary for the on-going work of the ministry while others may not be. I am inclined to the viewpoint that those gifts which are vital on a day-to-day basis are those which can be linked to a general command to the church, regarding that function. For example, we are not all commanded to speak in tongues or to perform miracles or healings, but we are all commanded to encourage (exhortation), to teach, to give to those in need, and so on.
Related Topics: Spiritual Gifts