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1Corinthians 12 (web)

The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts

12:1 Now concerning spiritual things, brothers, I don't want you to be ignorant.

12:2 You know that when you were heathen{or Gentiles},
you were led away to those mute idols, however you might be led.
12:3 Therefore I make known to you that no man speaking by God's Spirit says,
"Jesus is accursed." No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," but by the Holy Spirit.

12:4 Now there are various kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.
12:5 There are various kinds of service, and the same Lord.
12:6 There are various kinds of workings, but the same God, who works all things in all.
12:7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the profit of all.

12:8 For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom,
and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit;
12:9 to another faith, by the same Spirit;
and to another gifts of healings, by the same Spirit;
12:10 and to another workings of miracles;
and to another prophecy; and to another discerning of spirits;
to another different kinds of languages;
and to another the interpretation of languages.
12:11 But the one and the same Spirit works all of these,
distributing to each one separately as he desires.

12:12 For as the body is one, and has many members,
and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ.

12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free;
and were all given to drink into one Spirit.
12:14 For the body is not one member, but many.
12:15 If the foot would say, "Because I'm not the hand, I'm not part of the body,"
it is not therefore not part of the body.

12:16 If the ear would say, "Because I'm not the eye, I'm not part of the body,"
it's not therefore not part of the body.

12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be?
If the whole were hearing, where would the smelling be?

12:18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body, just as he desired.
12:19 If they were all one member, where would the body be?
12:20 But now they are many members, but one body.

12:21 The eye can't tell the hand, "I have no need for you,"
or again the head to the feet, "I have no need for you."

12:22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.
12:23 Those parts of the body which we think to be less honorable,
on those we bestow more abundant honor;
and our unpresentable parts have more abundant propriety;
12:24 whereas our presentable parts have no such need.
But God composed the body together, giving more abundant honor to the inferior part,
12:25 that there should be no division in the body,
but that the members should have the same care for one another.
12:26 When one member suffers, all the members suffer with it.
Or when one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.
12:28 God has set some in the assembly: 12:29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all miracle workers?
12:30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with various languages? Do all interpret?
12:31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. Moreover, I show a most excellent way to you.

Discussion Questions

  • vs 31 What are the "greater gifts"?
  • How would you describe each of the spiritual gifts listed in this chapter?
  • What giftedness do you think you have?

  • Comments

    About Spiritual Things

    1Cor 12:1-3  Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 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.

    The word "gifts" is absent in the Greek. More generally it's "spiritual things", "gifts" being one of many spiritual things. Note 1Cor 9:11 where it speaks of "spiritual seed", but "seed" is absent in the Greek, or "spiritual truths" in 1Cor 2:13, but "truths" is absent in the Greek. These are all spiritual things, the particular things being implied from the context.

    One spiritual truth is that formerly they were led astray to mute idols. Idols don't speak, and so they don't have commands. Thus the attraction. People don't want to be told what to do. But our God is the LORD God. He speaks He is gives us instruction and commands. But on the other hand Christians should not be gullible to presume that just anyone speaks for God. For example Mohammed claims to speak for God, but rejects Jesus as the Son of God saying, "the Christians say the Messiah is the son of Allah; these are the words of their mouths; they imitate  the saying of those who disbelieved before; may Allah destroy them; how they are turned away!" And likewise he rejects the death and resurrection of Christ. Jesus said, "Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ’I am God’s Son’?" John 10:36  To reject the Son is to reject the Father. And Jesus goes further saying, "I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me." John 13:20  Thus John writes, "We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood." 1John 4:6 These are evidences that false prophets like Mohammed are not speaking from the Spirit of God.

    Now what does he mean by calling Jesus "LORD"? For to simply mouth the words as if some kind of mantra or magical incantation does not express the person's spiirit (the meaning is the spirit of a truth). And likewise with calling Jesus accursed. It is not the words but one's intended meaning which is relevant. Jesus said, "Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?" Luke 6:46  That is, to call Jesus LORD is to express one's allegiance to him and one's intention of doing what he said. A person cannot get to such a conviction apart from the Spirit of God. This is a spiritual truth.

    Gifts, Services and Effects

    1Cor 12:4-6
    There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.
    There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
    There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.

    Note the allusion to the trinity. He just spoke of Jesus being Lord. Here were have the Spirit, the Lord Jesus, and God the Father.

    As for the three categories, the first likely refers to special abilities given to individuals. The Spirit gives these as he wills, though the maturing of such gifts are dependent upon one's cooperation with the Spirit.

    The second is more literally "ministries", which refers to roles, opportunities and environments in which  to exercise one's spiritual gifts. The Lord gives these. And it is in response to the Lordship of Christ that we seek for and embrace our ministry.

    The third is referring to the effects such exercise of spiritual gifts has on oneself and others. Effects not due simply to oneself, but it is God's working. Such effects include the working of miracles. For Paul uses the same Greek word in ver 10 saying literally,  "the working of miracles". Well, like Paul said previously, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow." God is the one who gets the credit for effective ministry.

    Each for the Common Good

    1Cor 12:7  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

    One of the themes of this section on spiritual gifts to the idea of appreciating the diversity of giftedness within the body of Christ. But implied also as a theme is appreciating the significance of the individual. For how many have been brought up with the attitude that ministry is to be relegated to an elite few, the rest beng mere spectators sitting in the stands? Or how many simply view the congregation as nothing but stupid sheep incompetent to do anything more than setting up chairs? Then again Christians may embrace such an attitude just to escape responsibility.

    The fact is, if you're not exercising your gifts, the common good suffers. And don't excuse yourself saying you have no gifts. For to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. But spiritual gifts may not be revealed unless they are put into practice. So if you're on the bench, get off the bench and get into the game! And the "coaches" - the institutionally elite - need to allow them to do so, else the team suffers.

    Gifts of Wisdom and Knowledge

    1Cor 12:8  To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom,
    to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,

    This list he is going through is not  meant to be comprehensive, but gives a flavor of the gifts the Spirit gives. For example Rom 12:6-8 also speaks of gifts saying, "We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully." And there is another list at the end of this chapter.

    As for the message (or more literally "word") of wisdom, it is also written, "The Lord GOD has given Me The tongue of the learned, That I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary." Is 50:4 A message of wisdom largely concerns the application of scripture. A message of knowledge is primarily informational. These two messages must go hand in hand. We must have applications, but they must be based upon the right information.

    Miraculous Gifts?

    1Cor 12:9-10a  to another faith by the same Spirit,
    to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,
     to another miraculous powers,

    By "faith" he's not referring to saving faith. For all Christians have that. But Paul writes, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you." Rom 12:3 Some have more than others. Some have faith to trust God through extraordinary circumstances. Extraordinary meekness may be a sign of such a gift, "meekness" being that disposition of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good despite circumstances which some may interpret to the contrary.

    Gifts of healing come in many forms. Notice "gifts" here is plural. Some are gifted in healing physical illness. And by the way, it doesn't necessarily have to be of a miraculous nature to be a gift. Luke was a physician, he was gifted in healing others physically. There are also gifts associated with healing the spirit. "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." Ps 147:3  Encouraging others is such a gift, as Paul mentions in Rom 12:8 Barnabus, whose name means "son of encouragement", appeared to have such a gift.

    Miraculous powers speaks for itself. It's often combined with the gift of physical healing as we see in Jesus' ministry. Peter had such a gift - even to raise the dead. (Acts 9:36-42) Likewise "Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people." Acts 6:8 And Paul also. (Acts 14:8-10; Acts 13:11)

    Prophecy and Discernment

    1Cor 12:10b
    to another prophecy,
    to another distinguishing between spirits,

    These gifts associated with speaking.


    Some associate prophecying with foretelling the future, as Agabus in Acts 11:28 who predicted a famine. But as we note concerning the content of what the Old Testament prophets wrote, more commonly prophecy is associated with bringing people to conviction concerning the application of the Word of God. While the role of teaching deals with developing one's understanding, prophecy deals with developing one's convictions. Paul will later be dealing more with the importance of this gift in chapter 14.


    The gift of distnguishing between spirits has to do with discerning a person's intended meaning in conjunction with the Spriit of God. John writes, "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world." 1John 4:1 Thoughout the history of the church Christians have been led astray from time to time by false teachers. Often false prophets and false teachers will use Biblical rhetoric but repackage it to suit their own agenda. Much of the New Testament letters, such as Galatians are devoted to helping Christians recognize false teachings.

    On the flip side, discernment is used with regards to understanding the meaning of those who preach the truth, but who sayings are hard to understand. Peter claimed that Paul was hard to understand at times (2Peter 3:16) And there are things that Jesus said which are still hard for some to understand. Those with the gift of discernment can help others to get at the intended meaning. Understand?

    The Misuse of Discernment

    Many Christians are often too presumptuous about their having the gift especially when they're involved in heated arguments but have no substantive defense for their position. They will play the "spiritual gift of discernment card" and simply claim that the other side is wrong simply because they discern it in their spriit even though they can't verbalize it. If a person can't verbalize what's actually false about someone's teachings, they  don't have the gift of disernment. Likewise if a person misrepresents the position of another, they are not discerning the person's intended meaning but rather reading in their own meaning so as to slander their opposition, such a person does not have the gift of discernment. Others misuse the concept in claims that they can discern others motivation without any substantive basis for such accusations. It's easy to slander others in this manner as it's difficult to disprove claims concerning motivations. The gift is about recognizing the intended meaning of a person's statements. It's about speech. However as discerning one's intended meaning does involve one's intentions, if one does substantively identify the other's intended meaning, one might go on to infer motivation, as we see for example in the case of Simon (Acts 8:18-21) or the group of the circumcision (Gal 4:17)

    Oh for a Thousand Tongues

    1Cor 12:10c
    to another speaking in different kinds of tongues,
    and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

    While the Charismatic community tends to view there being only one different kind of tongue, "Tongues" is plural here indicating there are many kind of tongues. For example we see in Acts 2 that the disciples could communicate in languages not native to them. Those gifted in languages not native to them may have this gift. I had a friend - an American who first learned Chinese and then decided to become a missionary in Vietnam as that country was more open than China. Within a year he could speak fluent Vietnamese (and shortly afterwards married a Vietnamese Christian).

    Another form of the gift of tongues is music. There are those gifted in communicating with a person's spirit through music. This is also the gift of tongues - expressing that which may not be expressible in one's own native language. Likewise Art may be another kind of tongue.

    But where tongues are exercised, there may also be confusion unless there is some interpretation. Thus there are those gifted in interpretation - not unlike those gifted in discernment - who can explain the intending meaning in one's own language. Paul will speak of these two gifts and the necessity of cooperation between the two in Chapter 14.

    Just as the Spirit wills

    1Cor 12:11  All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

    The saints need to embrace and celebrate the diversity of roles and giftedness in the Church. Each is given gifts in accordance with the Holy Spirit's will. The Spirit discerns what is needed and provides. Those with gifts of administration at times may tend to exercise too much control conforming the church environment to their own image. There are those who quench the Spirit, suppressing the exercise of his gifts. Such people need to realize that the Spirit's will may not be their will. At one time Jesus himself said, "Not my will but yours be done." Lk 22:42 From time to time this is what institutional leaders need to pray. For "those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God." Rom 8:14 The Spirit may provided giftedness to meet needs which they may have neglected.

    Suppose your church had a great teacher whom everyone relied upon and he left. Then he was replaced by an adequate teacher. What the Spirit might have been doing is removing the first so that others may take up the slack and others, such as the adequate teacher, may have the opportunity to grow as they exercise their gift. Suppose you had a small church, few members. I like small churches because to compensate for the size, the Spirit often gifts individuals more to compensate for the size. For many in large churches members often sit back and let others do the work, seeing as there are so many others to do the work. If you go to a large church, you may find it most edifying getting involved with small groups within the church.

    All Baptized by One Spirit

    1Cor 12:12,13  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. 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.

    The body of Christ is not an institution but a corporate body in which each member has a functon. Some use the word "Church" to refer soley to church leadership. But the word "church" itself literally means "the assembly". It's the collective membership of the saints, the corporate body of believers, which constitutes the Church. Everyone is important.

    Concerning the baptism of the Spirit, while those of a more charismatic theology view such a baptism as some sort of elitist division within the body of Christ whereby only some are baptized with the Spirit and others are reckoned second class Christians, quite the contrary is true. Everyone who is in Christ has been baptized by the Holy Spirit. We've all drunk of that one Spirit. In fact Paul's point here is that there is no such division as some claim. So it's funny that denominational divisions form over the issue of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And likewise concerning those who form their own denomination based upon the sacramental fallacy of baptismal regeneration. Water baptism is an ordinance, not a sacrament. "Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit." John 3:6

    To baptize is to immerse on thing into another. Water is not always involved. In fact John contrast his water baptism with the baptism of the Spirit saying, "I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Mr 1:8 There's a baptism with water and then there's another baptism - the baptism with the Holy Spirit.

    Being baptized by the Spirit is the same as receiving the Spirit. Notice vs 13 "all were baptized" is equated with "all were given". A person is given the Spirit upon believing in Christ. "Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?" Gal 3:2 How about you? Did you receive the Spirit by going through a water ritual, or by believing what you heard? It's by faith and not by water, not by a ritual done to the flesh, that a person receives the Holy Spirit. And "if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ." Rom 8:9 Which also supports Paul's point that all believers are equal in this regards.

    Being Gifted

    1Cor 12:14-20  Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 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. 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. 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? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

    The primary reason the saints don't get involved in ministry is not so much because others tell them they are not gifted to do so. The primary reason is because they tell themselves they are not gifted or otherwise not needed. It's a "lame" excuse (especially in the case of the foot). And the body suffers due to such excuses. One of the problems is that people form views of ministry based upon observation. But if God wanted you to do exactly what someone else is already doing, isn't that kind of redundant and frankly unhealthy? As there are varieties of people and circumstances, so there is to be diversity in ministering.

    Seeing as God arranges for the diversity of giftedness in the Church, let's celebrate that diversity by allowing, indeed exhorting, each to exercise his gifts to the edification of the whole. But let not anyone presume that any member is infallible or above scrutiny. For part of the pont of such diversity is to compensate for the fact we're all in the process of growing.

    Being Needed

    1Cor 12:21-26  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!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 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, 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, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

    In 14-20 Paul spoke of the issue of having or not having particular gifts. Here the issue is one of needs. There are those who feel they don't need their fellow saints. But the body is to be interdependent. There are those with needs whose needs are neglected, and there are those who feel they don't need anything or anyone. The saints should have not only concern for one another, but have equal concern for one another. Everybody is important.

    Consider the Christians around you. In what ways is each valuable to you? In what ways do they meet your needs? Realize also that many Christians look for the church to meet their need, but don't think in terms of meeting the needs of others. So consider how you are meeting the needs of others.

    Roles in the Church

    1Cor 12:27,28 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 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.

    Here are yet more examples of spiritual gifts, many of which in this case allude to roles in church. The teachings of the apostles and prophets are foundational as the church is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets" Eph 2:20 But while what constitutes the Bible is that which the apostles and Old Testament prophets wrote, there are roles of apostleship and prophecy in which, though  not foundational, have met needs in the church to this day. The word "apostle" literally mean "a sent one". The role might be liken to that of a church planter. Note Paul's previous description of his function as an apostle, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow." 1Cor 3:6

    As I mentioned previously, the role of prophet may be alluding to those who bring conviction by speaking out applications of the Bible. Perhap these may also by identified by those who characteristically quote scripture.

    While prophets convict, teachers explain. There may be only a nuance of difference between the two, for something to be learned it must be embraced by the mind, the spirit and the conscience. The prophet  focusses on the conscience. The teacher's objective is to bring understanding and enlightenment. To communicate with the mind clear communication is called for. But the teacher also utilizes inferences which, though often ambiguous to the mind, communicates with one's spirit.

    Workers of miracles provide evidence affirming the gospel.

    Those with gifts of healing and those of service often meet practical needs.

    The administrators are those with organizational skills - I often refer to them as institutional leaders. Their objective should be to see to it that all participate in accordance with their giftedness.

    Those speaking in other tongues help out those who speak in other tongues, breaking down language barriers. However there's a reason why he puts this last and apostles and prophets first, as we will see in chapter 14.

    Seek the Greater

    1Cor 12:29-31 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.

    Contrary to some of those of a Charismatic persuasion, not everyone who has been baptized with the Spirit speaks in tongues. In fact as we will see later, that is one of the lesser gifts. But as with the Corinthian church, the immature often overinflate that which is lesser while neglected that which is greater. Thus Paul's admonition is to seek the greater.

    But as the Spirit gifts just as he determines, what entails seeking the greater gifts? What choice does one have? Implied is the idea that your giftedness is partly a function of your seeking for such. Perhaps this verse applies. Jesus saids, "If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" Luke 11:3

    However there's something more important and superior to spiritual gifts which believers should seek to develop. Which is the subject of the next chapter.

    The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources

    Jan 28,2022