By Sam E. Stone
The apostle Paul spent about 18 months in the prominent Greek city of Corinth during his second missionary journey. Although he faced strong opposition (Acts 18:1-11), still the church grew and prospered. Later Paul received a letter from Corinth raising several important issues. He addressed them in 1 Corinthians.
His discussion of spiritual gifts extends from 12:1–14:40. Obviously this was a big issue! The apostle provided a number of fundamental principles as he explained the source, variety, and purpose of spiritual gifts. Today’s lesson considers their purpose—the common good of the church.
1 Corinthians 12:1-6
I do not want you to be uninformed about spiritual gifts, Paul told his readers. He reminded them that these gifts had been provided by the Lord’s grace (1 Corinthians 1:7). When he referred to the people as former pagans, this indicated that the majority in the Corinthian church did not have the benefits of a Jewish heritage. The expression can also include others who were not Christians (1 Thessalonians 4:5). Some had been led astray to mute idols. Earlier Paul contrasted the many idols with the one true God (1 Corinthians 8:1-13).
Sometimes the Jews blasphemed by saying, “Jesus be cursed.” Paul reminded them that no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. The Romans would say, “Caesar is Lord,” when speaking of Nero. In contrast, only the Holy Spirit leads people to confess meaningfully that Jesus is Lord (1 John 2:22; 4:2, 3; 5:1).
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit . . .
different kinds of service, but the same Lord . . . different kinds of working but in all of them . . . it is the same God at work. Tom Friskney pointed out, “There was a dealing out of gifts to specific individuals with specific needs for the work of God. Yet there was a ‘sameness’ in the gifts, for they were all from the Holy Spirit.”
In his sovereign wisdom God distributes various gifts to do his work, but all of them come from the one Spirit. Note that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all specifically mentioned in these verses, showing the work of the Godhead.
1 Corinthians 12:7-11
Paul reminded them of a basic principle: Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. This sums up two main points of today’s lesson:
1. God’s Spirit gives gifts to every Christian. 2. Each Christian is intended to use his or her gift to benefit the Christian community. The apostle then listed nine different gifts the Holy Spirit gives to believers:
• A message of wisdom—the ability to reveal divine truth, such as the apostles did.
• A message of knowledge—the ability to teach revealed truth.
• Faith—this is more than the basic trust that all believers have; rather it is faith that includes divine power (Matthew 17:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 13:2).
• Gifts of healing—having the ability to miraculously restore the sick (Acts 4:30; 5:15, 16).
• Miraculous powers—includes acts of judgment as well as acts of mercy (Acts 13:11; 5:1-10).
• Prophecy—speaking God’s message without mistake, sometimes including predictions.
• Distinguishing between spirits—determine whether something said is by divine inspiration, human understanding, or demonic power.
• Speaking in different kinds of tongues—this happened in Acts 2 as the apostles spoke God’s messages in languages they had never learned.
• The interpretation of tongues—the ability to translate what has been spoken in another language. Some people had both of the last two gifts.
He distributes them to each one, just as he determines. These special gifts were bestowed by God’s Spirit according to his perfect wisdom and will. No one should feel personal pride because of a gift (1 Corinthians 4:7). Paul insisted that there be no misuse of the spiritual gifts that had been given to accomplish God’s purposes.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.