“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant” (1 Corinthians 12:1).
1 Corinthians chapter twelve introduces a new section of this epistle, a segment that also encompasses chapters thirteen and fourteen as well. Although the first eleven chapters of 1 Corinthians largely consists of answers to various questions that were asked of Paul the Apostle, chapter twelve marks something of a transition as Paul addresses one final question from the Corinthians before moving into a series of practical directives.
This portion of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians will examine the subject of spiritual gifts- and given what we know about the Corinthians from the preceding chapters of this letter, it should come as no surprise to learn that Paul will focus his attention upon the proper exercise of these gifts, especially within the church.
To do so, this chapter will employ a practical analogy- the human body. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul will use this word-picture to illustrate the inter-relationship between the individual members of Jesus’ church, the diverse nature of that membership, the proper manner in which each member should exercise his or her gifts, and the supreme importance of love in guiding their operation.
Although the next three chapters of 1 Corinthians will discuss the subject of spiritual gifts quite thoroughly, it’s interesting to note that the original language of 1 Corinthians 1:21 introduces this topic in the following manner: “But concerning spirituals brethren…” In other words, the word “gifts” does not appear within the original language at all. Instead, it has been added by modern-day translators to help ensure clarity of thought.
One commentator explains the reasoning behind this insertion: “…translators italicized “gifts” to indicate that the word is not in the original but is implied by the context (cf. vv. 4, 9, 28, 30, 31; 14:1). The Gr. lit. means ‘pertaining to the Spirit,”’ referring to that which has spiritual qualities or characteristics or is under some form of spiritual control.” (1)
We should also be aware that God’s people have sought to apply the teachings of 1 Corinthians 12-14 in a number of different ways over the centuries. Although it is possible to arrive at different conclusions in area of spiritual gifts, one thing that virtually everyone can agree upon is that this portion of Scripture can help us learn what not to do in regard to this subject.
Finally, the statement, “I do not want you to be ignorant” tells us that Paul wanted his readers to be fully informed regarding this topic- and if we have questions in the area of spiritual gifts today, these chapters will help answer them.
(1) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (1 Co 12:1). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
“You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led” (1 Corinthians 12:2).
Paul the Apostle began this discussion of spiritual gifts by referencing the pagan idolatry that permeated first-century Corinth. These “dumb idols” were nothing more than human creations that held no true ability to speak or lead (except perhaps into spiritual error).
Of course, this was not a new concept for the Old Testament prophet Isaiah addressed a similar subject many hundreds of years earlier…
“Who but a fool would make his own god—an idol that cannot help him one bit? All who worship idols will be disgraced along with all these craftsmen—mere humans—who claim they can make a god. They may all stand together, but they will stand in terror and shame.
The blacksmith stands at his forge to make a sharp tool, pounding and shaping it with all his might. His work makes him hungry and weak. It makes him thirsty and faint. Then the wood-carver measures a block of wood and draws a pattern on it. He works with chisel and plane and carves it into a human figure. He gives it human beauty and puts it in a little shrine.
He cuts down cedars; he selects the cypress and the oak; he plants the pine in the forest to be nourished by the rain. Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire. With it he warms himself and bakes his bread. Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it and makes himself a god to worship! He makes an idol and bows down in front of it!
He burns part of the tree to roast his meat and to keep himself warm. He says, ‘Ah, that fire feels good.’ Then he takes what’s left and makes his god: a carved idol! He falls down in front of it, worshiping and praying to it. ‘Rescue me!’ he says. ‘You are my god!’
Such stupidity and ignorance! Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see. Their minds are shut, and they cannot think. The person who made the idol never stops to reflect, ‘Why, it’s just a block of wood! I burned half of it for heat and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat. How can the rest of it be a god? Should I bow down to worship a piece of wood?’
The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes. He trusts something that can’t help him at all. Yet he cannot bring himself to ask, ‘Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?'” (Isaiah 44:10-20 NLT).
“You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know 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” (1 Corinthians 12:2-3 NIV).
The pagan spirituality of first-century Corinth could not enable the members of Jesus’ church to properly understand and employ the spiritual gifts that God had graciously given them. To accurately grasp such things, the Christian community in Corinth would have to “unlearn” the practices they had inherited from their idolatrous cultural surroundings in order to properly utilize these gifts in a God-honoring manner.
In considering the subject of spiritual gifts, it may be helpful to first examine their origin in order to obtain a proper understanding of their purpose and function. We can begin by observing that all genuine spiritual gifts originate with the Spirit of God, the third Person of the triune Godhead.
In speaking with His disciples, Jesus identified the Holy Spirit as the parakletos, a word designates one who seeks to aid, counsel, help, and advocate on behalf of another. (1) For example…
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16 NIV).
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26).
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you… when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 16:7, 13-14).
As a function of this ministry, the Holy Spirit imparts gifts that help us serve others, separate truth from error, facilitate spiritual growth, and fulfill God’s calling upon our lives. We’ll examine these gifts more closely as we move through this portion of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.
(1) G3875 parakletos Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g3875
“Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3 ESV).
The late Dr. Walter Martin was the founder of the Christian Research Institute and the original host of the “Bible Answer Man” radio broadcast. Dr. Martin was once quoted as saying something to this effect: the quickest and easiest way to identify a false teacher is to simply ask that person, “Who is Jesus?”
The idea is that the answer to that question will immediately serve to reveal whether someone is truly accurate in his or her spiritual beliefs. This can often be useful in speaking with others in regard to spiritual matters for if a person holds an unbiblical view of Jesus, then everything that proceeds from that erroneous belief is likely to be suspect as well.
In a similar manner, the Christian community at Corinth needed a method to assess the validity of the spiritual manifestations that were taking place among them. Then, as now, it was important for the members of the Corinthian church to recognize the fact that everything that claimed to be “of the Holy Spirit” might not be so.
So how could the Corinthian Christians validate the message of someone who was said to be speaking under the influence of the Holy Spirit? Well, Paul the Apostle provided the Corinthians with two important tests: “…no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit” (NLT). While anyone could say the words, “Jesus is accursed” or “Jesus is Lord,” the idea is that a valid spiritual source would never say the former and an invalid spiritual source would never say the latter.
One commentator makes a thought-provoking observation in regard to this passage…
“A person might have been given the power to do miracles and not have had the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit within. Judas Iscariot was empowered to work miracles right along with the rest of the apostles (see Mat_10:1-8) and it is clear that he did not have the Holy Spirit in his heart for he was a thief from the beginning (Joh_12:6).
It is apparent that some of these Corinthian Christians, while having power to do miracles, were dangerously close (if not at the point) to rejecting the lordship of Christ… by their proud and arrogant misuse of the ‘gifts.'” (1)
(1) Paul T. Butler, Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In First Corinthians College Press Publishing Company, Joplin, Missouri [pg.225] https://archive.org/stream/FirstCorinthians/131Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).
1 Corinthians 12:4-6 identifies two important characteristics of Jesus’ church that might seem mutually exclusive at first glance: diversity and unity. Paul the Apostle will go on to explain this concept by way of an illustration that references the triune nature of God in establishing a good foundation for the exercise of various spiritual gifts. This compelling illustration of “unity in diversity” will go on to establish the basis for Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts over the next few chapters.
For instance, there are varieties of spiritual gifts that originate from one source- the Holy Spirit. There are many avenues of service that derive from from one origin- the Lord Jesus. Finally, there are different types of activities that are empowered by one ultimate benefactor- God the Father. As one commentator has observed, “The gifts are linked to the Spirit. The ministries are linked to the Son. The operations are linked to the Father.” (1)
In the original language, the word used for “gifts” within this passage is the word charisma. While we may tend to associate the word “charisma” with a person who possesses a dynamic personality, this word carries a different meaning as used in the passage quoted above. In the context of 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, this word is identified with God’s grace and unmerited favor. (2) Therefore, it denotes something that is bestowed by God without respect to the merit of the person who receives it.
One source provides us with some additional detail with regard to this concept…
“In this verse, the Greek word for ‘gifts’ is charisma, meaning ‘grace-gifts,’ or ‘free gifts.’ The Spirit, by sovereign grace, gives one or more such ‘grace-gifts’ to ‘every man’ (I Corinthians 12:7), as He wills (I Corinthians 12:11). The same word is used in verses 9, 28, 30, and 31. It is also used in Romans 12:6, which similarly lists a number of gifts of the Spirit.
On the other hand, in I Corinthians 12:1, ‘spiritual gifts’ is a translation of the Greek pneumatikos, meaning ‘Spirit-energized gifts,’ implying a distinct supernatural element. This word is used again in I Corinthians 14:1 and 14:12. Whichever word is used, the gift is a ‘free gift’ of the Holy Spirit (like the free gift of eternal life in Romans 6:23, where the same word is used) neither earned nor forced. Furthermore, it is God-given, therefore not man-generated.” (3)
(1) Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (p. 1069). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
(2) G5486 charisma Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g5486
(3) Dr. Henry M. Morris, The New Defender’s Study Bible
“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Corinthians 12:7).
Although 1 Corinthians 12:7 consists of less than twenty words, it packs a wealth of important information with regard to the subject of spiritual gifts.
We can begin by identifying a “spiritual gift” as a God-given empowerment that works in and through a Christian to serve others and fulfill God’s calling upon his or her life. While an athlete, musician, or other highly-skilled person may possess a great degree of natural ability, the term “spiritual gift” involves a supernatural enablement that originates with God Himself.
A legitimate spiritual gift also represents a “…manifestation of the Spirit” within someone’s life. A “manifestation” refers to something that has been revealed or made recognizable; therefore we can say that every legitimate spiritual gift should serve to focus upon the God who has provided that gift and not the one who has received it. If God is obscured through the exercise of a spiritual gift, or if the focus of a spiritual gift is upon someone or something else, then we would be justified in questioning the validity of that gift or the manner in which it is employed.
We should also notice that a spiritual gift is designed to benefit others and not just the person who receives it. In other words, a spiritual gift is intended “for the profit of all” and should not be hidden away or used exclusively for one’s own personal enrichment. When properly employed, a spiritual gift serves to exemplify Jesus’ quote from Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
Finally, we should note one additional point of emphasis from within this passage: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (ESV). This tells us that every man and women of God has received at least one spiritual gift- and perhaps to ensure that we don’t miss the point, we will encounter a similar declaration once again in verse eleven.
Since every human being inhabits a time, place, and culture that is exclusive to his or her place in history, every Christian’s unique combination of spiritual gifting and individual personality has never been seen before in human history and will never be seen again. That makes every man or woman of God important in the advancement of His agenda and should encourage us to make the best use of the gifts that He has given us.
“for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:8).
The primacy of the Holy Spirit’s work in distributing various spiritual gifts among God’s people can be verified by the fact His work is referenced five different times within the five verses that comprise 1 Corinthians 12:7-11. There are nine different spiritual gifts listed within this portion of Scripture and the two listed here in verse eight are closely tied to the characteristics of insight, awareness, and understanding.
While most people can be said to possess the qualities of wisdom and knowledge to a greater or lesser extent, the “word of wisdom” and “word of knowledge” referenced here implies something considerably more than just an awareness of the facts and the proper way to act upon them. Since there are no precise definitions of these terms within the Scriptures, a look at two Biblical examples can help provide us with the right parameters to recognize and properly employ such gifts.
For instance, it appears the Apostle Peter was provided with some divinely-sourced knowledge during his encounter with two people who were not what they appeared to be (see Acts 5:1-11). In that instance, Peter was made aware of some information that allowed him to recognize a situation that might have seemed perfectly appropriate to a casual observer but was actually very wrong.
In the following chapter of the book of Acts we are introduced to a man named Stephen. In reading of Stephen’s interaction with group of people who were hostile to Christianity, we’re told that his opponents were “were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke” (Acts 6:10). Since wisdom largely involves knowing how to properly apply the facts of a given situation, we can say that Stephen was empowered with the ability to counter his opponents with an application of the truth that they simply could not deny.
As to the way in which these gifts might be exercised today, we can say that a word of wisdom or a word of knowledge might best be expressed through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. If a message from the pulpit seems to address a specific circumstance, question, or situation that would not normally be known to the minister, we would do well to consider the possibility that the Spirit of God may be graciously seeking to impart a piece of wisdom or knowledge to the listener.
“to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:9).
The Biblical book of Hebrews tells us that “…faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV). One Bible dictionary expands on this definition by identifying faith as “A belief in or confident attitude toward God, involving commitment to His will for one’s life.” (1) In other words, faith involves the confident expectation that God is completely trustworthy and that He will fulfill His promises even when external appearances might seem to suggest otherwise.
These characteristics are important for as Hebrews 11:6 reminds us, “You can never please God without faith, without depending on him. Anyone who wants to come to God must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely look for him” (TLB). So in general terms, we can say that faith represents the confident belief that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He’ll do.
Aside from the saving faith that every true Christian possesses, 1 Corinthians 12:9 also identifies a specific gift of faith as well. This gift may often be associated with an exceptional level of trust in God, a deep and abiding commitment to the pursuit of God’s agenda in prayer, or the capacity to believe God for the accomplishment of an extraordinary or seemingly impossible act.
This verse also goes on to reference “gifts of healing,” a spiritual gift that is related to a specific ability to restore someone to health. While this spiritual gift is generally identified with the type of miraculous healings that we find within the New Testament Gospels and the book of Acts, we should also leave room to consider the possibility that God has supernaturally endowed many medical professionals with the knowledge, skill, and ability necessary to cure those who are ill.
It may be significant to note that this verse utilizes the plural form of the word gift in speaking of “gifts of healing” This may serve to indicate the various types of healing (physical, psychological, or emotional) that one might receive. But regardless of the manner in which these gifts are employed, this passage again reminds us that there are varieties of gifts that originate with one source- the Holy Spirit. As 1 Corinthians 12:11 will later go on to tell us, “…one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.”
(1) “Faith” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers
“to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:10).
We often use the word “miracle” in an ironic or facetious manner when dealing with the frustrations and absurdities of life: “I only had to wait on hold for twenty minutes- it was a miracle!” While it may be amusing to refer to such events in this manner, this word actually represents an important Biblical concept.
You see, a genuine miracle involves a God-ordained suspension of the laws that generally govern the course of nature. A miracle represents a specific act of God that overrides the established patterns that normally exist within our natural world. Scholar and author Norman Geisler summarizes this idea by saying, “In brief, a miracle is a divine intervention into the natural world. It is a supernatural exception to the regular course of the world that would not have occurred otherwise.” (1)
This was something that the Apostle Paul understood from personal experience…
“God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” (Acts 19:11-12 NIV).
Dr. Geisler also offers a more detailed explanation regarding this subject…
“In the Bible’s pattern, a miracle has several dimensions:
- First, miracles have an unusual character. It is an out-of-the-ordinary event in contrast to the regular pattern of events in the natural world. As a ‘wonder’ it attracts attention by its uniqueness. A burning bush that is not consumed, fire from heaven, and a person strolling on water are not normal occurrences. Hence, they draw the interest of observers.
- Second, miracles have a theological dimension. A miracle is an act of God that presupposes a God who acts. The view that a God beyond the universe created it, controls it, and can interfere in it is theism.
- Third, miracles have a moral dimension. They bring glory to God by manifesting his moral character. Miracles are visible acts that reflect the invisible nature of God. No true miracle, then, is evil, because God is good. Miracles by nature aim to produce and/or promote good.
- Fourth, miracles have a doctrinal dimension. Miracles in the Bible are connected directly or indirectly with ‘truth claims’ They are ways to tell a true prophet from a false prophet (Deut. 18:22). They confirm the truth of God through the servant of God (Heb. 2:3–4). Message and miracle go hand-in-hand.
- Fifth, miracles have a teleological dimension. Unlike magic, they are never performed to entertain (see Luke 23:8). Miracles have the distinctive purpose to glorify the Creator and to provide evidence for people to believe by accrediting the message of God through the prophet of God.” (2)
(1) Norman Geisler Miracles and the Modern Mind: A Defense of Biblical Miracles [pg.14]
(2) Geisler, N. L. (1999). Miracle. Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics (p. 451). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
“to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:10 ESV).
A genuine “prophet” can be identified as someone who possesses the ability to provide God’s direction as prompted by the Holy Spirit. We might also define a legitimate prophet as someone who conveys divinely-initiated information concerning a particular situation or future event. In addition to the numerous prophets mentioned in the Old Testament Scriptures, the New Testament book of Acts also identifies a prophet named Agabus as well.
The spiritual gift of prophecy remains the subject of some controversy within the church today. In considering the potential validity of this gift in the post-New Testament era, we can begin with the observation that no modern-day “prophetic message” can ever carry the same authority as the inspired Word of God as found within the Biblical Scriptures. Instead, a statement that claims to be prophetic must be fully aligned with the Word of God. If it fails to do so, we can confidently say that such a message does not originate with the Holy Spirit.
Another potential concern can be found in the tendency of some within the church to preface various statements with the words, “The Lord told me…” or “The Lord spoke to me…” or other similar terms. Although God can certainly speak and provide direction today, it is important to carefully consider the potential ramifications of such statements.
The issue is that a preface such as ”The Lord spoke to me…” implies that God Himself is the source of whatever is to follow. If we subsequently go on to misrepresent the Lord in any way when initiating our statements in this manner (no matter how sincere or well-intentioned we may be), we run the risk of violating the Scriptural warning found in Proverbs 30:6: ”Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar” (NIV).
Modern church history is inundated with spiritual predictions and “prophecies” that have failed to come to pass- and that unfortunate reality will go hand-in-hand with the spiritual gift that we will go on to examine next. In light of this, perhaps we can best associate the function of a prophetic gift in a modern-day church setting with the person who is prompted by the Holy Spirit to bring a fresh application of Biblical truth to a particular circumstance or situation.
“to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:10 NET).
The next spiritual gift mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:10 is “discerning of spirits” (NKJV) or “…the ability to judge what is from the Spirit and what is not” (ERV). As mentioned earlier, the gift of discernment involves the ability to see things as God sees them and not necessarily how they may appear to be. The gift of discernment can enable us to exercise perception, wisdom, and good judgment, especially when it comes to unearthing the real spiritual motivation behind someone’s actions.
Of course, the need for discernment (especially in regard to spiritual matters) is really nothing new, for the New Testament itself provides us with the following warning: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). This portion of Scripture then goes on to offer an important tool for the spiritually discerning…
“This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world” (1 John 4:2-3).
So a person who presents a “Jesus” who is different from the Jesus that is found within the pages of the Scriptures is someone who is not telling the truth about Christ. In many instances, its possible to identify such individuals simply by opening a conversation on the topic of spiritual matters. But in those situations where someone’s real spiritual motivation remains more deeply hidden, a person with the gift of discernment is someone who can positively identify a proverbial “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
Just as it was in the days of the first century, modern-day society also abounds with spiritual frauds, charlatans, and opportunists, as well as “…hucksters—and there are many of them—whose idea in getting out the Gospel is to make a good living out of it” (2 Corinthians 2:17 TLB). A person who has been supernaturally endowed with the gift of discernment can help protect others by identifying and exposing the attitudes, motives, beliefs, and agendas of those who may not be what they appear to be.
“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” (1 Corinthians 12:10 NIV).
1 Corinthians 12:10 touches upon a controversial subject for many within the church today- the subject of speaking in tongues. This spiritual gift refers to the ability given by the Holy Spirit to speak in a language that would not normally be known to the speaker. The language involved may be a language that is native to another culture or a language that will later be described by Paul the Apostle as “…the tongues of… angels” in 1 Corinthians 13:1.
A Christian who speaks in tongues is communicating in a manner that goes beyond the limitations of human intellect and understanding. Since this gift may also involve the conveyance of information that a listener might not understand, a person who possesses the spiritual gift of interpretation can assist others in receiving and acting upon such a message when necessary.
One source provides us with the following primer of the subject of tongues and the interpretation of tongues…
The “gift of tongues” has been the most controversial of the gifts, especially in connection with the charismatic renewal of recent decades. The word “tongue” itself (Greek glossa from which we get “glossolalia”), as used in both Biblical and extra-Biblical Greek writings, always refers either to a definite structured language or else the physical organ of speech (never to meaningless noises).
Its use is clearly described in Acts 2:4-6 when the gift of tongues was first given, and included known ethnic languages that were unknown to the respective speakers. The ‘interpretation [i.e., ‘translation’] of tongues’ similarly was the supernatural ability to understand and translate words spoken in a language unknown to the translator.” (1)
The spiritual gift of tongues is not only mentioned here in 1 Corinthians chapter twelve, but is also referenced again in the following chapter (albeit briefly), and then again in 1 Corinthians chapter fourteen. In fact, 1 Corinthians chapter fourteen is devoted almost entirely to the subject of speaking in tongues. Since this spiritual gift is the focus of much attention within this epistle, its likely that it was greatly employed among the members of the Corinthian fellowship.
In light of the fact that 1 Corinthians chapter fourteen will go on to explore the use and function of this particular spiritual gift in greater detail, we’ll examine this subject more thoroughly when we reach that portion of Scripture.
“But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11).
1 Corinthians 12:11 reiterates a point made earlier in 1 Corinthians 12:7- every man and women of God has received at least one spiritual gift. These two verses also bracket a portion of Scripture that emphasizes two other important elements of the Holy Spirit’s work.
First, this passage serves to accentuate the Spirit’s role in distributing these gifts. Next, we’re told that the distribution of each spiritual gift involves the sovereign exercise of the Spirit’s will. Taken together, these realities should encourage us to restrain from devaluing one spiritual gift at the expense of another.
One source makes the following observation with regard to the Spirit’s distribution of these gifts “individually as He wills”…
“This brief clause sets the preceding list of gifts in the proper perspective. Whether an individual or a church possesses a particular gift is not for us to decide. It is the Spirit who sovereignly provides for the people of God. That factor may explain why no NT passage gives a complete catalog of gifts or a precise definition of them, since they may vary significantly according to God’s plans in changing situations. A church may appropriately pray for God to grant gifts to meet its needs, but such prayers must be offered in submission to His sovereign will and perfect wisdom.” (1)
We should also note the personal pronoun (“He”) as well as the demonstration of will that marks the Holy Spirit’s activity within this passage. These characteristics are associated with a personal being and not an impersonal force as some self-identified “Christian” organizations would have us believe.
Finally, the sovereign power of choice exercised by the Holy Spirit in regard to the distribution of these spiritual gifts has prompted one commentator to address an important question concerning the Spirit’s work today…
“Many people are asking today, ‘Why don’t we have miracles like they did in the New Testament? Why don’t we have great healings, tremendous demonstrations of the power of God?’ Well, the answer is: The Spirit has not given those gifts. It is not because the church is carnal. It is carnal, but so was Corinth. The most carnal church in the New Testament had these gifts abounding. This is no sign. The true answer is: The Spirit has not chosen to give those gifts today. If he had, he would give them quite regardless of how spiritual or carnal we are, as he did at Corinth. These are given by the Spirit, ‘as he wills.'” (2)
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2034). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
(2) Excerpted with permission from © 1978 by Ray Stedman Ministries. All rights reserved. Visit www.RayStedman.org for the complete library of Ray Stedman material. Please direct any questions to webmaster@RayStedman.org
“For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
As we temporarily set aside the topic of spiritual gifts (a subject to which the Apostle Paul will later return), we’ll find that much of the remainder of 1 Corinthians chapter twelve will be devoted to the use of the human body as an analogy for the church. This comparison proved to be a particular favorite of Paul the Apostle and he employed it on a number of occasions within his New Testament writings…
“For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:4-5).
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).
“And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18).
While this illustration is relatively easy to grasp, the true genius behind the use of this analogy becomes evident when we stop to examine it more closely. For instance, consider the actions that must take place within the human body in order to accomplish a simple task such as the act of drinking a glass of water.
First, the brain must send the proper command. Next, the eyes, shoulder, elbow, wrist, and fingers (along with their associated muscles) must work together to retrieve the glass. In the meantime, the brain must compensate for the weight, height, and width of the glass (along with with its contents) and calculate for the potential movement of the water within it. Finally, the person must raise the glass to his or her mouth without spilling it and pour the contents -not too quickly or too slowly- from the glass.
So this basic task is actually much more complex than it seems- and the same is true of Jesus’ church as well. We’ll see how 1 Corinthians chapter twelve effectively utilizes the human body as a fitting analogy for the church as we continue through this chapter.
“For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body–so also is Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body–whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
As found within the original language used to author this passage, the word “baptized” carries the idea of something that has been immersed within a body of water. (1) Thus, every Corinthian believer -regardless of race, culture, social status, or national origin- had been similarly immersed within the Body of Christ. In part, it was this immersive oneness in Christ that made the Corinthians’ behavior during the Communion meal so unfortunate as discussed extensively in chapter eleven.
This illustration also served to reinforce a concept that Paul had already established within this epistle- just as the human body cannot be divided into it’s constituent parts and continue to function properly, the same is true of Jesus’ church, the body of Christ. One practical outgrowth of this idea can be found within the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippian church…
“…for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need. Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:16-19 NIV).
After Paul departed from Philippi during his second missionary journey, he next traveled next to Thessalonica. While he was there, the church at Philippi continued to demonstrate their support by sending assistance to him. In addition, we’ll later find that the Philippians continued to support Paul while he was preaching in Corinth as well (2 Corinthians 11:9).
So these diverse members of the body of Christ each worked together to achieve a specific goal. In other words, the Philippians did what they could to help Paul do what he could. Thus, these examples represent a good illustration of the idea behind verse twelve and the verses to follow: “Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many” (CEB).
(1) G907 baptizo Thayer’s Greek Definitions https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=nkjv&strongs=g907
“For in fact the body is not one member but many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body, is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body?” (1 Corinthians 12:14-16).
The Apostle Paul went on to develop the concept of the human body as a metaphor for the church by illustrating the worth and interrelation of each individual member here in 1 Corinthians 12:14-16. This analogy served to emphasize the significance and importance of every member of the body of Christ within the church at Corinth.
But the impact of this message goes far beyond this first century church, for this passage carries relevance for every generation. You see, even if we are inclined to dismiss our God-given gifts or diminish the gifts that others possess, this portion of Scripture reminds us that every member of Christ’s body has value regardless of the spiritual gifts that he or she has (or has not) received.
For instance, we may feel dispirited if we encounter others who possess exceptional God-given abilities, especially when those abilities are compared to our own. Or perhaps we may be discouraged by the lack of opportunity to exercise our gifts in comparison to other, similarly gifted individuals.
While it may be easy to yield to a sense of dejection in such situations, 1 Corinthians 12:14-16 reminds us that every member within the body is important. Therefore, we would be far better served to evaluate ourselves by our degree of faithfulness in utilizing the gifts, skills, talents, and abilities God has entrusted to us.
We may never be more than what we are within the body of Christ but to use Paul’s analogy, that does not permit us to say, “…I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand” (TLB). Instead, we should seek to be the best we can be wherever God has placed us by utilizing the gifts that the Holy Spirit has personally distributed to us.
So these verses represent an important and timely reminder for God’s people today- and as one author reminds us, “There is no room for self-pity at having a less prominent gift, ministry, or position; each and every part of the body is vital for the working of the whole.” (1)
(1) Bob Caldwell, 1 Corinthians 12 Unity and Diversity in One Body [v.15]
“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 placed 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” (1 Corinthians 12:17-20 NIV).
A tried and true formula of old low-budget horror films from the 1950’s involved isolating a portion of the human anatomy, endowing it with abnormal power and/or supernatural ability, and then unleashing “terror” upon an unsuspecting group of people.
While the ridiculous plot lines, substandard acting, cheap sets, and ludicrous special effects of such “B” movies are regularly lampooned in modern-day pop culture, there is an important question to ask when we strip away the laughable production values of such movies- why would a screenwriter choose to utilize such a formula as the basis for a horror film?
One possible answer is that the idea of a body part that dominates or has grown out of proportion to the rest of the body is something grotesque. Therefore, this concept serves as a good foundation for a horror movie even if that movie ends up generating more laughs than actual horror.
On the other hand, a normal, healthy, functional body is one where each individual member does its part and works in harmony with each other. In a similar manner, humanity’s Designer has carefully and purposely endowed each member of the church with various gifts much as He has arranged the various parts of the human body with a specific purpose and function.
As one commentator explains in comparing the various members of the human body to the body of Christ, “…each (has) a particular gift or gifts, serving in ways analogous to the various functions of the different members of a physical body. Not all believers have the gift of tongues or of teaching, any more than all members of a body function as eyes or ears.” (1)
The distribution of these gifts to each individual represents a conscious and premeditated decision on behalf of the God who has “…placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted” (HCSB). Because of this, we hold a duty and responsibility to discover those gifts that God has sovereignly distributed to us and employ them in His service.
“But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you'” (1 Corinthians 12:20-21).
While there may be greater value in the exercise of certain spiritual gifts (as we’ll later go on to see), it is important to remember that there is no greater value associated with the person who has received such gifts. To help illustrate this idea, let’s continue with the concept of the human body as a metaphor for the church.
For example, a person’s head may have greater value than certain other parts of the body but it cannot function independently of those other parts. If the head of a human body did not have the heart to supply blood, the lungs to provide oxygen, or the stomach to digest and dispense nutrients, it simply could not survive.
However, we should also note that the opposite is true as well- each of these vital internal organs could not survive without the head either, for each is mutually dependent upon the other to perform its function. The point is that every member of the body -whether it is visible or unseen- must do its part in order to function properly.
As any medical professional is surely aware, a small or seemingly inconsequential body part that fails to fulfill it’s function may put the entire body at risk. In a similar manner, a gifted minister or musician may have have a great deal of visibility in the exercise of his or her gifts, but that person must often depend on a variety of other skilled and gifted individuals within the body of Christ to accomplish specific tasks. Much like the internal organs of the human body, those individuals may not be not visible to others but their work is vitally important in helping another part of the body fulfill its role.
So the idea is that each part of the body has value in relation to the other. In commenting on the analogy found within this passage, one source makes two thought-provoking observations: “It is interesting that Paul used the head and the feet as examples, the top of the body and the bottom. He may have been reminding those who felt superior that those whom they regarded as inferior were also necessary (cf. 1Co_11:17-34). Too often because we differ from each other we also differ with each other.” (1)
(1) Dr. Constable’s Expository Notes Notes on 1 Corinthians 2017 Edition, The application of the figure 12:15-26 [12:21] http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/htm/NT/1%20Corinthians/1Corinthians.htm
“As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 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!'” (1 Corinthians 1220-21 NIV).
Much like the human body, every man or woman of God has a particular role and responsibility within the body of Christ. In addition to the passage quoted above, the Apostle Paul expressed this idea within the New Testament book of Romans as well…
“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. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:6-10 NIV).
The Apostle Peter echoed a similar theme…
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10 NIV).
These passages should also serve to remind us that there are two great and equal dangers to the body. The first is a member that doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. The second is a member that is doing something that it’s not supposed to do. Therefore, it is critically important to identify our individual roles and functions within the Body of Christ and work to fulfill them.
Each day represents a new opportunity to do something good and productive in God’s service- and those who identify and employ their God-given spiritual gifts will be well positioned to take advantage of whatever opportunities the day may bring. The person who does so will not only serve to benefit others but will also enjoy the fulfillment and satisfaction that comes from utilizing God’s gifts in His service.
“No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need.
But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:22-26).
The Apostle Paul has continued with the God-inspired illustration of the human body as an analogy for the church for almost half of this chapter- and in reading through this portion of 1 Corinthians chapter twelve, it becomes abundantly clear that every individual member of the church is a person of importance. We can build upon this analogy by keeping a simple but important premise in mind: every human being is comprised of more than what we can see.
While society generally tends to assign the greatest value to someone’s physical attractiveness, even a visibly attractive person must still depend upon the parts of his or her body that cannot be seen. These internal organs often go unappreciated in their daily operation- until they fail to perform for some reason. It is only then that we can appreciate just how valuable these unseen parts of the body really are.
In like manner, we may tend to pay little or no attention to the important (but sometimes undervalued) responsibilities that are carried out by God’s people. These unsung members of the Body of Christ often draw little or no attention to their work- until they are gone or otherwise prohibited from fulfilling their responsibilities for some reason. Thus, we are reminded of the truth contained within 1 Corinthians 12:22: “…some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary” (NLT).
One commentator provides us with a further illustration of this idea: “If you throw a touchdown pass and win the game, does your left arm get upset because your right arm threw the ball? No, your whole body celebrates. So, too, as believers, we both suffer and celebrate together because we’re all members of the same body.” (1)
(1) Courson, J. (2003). Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (p. 1073). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
“Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:27-28).
Having earlier listed a number of different spiritual gifts in verses 8-10, 1 Corinthians 12:27-28 now follows with a short list of roles, responsibilities, and functions within the church. First among these is the office of an apostle.
As mentioned earlier, an apostle is a “commissioned representative” much like an emissary or a spokesperson today. In a general sense, an apostle is something like the modern-day ambassador who represents his or her country within a foreign nation.
In a Biblical context, an apostle is someone who has been entrusted with the power and authority to act as a representative of Christ. We can find an example of this type of delegated authority within the New Testament gospel of Luke…
“Then (Jesus) called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases. He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.
And He said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey, neither staffs nor bag nor bread nor money; and do not have two tunics apiece. Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they departed and went through the towns, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere” (Luke 9:1-6).
While every follower of Jesus is an “apostle” in the sense that every Christian is (or should be) an ambassador of Christ, these New Testament apostles carried certain qualifications that set them apart from all who followed. For example…
- They were first-century eyewitnesses of Jesus following His resurrection (1 Corinthians 9:1).
- They were personally selected by Jesus to fulfill the role of an apostle (Matthew 10:1-4, Acts 9:10-16). (1)
- They were given the ability to perform the miraculous (Acts 2:43).
We should also note that the book of Revelation speaks of a holy city that will exist in the future, a city that features an interesting construction element: “…the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14).
So while every Christian serves as an apostle in a limited sense, it’s also true that no one today can speak with the same authority as these first century apostles who were personally selected by Jesus to communicate His message.
(1) Acts 1:26 tells us that a man named Matthias “…was numbered with the eleven apostles” as Judas Iscariot’s replacement (see Acts 1:15-26). There is some debate as to whether Paul or Matthias constituted this twelfth disciple. A case could be made for Matthias’ selection since he was chosen by lot following the disciples’ prayerful request for God’s direction.
“And God has placed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, next miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, managing, various kinds of languages” (1 Corinthians 12:28 HCSB).
The second office mentioned within 1 Corinthians 12:28 is that of a prophet. While there may be any number of seers, fortune-tellers, soothsayers, prognosticators or others who claim to be able to foretell the future today, how can we best determine if such individuals are truly legitimate?
Well, the Scriptures provide us with a few tests that can we use to verify the authenticity of those who claim to possess a prophetic gift…
1. Has the person in question ever offered a “prophecy” that failed to come to pass?
“If you wonder, ‘How shall we know whether the prophecy is from the Lord or not?’ this is the way to know: If the thing he prophesies doesn’t happen, it is not the Lord who has given him the message; he has made it up himself. You have nothing to fear from him” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22 TLB).
We should remember that the test of a genuine prophet is 100% accuracy in his or her prophetic statements. While anyone is free to make a prediction or an educated guess, a person who purports to offer a prophetic statement carries the burden of fulfillment. A person who “prophesies” something that fails to come to pass is just a forecaster at best (or a deceiver at worst). (1)
2. Does the person in question claim to be in contact with the “spirits of the dead” or other such activities?
“Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:31 NIV).
To borrow a question from the Biblical prophet Isaiah, why would anyone consult the dead on behalf of the living? (Isaiah 8:19-20). A genuine prophet would receive guidance and direction from God instead of seeking insight from the “spirits of the dead.”
3. Is the person in question involved in astrology, divination, or other similar types of occultic activity?
“Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you” (Deuteronomy 18:10-12 NIV).
No genuine prophet would ever use a method that God found detestable in order to seek direction from Him.
We’ll look at some additional tests for a genuine prophet next.
(1) Some may point to the example of Jonah as evidence for the claim that a legitimate prophet can offer a prophetic statement that fails to come to pass. However, God’s expressed benevolence towards the repentant must be understood to form an inherent part of the context of Jonah’s prophetic message (see Ezekiel 33:11-19)
“First, God has appointed apostles in the church. Second, he has appointed prophets. Third, he has appointed teachers. Then he has appointed people who do miracles and those who have gifts of healing. He also appointed those able to help others, those able to direct things, and those who can speak in different kinds of languages they had not known before” (1 Corinthians 12:28 NIRV).
As we continue with the roles, responsibilities, and offices found within 1 Corinthians 12:28, here are some additional tests that can help confirm the legitimacy of those who claim to possess the gift of prophecy…
4. Does the person in question encourage others to seek direction from a spiritual source other than God and His Word?
“If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods’ (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer.
The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere…” (Deuteronomy 13:1-4 NIV).
A genuine prophet will direct others to the God of the Scriptures exclusively; those who fail to do so cannot be true prophets of God.
5. Does the person in question fail to tell the truth about Jesus?
“Dearly loved friends, don’t always believe everything you hear just because someone says it is a message from God: test it first to see if it really is. For there are many false teachers around, and the way to find out if their message is from the Holy Spirit is to ask: Does it really agree that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, actually became man with a human body?
If so, then the message is from God. If not, the message is not from God but from one who is against Christ, like the ‘Antichrist’ you have heard about who is going to come, and his attitude of enmity against Christ is already abroad in the world” (1 John 4:1-3 TLB).
If these questions can be answered affirmatively, then we can be sure that the person in question is not speaking for God. Remember that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2) nor can His Word fail (Isaiah 55:11), and a true prophetic messenger would never say anything that is contrary to God’s Word or His character.
“In the church, God has appointed first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, the ability to help others, leadership skills, different kinds of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:28 CEB).
The spiritual office of “teacher” is next among the gifts and functions listed for us here within 1 Corinthians 12:28. This important responsibility can also be found among the lists of spiritual gifts contained within Romans 12:6-8 and Ephesians 4:11 as well.
The position of teacher is one of a number of spiritual offices that have been established by God for an important purpose: “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12 ESV). Thus, the spiritual gift of teaching helps prepare God’s people to fulfill His call upon their lives.
Although the concepts of preaching and teaching are sometimes used interchangeably, there are some differences between them. “Preaching” generally involves an exhortation or call to action. On the other hand, a teacher seeks to communicate the Scriptures in a way that others can understand, remember, and apply. While a preacher can preach without teaching and a teacher can teach without preaching, a good teacher does not simply communicate the facts- he or she will incorporate an element of preaching by exhorting others to act upon what they have learned.
While a teaching position may sound attractive, a person who makes the commitment to teach the Scriptures must also accept the accountability that goes along with it. That accountability can be found within James 3:1: “…let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.”
You see, it is possible for a sincere and well-meaning teacher to cause great spiritual and/or emotional damage in the lives of others. Lives may be ruined, churches may be adversely affected, and cultic organizations may get their start whenever someone begins teaching the Scriptures when he or she shouldn’t do so.
A teacher who abuses his or her authority, misrepresents God, or teaches something that is Scripturally unsound will give an account for such actions- and the judgment will be very strict. In addition, a teacher should also expect to be called to account for his or her motivation in seeking to teach the Scriptures and whether he or she actually followed the Scriptural precepts that were taught.
This is not meant to dissuade someone from engaging in this valuable ministry but it does illustrate the need to count the cost before pursuing such work. Anyone who does not sense God’s calling to teach should think twice before assuming this important responsibility.
Portions of this message were condensed and adapted from a more extensive study beginning here.
“So God has appointed and placed in the church [for His own use]: first apostles [chosen by Christ], second prophets [those who foretell the future, those who speak a new message from God to the people], third teachers, then those who work miracles, then those with the gifts of healings, the helpers, the administrators, and speakers in various kinds of [unknown] tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:28 AMP).
As mentioned previously, a “miracle” involves a God-ordained suspension of the laws that generally govern the course of nature. Scholar and author Norman Geisler summarizes this idea by saying, “In brief, a miracle is a divine intervention into the natural world. It is a supernatural exception to the regular course of the world that would not have occurred otherwise.” (1)
Another resource co-authored by Dr. Geisler makes the following observation…
“In fact, miracles are not only possible; miracles are actual, because the greatest miracle of all- the creation of the universe out of nothing- has already occurred. So with regard to the Bible, if Genesis 1:1 is true- “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” -then every other miracle in the Bible is easy to believe.
Can a God who created the entire universe out of nothing part the Red Sea? Bring fire down from heaven? Keep a man safe in a great fish for three days? Accurately predict future events? Turn water into wine? Heal diseases instantaneously? Raise the dead? Of course. All of those miraculous events are simple tasks for an infinitely powerful Being who created the universe in the first place.” (2)
Although some may object to the legitimacy of the miraculous on the basis that miracles are a violation of the natural laws that govern the course of nature, we might ask the following question in response: which natural law is the Creator of every natural law obligated to follow?
You see, just as a computer programmer or systems designer is free to interrupt the natural workings of a program or design, so may God also elect to interrupt the natural workings of His design should He choose to do so.
Of course, a person who holds an anti-supernatural bias is likely to reject the possibility that God might temporarily override the natural laws that He has established. But when events occur for which there can be no other reasonable (or possible) explanation, we might appropriate the following insight from the great fictional detective Sherlock Holmes…
“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” (3)
(1) Norman Geisler Miracles and the Modern Mind: A Defense of Biblical Miracles [pg.14]
(2) Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist 8 Miracles: Signs of God or Gullibility? (pg.203)
(3) The Sign of the Four, ch. 6 (1890)
“And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:28 ESV).
To complete the list of spiritual gifts found here in 1 Corinthians chapter twelve, the final verses of this chapter will go on to list a few gifts that might be employed in a variety of different ways. For instance, three of the gifts mentioned here -healing, helping, and administrating- are often found among those who can adapt to the changing needs and conditions of a given situation with a great degree of flexibility.
To begin, we can associate “gifts of healing” with the God-given ability to restore others to health and wellness. As mentioned previously, this spiritual gift is often identified with the type of miraculous healings that are found within the New Testament Gospels and the book of Acts. While this is certainly a valid application, we should also consider the possibility that God has specifically gifted many nurses, physicians, surgeons, mental health specialists and other health care professionals with the ability to bring healing to others today.
“Helping” is a spiritual gift that is generally associated with those who work to aid others in some manner. A person with the gift of helps is someone who can identify a work that needs to be done (or a work that might be done more effectively) and steps up to address the situation. A service ministry, counseling ministry, or other organization that seeks to aid those in need can usually benefit from the work of those who possess the gift of helping.
We can also identify a person who is skilled in the area of direction and management as someone who may possess the gift of administration. Whenever there is a task, project, or activity to complete, a person who has received this spiritual gift is someone who can anticipate and determine the most productive, efficient, and economical way to get things done. A person with this spiritual gift is often someone who quietly and effectively works “behind the scenes” to advance God’s agenda with a minimum of recognition or fanfare.
Finally, the spiritual gift of tongues refers to the ability given by the Holy Spirit to speak in a language that would not normally be known to the speaker. This spiritual gift was mentioned earlier within this chapter and we’ll go on to consider this subject in greater detail in our study of 1 Corinthians chapter fourteen.
“Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Corinthians 12:29-30).
The Apostle Paul will close out this portion of his letter to the Corinthian church with a series of rhetorical questions that helped to emphasize an fundamental concept. These questions effectively served as a powerful tool in the hand of the Apostle, for they served to lead his audience to an important destination in regard to the gifts of the Spirit.
In this instance, Paul was not seeking answers to any of the questions found within this passage for the answers to these questions are clearly implied. Instead, these questions helped to direct the reader to a key idea- spiritual gifts are not necessarily distributed in a uniform manner. In other words, no two people should expect to receive an identical set of spiritual gifts since “…one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11).
“But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31).
Like so many things, the definition of “best” often depends on the standard of measurement we use. In the context of 1 Corinthians chapter twelve, the “best” gifts are those that are generally aligned with something we read earlier in 1 Corinthians 12:7: “…the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” In light of this, we can say that the best gifts are likely to be those that can be used to benefit the greatest number of others.
This should serve to remind us that the best gifts may not always be the most visible gifts. For instance, the person who quietly employs the little-noticed gifts of helps or administration may be doing more to advance God’s work than the person who exercises a much more visible spiritual gift. One spiritual gift is not necessarily superior to another but one may be more profitable in the sense that it benefits a greater number of people.
So while it is the Holy Spirit’s prerogative to distribute each spiritual gift individually as He wills, this does not preclude us from seeking the gifts that will best meet the needs of our families, churches, nations, and generation. But even so, there is a manner of life that excels the exercise of these spiritual gifts- and Paul will go on to discuss that “more excellent way” in the next chapter.