Message # 39 | 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 | March 26, 2017


When we come to the end of an all church fellowship and people begin to clean up, what is your natural inclination, help clean up or continue the conversation in which you are immersed? For those of you who tend to get up and start breaking down tables and folding up chairs, do you ever struggle with the people just sitting there and talking? Do you ever wonder why they sit and talk while others are doing all the work?

How about those who are sitting and talking? When others get up and start cleaning up do you sense a little bit of annoyance that they can’t just sit down and fellowship with one another? Do you tend to see your depth of fellowship as more spiritual than those “Martha’s” who don’t want to just sit and grow in their relationships?

How many of you view this scenario and see within it the beautiful display of diversity within the body of Christ? If we were all task oriented instead of people oriented, a lot might get done but probably at the expense of relationships. On the other hand, if we were all people oriented, we may have to conduct our fellowship amidst the clutter of an unkempt building. Having diversity within the church family allows us to accomplish so much more.

The person with the gift of administration oversees that all the tables and chairs are placed in their proper spot. Those with the gifts of helps jump in to lend a hand. Those with the gift of service run and get the vacuum cleaner.  Those with the gift of encouragement sit and talk with others and uplift them.

Within this simple scenario we see a beautiful truth that is intricately and beautifully unfolded for us over the course of the next three chapters in 1 Corinthians.

Purpose Statement. Every believer is united in Christ and is uniquely gifted by the Spirit to serve the church.

“Now concerning spiritual gifts.” And with that Paul leads us into a new discussion, a discussion that takes the next three chapters to complete. It is with those same few words that we come to our first important clarification. All the translations that I looked at translated this word, pneumatikon, as “spiritual gifts.” The word primarily refers to those things “pertaining to the spirit” and can be translated as “spiritual person” or as “spiritual things or matters.” [1] We see this same root word used in 1 Corinthians 14. “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts” (1 Cor 14:1 ESV). But near the end of the same chapter we read, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual” (1 Cor 14:37 ESV). In the first case it is understood to be spiritual gifts and in the second, spiritual people. You may remember back in 1 Corinthians 3:1 when he tells them that he couldn’t address them as spiritual people.

So then, which is it? To answer that we look to the rest of the chapter. It is within the next three chapters and even more specifically the next few verses that the context seems to indicate that this section is talking about gifts.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; (1 Corinthians 12:4 ESV).

to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, (1 Corinthians 12:9 ESV).

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).

Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. (1 Corinthians 12:30–31 ESV).

We’ll look more at the word “gifts,” but for now let’s move forward with the understanding that Paul wants to address some confusion with the Corinthian believers over their understanding of the spiritual gifts.

Just another area of confusion and division. The Corinthians would likely have immediately known that Paul was addressing one of the topics on which they had written him. Do you remember some of the topics that Paul has addressed with them? Some of them were passed on to him by Chloe and others were questions that had been asked in a letter the Corinthian church had written to him.

They had divided over cults and cliques within the church.

They had manifested sexual perversion, in the form of incest and adultery, within the people of the church.

They had been suing one another.

They had rejected apostolic authority.

There was a great deal of marital conflict.

There had been confusion concerning gender distinctions within the formal worship of the church.

They had divided over the elitism shown by some of the richer members as they displayed their wealth in their fashions.

They had divided as the rich became drunk at the Lord’s Supper while the poor looked on with nothing.

And Paul adds another area of division to the list. They had been ill informed about spiritual gifts and their use of them in the church. Their perception of them and use of them had as well caused a great deal of division.  While we can’t know the specific questions or confusion that the Corinthians had, these three chapters do seem to answer quite a few questions.

Are gifts important?

How many gifts does one person have?

What gifts are the most important?

Should everyone have the gift of speaking in tongues?

What is the primary purpose of the spiritual gifts?

How long will gifts last? Are all gifts still in operation?

How do I know who is really truly spiritual? And it is this question that Paul first addresses with the Corinthians.

Unity in Christ (1-3).

Paul, first addresses what it is that marks a believer. It seems that some of the Corinthian believers had drawn some faulty conclusions. Due to the fact that Paul primarily deals with prophecy and tongues in these three chapters, these two areas of spiritual giftedness were likely the areas of concern. In similar fashion as to today, some had likely boasted in their gifts. Maybe they thought their gift of tongues or prophecy identified them as more spiritual than others within the church. Maybe they thought, like some do today, that every believer should have the gift of tongues. One modern day charismatic wrote the following.

SCHOENHEIT. Speaking in tongues is the only absolute proof a Christian has that he is born again and guaranteed a parking place in Paradise . . . Speaking in tongues is the only valid external, tangible evidence in the senses realm that the internal, intangible gift of holy spirit was shed abroad in one’s heart at the moment of his new birth.[2]

Whether it was elitism or the forcing of specific gifts on other believers, division had occurred within the church. As a result, Paul desires to inform them on the topic of spiritual gifts.

What is the mark of a Christian? So then, if tongues or some other gift isn’t the visible sign of a true Christian, how are we to determine who is really a believer? This seems to be the question that Paul first answers. In so doing he offers a verse that has caused a great deal of consternation by many believers.

You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. (1 Corinthians 12:2 ESV).

Paul often reminds them of their past life as he leads believers to better understand their present position in Christ. Still, this verse seems a little out of place for the topic. Why does Paul bring up their having been led astray to mute idols?

Several pagan practices were especially influential in the church at Corinth. Perhaps the most important, and certainly the most obvious, was that of ecstasy, considered to be the highest expression of religious experience. Because it seemed supernatural and because it was dramatic and often bizarre, the practice strongly appealed to the natural man. And because the Holy Spirit had performed many miraculous works in that apostolic age, some Corinthian Christians confused those true wonders with the false wonders counterfeited in the ecstasies of paganism.[3]

Paul acknowledges that their former lives were characterized by idol worship. That idol worship was characterized by ecstatic, enthusiastic, and energetic expressions – some of those similar to modern day expressions of tongue speakers. This exuberance and public demonstration as well brought much desired attention and position within the specific group. They had brought in a similar fashion of speaking in tongues and the elitism and division that accompanied it. On the other hand, Paul establishes up front, this is not the way we act in the church and this is not the test of true spirituality.

The test of a believer is his identification with Christ (1-3). “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). Paul turns their attention away from the manifestation of the spiritual gifts and refocuses their attention on the proclamation and commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord.

It is not necessary to conclude that there were actual people within the church that were proclaiming, “Jesus is accursed.” It’s possible that was happening, after all a lot was going on in this church, but it’s not necessary to conclude that the actual statement was being made. Paul simply offers the rhetorical and opposite extreme to proclaiming “Jesus is Lord.” This was not intended to be an overly simplified way to know whether or not someone was saved. This confession is not so much about the words that come from someone’s mouth but instead the confession of their life. Even Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 7:21 ESV). An unbeliever has the ability to utter the words “Jesus is Lord,” but no unbeliever will actually live as if Jesus is their Lord.

With that said, this statement was probably directed to the Jews in the church. There is some evidence that those persecuting the church would demand that an individual curse God.

ORIGEN. With some such object as this in view does Celsus seem to have been actuated, when he alleged that Christians term the Creator an “accursed divinity;” in order that he who believes these charges of his against us, should, if possible, arise and exterminate the Christians as the most impious Of mankind. . . . and they do not admit any one into their assembly until he has uttered maledictions against Jesus.[4]

We also have evidence from Acts of Paul trying to make Christians blaspheme.

And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities. (Acts 26:11 ESV).

This was not likely occurring in the worship service though, and if it were I don’t think Paul would need to teach them that it was in appropriate. So, Paul is likely talking about one’s conduct reflecting Christ as Lord, not just the words coming out of a person’s mouth.

Therefore, Paul starts off the discussion concerning spiritual gifts with this reality. Spiritual gifts are not the sign of a believer, but instead someone’s confession to Jesus Christ being the Lord of their life is evidence of their true conversion.

Diversity of Gifts (4-12).

The Trinity accomplishes this work together.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone” (1 Cor 12:4–6 ESV).

In just a moment, Paul is going to go on and call all of these “gifts” manifestations of the Spirit. But before he does, he seems deliberate in establishing that they are all given through the work of the Trinity. We probably need to be careful to not read too much into this, but I believe he was purposeful in breaking it down this way. He designates gifts with the Spirit, service with Jesus, and activities with God.

“There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” This is the first of 5 times this word gifts is used in this chapter. Out of the seven times this word is used in the book, five of them we find here. The word gift comes from the Greek word charisma. You’re probably all familiar with that word. It is the root word for which we have our word charismatic. The root of this word is charis meaning grace. Therefore, charisma, is a gracious gift, which implies that the gifts we possess our not inherently due our abilities. The ability comes from outside of ourselves. It’s used to refer to spiritual gifts in this passage, but in other passages it speaks of the gift of salvation (Rom 5:15-16; 6:23).[5]

For the sake of further discussion over the course of the next few weeks, let me offer a definition for the concept of “spiritual gift.” A spiritual gift is any natural or supernatural ability, uniquely given to an individual believer, that is bestowed by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit for the benefit of the church.[6] This definition purposefully includes both natural and supernatural abilities, but either ability must be empowered by the Holy Spirit.

No text enables us to determine the relation of spiritual gifts to “natural” talents or abilities; scriptural examples suggest that some are given entirely de novo [starting anew] (e.g., the prophets and tongues-speakers in Acts 19:6), while others build on a lifetime of divinely superintended preparation (as with Paul’s apostleship, prepared for by his unique blend of Jewish, Greek, and Roman backgrounds). The Spirit must be given freedom to give his gifts any way he desires.[7]

“There are varieties of service, but the same Lord.” The root word, translated service, is diakonia (the word from which we get deacon), referring both to the fact that these gifts are given for the service of others and are connected to Jesus due to his having been the perfect example of a servant.

Paul is intent on broadening the Corinthians’ understanding of spiritual gifts to include humbler forms of expression such as everyday acts of service. He designates the collection for the saints, for example, as a diakonia (2 Cor 8:4; 9:1, 12-13; Rom 15:31). Although the collection may seem less spectacular than some other manifestations of the Spirit, it is no less a sign of the Spirit’s working in them. All of life in the church is charismatic and has its source in God’s Spirit.[8]

“There are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers.” The root word for activities and empowers is basically the same, energeo. God the Father is the power and energy behind any and all spiritual gifts.

Each believer is given some manifestation of the Spirit.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7 ESV). Whether or not Paul intended for a deeper Trinitarian meaning of not, he concludes that each gift is a “manifestation of the Spirit.” Friberg’s Lexicon defines the term for manifestation as “making public . . . evidencing, making known.”[9] The Spirit is an invisible presence within the life of a believer. God has designed that there would be visible evidence for this invisible presence. First, he lays the foundation that the presence of the Spirit is due to someone’s confession of Jesus Christ as Lord. Secondly, he allows this reality to be displayed through the “manifestation of the Spirit.” The Spirit gifts at every believer with at least one spiritual gift. With that said, that doesn’t mean that you only have one. A believer very well may have more than one. He may also have one for a time and another at a separate time.

There is a difference between gifts and talents or abilities. You may be talented or have an ability from birth or adolescence. This is not the spiritual gift. Although, the Spirit may empower this God given natural talent or ability and use it as a spiritual gift. Remember, any ability you possess or any spiritual gift you are given – both are graciously given to you by God.

The gifts are not for personal glory but for the benefit of others.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor 12:7 ESV). These gifts, given to every believer, are not given for the advancement or betterment of that particular believer, but instead for the benefit of others. Specifically, as we will see next week, that gift or gifts are given to be used specifically within the body of Christ. The particular local church family that a believer is identified with is to be the primary recipient of those gifts. This doesn’t mean that other members of body of Christ, outside one’s local congregation, won’t benefit or even that unbelievers around you won’t benefit – in fact they should. But, your church family is the primary recipient of your spiritual gifts.

Spiritual gifts are not abilities given to do something for yourself, alone. That is selfishness. They are visible “services” performed for others. They are to be exercised in love, Paul teaches in chapter 13, and “love seeketh not her own” (13:5).[10]

List of gifts.

It is important that we realize that no one lists is exhaustive. Let’s not think that the spiritual gifts are limited to one of the gifts in a lists of spiritual gifts. All the lists combined are as well not the sum total of potential spiritual gifts. They are likely a good representation of most and any additional gifts are likely connected to the listed gifts, but the Spirit undoubtedly empowers believers in ways outside of the lists we have in the New Testament. With that said, let’s consider a few of the “gifts” in this passage.

Utterance of wisdom, utterance of knowledge. Looking through the lens of the Old Testament, one might conclude that the utterance of knowledge has to do with doctrine or content whereas the utterance of wisdom has to do with the practical application of that knowledge. There is some debate as to whether or not Paul uses these two terms in a similar manner,[11] but I think his usage in chapter 2 and 8 communicate a similar distinction as the Old Testament. Either way, there was likely a clear distinction to the original recipient, yet the distinctions are probably just different shades of meaning.

Faith. Every believer is required to have faith, so this gift is more than saving faith. This is most likely the faith required to trust God when there is no evidence grounded in Scripture.

Again, it seems strange to find faith mentioned as a special spiritual gift. Just as all Christians are required to help, serve, show mercy, and give, so also all Christians are responsible to have faith — for salvation and for all of life. This gift of faith, however, is a special ability to believe God in unusual ways. It is the gift of people like George Mueller. Some call it the gift of prayer or the gift of vision. We all are given a “measure of faith” (Romans 12:3); this person has a greater measure. He is able to believe God to supply specific needs as a ministry to others. His faith accomplishes results beyond the ordinary. This is how every great Christian enterprise succeeds — people behind it with great faith.[12]

Gifts of healing. This gift has at times been considered a heightened sense of empathy for others and an awareness of how to deal with someone’s sickness. It is much more than that. What is spoken of here is supernatural and similar to the miracles of Jesus day. Also, note the plural. There are gifts of healing. There seemed to be multiple gifts of healing. Not sure how that worked out but it seems to be the case.

Working of miracles. At times there has been a challenge in making a distinction between this gift and the gift of healing. Whereas the gift of healing specifically has to do with working miracles of healing diseases and other physical ailments, the working of miracles extends beyond that to other non-healing miraculous occurrences. We can’t know with certainty what these may have been, but we may be offered an example in Mark. In Mark 16, Jesus is commissioning the disciples to go into all the world. In that context he says, “they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:18 ESV). In this verse you likely have examples of both the gift of healing and the working of miracles.

Ability to distinguish between spirits. The Holy Spirit is not the only one that can empower people to do supernatural things. Demonic forces can as well possess individuals and the result can be quite dramatic. You may remember Moses and Aaron’s interaction with the Egyptian sorcerers. When Aaron cast his staff on the ground and it turned into a snake, the Egyptians did as well and their staffs turned into snakes. Granted, Aaron’s snake ate the other snakes, but still the supernatural ability of the Egyptians was dramatic.

As the miraculous events of the early church occurred, it is inevitable that there were other supernatural occurrences that were not from the Holy Spirit. How is the church going to know which one’s are valid and from the Holy Spirit and which one’s are not? The Holy Spirit gifted individuals to be able to discern between spirits. Apparently this spiritual gift was needed for such an occasion.

Prophecy and tongues related gifts. The majority of the challenges center around these two areas of gifts. As a result we are going to look at them separately as we go through these few chapters.


Purpose Statement. Every believer is united in Christ and is uniquely gifted by the Spirit to serve the church.

Let’s consider once again the scenario I laid out for us in the beginning. We find ourselves in the fellowship hall. The meal is primarily done. People are deciding whether or not to get up and leave. You sit there, with a renewed sense of purpose because Pastor has justified your ongoing conversation and fellowship. After all, your just expressing your spiritual gift. Others of you jump up and clean the entire fellowship hall and leave only the 8 chairs that seat the beloved church members who have the gift of encouragement.

At this point, let me offer a simple challenge. At some point, you have to reach past your spiritual gifts and push yourselves in areas that don’t come naturally to you and may not be the area where the Spirit has supernaturally empowered you. You may have to move from the chair and help clean up, and for others, you may need to pull a chair back out of the closet and have a conversation. Whatever you do, love how the united body of Christ has just functioned as a beautiful and harmonious blend of Spirit led gifts.



[1] Timothy Friberg,, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, 318.

[2] Schoenheit, John. “What Is Speaking in Tongues and Why Does God Say to Do It?” Truth Or Tradition?, n.d. Accessed March 24, 2017,

[3] John F. MacArthur, The MacArthur Bible Studies: 1 Corinthians (Thomas Nelson, 2001), 280.

[4] Origen, “Origen against Celsus,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Frederick Crombie, vol. 4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 585–586.

[5] But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. (Romans 5:15–16 ESV).  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 ESV).

[6] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1016.  “A spiritual gift is any ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in any ministry of the church. This broad definition includes both gifts that are related to natural abilities (such as teaching, showing mercy, or administration) and gifts that seem to be more “miraculous” and less related to natural abilities (such as prophecy, healing, or distinguishing between spirits).”

Craig L. Blomberg, “Holy Spirit, Gifts Of,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 348.  “Distinctive, divinely originated endowments to serve the Triune God for the common benefit of his people, the church.”

Ralph P. Martin, “Gifts, Spiritual,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1015.  “Special gifts bestowed by God on individual members of the Christian community for the edification of the whole community.”

[7] Craig L. Blomberg, “Holy Spirit, Gifts Of,” Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 348.

[8] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 577.

[9] Timothy Friberg, et. al. Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, 397.

[10] Fred Zaspel, Spiritual Gifts, n.d.

[11] D. A Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1987), 38.  “The problem with such a breakdown is that usage of “wisdom” and “knowledge” in this epistle recognizes no such dichotomy. In light of 2:6ff., “wisdom” can be essentially doctrinal, and the word of wisdom can be the fundamental message of Christianity; in light of 8:10-11, knowledge can be immensely practical.”

[12] Fred Zaspel, Spiritual Gifts, n.d.

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