Paul introduces his teaching on the gifts of the Spirit: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant” (1 Cor 12:1 KJV). In order to understand what he meant by that, we need to consider several factors to get the big picture. In the opening of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul commended them on not lacking any spiritual gift.
I always thank my God for you because of the grace of God given you by the Messiah Jesus. For by him you have become rich in every way—in speech and knowledge of every kind—while our testimony about the Messiah has been confirmed among you. Therefore, you don’t lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus the Messiah to be revealed. 1 Corinthians 1:4-7 ISV
The Corinthians did not lack any spiritual gift. They were ignorant about edification. Edification is the opposite of ignorance. What they lacked was working together for mutual edification in the body of Christ to help each other grow up into Christ (Eph 4:15). They had a poor understanding of how the Spirit worked in their hearts and how to think, feel and relate in harmony in the body of Christ for the edification of all. Paul explains how using the illustration of parts of body being interdependent. Next, Paul shares the love chapter of the Bible, chapter 13, showing love is more valuable than all of the gifts of the Spirit. In chapter 14, Paul instructs how to flow in tongues, interpretation of tongues and prophecy when gathered together with one another before the Lord. He begins: “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor 14:1 NASB). That perspective helps us understand and function in spiritual gifts, decently and in order. (1 Cor 14:39-40).
With the big picture, we will turn to the main points Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 12.
The first thing Paul Paul makes clear is these saints former state as unbelievers.
They were enticed and led astray to worship idols that couldn’t even speak. However, there was demonic activity. Some idol priests and priestesses even prophesying or speaking in tongues. So, Paul helps them and us know if someone is speaking by the Spirit of God.
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I don’t want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were unbelievers, you were enticed and led astray to worship idols that couldn’t even speak. For this reason I want you to be aware that no one who is speaking by God’s Spirit can say, “Jesus is cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:1-4 ISV
Next, Paul emphasizes that the saints all share the same Spirit, the same Lord and the same God working in all.
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. 1 Corinthians 12:5-6 KJV
Then, Paul lists the gifts of the Spirit. He lists but does not define the manifestations of the Spirit, probably because the Corinthians were flowing in them. However, he emphasizes four things. 1. “To each person has been given the ability to manifest the Spirit” (1 Cor 12:7 ISV). 2, The manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 3. The gifts are the work of the same Spirit in and through us. 4. The Spirit gives what he wants to each person.
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 KJV
Many of us have not manifested the flow of the Spirit, so we will expand on these spiritual gifts in Part 3 and 4.
By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Here, Paul emphasizes one Spirit and one body of Christ as he begins explaining our relationships in the body of Christ. The Spirit works in the body of Christ as each part is working properly (Eph 4:16). We were are all baptized in the Spirit (Mt 3:11, Titus 3:4-6, Acts 1:5, Acts 2:14-21 and New beings fit for the kingdom of God). We were all made to drink of one Spirit. This partaking of the Spirit is for the benefit of the entire body and of all its parts.
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are 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 we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NASB
Paul uses the analogy of the body to show how Christ ministers to His body through His body. He shows no part of the body can function alone. All parts are mutually interdependent. All parts are needed by the body and cannot work well without each part working properly. This requires participation by all. With his illustration, Paul clearly shows discontent of the less parts and pride of the more parts is inappropriate and divisive. Rather, “that its parts should have the same concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is praised, every part rejoices with it,”
For the body does not consist of only one part, but of many. If the foot says, “Since I’m not a hand, I’m not part of the body,” that does not make it any less a part of the body, does it? And if the ear says, “Since I’m not an eye, I’m not part of the body,” that does not make it any less a part of the body, does it? 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 now God has arranged the parts, every one of them, in the body according to his plan. Now if all of it were one part, there wouldn’t be a body, would there? So there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or the head to the feet, “I don’t need you.” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are in fact indispensable, and the parts of the body that we think are less honorable are treated with special honor, and we make our less attractive parts more attractive. However, our attractive parts don’t need this. But God has put the body together and has given special honor to the parts that lack it, so that there might be no disharmony in the body, but that its parts should have the same concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is praised, every part rejoices with it. 1 Corinthians 12:14-26 ISV
Paul lists the best gifts, urges us to earnestly desire them but concludes:
“And I show you a still more excellent way.” As Albert Barnes put it in 1834: “I will show you a more excellent way of evincing your ‘zeal’ than by aspiring to the place of apostles, prophets, or rulers, and that is by cultivating universal charity or love.”
Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? But earnestly desire the greater gifts.
And I show you a still more excellent way. 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 NASB