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For the Common Good


*1 Corinthians 12:7-11
November 18, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

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The sermon starts at 13:20 in the audio file.


Or, The Manifestation of One and the Same Spirit


There are many things that can be known, and known for sure, in 1 Corinthians 12. There are other things that can be known, probably, and yet some other things that the Corinthians knew that we probably won’t. I know for sure that one of the things that can be known is the point of the paragraph. And I also know that if your holiday dinner plans are looking a little pedestrian, this might stock you with some fun conversation starters about spiritual gifts.

The Corinthians had written a letter to Paul and one of the things they wanted to know about was spiritual gifts. We don’t know exactly what questions they asked, but we do know that his answers had a lot of perspective to provide about the purpose for every gift in the church. Whether they realized it or not, some in the Corinthian church were elevating certain gifts, usually the speaking gifts, and usually the spectacular super-spiritual-seeming speaking gifts, such as the gift of tongues.

Paul’s thoughts about tongues begin at the beginning of chapter 12. He doesn’t start specifically with tongues, but he makes a Trinitarian basis for all the gifts and shows that all the gifts are for the life and health of the whole body, not as a spiritual-status determiner for an individual part.

Among the “brothers” (verse 1), in “one body” (verse 13), the Spirit distributes gifts, the Lord appoints different ways of serving, and God empowers all that happens in all (verses 4-6). In verses 7-11 we’ll see the purpose of the gifts (verse 7), a sample list of gifts (verses 8-10), and a reminder about the one and the same Spirit who arranges all of us together.

The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts (verse 7)

The ESV makes a paragraph out of verses 4-11, which is fine, though I see a couple patterns that make me think a new paragraph begins in verse 7. One reason is that “empowers” ends verse 6, and “empowered” ends verse 11, connecting the passage but also functioning as dividers. Also, “to each” starts verse 7, with “to one” or “to another” heading the examples in verse 8, then back “to each” at the end in verse 11. The switch from plurals (verses 4-6) to singulars (verses 7-11) moves from general to specific.

There is a variety in the distributions of gifts, ministries, and fruitfulness by God, and what is the aim of all of them? There are two things: To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. Our gifts make much of the Spirit and our gifts make much of the body.

No one is left out; to each is given. Every believer, every person who confesses that “Jesus is Lord” (verse 3) has the Holy Spirit; there aren’t non-Spirit-gifted Christians. The Spirit Himself is a gift from the Father and the Son, and the Spirit is the active person distributing gifts.

When they are in effect these gifts are a manifestation of the Spirit. They show His presence and His power in public (see again in verse 11). This truth both bewilders and humbles. We are created as image-bearers of God. This is a great weight of glory. We are also gifted as revealers of the Spirit. What you do with your gift says something about more than you. Paul’s point here is that what you do with your gift isn’t primarily to reveal you, it’s an opportunity for others to see a Spirit-sighting.

When the Spirit is working, we know that He is glorifying Christ’s name (John 16:12-14). We also know that when the Spirit is working He is building up Christ’s body. Paul says this explicitly in 14:12: “since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.”

The second purpose described in 12:7 is for the common good. There are other possible ways to translate the guts of the particular Greek word. Other definitions include “for the bettering of, for the bringing together of, for the benefit or advantage of.” The gifts are for the “profit withal” (KJV).

The Trinity distributes a diversity of gifts, but it is not simply for the sake of diversity. Diversity does express God’s sovereign wisdom and creativity, but diversity in unity and loving care for one another expresses God’s Triune love. The majority of chapter 12, which we’ll see in the coming weeks, is an extended metaphor about the church as a body, about many members in one body, and about each part doing its part as one.

Elevating one part over another part is silly, and we would not even be a body if we all thought it was more spiritual to be a right bicep. And also a spiritual right bicep wouldn’t flex to be impressed with itself, it would help get the food from the table to the mouth for the benefit of all the parts.

A Sample List of Gifts (verses 8-10)

It’s great to talk about how each and every one in the body has a spiritual gift, and that there are a variety of these spiritual gifts. But what are they? And then, how do we know which one we have?

Paul does list some gifts. He lists spiritual gifts in at least four places in his letters, two of which are in 1 Corinthians 12 (verses 8-10, verses 28-29). However, in none of those lists does he actually define what those gifts are or do. Nor does he ever give instructions for determining which one, or combination of ones, you have. Paul himself seems to have exercised most of the gifts at different times of his ministry.

There is another layer of difficulty for determining our spiritual gifts, as if not having definitions isn’t difficult enough. There are some people who identity as Cessationalists, that is, those who think all the spiritual gifts as mentioned in the New Testament have ceased; no one practices these gifts any more. Other Cessationalists believe in a partial cessation of gifts, that is, some of the gifts have ceased and others continue for today. The biggest challenge with this position is that none of the lists are sorted for us into temporary or permanent columns. A third category are those who are Continuationalists, that is, all the spiritual gifts as mentioned in the New Testament are still being given by the Spirit. This category covers quite a spectrum itself, from more conservative to more spectacular manifestations of the Spirit.

This is big business, as in big dollars. Simon the magician at least wanted to buy the ability to do miracles (Acts 8:9-13), but there are many today who want to charge for their “miracles.” Maybe they call it a “suggested donation.” Whatever. At best they are cheating charlatans, liars, frauds, having an appearance of spirituality but denying its power. At worst they are tools of demons.

Certain Charismatics, however, are not the only ones selling books and organizing conferences and acting superior to others. There are many today who speak in the tongues of ministers and of conference keynotes, but have not love. In the name of discernment they discern themselves into such a tight fellowship corner that there’s only room for them and their Bible. Or that’s the attitude they give off.

It’s hard to find someone talking about truth in a way that you want to be like. We should want to understand the Bible rightly, and there will obviously be times that that will put us in conversations that aren’t fun. Look, Paul wrote these verses to the Corinthians who were thinking about and practicing the gifts the wrong ways, in selfish ways, to be superior over others ways, in unloving ways. So this is how to handle it like an apostle: affirm the manifestations of the Spirit and correct as necessary for the common good.

Okay, for the list itself. We know it’s just a sample because there are other gifts mentioned in other lists, and not all of these gifts are mentioned in those lists. Probably the most notable thing about this list is that tongues and the interpretation of tongues is mentioned last because this is the one the Corinthians elevated most.

To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit. I read seven different commentaries and there was no consensus on what these refer to. The word utterance is logos, so it could be “word” as in a message, so wisdom and knowledge expressed. But what is the difference between them? And how is it different from prophecy or the ability to distinguish between spirits, or teaching and exhortation? Based on how Paul talks about wisdom in the first part of 1 Corinthians, it could be the gift of speaking “guidance…that is consistent with Christ’s stress on self-sacrifice for the well-being of the other” (Ciampa & Rosner), a cross-wisdom word. Knowledge could be the gift of speaking understanding.

In the middle of the list are three that don’t seem to be speaking gifts. To another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles. The gift of faith here must mean something other than the faith that every Christian, every believer must have. There’s a “faith, so as to remove mountains” in 13:2, so this could be an extra faith in some particular promise. “It probably refers to a supernatural conviction that God will reveal his power or mercy in a special way in a specific instance” (Fee). As a gift for the common good, this faith effects the entire body, like a sail pulls the entire ship forward.

Maybe faith is connected to gifts of healing. This is not being healed, this is being used as a channel of healing someone else in a direct, immediate, miraculous way, as contrasted with a medicinal or therapeutic process. Jesus healed, the apostles healed, while also they didn’t heal everyone willy-nilly. Paul healed a few times, but he didn’t even heal himself. The plural might emphasize that there were specific healings, not that one person could heal all the things. Everyone would have moved to Corinth to see Dr. Yama (ἴαμα being the word for healing).

The working of miracles could overlap with healings, it could also be a reference to other significant spiritual “deeds of power” as when Jesus and the apostles cast out demons. Through the Spirit judgments were doled out such as blindness and death.

The final four are speaking gifts, or connected to speaking gifts. The two “main” ones mentioned, prophecy and tongues, take up the entirety of chapter 14, so I am not even going to try to exhaust their meaning here.

to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

It is sort of surprising, and it is disheartening, and it is glorious that there is so much confusion/disagreement about what these refer to. Prophecy seems like it should be the easiest, because there have been prophets from early in the Old Testament. The office or prophet is distinguished from that of the apostles, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). Does it refer to those who speak new revelation, regardless of whether or not it is about the future? The Corinthians didn’t have the Old or New Testament, nor did any of the first century churches, but God was communicating to them. Were prophets (fiery) preachers of the previous revealed, or did they have Spirit-gifted/inspired messages for the moment? Is prophesying for today? Is it explosive teaching, or giving a timely oracle?

Is this why discernment of spirits is connected? In the Old Testament, if a prophet’s prophecy didn’t work out he was supposed to be stoned. In the NT, did the discerning immediately know whether the prophet’s word from the Lord was legit? Without a completed written revelation to refer to as a standard, this gift of the Spirit was even more beneficial to the body. Is this gift still in effect, even though we have Bibles? Was it even in effect in Corinth, or was it that no one was listening to those who had the discernment?

The various kinds of tongues is challenging. We have the same, finished, NT to read; the Greek hasn’t changed in 2000 years. There is the same history of the church over the last 2000 years to study. And the disagreement over various kinds is astounding. To some it’s obvious that it can not be other human languages, but rather “utterances to be addressed to God and not to humans” (Garland), maybe similar to the wordless, unintelligible groanings too deep for words referred to in Romans 8:26. To some it is obvious that they must be only recognizable human languages foreign to the one who speaks it by the Spirit, similar to tongues-talkers in Acts.

Regardless, there is to be the interpretation of tongues to go with the tongues. As I said, there’s a lot about it in chapter 14, and as I said, Paul lists these two last because they are only part of the gifts given by the Spirit. We know for sure that no man is more spiritual because he speaks in tongues.

The Reminder about the Spirit-Giver (verse 11)

In verse 6 Paul said God empowers the work, and in verse 11 the empowering is explicitly attributed to God’s Spirit.

All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. The energy is His, the distribution is His. He decides who gets which gift, and He enables whatever gift He gives to be effective for the common good.

Conclusion

The point of the paragraph is that we should not get fussy about our gift, but instead be thankful to God and His Spirit and be faithful to the Lord of the gifts. You are gifted, and you are gifted for the good of the body. One gift doesn’t make that one guy/gal more spiritual. One Spirit gives different gifts to each one for the good of the one body.

Like the wife’s body is her husband’s, and like the husband’s body is his wife’s, so your gift is the body’s, not yours. It’s for us, for the Lord’s sake. There is no gift of wisdom that isolates you. If you have wisdom, awesome, praise the Lord, and you are to be wise for our collective good. Have faith for the church, and when God fulfills what you believed, don’t oast that you’re the only one who saw it. Serve in His strength. You are the body of Christ, and we’ve been arranged by God’s doing, not our own.

There is more to come on this subject, and more on how to think about how we’re related to others before how to identify/label your own gift.


Charge

May you be the creamy mashed potatoes rather than the brittle turkey skin. May you rejoice in God’s many blessings in such a way that others who are also eating and drinking with family will still be jealous of the “extra” you have. Your shared dinner of the turkey is only a foretaste of the supper of the Lamb. Feast and fellowship in His name, with overflowing gratitude.

Benediction:

[May your] hearts be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:2–3, 6–7, ESV)