Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1–11
Location: Park Community Church South Loop
Date: Sunday March 26, 2023
Every Fall I coach my little girls coed soccer team. These are little 1st and 2nd graders, so its more teaching them how to run in the right direction then it is actual soccer practice. But last year I had one little boy on the team who was a sweetheart, nice kid, but he had zero confidence on the soccer field. He was perhaps the biggest of all the kids out there, but he was just not engaging. He was on the field, showing up to practice, showing up to games, but zero contribution to anything that was happening. Then one game, something great happened. The ball came right to his feet. He looked stunned. He turned towards the direction his team was going, and he booted that ball so hard, I thought another kindergartener was going to get hurt. One of the the other coaches and I ran up to him and just celebrated, “Yes! I knew it. That was amazing. See—we knew you could do this man. The way you trapped that ball. The way you kicked it towards the right goal. Go—get in there.” From that moment on, that kid became a beast on the field. He was in every play, getting knocked over, getting up.
Many followers of Christ are like that little boy. They’re showing up to Church on Sunday, maybe going to Small Group. But they don’t see themselves as valuable to the team. They want to be a good Christian, but they don’t truly believe they’re needed or necessary. What a lie that is! God has a unique God-sized assignment in his Kingdom for every one of his sons and daugthers. Do you know what your part is? Are you actively fulfilling it in your life right now?
We are continuing our sermon series through 1 Corinthians, a handwritten letter from the Apostle Paul to a Church in Corinth. Today, we begin a whole new section which is going to last us about four Sundays, and will cover the next three chapters. The primary topic of these chapters is what we refer to as “Spiritual Gifts.” Through chapters 12 and 13 Paul is going to lay out an incredible foundation for us to understand the nature of Spiritual Gifts and how we are labor together and prioritize love as the great hallmark of Christians. And then in 14, Paul is going to get very specific and deal with two supernatural gifts, prophecy and speaking in tongues. The big issue that was happening in the Church was these two specific gifts were causing tons of division. And so these three chapters are trying to frame the conversation properly, and bring a great joy-abounding unity to God’s people.
Today we look at 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, which is Paul’s introduction to this entire section. And as it is an introduction, I’d like to lay this passage out by showing three foundational principles for discussing and practicing the Spiritual Gifts: The Unity of Believers, the Splendor the Trinity, and the Mystery of God’s Design.
Principle 1: The Unity of Believers
Principle 1: The practice of spiritual gifts must always be unifying, never divisive.
1 Corinthians 12:1-3 “1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 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.”
He begins, “Now concerning spiritual sifts.” Right out of the gate we have a fascinating translation question that is going to have a bit of impact on how we interpret this passage. The term “Spiritual Gifts” in this verse is actually a bit of a strange term. There is another vocabulary word in the Greek that Paul most often uses when speaking about “Spiritual Gifts.” He uses it down in verse 4, when he says, “There are a variety of gifts.” Here he actually uses a different term, that more often than not is translated “spiritual people,” or “spiritual ones.” He uses the same term in this way two chapters later in 1 Corinthians 14:37.
1 Corinthians 14:37 “37 If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.”
So I believe what he is saying in these opening three verses is, “Now let’s discuss ‘spiritual people.’ Those ‘spiritual people’ you asked me about in your letter.
If you look to what Paul says next in verses 2 and 3 he states in verse 3 that “no one can says ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit. What a seemingly strange little phrase. After all aren’t there wolves in sheeps clothing. Well of course there are. There are many in fact, as Jesus tells us, who use the name of Jesus regularly in the context of ministry who will not be let into heaven because they never truly knew Jesus, they were only using the name. So what is Paul saying here? Well, I think this entire section fits together quite nicely.
In verses 2 and 3 Paul is reminding all of his readers of their shared depraved backround, no matter where they came from. If you recall this early New Testament Church was composed of people who came from two different backgrounds. There were those who came Pagan polytheism and then there were also many in the early congregations who were of Jewish ancestry. They had grown up Jewish, and then they had believed in Jesus as their long awaited messiah. In verses 2 and 3 Paul speaks to both of them. In verse 2 he speaks of those who formerly were led astray to mute idols. This is addressing the backgrounds of those in the room who were Pagan, following any number of “gods.” Then in verse 3 he speaks of those who might have said “Jesus is accursed.” There was only one place where we know about in this part of history where the phrase “Jesus is accursed,” was being used. That was in the Jewish synagogues, where the Jewish leaders of the day were furious that this many Jews were believing in Jesus as their messiah.
So Paul here is reminding both the Pagan and the Jew who are in the pews, that both of them were saved in the exact same way. Neither the the person who was stuck in pagan idolatry nor the Jew who came from a strict religious background, could boast. Why? Because “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Spirit.” In other words, the great unifying principle around every person in God’s Church is that the Holy Spirit got a hold of us, and rescued us from our sin. Now, no matter our background, the one thing we all share in common is the saving work of Jesus Christ.
Why does Paul say this? The whole conversation on Spiritual Gifts that we are getting into, was being framed around elitism in the Church. Sometimes I feel like a broken record with this. In fact just last week we saw that Paul was addressing this exact issue in the way they handled the Lord’s Supper. They were dragging cultural elitism, where the wealthy ate first and the poor went last, into the Church—the Lord’s Supper! Here we see that its possible to do the same thing with the different giftings and wirings God has assigned each one of us. To see this person as more important because of their giftings. Or on the other hand to see ourselves as less important or less vital to the health of the Church because of our own giftings.
The Gospel, when fully understood, heals us of these errors. What does the text say,
1 Corinthians 12:3 “3… no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.”
God saved every person who is a Christian in this room in the exact same way. He went to the cross, shed his blood, taking on the full consequences of your sin on His shoulders. The gospel is the great equalizer of men. This is why Paul repeatedly challenges us that there is no room for boasting in the gospel. If we’re going to boast we boast in Christ alone! This gospel frees us powerfully from both Spiritual Elitism (Pride) and a Spiritual Inferiority Complex. Both are guilty here. Paul is establishing a principle, namely around the unity of the body of Christ. To the one who sees themselves as a “Spiritual One”—come back down to planet Earth, and remember the grace that saved you. To the one who feels less valuable, less critical, less “spiritual” than others, understand the Gospel and what you have been invited into. You are ordained for Kingdom purposes.
To Understand the Spiritual Gifts We Must First Appreciate The Unity of Believers
Principle 2: The Splendor of the Trinity
Second Principle is that every Christian has a unique manifestation of the Holy Spirit for the Common Good. This section will be brief but quite important because I think it will reframe how we speak about Spiritual Gifts
1 Corinthians 12:4-7 “4 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. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
In verses 4-6 Paul lists out three different ways that the Spirit might manifest Himself in a believers life, and he uses three different terms. He speaks of “gifts” (that’s the typical word that is most often used for Spiritual Gifts—the Greek term χάρισμα), services, and activities. These three terms are all underneath the great banner of “manifestations of the Spirit for the common good.” They are three different ways that the Holy Spirit empowers all believers for faithful contribution to the Kingdom of God. And if you notice carefully, each term is connected to a different person of the Trinity. This is amazing.
There are a variety of “Gifts” but the same “Spirit.” The Spiritual Gifts are associated with the Holy Spirit. That term spiritual gifts, I prefer a very literal translation of the term as “grace gift.” That’s what the term really means, ‘grace-gifts.’ To stewards the gift of a grace gift is not badge of higher spirituality, but its simply a mark of grace. And as we will see, it makes sense that these “grace gifts” are associated with the Holy Spirit because they’re clearly his empowerment.
There are varieties of service, but the same Lord. The term Lord is typically associated with Jesus. Spiritual Gifts were associated with the Holy Spirit. Service was associated with our Lord Jesus. A manifestation of the Spirit through acts of service is not necessarily anything supernatural per se, but its God working through a person to sacrificially serve another. It’s creating meal trains for those in the hospital. Its becoming an approved babysitter for Safe Families. It’s adopting children. It’s becoming a mentor to a troubled teen. You can see something about the service of Jesus in people exercising services.
Lastly, a variety of activities but the same God, God the Father. Again, this term “activities” is wisely connected with the ministry of the Father. The term for “activities” is ἐνέργημα, it’s loosely connected with our term “energy” or “work.” Paul uses this term in Ephesians 1:11 and Philippians 2:3 to speak about the “works” of the Father. This is likely referring to activities of industrious labor to move the Kingdom forward. This is Stephanie organizing a children’s curriculum. Allen leading our worship team. Christopher making sure all the tech works.
Once again, Paul is laying framework here that is going to continue for three chapters. And its all building towards chapter 14 where he focuses in on this notion that certain people who have certain manifestation of the Spirit, namely the gifts of prophecy and speaking in tongues, were more spiritual than others. This whole section is as foundation is saying two vital things.
First, when speaking about how every person in the Church is equipped for work in the Kingdom, the emphasis is always on the Spirit who provides and not on the person who carries that particular manifestation. This a humbling passage. This is designed to bring all of us down to the same common denominators, sinners saved by grace. Every working of the Spirit, every good deed, every act of service, every sacrificial use of time, no one can boast! Every ounce is the grace of the Spirit working through His body.
Second, the text says “to each is given.” That means to each and every one. If you are a follower of Jesus than God has uniquely assigned you a set of gifts to be used to build up his Church, to pour out into the lives of others. God doesn’t misassign gifts. God makes no mistakes. You not only have gifts from the Lord, but your gifts are critical to the health of this Church. If you hold your gifts or services back, or if you fail to train yourself in the right of use of them, your Church suffers. You are equipped with gifts.
Secondly, the diversity of the gifts is a celebration of God’s beauty in his diversity. I walked us through how these different manifestations are connected by Paul with the three different members of the Trinity. Father, Son, Holy Spirit, all equal in their personhood, different in their function, and yet one God totally unified. So whenever one group, or one gift, or one person is lifted up as more vital than the others, we’re forsaking our work of putting the Trinity on display
To Understand the Gifts We Must Appreciate the Trinity
Principle 3: The Mystery of God’s Design
Third and final principle is that God apporitions different gifts in different measures according to His perfect plan.
1 Corinthians 12:8-11 “8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 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. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”
Paul now lists out a handulf of Spiritual Gifts. He speaks of Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy. We will walk through these individually, but first let’s not misinterpret this passage. This is not a full list of the Spiritual Gifts. In fact, nowhere in the Bible is there a full list provided. You have to piece together different verses to try to assemble the best list possible. But based on what I’ve already taught from this passage, there is an endless list of “manifestations of the Spirit.” A few weeks we discussed this at length when we learned about doing “all things to the glory of God.” We were challenged in that message to consider everything the Lord has given us, and to ask how we can posture that towards God’s glory.
If you recall, we discussed how some have the gift of conversation. You can walk into a room and talk with anybody, strike up conversation with strangers. And we said, we must learn to see that not as a personality trait, but as a manifestation of the spirit in our lives that must be properly tooled for the Kingdom of God. We talked about those who have the gift of having children hang off them everywhere they go—they love kids and kids love them. We challenged the Church to consider what it would mean to see that not just as a part of your personality, but as a divinely orchestrated gift that must be properly tooled for God’s Kingdom. We discussed the gift of influence. The gift of wealth. The Gift of Singleness. The Gift of experience and age. The gift of courage. The gift of writing. As Christians we must do all things to the glory of God, put every gift towards that purpose.
Let’s walk through verses 8-11 and understand as best as we can what these gifts are. We notice that a variety of Gifts are listed. Some of them seem outwardly supernatural. Consider healings. Others seem a bit more common, something like wisdom. For Paul he blends these together intentionally. Now I’m going to get a little practical in this next section. I’m going to walk through Paul’s list briefly. But remember, chapter 14 is going to be a deep dive into Gifts, particularly Speaking in Tongues, and Prophecy. So many of your questions will be addressed in those weeks.
dnce of wisdom and utterances of knowledge. First, notice this is not just “wisdom” or “knowledge,” but utterances of wisdom and knowledge. Why is that? Because the gifts are not just about individual ownership, it’s always for the common good. They are always designed for ministry not for indulgence. Separating wisdom from knowledge is a little tricky. Utterance of Wisdom seems to be the ability to know how one ought to behave in a God-glorifying way in a particular circumstance. It’s the ability to apply the Scriptures in a person’s life. Knowledge, is not too different here. But seems to be less on applying the Scriptures to particular circumstances, and more focused on knowing what the scriptures teach and what sound theology is.
The gift of faith seems to be that God endows some folks with extraordinary faith in difficult circumstances, and that faith inspires faith among others. One commentator called it a “mysterious surge of convidence, an assurance that God is about to act.” I’ll tell you, when things are hard, sometimes a bold prayer by someone who has the gift of faith can inspire people to keep holding onto Christ.
Next is the gifts of healing and of miracles. Here we have our first supernatural gifts. What are these? Gifts of healing, is where a Christian prays for healing over another person, and God miraculously heals them. Working of miracles, is where a Christians prays for a miraculous deliverance or help in some circumstance, and God miraculously provides. All through the NT we see both healing and miracles taking place. These are what are called ‘Sign Gifts’ and are often present when the gospel is moving into brand new territories. They serve as signs. One brief word on healing. There is a difference between a Prayer of Healing Declaration and a Prayer of Healing Petitition. This can get dicey. I do not believe any Christian should be declaring healing, the way the Apostles did. We are not apostles. But we also are filled with the spirit and God loves to answer our prayers. A prayer of petition is a prayer of beseeching God to heal. And he does! In this Church—we’ve seen it time and again. But we do not declare, that is to assume the authority of an Apostle, of which I do not belive we should do.
Next, is the gift of prophecy. We will get far more into this in the coming weeks—and I have preached on this at length in the past. Some people believe this particular gift is ended. It ended with the Apostles. Others believe, it simply means “preaching”—what I’m doing right now. I will hold to a slightly different view, and I’m grateful for the work the theologian Wayne Grudem has done on this topic (I’ll recommned the book The Gift of Prophecy in the NT and Today). He demonstrates how in the NT there seems to be a transition occurring where at times we see prophets like in the OT who declare “thus sayeth the Lord,” God’s very words after Him. At other times it seems that the gift of prophecy is being spoken about quite differently. God is still speaking through the person, but it doesn’t seem to be authoritative in the same way as the prophets of old. In other words, it seems that God often gives inklings or ideas or premonitions to believers to be communicated to a local Church. But because that believer is not holding the office of prophet, there words do not have the authority of “thus sayeth the Lord.” A NT prophet, when communicating something the Lord has placed on their heart should always begin, “I believe God may be saying…” There is humility that their words need to be tested. We will develop far more in chapter 14.
Next, we have the gift of discernment, to “distinguish between spirits.” This seems to be a spiritual gift whereby a person has a sixth sense of sorts. An ability to sniff out an imposter, or an uncanny ability to see wicked intentions where others might be unable to see it. My wife, has a wonderful gift of discernment which has served this Church well over the years, as sometimes she can see people’s intentions far before I can, or put words to scenarios that I was blind to.
Lastly, we come to the gift that this whole section is being written about, the gift of tongues. Again, today I’ll provide just a brief overview, but in future weeks we will dig deeper. There is great debate among Christians as to what this gift exactly is. That debate has run throughout Church history but has picked up major steam since the early 1900s. There are two ways people think about this gift. On the one hand, most of our Christian heritage has understood this as a sudden ability to speak a human language you have never learned. This is a common miraculous occurrence especially on the mission field. Other’s believe this can also refer to praying in a “heavenly language,” in a language unknown to any human.
What is the point of this list. The principle here is one of mystery. “God apportions to each as he wills.” That is each and every one. His will is the sole determining factor in the unique variety of Gifts, Services, and Activities you have been empowered for and equipped to do. There is mystery here. No child of God should every complain about the calling on their life from God. No Christian should ever feel as though God got it wrong. No—He has assigned you work to do in His Kingdom. He has assigned you gifts to carry for Kingdom purposes. He has equipped you for unique and powerful ministry. He has ordained you for services and activities that will shake the very foundations of the Earth. He has wired you with a specific personality, and a specific story for His purposes. He has blessed you with grace upon grace for the work of sanctification—growing in your Christ-likeness. He has showered you with an eternal inheritance far surpasssing any and every inheritance this world could ever offer. He has positioned you within a body of believers that need you, that are dependent on you for their own growth. He has called you to a life of humble service, bold courage, sacrificial love, and Christ exalting ministry. We will never know all the details, but Christ does. Embrace this remarkable mystery and pour your heart and your life into the Kingdom.
Permit me to close by returning to my opening story of the little boy on the soccer field. I want to draw our attention to two ideas. First, that little boy for three quarters of the season was behaving as if he had nothing to offer the team. But it just took one moment, for him to realize that he had much to contribute. If you are in here today, and you have been sitting on the sidelines while others are busy with the great work of moving Christ’s Kingdom forward, I want to invite you to discover your gifts, and your assignment. There are no bench players in Christ’s Kingdom. Every person is vital.
Second, that little boy, if you remember, then got a little overzealous and began putting other little children in harm’s way. We as coaches, had to offer gentle correction where it was needed so that he could be the most effective team player. Interestingly, that is precisely where Paul is headed next in 1 Corinthians. There were some who were over-zealous with their gifts in such a way that they were bringing harm to the Church in the way they were practicing them. One of God’s great gifts to us is when we receive godly correction.
As we go from here, may honor the Trinity in our stewardship of his spiritual gifts of grace as we love and serve one another faithfully.