The Holy Spirit: Learn, Unlearn, Relearn
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
March 19, 2017
We are in the midst of our series, The Holy Spirit: Learn, Unlearn, and Relearn. The elders goal for this series is for us to gain a better understanding of the work of the Spirit in our lives and in the church. We started with the work of the Spirit in our individual lives and then moved to the work of the Spirit in love and unity to prepare us to look at the work of the Spirit in our body through the use of spiritual gifts which we begin today. We are not going to go through every gift but focus on what is called the charismatic gifts.
One of the problems in the church at Corinth can be summed up as a conflict over the overemphasis of the use of the gift of tongues as a badge of ‘being spiritual.’ He has told them already that they are spiritually immature even though they think they are mature (3:1-5). Let’s start by looking at verses one through three where he describes the nature of spiritual people. Now I want to inform you about spiritual matters. Before you became a follower of Christ, a disciple, did not have the Spirit dwelling in you, you were led astray by false gods. Therefore, I want you to understand that on one hand, no one speaking by the Spirit ever says “Jesus is accursed” and on the other hand, no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Spirit (1-3). His point is that people who have the Spirit are centered on Christ because the role of the Spirit is to point to and glorify Christ (Jn 16:13-14). Spiritual people are not recognized primarily by giftedness but by their faith in Christ as Lord, making much of Christ. Faith in Christ recognizes the Lordship of Christ in a culture of many gods. In Corinth, there were many idol or gods for every area of life. Coming to faith in Christ was recognizing his Lordship over every one of those areas of life. So, we do not have physical idols as they did but we have idols none the less. Our idols revolve around what we think about, where we go for happiness, to deal with life, or spend our time. So unity is found in our being unite around our one Lord, Jesus Christ. He is the hero here. Then he tells them that unity is also found in the diversity of gifts (4-6). The goal of spiritual gifts is not uniformity but diversity.
First, we see that the Spirit distributes a variety of gifts as he wills (11). Second, there is a variety of ways of serving the Lord Jesus. All forms of serving is serving Christ. And third, there is a variety of ways God empowers us to serve by using our gifts. Notice that each phrase mentions a member of the trinity with the word same: same Spirit, same Lord, and same God. This diversity anchored in unity flows from the very nature of the triune God, the one God made up of three distinct persons. God is a perfectly united tri-unity of three persons, working together with a diversity of roles. Then Paul moves on to give examples of this variety of gifts (7-11).
The Spirit gives to every member a gift(s) as a manifestation of the Spirit in the body. Everyone who is a follower of Christ, a disciple, has one or more spiritual gift that is meant to be used to build up the body (12:7; 1 Cor 14:12; Eph 4:12-16). Notice a gift is given to each, meaning all of us have gifts to be used when we gather throughout the week. That does not mean that every time we gather everyone must use their gifts but that all the gifts make a necessary, valuable, contribution so that the body functions well.
As start I want to make some preliminary observations:
• The lists of gifts are only examples and are not exhaustive.
• Gifts are displays of grace and not a badge of spirituality or superiority.
• Gifts are not listed in any particular order, except tongues which are always last.
• Gifts are sovereignty given but we are also commanded to seek spiritual gifts (14:1).
• Paul saw the value of limiting the use of gifts or gifted individuals (14:28-35).
• The seemingly insignificant gifts are often more significant (12:22-26).
• Paul expected all the gifts listed as part of normal body life.
I want us to look at the gifts of speech in the rest of our time today. The first spiritual gift he mentions is the word of wisdom. Wisdom dominates the first three chapters of this letter because the Corinthian church, in worldly wisdom, rejected Paul and his gospel (2:10-14). So he takes their word and redefines it. In the first three chapters, he contrasts the wisdom of this world with the wisdom of God found in Christ crucified, foolishness to those who do not believe (2:6-16). So a word of wisdom centers around a gospel perspective on life (2:1-2), applying a biblical perspective and truth to life. This wisdom can come through training, study, life experience, reflection, or revealed by the Spirit, though these are not mutually exclusive.
The traditional charismatic understanding of a word of knowledge is God revealing specific knowledge about a person that would not otherwise be known. But there is no biblical evidence for this definition but is based upon experience. This does not mean that what was revealed is not true or valid because God can and does reveal things to us that we may not otherwise know. Knowledge in the bible is more related to biblical truth and doctrine so a word of knowledge is probably more like truth related to Christian doctrine. This can come from study, training, life experience, as well as spontaneously revealed by the Spirit in teaching or sharing, etc.
Then Paul mentions prophecy. Prophecy is speaking forth in human terms something God has revealed or brought to mind. This is not revelation on the level of the bible but something God reveals to encourage, to edify, and to comfort (14:3). Everybody can prophecy (14:5; Acts 2:17-18) and it is ok to ask God for the gift of prophecy or just to prophecy (14:1).
But maybe the best word to use for this type of gifting is revelation (14:6; 26, 30) which always refers to divine activity in the bible. This term probably is what many have experienced and then described it as word of wisdom or word of knowledge because of what they had been taught. A revelation is something revealed that was unknown to the one given the revelation.
Now let me give you some guidelines that are necessary for the giving and receiving of revelation, when you think God has revealed something to you or someone else. First, we are commanded to weigh prophecy to determine whether it is true or not (1 Thes 5:19-21). Ask yourself, does it line up with Scripture, what you know about God, does it glorify Christ, and does it genuinely encourage my faith. Second, if you are the one giving a word you believe is from God, then give yourself and the person receiving the word an out by saying this is what you think the Lord is saying. This gives both individuals the freedom to weigh the word for accuracy. These two guidelines are often ignored in Homer to the detriment of those involved. Lastly, pass it by those who are discipling and mentoring you or the elders.