Summary: May 19, 2002 -- THE DAY OF PENTECOST Color: Red Title: “Spiritual gifts.” 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
May 19, 2002 -- THE DAY OF PENTECOST
Color: Red Title: “Spiritual gifts.”
Among the questions Paul is answering in this section, questions presumably sent to him by members of the Corinthian community, is the one about “charisms” or “spiritual gifts.” In verses one to seven, he gives some general principles regarding spirituals gifts. Then, in verses eight to ten, he discusses some of those gifts and in verse eleven, he returns to general principles. In verses twelve to twenty-six, of which we have only the first two verses in our reading Paul compares the Church to a human body and in verses twenty-seven to thirty, he applies all he has said to the role of spiritual gifts in the Church.
The position of the Corinthian Church on spiritual gifts and the specific questions submitted to Paul are nowhere clearly stated, so they must be, tentatively, deduced from what Paul says. The underlying question seems to be the role of emotion in spirituality. Paul would hold that emotions are vehicles that carry spiritual gifts and can serve to express them, but they are not to be confused with the gifts themselves. He is especially thinking of the “gift of speaking in tongues,” without excluding the role of emotions in the other gifts.
The gifts - especially tongues - were causing problems in Corinth. There was, apparently, a belief that some gifts were greater than others, giving those who possessed them, especially “tongues,” an air of superiority, a feeling that they were better Christians because of their special gift. Others without the gift in question would become dissatisfied with their own gift or lack of any apparent gift and, perhaps, consider themselves and others like them to be inferior Christians. Then there is jealousy: “I wish I had that gift, another’s, rather than the one I have.”
So, Paul emphasizes that they are gifts, not achievements and not derived from natural qualities. Their purpose is to serve the Lord, not to puff up the person so “gifted.” They are given for the common good, not self-gratification or aggrandizement.
In verse three, “Jesus is Lord,” except in the Spirit: If the strength or intensity of the emotion is not a guarantee of the authenticity of a gift, then there is need for some “objective,” criterion to determine what impulses come from the Spirit. The standard is put quite succinctly: Jesus Christ and what he teaches and stands for. The relationship between Jesus and the Spirit is, of course, reciprocal. It is the work of the Spirit of God to bear witness to the lordship of Jesus Christ.
In verses four to six, different gifts...same Spirit...ministries...Lord...Works...God: The terms “gifts,” “ministries,” and “works,” are not separate categories. They are different ways of saying the same thing. A different word is used assigning them to different names for God to make the point that charisms are ministries and works. Now Paul had an experience of the Triune God, but he did not have a “spelled-out” theology of the Trinity. That would come much later in the Church’s history. Yet, it is clear that his experience of the Divine manifested the reality of God in ways that could be described under three general categories or relationships: Father, Son and Spirit. His point is that there is a variety of ways in which God reveals himself and we relate to him, but the same reality of God underlies this diversity. Christians who experience and express the meaning of Jesus Christ in their lives in a variety of ways receive the grace to do that from the one God who is also Lord and Spirit if and only if they are in union with Christ and his teachings. It is not the “variety,” that is the problem, but the “unity,” in Christ that may be questionable.
In verse seven, to each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given: Every member receives some “gift,” as Paul understands “gift.” Remember he has just used “ministries,” and “works,” as synonyms. One gift does not necessarily manifest or make visible and tangible the Spirit more than another.
For the common good: The gifts are not for the individual’s “glory,” but for God’s. The common good means the Church’s benefit. Any behavior parading itself as a spiritual gift which rends the community because of it or puffs up the individual is bogus. Having said that, we must remember that the Church has no “common good,” distinct from the individual members, since the community exists to enable each one to be conformed to Christ.
In verses eight to ten, having established the fundamental framework within which the impulses of the Spirit are to be understood, Paul moves on to illustrate what he means by giving some examples of “gifts.” The list is illustrative, not comprehensive. There are other such lists in the New Testament (1Cor 12:28; 29-30; Rom 12: 6-8; Eph 4:11). The individual “gifts,” mentioned overlap to a certain extent, but none of them contains all of the other gifts given in the other lists. There are nine enumerated in this list. They are difficult to explain because they are only named here and maybe in another list, but they seem to have needed no explanation to Paul’s audience.