Summary: We will explore what Paul teaches about spiritual gifts. I think a great deal of controversy could have been avoided on this topic if people would have simply studied this a little more closely.
Church conflicts happen for pretty unusual reasons. In the 1890s there was a small Baptist church in Mayfield County, Kentucky. The church had just two deacons, and those two men seemed to be constantly arguing and bickering with each other. On a particular Sunday, one deacon put up a small wooden peg in the back wall so the pastor could hang up his hat. When the other deacon discovered the peg, he was outraged. "How dare someone put a peg in the wall without first consulting me!" The people in the church took sides and the congregation eventually split. Over a hundred years later, residents of Mayfield County still refer to the two churches as Peg Baptist and Anti-Peg Baptist.
Another strange conflict, far more widespread and really much more destructive, has been the controversy over spiritual gifts. During the 1970s, when I was in high school and college, that was the big issue. Discussions about 1 Corinthians 12 or 14 always ended up in some type of argument. Well, things have calmed down a bit in recent years, and I think people on both sides of the debate now realize some things they said may have been a little silly. It seems strange that spiritual gifts, a marvelous blessing from the Lord, should be the cause of bitter conflict. Yet, there continues to be a lot of confusion about this subject. Maybe because this topic has been so divisive, we tend to ignore this very important part of Scripture. Well, today we take a look at spiritual gifts. Our text is 1 Corinthians 12, and we will be exploring Verses 1-13 and 27-31. God has great encouragement for us in these words, and let’s pray that we would receive that today.
As we often do, I want to begin by just walking through our text. We will explore what Paul teaches about spiritual gifts. I think a great deal of controversy could have been avoided on this topic if people would have simply studied this a little more closely. The first three verses are kind of an introduction. 1 Corinthians 12:1 Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. We should not ignore this topic. We need to remember that these gifts flow out of God’s marvelous love and kindness toward us. He bestows them for our good. 12:2,3 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. These verses spell out an important truth. The most important role of the Holy Spirit is not to grant an ability, but to enable us to believe in Jesus Christ and confess Him as our Lord and Savior. Of course, Paul has more in mind than just saying the words. As the Living Bible puts it, "No one can say Jesus is Lord and really mean it except by the Holy Spirit." Here Paul affirms something which he says over and over again in his letters: Genuine faith, saving faith, is a Holy Spirit-generated faith. If it were not for the gracious work of God’s Spirit, there would be no one, not one single person, none of us here, who would call Jesus Lord. All the other gifts He gives, put together, don’t begin to compare with His gracious work of opening our spiritual eyes and enabling us to believe in Jesus and embrace Him as Lord and Savior.
Paul then describes the purpose of spiritual gifts. 12:4-6 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. I don’t think Paul intends to make any distinctions as he mentions different kinds of gifts, service, and working. These are all closely related in ministry. It is interesting, though, how each member of the Trinity has a unique role in empowering the church. The Spirit bestows gifts so that we can serve the Lord Jesus through the power of God the Father. The focus now turns to what the Holy Spirit does. 12:7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. The term "manifestation of the Spirit" is not distinct from spiritual gift. This is simply what these gifts are. The phrase "to each one" seems to support the idea that every single Christian has at least one spiritual gift. Even if this verse does not teach this, that is a clear implication of the rest of this chapter as Paul talks about how essential each member is to the body of Christ. I have a feeling a lot of conflict could have been averted over the years if people would have kept in mind Paul’s statement that the purpose of these gifts is for the common good. This doesn’t preclude the possibility that a gift may bring a lot of edification and benefit to the one who possesses it, but Paul makes it clear the primary purpose of these gifts is for the common good, and any time a gift is used in a way which undermines that, it is being misused.