Summary: The Gifts of the Holy Spirit has split churches and The Church for thousands of years. Paul delves into this lively and controversial subject in the next three chapters of 1st Corinthians. His reason for the discussion is not to provide a complete guide t
Chapter 12 might look to some as a right turn in the letter—Paul introducing a totally new subject that has nothing to do with what came before. Although it appears to an answer to yet another question from the Corinthians, the undertone of the letter continues—“let the gospel shine brighter than you”. There is no greater area of Christian worship than spiritual gifts where this can either happen spectacularly or be a spectacular failure.
In the last part of Chapter 11 Paul chided the Corinthians for letting class divide them into the “haves” and “have nots” of material wealth when it came to celebrating communion. Here Paul addresses what had also divided the church—the “haves” and “have nots” of spiritual gifts.
I can think of few things that have split congregations, denominations, and individual Christians than spiritual gifts. I hope as we study chapters 12, 13, and 14, that we see the true purpose of spiritual gifts in the body of Christ—always with the end of building up Christians so they can serve—bringing the story of God’s love to a lost culture.
First – a little background on the Holy Spirit’s role in the lives of humans. In Old Testament times, prior to Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came “upon” people at various times serially (one at a time). They then spoke or acted in special ways (think Sampson, and even Mary in Luke 1).
But in Joel (2:28-29) God promised something different:
“After this I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, and your young men will see visions.
29 I will even pour out My Spirit on the male and female slaves in those days.”
Jesus spoke about the coming of the Holy Spirit in terms of guidance and comfort. Then in Acts 1 He said this just before He ascended:
Acts 1:4-8 While He was together with them, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. "This," He said, "is what you heard from Me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now." 6 So when they had come together, they asked Him, "Lord, at this time are You restoring the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by His own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
So then in the next chapter the Holy Spirit is poured out not just on individuals but collectively on the church. It is awesome and wonderful but also sets us up for problems.
The mistakes we make about the gifts of the Holy Spirit include:
It is focused on you
It is for our benefit
Which gift(s) we have make us more or less important in the body of Christ
It is like “The Force” in Star Wars, a “power” we tap into at will whenever we feel like it.
They are “gifts” (charis) we don’t earn, choose, or determine their use.
It is all about the gospel. God speaking and show His love through the church in a dynamic way.
Paul first says “I don’t want you to be unaware”. The Greek word is agnoe’o and basically means “to not know through lack of intelligence or information.” We get the word “agnostic” from it. I think we could say the same thing today to folks on both sides of the spiritual gift divide. Those that claim spiritual gifts don’t exist today haven’t read their Bibles and suffer from a lack of information and those like the Corinthians, who misuse the gifts, suffer from a lack of understanding.
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Prior to coming to belief and trust in Jesus Christ, the Corinthians were “pagans” who listened to, and obeyed the “ecstatic” voices of their idols, which in and of themselves cannot say anything. Behind the idols were real demons, however, who “inspired” the words they spoke, which is the counterfeit of speaking in tongues. These new believers needed to be able to tell the difference—and Paul says they can judge them by the words they speak. No one inspired by a demon will declare the lordship of Jesus, except under duress (ie: “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord” Philippians 2:10-11 – paraphrased here). They will, however, lambast Jesus. This is not from God. Conversely, if someone declares that Jesus is Lord, it is the Holy Spirit inspiring those words like He did for Peter in Matthew 16:16-17.