TODAY’S READING: I CORINTHIANS 12-16
The body of Christ (chapter 12); the priority of charity (chapter 13); the boundaries for spiritual gifts (chapter 14); the resurrection of the dead (chapter 15); structure for orderly giving (chapter 16).
HIGHLIGHTS & INSIGHTS:
As we move into chapter 12, Paul begins to correct the ignorance of the Corinthians regarding spiritual gifts. Remember the context – they think they’ve got it all together (4:10). They certainly didn’t think they were ignorant about spiritual gifts. I mean, they were using their gifts; they were having services where the “Spirit” was literally overwhelming people. The only problem was, it wasn’t the Spirit of God! God actually uses sarcasm in the passages we will look at today to rebuke the Corinthians.
God establishes three keys to spiritual gifts in verses 4-6:
1. There are different gifts.
2. There are different ways to administer your gift.
3. There are different ways to operate your gift.
However, there is one overarching principle guiding spiritual gifts. Verse 7 states that the purpose of the gifts is to “profit withal”. In other words, the purpose of your spiritual gift is not for your benefit; it is for the benefit of the whole body. God then illustrates this point by using the example of our human body. The purpose for our hand is not for the benefit of our hand, it is for the benefit of our whole body. Through this illustration, God also emphasizes the necessity of all believers within a local church. Every member is necessary. Sometime believers can get the idea, or live with the feeling, that they are not as important as other members of the body. But the point of the passage is that every member of Christ’s body is just as vital as any member of our own human body is to us. Because of that fact, as a body we are to care about one another; we’re to rejoice when others rejoice and weep with those in sorrow. Because we so often live with a pre!
occupation concerning ourselves (II Tim. 3:1-2), instead of caring about one another, we’re often jealous and/or envious of one another (Gal. 5:26).
Pay close attention to 12:28-31. The obvious answer to the questions being asked is “No! We do not all have the same gifts. We each have different gifts.” Also look back at 12: 7-11. Do we get to choose our gift? No, the Holy Spirit imparts our gifts to us as He chooses. Verse 31 is one of those sarcastic phrases Paul uses to rebuke the Corinthians. First, he states their ignorance, and then he reveals an example of their ignorance. These people were coveting certain gifts (the “showy” gifts) even though we have no say in our gift and it is imparted by the Holy Spirit at His will. God is using sarcasm to illustrate immaturity in coveting “the best gifts”. God then reveals where their focus should be: not on what gifts I want to have, but rather, on a more excellent way. More excellent than what? More excellent than ignorantly trying to obtain different gifts or showing off the gift you do have!
The placement of chapter 13 is key to understanding spiritual gifts. Never lose sight of the context when studying scripture. Verses 1-3 of chapter 13 are a direct confrontation in the face of the Corinthians. They have the appearance of “spirituality” in their lives and in their church, but it is only an appearance. They’re consumed with the show of spirituality. God reveals that it doesn’t matter how much you speak in tongues, it doesn’t matter how many gifts you have and how well you use them, it doesn’t matter how much you give, if you don’t have charity in your life, it is all WORTHLESS. Before we condemn the Corinthians, why don’t we try to paraphrase this into something that is a little more applicable to us:
Though I am heavily involved in discipleship and even participate in the 365 Days of Pursuit, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I carry the correct Bible, and can divide it into the correct dispensations, and though I’ve gone through all of the layers and levels of training offered in my local church, if I don’t have charity, I’m just full of information and knowledge. And though I discover my spiritual gift, and do all kinds of things so that everyone else in the church thinks I have it all together, if I don’t have charity, I am really nothing more than a fat-headed Laodicean.
We can and do pursue a lot of things. Paul says that the excellent thing to pursue is charity. If we live our whole Christian life without ever really completely being able to identify our spiritual gifts, but we live a life of charity, we will have lived the life God wants us to live. God then describes what biblical charity looks like. How does your life line up with verses 4-7? That is how we can really determine where we are spiritually.
God completes this chapter by again revealing that charity is superior to the gifts themselves. In fact, He says there’s going to be a time when the “showy” gifts the Corinthians were so zealous for, will cease and disappear. We do not have the time in this tool to get into all the reasons the sign gifts have ceased. However, it is important for each of us to have a basic understanding of why this is true, and if you are sketchy on this issue, you would do well to study it for yourself and talk with your discipler, or your pastors about it. In a nutshell, there were miraculous gifts given as signs in the period of time before the N.T. had been completed, for the purpose of authenticating both the messenger and his message (See Heb. 2:3-4). After the N.T. was completed, they ceased to have a biblical purpose.
Chapter 14 is a chapter that is often lifted out of its context (chapters 12-13), along with individual verses that are lifted out to form a faulty doctrine. For example, we have all heard someone say that the gift of tongues is a heavenly language that draws a person closer to God. Where does this come from? Most will show you verse 2 (speaking to God) and then verse 4 (edifies himself). One question will help you understand this chapter in its proper context – What is the purpose of spiritual gifts? Are they for the benefit of the individual, or for the benefit of the body? We have already clearly seen that God emphasizes that they are for the body, not for the individual. Paul again is using their arguments (i.e. “I just speak to God and edify myself.”) in a sarcastic way to reveal their ignorance. Also, notice in verse 1 how God separates the term spiritual gifts from prophecy. There certainly is a spiritual gift of prophecy, but that is not what God is not ta!
lking about in this chapter. God is talking about the ability of every believer to prophesy (i.e. to proclaim the truth of God and His Word). Remember, does everyone have the gift of prophecy? No, but every believer can prophesy (proclaim the truth of God)! This is similar to the fact that there is a spiritual gift of giving and a gift of faith. However, every believer is called to give, as well as to exercise faith.
God spends the first half of chapter 14 showing the priority of speaking His truth in a manner in which people can understand, rather than trying to show off some spectacular gift. The second part of the chapter deals with the proper use of gifts within the body. The basic principle in verse 40 is that things are to be done decently and in order. Any church doing things in a crazy manner (most charismatic churches) are directly disobeying God’s Word. Even at the time of the writing of I Corinthians when God was still using these sign gifts to authenticate the messenger and his message, there was a specific prescription they were to follow to maintain “decency” and “orderliness”:
1. In a service, only two, or at the most three were permitted to
speak in tongues. Also, they were to speak in turn, not at the
same time. (14:27)
2. Someone was permitted to speak in tongues only if there was
someone present with the gift of interpretation of tongues as
well. Otherwise, tongues were forbidden. (14:27-28) 3. Prophesying was likewise to be one at a time, but there was no
limit to the amount of people who could prophesy (proclaim the
4. Women are not permitted to speak in tongues or prophesy in the
Because the N.T. is complete, the sign gifts are no longer necessary. But even if they were operative today, I know of no churches that follow the clear instructions given for their use in this chapter. Certainly there are churches that do, I’m just saying I know of none. It’s one thing to believe all the gifts are still operating today. It’s quite another not to follow God’s clear instructions for their use.
But not only were the Corinthians messed up on spiritual gifts, in chapter 15, Paul shows that they were also messed up on the resurrection. This chapter clearly lays out the priority of Christ’s resurrection. Everything we believe is predicated on the fact that Jesus Christ physically rose from the dead. If that did not happen, we are the most deceived, disillusioned, pitiful and miserable people on this planet.
The fact is, however, Christ did rise from the dead! And just as in Adam we were born sinners; in Christ we are born righteous. As in Adam all die; in Christ we are all made alive. As in Adam we were born in his image; in Christ we are born in Christ’s image. As in Adam we were born with a body like his; in Christ we will receive a glorified body like Christ’s.
The resurrection of Christ and its subsequent benefits and promises should be the motivation that keeps us continually abounding in the work of the Lord. Are you “abounding” in the work of the Lord, or have you grown complacent and weary? If so, perhaps you have misplaced the importance and implications of the resurrection.
In chapter 16, God instructs the Corinthians concerning the best way to receive the offerings they were collecting to relieve the saints in the church at Jerusalem. Verse 9 reveals a truth we must always keep in mind: open doors and adversaries go hand-in-hand! Fulfilling our mission on this planet is not a walk in the park. It is a battle. Expect resistance. Expect difficulties. Expect adversaries, but, by all means, press on! Be strong in the Lord.