AN EXPOSITION OF 1 CORINTHIANS 12:1-11
The Reality of Spiritual Matters
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.
Concerning spiritual matters in general, Paul does not want the church to be uninformed. The word “gifts” is not in the original. The Greek refers to spiritual realities in general, or to anything that is of a spiritual nature. With that being noted, the following context does indicate Paul wants to address the various endowments, gifts, and graces that have been bestowed on the church in different degrees. It cannot be debated that the Spirit does bestow various spiritual gifts on the church. That is a fact.
What can be debated, and what is debated today, is whether or not the particular gifts of signs, wonders, and miracles are still in operation, but limited by unbelief, or have these gifts ceased with the closing of the apostolic age? Before a conclusive answer can be reached on that inquiry, the church must agree on some basic facts, the first of which is that there are spiritual matters of concern. To introduce his thoughts on spiritual matters, Paul begins by reminding the Corinthians how they were once carried away by dumb idols.
2 Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.
Paul reminds the Corinthian that in spiritual matters, there can be such misunderstanding that individuals are carried away into idolatry. Prior to conversion, as Gentiles, some of the people in the church of Corinth had been emotionally, and intellectually carried away to the point they visited dumb idols. Idolatry is the worship of a deity other than God. Perhaps some of the Christians in Corinth, when they were Gentiles, had visited the famous idol, the Greek god, Apollo. Apollo was known as the source of ecstatic utterances on the lips of Cassandra of Troy, the Priestess of Delphi, according to the Roman poet Virgil (c. 70 BC – 19 BC).
The point Paul was reminding the church in Corinth about, prior to specifically addressing the issue of tongues, was that there are inspired utterances other than those produced by the Spirit of God. These utterances are inspired in the sense that they arise out of the experiences and sensations of the person apart from themselves. Simply having a religious experience is no indication that God is present. That is what Paul was reminding the Corinthians of. They should remember how they, as Gentiles, were carried away with emotion and fanaticism.
If a person is not discerning in spiritual matters, they can be carried way. The gospel warning goes forth. Some people can be carried all the way back to idolatry. Others can be carried away into heresy, or doctrinal error.
Today, there is no end to the questionable doctrines being taught. Listeners of the Trinity Broadcasting Network have found one of the prominent teachers saying that every man who has been born again is an incarnation, as much as Jesus of Nazareth. Casey Treat, co-pastor of Seattle’s Christian Faith Center, has taught his church to claim their Godhood.
People are exhorted to say out loud, “I am an exact duplicate of God.” Kenneth Aiken has taught that Jesus is the first person ever to be born again. He had to be born again because he was estranged from God. The heretical teachings within Christendom are numerous.
Concerning spiritual matters, Paul does not want the church to be carried back into idolatry, or into heresy, or fanaticism. Paul does not want the church to be ignorant of any gospel truth, so he reminds the Corinthians of their past, and then proceeds to give them new understanding. The antidote for those who are carried away with emotion and fanaticism, is knowledge.
3 Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
Understanding spiritual truth is significant, because so much of the Charismatic faith and practice is to get people to be less informed, less rational, and more emotional. John Wimber understood that fear of losing self-control is very threatening to most Western Christians. Wimber did not see this fear of losing self-control as a virtue, because he believed that rational control prevents tongue speaking, and soaring ecstatic sensations.
No matter what the criticism may be, the Christian must never surrender the Law of the Sound Mind. God wants His people to be of a sound mind, a sober mind. (1 Cor. 9:25; Titus 2:2) A sound mind, a sober mind, is a mind which understands Bible doctrine, and is submissive to the Word of God. Understanding should characterize every Christian. What Paul would have the Corinthians to understand, is that though they had once been led astray as Gentiles, now as Christians they worship Jesus. What can explain their radical transition from dumb idols to Christ, except that God worked a work of grace in their hearts and delivered them from the kind of sin that caused them to be led astray?
The larger point Paul is making is that it was not nature that provided the Corinthians with their authentic spirituality, but God, in His gracious kindness. Evidence for God’s grace is found in the fact that Jesus was no longer called accursed, but He was called Lord, by the Holy Spirit. A person who is truly born again cannot curse Christ. Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna. He was arrested for his faith in Jesus. The demand was made by the proconsul, Statius Quadratus for Polycarp to swear by the godhood of Caesar and blaspheme Christ.
Polycarp refused saying, “Eighty and six years have I served Christ and He has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” Polycarp died the death of a martyr. In contrast to Polycarp is Judas Iscariot. We read that at the Last Supper, Judas asked Jesus, “Rabbi, is it I that shall betray Thee?” No man can call Jesus Lord except by the Holy Spirit. The other disciples called Jesus Lord, that night. Judas called Him, Rabbi.
Can a man call Jesus Lord of his own free will? No, that is not possible, for the free will of the natural man is enslaved to sin. The will is in bondage to the Law of Sin and Death. No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, except by the power and grace of the Holy Ghost. The source of a person’s faith does not come from themselves, but from God the Holy Spirit. That is sovereign grace. The Sovereign’s grace, is that grace which truly rules in our salvation.
God’s grace is not shared with man’s will. It is God who reveals Christ to our hearts through His Spirit, “for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” (1 Cor. 2:10) God’s grace is needed, because men are not willing to come to Christ. That is what Jesus said. “And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” (John 5:40) Because the natural man is consistently unwilling to come to Christ, just like Saul of Tarus, the Holy Spirit has to make a person willing to believe in the day of salvation.
4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
With a foundational principle established, Paul makes a transition from the general to the particular. Having spoken about spiritual matters, having established the principle of grace, Paul proceeds to show how God’s grace works itself out in the matter of spiritual gifts. Paul notes that there are diversities, or varieties of gifts given by the same Spirit.
The gifts of the Spirit are diverse, which means they are distinct. There is variety in the gifts of God, for the people of God. In the human body, there are many diverse or distinct parts. There is variety of bodily parts. There are so many parts, and such diversity, that the Psalmist said, “I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” (Psalms 139:14)
5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
The word for “administrations” is “diakonia,” and speaks of giving aid, (official) service (especially of the Christian teacher). What Paul is saying is that there are varieties of ministries. During the days of the apostles, a transition was made in the early church to establish the Office of Elder (Bishop, Pastor), and the Office of Deacon. “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.” (1 Tim. 3:1) “And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless.” (1 Tim. 3:10)*
6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
As there are different ministries, so there are a variety of effects. That is what the word, “operations” means. The Greek word is energema, and means, “an effect.” One divinely desired effect of the manifestations of the Spirit is spiritual maturity among the believers. Another desired effect is a strong local church. A third desired effect is that every believer would be spiritually blessed, and so that all could profit.
7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
The Bible teaches that every Christian has a spiritual gift. This truth is taught in verse 7, and it is stated again in verse 11. Every person is given a spiritual gift. With the manifestation of the Spirit, the church is able to bear together whatever issues they might face from the world, the flesh, and the devil. The manifestation of the Spirit is for the common good.
One design or purpose of spiritual gifts, is to bring salvation to the lost. The apostles were able to perform miracles. Signs and wonders accompanied their ministries, and souls were saved. “God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?” (Heb. 2:4)
Charles Spurgeon is known in history as the “Prince of Preachers.” Countless individuals have been converted through his ministry. D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham were great evangelists. God used each one to bring salvation to lost souls.
Another design of spiritual gifts, is to equip the saints for the work of the Kingdom of Heaven. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” (Eph. 4:11-12)
Every Christian is to be a worker for the Lord Jesus Christ. The ultimate design of spiritual gifts is to glorify God. “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:3).
Nine Manifestations of the Spirit
8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
The Word of Wisdom
The word of wisdom refers to a charismatic gift of the Spirit given to the early church when practical knowledge was needed. Today, the church has the Bible, the Word of God, which contains all the wisdom that is needed for faith and practice.
The Word of Knowledge
The gift of knowledge is not simply the gift of knowing something. Obviously people know things. The gift of knowledge refers to a charismatic gift which the Spirit gave some individuals, prior to the completion of the Canon of Scripture. These individuals could stand up and give information on how to apply with knowledge, the word of wisdom that had been received.
Care must be taken when speaking about the Word of Wisdom, and the Word of Knowledge, because the church today does not have any specific identification of these gifts in history, or Scripture. They remain difficult to fully understand.
9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
Every believer has faith. But the gift of faith is an unusual ministry of believing God as a means of service, and showing mercy. George Muller (1805-1898) was a Christian evangelist, and the director of the Ashley Down Orphanage in Bristol, England. During his lifetime, he cared for 10,024 orphans, by faith. He established 117 schools which offered Christian education to more than 120,000 children. Muller never sought donations from specific individuals, but called upon the Lord for all of his needs.
Hudson Taylor (1832- 1905) was the founder of the China Inland Mission. He did not appeal for funds. He depended upon the Lord, and his faith was honored.
In more recent years, Lee Roy Shelton, Jr. (1923-2003) established one of the largest free Christian literature ministries in the world. Pastor Shelton lived by faith in his loving God. He never asked for money, but trusted the Lord to provide every need to carry on Mt. Zion Ministries in Pensacola, Florida. Such men of faith are rare.
To have faith in the Lord alone to supply every need for ministry, is a good way to test whether or not the work being done is of the Lord. When God supplies the resources by faith alone, apart from solicitation of funds, then there is confidence that He is pleased.
Gifts of Healing
Paul had the gift of healing in the early days of his ministry. “And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: 12 So that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them.” (Acts 19:11-12) However, later in his ministry he did not have the gift of healing.
Speaking of Epaphroditus we read, “For indeed he was sick nigh unto death: but God had mercy on him; and not on him only, but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.” (Phil. 2:27)
Then there was Trophimus. “Erastus abode at Corinth: but Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick.” (2 Tim. 4:20) So healing was a temporary gift.
10 To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
The Effecting of Miracles
Only God can perform an authentic miracle. The rest are nothing but lying wonders.
It is important to remember that a Biblical prophecy is infallible. The prophetic utterances of individuals in the Charismatic movement are proven to be fallible, and thereby false prophecies, times and again. When speaking in the name of the Lord, the host of a major Christian network failed to predict correctly the outcome of the presidential election in January, 1992 he proved himself to be numbered among the false prophets.
In September, 1993, during a 700 Club telecast the same host, Pat Robertson, confessed he did not understand why God had told him that George Bush would win reelection. That is almost blasphemous. God did not tell him that George H. W. Bush would win re-election. God is an immutable God. He is an unchangeable God. Beware of false prophets.
Distinguishing of Spirits
The gift of spiritual discernment is very important to maintain doctrinal purity. The church needs individuals who are able to distinguish truth from error. A holy and biblically rooted critical analysis of what is being said within the church is essential.
In 1929, when J. Gresham Machen became concerned over the liberalism in Princeton Theological Seminary, he united with other conservative men of God to establish Westminster Theological Seminary in Glenside, Pennsylvania.
John Bunyan wrote, “All the king’s subjects are not his champions.”
The church needs champions with the spirit of discernment to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)
Various Kinds of Tongues
The early church was given several temporary gifts as “sign gifts” to enable the gospel to be preached to all nations in various languages. They also authenticated the messenger. The gift of tongues was the divine ability to speak in a languages not previously known to the speaker.
The phrase “divers [diversity] of tongues” (KJV) or “different kinds of tongues” (NIV) effectively eliminates the idea of a “personal prayer language” as a spiritual gift.
Interpretation of tongues
A person with the gift of interpreting tongues could understand what a tongues-speaker was saying. The tongues interpreter would then communicate the message of the tongues speaker to everyone else, so all could understand.
11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
While each member of the Trinity is involved in the spiritual gifts, it is the Holy Spirit who is said to be the giver of spiritual gifts. This means that every Christian, every believer-priest, is gifted. And some people may have more than one spiritual gift. The gifts of divine grace are not given on the basis of a person’s spirituality. They are sovereignly bestowed on a person regardless of one’s spirituality. They are given to be a blessing to the Church. May the Lord use each of us in His service as we exercise our spiritual gifts.