Spiritual Gifts, 1-11

12:1 With regard to spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 12:2 You know that when you were pagans you were often led astray by speechless idols, however you were led. 12:3 So I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

The leading theme here is unity.  Four bonds of unity:-

  1. We confess the same Lord, 1-3
  2. We depend on the same God, 4-6
  3. We minister to the same body, 7-11
  4. We have experienced the same baptism, 12f.

‘The verb is often used of leading away a prisoner or condemned person. (eg Mk 14:44 15:15) The heathen are pictured, not as men freely following the gods their intellects have fully approved, but as under constraint, as helpless, as men who know no better. There is something pathetic about idol worship. “Dumb idols” characterises their deities as totally unable to answer those who call upon them. They could give no revelation. They could make nothing known to their worshippers.’ (Leon Morris)

The Spirit of God

  1. Confession, v3.
  2. Baptism, v13.
  3. Drinking, v13.
  4. Gifts, v8.
  5. Division, v11.
  6. Manifestation, vv7-10.
  7. Overall aim: the common good, v7.

(Pickering, Subjects for Speakers and Students, adapted)

“Jesus be cursed” – ‘Pagans believed that the gods were capable of influencing their objectives against others in areas of life such as athletic competitions, matters of the heart, business and politics. This was done in pagan worship through the use of curses against their opponents. Sometimes they were written on lead, deposited in the temple and wells and sworn in the name of a god. A curse tablet found in the temple of Demeter in Corinth read, ‘Hermes of the underworld [grant] heavy curses’. Jesus be cursed can be translated ‘Jesus [is] a curse’ or ‘Jesus [grant] a curse’ for the two words are lit. ‘anathema Jesus’. Cf. 16:22 ‘let him be anathema’ where the verb is in the present tense. Were the Corinthian Christians using the name of Jesus as a curse against opponents in the same way pagans did with their gods? Is Paul saying that no person speaking by the Spirit of God curses others with ‘anathema Jesus’ in order to disadvantage them?’ (NBC)

“Jesus is Lord” – ‘Kyrios Iesous‘, lit. ‘Lord Jesus’.  Here we have ‘the earliest, shortest, simple”]st of all Christian creeds’ (Stott, The Conetemporary Christian, p86).  Minimalist as they seem, these two words are pregnant with meaning.

‘Obviously a mocking unbeliever can mouth the words Jesus is Lord. Paul is not denying this. He is saying that the words can be uttered with full meaning only under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The Lordship of Christ is not a human discovery. It is a discovery that is made and can be made only when the Spirit is at work in the heart.’ (Morris)

12:4 Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. 12:5 And there are different ministries, but the same Lord. 12:6 And there are different results, but the same God who produces all of them in everyone.

‘”Charismaton,” “gifts,” is the usual word for one of the extraordinary endowments the Spirit confers on men. The word is from the same root as the great Christian word “grace,” “charis.” Basically it stresses the freeness, the bounty of the gift…The Corinthians had apparently used the “gifts” as a means of fomenting division. They regarded the possession of such “gifts” as a matter for pride, and set up one against another on the basis of the possession or otherwise of this or that gift. Paul insists that this is the wrong attitude. Though he recognises that there is diversity in the endowments conferred by the Spirit, yet it is “the same Spirit”.’ (Leon Morris)

Different kinds of gifts – ‘A musician cannot produce a melody from a single note, or an artist a masterpiece with one colour. So the Spirit’s manifold purpose for the Church can be accomplished only by means of several gifts.’ (J.O. Sanders)

12:4-6 ‘First he calls them “charismata,” gifts of grace, so drawing attention to their source. Then he calls them “diakonia,” ministries or forms of service, and so defines their purpose. Finally he calls them “energemata,” operations, and so makes it clear that their task is to manifest God’s power at work.’ (Grossmann, Stewards of God’s Grace, 88)

The same Lord – Referring to the Lord Jesus, by whom these various ministers were appointed, and under whose control they are. ‘The fact also that this stands between the mention of the work of the Spirit (1 Cor 4:4) and the work of God, (1 Cor 12:6) and the fact that to the Lord Jesus appertained the appointment of these various grades of officers in the church, comp. Mt 10:1 Lk 10:1, seq. is further proof that this refers to him. The design of the verse is to show that all these offices had their appointment from him; and that since all were his appointment, and all were necessary, no one should be proud of an elevated station; no one should be depressed, or feel himself degraded, because he had been designated to a more humble office.’ (Barnes)

We are called to use our gifts in a way that glorifies the giver, builds the body, and extends the kingdom.

  • Remember the source: ‘There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.’ (1 Cor 12:4). We can’t boast or be proud, we can only humbly and gratefully receive them as gifts.
  • Develop a right attitude. ‘There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.’ (1 Cor 12:5). Gifts are not about status, but service. Sadly churches are riddled with people seeking status, which is why we must model ourselves on the servant character of Christ.
  • Recognise our dependence on God. ‘There are different kinds of working….’ (1 Cor 12:6). Each gift is given through grace and used in God’s strength. That’s why Paul only ever boasts about his weakness.
  • Focus on the common good (verses 7-11). Gifts are not about self glorification but building the body.
  • Function as a body (verses 12-31). Verses 18-20 are a watershed in this passage. 1 Cor 12:14-16 identify the problem of those who downplay their gifts, verses 21-24 the problem of those who deny others’ gifts. 1 Cor 12:18-20 stress the interconnectedness of the body, welded together by love. We need everyone to use their gifts if we are to function well as the local church.


12:7 To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all. 12:8 For one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, and another the message of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 12:9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 12:10 to another performance of miracles, to another prophecy, and to another discernment of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 12:11 It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things.

To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given – ‘The Christian church is composed of many different kinds of people with different gifts and different ministries. The manner in which these are combined is not like a melting pot but like a salad bowl. Within the church, there is no loss of individual identity, but rather the complementing of distinct elements to create a new, special, and united body.’ (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 351)

‘No Christian is giftless, (1 Cor 12:7; Eph 4:7) and it is everyone’s responsibility to find, develop, and fully use whatever capacities for service God has given.’ (Packer, Concise Theology)

For the common good – ‘Imagine how a parent would feel if on Christmas Day when the gifts for their children were handed out, the children just took them, said “Thankyou,” and laid them aside with no attempt to open the gifts, not even to find out what they were!

Imagine how the Lord must feel when he has given gifts to us that he intends for us to use, and yet we never take the trouble to find out what they are, never put them to work, and then excuse ourselves from serving the church by saying that we can’t do anything.’ (Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, 352)

‘Amid many obscurities and debated questions regarding New Testament charismata, three certainties stand out. First, a spiritual gift is an ability in some way to express, celebrate, display, and so communicate Christ. We are told that gifts, rightly used, build up Christians and churches. But only knowledge of God in Christ builds up, so each charisma must be an ability from Christ to show and share Christ in an upbuilding way.

Second, gifts are of two types. There are gifts of speech and of loving, practical helpfulness. In Rom 12:6-8, Paul’s list of gifts alternates between the categories: items one, three, and four (prophecy, teaching, and exhorting) are gifts of speech; items two, five, six, and seven (serving, giving, leading, and showing mercy) are gifts of helpfulness. The alternation implies that no thought of superiority of one gift over another may enter in. However much gifts differ as forms of human activity, all are of equal dignity, and the only question is whether one properly uses the gift one has. (1 Pet 4:10-11)

Third, no Christian is giftless, (1 Cor 12:7; Eph 4:7) and it is everyone’s responsibility to find, develop, and fully use whatever capacities for service God has given.’ (Concise Theology)

Concerning spiritual gifts, A.T. Pierson suggested a number of lessons:-

  • Everyone has a gift, therefore all should be encouraged.
  • No one has all the gifts, therefore all should be humble.
  • All gifts are for the body, therefore all should be harmonious.
  • All gifts are from the Lord, therefore all should be contented.
  • All gifts are mutually helpful and needful, therefore all should be studiously faithful.
  • All gifts promote the health and strength of the whole body, therefore none can be safely dispensed with.
  • All gifts depend on his fulness for power, therefore all should keep in close touch with him.

The New Testament provides us with several lists of spiritual gifts. No one list is exhaustive, and the contents of each list depend on the specific purpose of the author. In Romans 12, Paul deals with the gifts in general terms, while in 1 Cor 12 Paul stresses the gifts which build up the church as a whole rather than the more spectacular gifts, such as tongues, which may confer individual benefit but were subject to abuse by the Corinthian Christians.

Gifts of healing – or, ‘gifts of healings’ – a literal translation of the plurals in 1 Cor 12:9,28. Those with such gifts will find that God answers their prayers for healing more frequently and more thoroughly than others. The plural form suggests that non-physical healing may be included, such as emotional healing and deliverance from demonic attack the latter is also called ‘healing’ in Lk 6:18; Acts 10:38.

Miraculous powers – lit. ‘workings of powers’: this could mean the ability to drive out demons (DPL), or it might refer to the ability to work nature miracles.

Distinguishing between spirits, or ‘discerning of spirits ‘apparently refers to the God-given ability to tell whether a prophetic speech came from God’s Spirit or from another source opposed to God.’ (Holman)

‘This must refer to some power of searching into the secrets of the heart; of knowing what were a man’s purposes, views, and feelings. It may relate either to the power of determining by what spirit a man spoke who pretended to be inspired, whether he was truly inspired or whether he was an impostor, or it may refer to the power of seeing whether a man was sincere or not in his Christian profession. That the apostles had this power, is apparent from the case of Ananias and Sapphira, (Ac 5:1-10) and from the case of Elymas, Acts 13:9-11. It is evident that where the gift of prophecy and inspiration was possessed, and where it would confer such advantages on those who possessed it, there would be many pretenders to it; and that it would be of vast importance to the infant church, in order to prevent imposition, that there should be a power in the church of detecting the imposture.’ (Barnes)

He gives them to each one, just as he determines – cf. Heb 2:4.

Different Members in One Body, 12-31

12:12 For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body—though many—are one body, so too is Christ.

‘It is worth underscoring that during each of the three occasions in Paul’s letters where he discusses gifts (Rom 12, Eph 4, and 1 Cor 12), Paul always includes a discussion of these gifts and their relationship to the body of Christ, namely the church. For Paul there is no idea of a church which has no gifts, and conversely there is no idea in Paul of gifts that do not operate in the context of the body of Jesus Christ.’ (College Press)

‘In quite clear New Testament teaching, the gifts are associated, not with apostolic activity nor with a restricted second-blessing, but with the doctrine and the metaphor of the church as the body of Christ…This verse is followed by the long and careful argument against quarrelling, pride, jealous or dismay over the varied expressions of spiritual gifts, for it is by this variety that individual Christians function as limbs – “members” – in the body.’ (Donald Bridge, Signs and Wonders Today, 196f)

In the Temple of Asclepius in Corinth, excavators have found numerous terra-cotta body parts that were presented to Asclepius in pagan healing rites. ‘Paul may have implied a contrast to these as he wrote about the living unity of the body of Christ.’ (Lexham Bible Dictionary, art.’Corinth’)

12:13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Whether Jews or Greeks or slaves or free, we were all made to drink of the one Spirit.

The central theme of this verse is not the ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’, but the unity of Christians. The logic of the verse would still hold if it read, ‘We were all baptized into one body.’ Baptism is the sign of entrance into the believing community.

Baptized…into one body…given the one Spirit to drink – Paul may be referring to water baptism and the Lord’s Supper here. Alternatively, ‘the reference is not to the baptism of the Spirit, but rather to a baptism into the Church, which is the body of Christ.’ (Mullins & Bromiley, ISBE, Vol I, 427f.)

‘It is exceedingly clear in 1 Cor 12:13 as well as in the surrounding verses that Paul does not have in mind here any kind of special baptism or any kind of special spiritual experience available only to a certain group of believers. The baptism to which Paul refers is one that was experienced by every believer in the church of God at Corinth.’ (College Press)

‘While the experience that is sometimes described in modern times as “baptism in the Holy Spirit” may itself often be valid, the terminology often used to describe it is questionable. To cite this verse to justify the notion that “baptism in the Spirit” is an experience reserved for some but not others turns the meaning of the verse on its head. It suggests the very opposite of Paul’s point. Paul stresses the word all. The baptism of the Spirit is initiation into being-in-Christ, whether or not we view baptism as a specific rite of water baptism or as the broader metaphor for being incorporated in Christ’s death, which is the basis for Christian water baptism.’ (Thiselton)

‘The evidence from the New Testament in general, and in particular from Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 and Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor 12:13, indicates that the “baptism” of the Spirit is identical with the “gift” of the Spirit, that it is one of the distinctive blessings of the new covenant, and, because it is an initial blessing, is also a universal blessing for members of the covenant.  It is part and parcel of belonging to the new age.  The Lord Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant and the bestower of its blessings, gives both the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit to all who enter his covenant.  Further, baptism with water is the sign and seal of baptism with the Spirit, as much as it is of the forgiveness of sins.  Water-baptism is the initiatory Christ rite, because Spirit-baptism is the initiatory  Christian experience.’ (Stott, Baptism and Fulness, 43)

12:14 For in fact the body is not a single member, but many. 12:15 If the foot says, “Since I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. 12:16 And if the ear says, “Since I am not an eye, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. 12:17 If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing? If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell?
12:18 But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. 12:19 If they were all the same member, where would the body be? 12:20 So now there are many members, but one body. 12:21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot, “I do not need you.” 12:22 On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, 12:23 and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our unpresentable members are clothed with dignity, 12:24 but our presentable members do not need this. Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, 12:25 so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another. 12:26 If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it.

Those members that seem to be weaker are essential

How inclusive?
Jeremy Pemberton writes:

‘I think the key word here is ‘seem’. Those of us who are privileged to have trans friends know very well that there is nothing “weak” or “dishonourable” about them, but that in their journey of discipleship and discovery they are courageous and honest and true – often far more so than the cis-gendered. But those friends know too often what it is to be treated as shameful, or less than respectable, in a society that can make their lives difficult and even dangerous.

‘From the church they should should be given “greater honour” and “greater respect”, because they are an indispensable part of the Body.’

The problem with this use of the text is not that it claims too little, but that it claims too much.  We do not have to go outside this very letter to remind ourselves that Paul regards some behaviours and lifestyles as inconsistent with Christian profession.

12:27 Now you are Christ’s body, and each of you is a member of it. 12:28 And God has placed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, gifts of healing, helps, gifts of leadership, different kinds of tongues. 12:29 Not all are apostles, are they? Not all are prophets, are they? Not all are teachers, are they? Not all perform miracles, do they? 12:30 Not all have gifts of healing, do they? Not all speak in tongues, do they? Not all interpret, do they? 12:31 But you should be eager for the greater gifts.

See Rom 12:6

Comparing healing ministries in the modern church with those of Christ and the apostles, J.I. Packer observes:-

‘Jesus and the apostles healed directly with their word (Matt. 8:5–13; 9:6–7; John 4:46–53; Acts 9:34) or their touch (Mark 1:41; 5:25–34; Acts 28:8). Healing was then instant (Matt. 8:13; Mark 5:29; Luke 6:10; 17:14; John 5:9; Acts 3:7; once in two stages, each of which was instant, Mark 7:32–35). Organic defects (such as wasted and crippled limbs) were healed, as well as functional, symptomatic, and psychosomatic diseases (Acts 3:2–10; Luke 6:8–10; John 9). On occasion they raised individuals who had been dead for days (Luke 7:11–15; 8:49–55; John 11:1–44; Acts 9:36–41). They healed very large numbers (Luke 4:40; 7:21; Matt. 4:23–24; Acts 5:12–16; 28:19), and there is no record that they ever attempted to heal without success (save in the one case where the disciples failed to pray and Jesus had to take over [Mark 9:17–29]). Moreover, their healings lasted; there is no hint of folk whom they healed relapsing soon after. Now whatever else can be said of the p 172 ministry of Pentecostal and charismatic healers of our time and of those whose praying for the sick has been a matter, as it seems, of specific divine calling, none of them has a track record like this.’ (Keep In Step With The Spirit)

Eagerly desire the greater gifts – Although often taken in the imperative (so NIV), it could also be taken in the indicative (’you eagerly desire…’) or interrogative (’Do you eagerly desire…?’).

‘For several exegetical reasons (see Fee 1987), this imperative almost certainly does not refer to the preceding potpourri of people, ministries and Spirit manifestations that “God has placed in the church.” (1 Cor 12:28) Rather, it is most likely intended to begin the argument on intelligibility and order in 1 Cor 14, which is then interrupted so as to place all of these things in the context of love.’ (DPL)

And now I will show you a way that is beyond comparison.

And now I will show you the most excellent way – Clearly, this forms a bridge between what has just be written and what is now about to be stated. Gifts (ch 12) are nothing without the exercise of love (ch 13); but this had been overlooked by the Corinthians.

‘Pentecostalism tries to revive the charismatic gifts, but it does not reckon with the economy that made these gifts necessary. Speaking in tongues served as a public demonstration of the Holy Spirit’s presence among the Gentiles, Acts 10:46f. When the wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles was demolished, the charismatic gifts yielded to love as the “more excellent way.” Paul delineates this more excellent way in his later Epistles; reference to the charismatic gifts vanishes. Whereas love edifies, speaking in tongues can be enlisted in the service of pride.’ (Carnell, The Case for Orthodox Theology, 62)