Spiritual gifts are important in keeping the vibrancy of the life of the church. What are they for exactly?
In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul was writing as a spiritual father to the church in Corinth, addressing several problems going on in the congregation. Though it was a spiritually gifted church, there was also immaturity in the attitude of many people there.
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:1–3
Paul was bringing corrections on some issues such as factionalism, immorality, and eating food sacrificed to idols. But in this passage, Paul was instructing the Corinthians so they would not be ignorant concerning the importance of spiritual gifts in keeping the vibrancy of the life of the church.
Paul emphasized that the source of the spiritual gifts was none other than the Holy Spirit. Even their ability to confess that Jesus is Lord was by the enabling of the Spirit, unlike the time when they were deceived into worshiping mute idols.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
1 Corinthians 12:7–11
From the very beginning, God’s desire has always been to dwell with His people. Through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, the way was opened for God to be with us in the Person of the Spirit.
This is reinforced by Paul’s use of two metaphors concerning the church: the church as the new temple of God where the Spirit dwells (1 Corinthians 6:19), and the church as the members of the body of Jesus Christ through whom the Holy Spirit ministers to the needs of the people.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:12–13
We know from other Scriptures that God revealed Himself as One God in Three Persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is a mystery of our faith, but when we believe His word, we experience the fullness of His love, power, and presence in our lives.
We see this revelation of God as One God in Three Persons in Paul’s explanation: The variety of spiritual gifts point to the reality of the Spirit’s presence in their midst. The different ways of service point to the reality of Jesus Christ’s ministry. And the various kinds of working point to God the Father’s activity in His people.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
1 Corinthians 12:4–6
The spiritual gifts then are the evidence of God’s presence among His people as the body of Jesus Christ, and our willingness to be used as members of His body enable us to be the physical representation of Christ to minister to the spiritual needs of His people and the lost.
There are three lessons we can learn from Paul’s instruction concerning spiritual gifts:
1. God bestows gifts upon every believer. “Gift” in the original Greek language is the word translated as charisma in English. This is not about a charismatic personality, but a supernatural ability from God to minister to the needs of others. If you are a follower of Christ, then the Holy Spirit lives in you, and therefore you have the ability and power from the Spirit to bless others.
Remember that these are gifts. They’re not something you work for or earn, but something you can desire out of love for the people of God (1 Corinthians 14:1) and grow in through training.
Also, Paul understood the revelation of the church as like that of a human body, in which every part gives and receives from the other parts. The joy of being part of the body is that we can both give and receive spiritual blessings from one another (1 Corinthians 12:24–26).
2. There are a variety of gifts to meet the various needs of the people. Paul enumerates at least nine kinds of spiritual gifts in this passage, although other passages also reveal more gifts available for God’s people to minister in (1 Corinthians 12:27–31; 14:1–5; Romans 12:4–8).
We can observe from these passages that though there are some gifts that are resident in some members, the various gifts can also operate in all the believers as the spiritual need arises.
For instance, there are disciples who walk in the gift of healing or prophecy. But when there is someone who needs healing at that moment, you don’t need to wait for someone who has the gift of healing to pray for the sick. The members present should pray already, believing that the Spirit will work through them to bring healing.
We can all prophesy or give a word of knowledge or word of wisdom to minister to the church or even people who don’t know Christ, as long as we do it in the context of the church gathering (1 Corinthians 14:26–33).
3. The gifts of the Spirit are distributed by the Spirit to bring strength, encouragement, and comfort to the church (1 Corinthians 14:1–5). God never intended for us to walk this journey of faith alone. So He placed us in community and His body so that through the spiritual gifts operating in and through us, we can build one another up.
Our motivation to do so ought to be love, as Paul pointed out in the great chapter on love (1 Corinthians 13). Many couples want to use these verses for their wedding invites, which is fine. But let us remember that the context of Paul’s exhortation on love is about the use of spiritual gifts. Furthermore, spiritual gifts are also one of God’s means to open up the hearts of unbelievers to God’s word (1 Corinthians 14:24–25).
The gifts of the Spirit are available to every disciple so we can encourage, strengthen, and comfort one another, and for us to minister to those who don’t know Christ yet.
Let us honor the Spirit’s ministry in our midst by offering ourselves to be His instruments to proclaim and demonstrate the reality of the gospel of the kingdom to the world!
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