Division was a major problem in the church at Corinth. Each group followed its chosen human leader, exercised its gifts selfishly, and cared little for the health or ministry of the whole body.
Communion was doing more harm than good. The church had received an abundance of spiritual gifts (1:4–7), but they were lacking in spiritual graces.
Spiritual gifts had become symbols of spiritual power, causing rivalries in the church because some people thought they were more “spiritual” than others because of their gifts.
This was a terrible misuse of spiritual gifts because their purpose is always to help the church function more effectively, not to divide it. We can be divisive if we insist on using our gift our own way without being sensitive to others.
We share the same confession: Christ is Lord (vv. 1–3).
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 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.
A citizen of the Roman Empire was required once a year to put a pinch of incense on the altar and say, “Caesar is Lord!” This was anathema to believers. No true Christian could call anyone but Christ “Lord,” so this was a definite test of faith.
We serve the same God (vv. 4–6).
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
The church, like the human body, has diversity in unity. Our human members all differ, yet they work together for the health of the body. In the spiritual body of the church, we possess gifts from the Holy Spirit (v. 4), partake in service to the same Lord Jesus Christ (v. 5), and share in the workings of the same Father (v. 6).
Our diversity seeks to build up the same body (vv. 7–13).
Paul now lists the spiritual gifts and shows that they are given for the benefit of the whole church, and not for the private enjoyment of the individual Christians.
7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 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. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
12 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. 13 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.
We must distinguish between: (1) the spiritual Gift, which is the Spirit Himself, received at baptism (Eph. 1:13–14);
(2) spiritual gifts, which are ministries to the church through the Spirit, and not just natural abilities or talents
(3) spiritual offices, which are positions of trust in the local church
(4) spiritual graces, which are the fruit of the Spirit in Christian conduct.
Paul compares the body of Christ to a human body. Each part has a specific function that is necessary to the body as a whole. The parts are different for a purpose, and in their differences they must work together. Diversity can maintain unity as long as all submit to one Lord.
Christians must avoid two common errors: (1) being too proud of their abilities; and (2) thinking they have nothing to give to the body of believers.
Instead of comparing ourselves to one another, we should use our different gifts, together, to spread the Good News. We speak Christ’s “body language” when we practice our unique gifts under his sole authority.
It is clear from 1 Cor. 13:8 that some of the gifts granted to the early church were never meant to be permanent. When the church was in its infancy (13:11), before the completion of the NT Scriptures, these gifts were needed; but they are not needed today. These “sign gifts” are not necessary for the ministry of the church.
Every person is valuable! (vs. 14-20)
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The Spirit places each believer in the body as He sees fit, but each part of the body has an important ministry to perform. “Many members in one body” is the program for this present age.
- We Need Each Other (12:21–25)
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.
Paul argued for diversity of gifts and acceptance of the full range of gifts that God gives to his people. No one should feel superior about his or her gift; instead, all should use their gifts to willingly serve.
Too often the “up-front” gifts are more highly regarded than the “behind-the-scenes” gifts, like helping and serving. No one should discount the contribution of another person, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
We should not be dissatisfied with the gift God has given us but be eager to serve. Nor should we envy those who seem to have more gifts than we do. In love, treat everyone’s gift, yours included, as valuable to God.
Paul teaches that every member of the body is essential to the life, health, and growth of the church.
No Christian can say to his less-gifted brother, “I don’t need you!” In fact, those parts of our body that seem the least important can do the most good—or cause the most trouble if not functioning properly!
We are responsible to use and sharpen our gifts, but we can take no credit for what God has freely given us.
Note that discussions about spiritual gifts usually create difficulties when two central points are overlooked:
(1) Properly used, spiritual gifts are not self-serving but serve the whole body of Christ;
(2) each gift becomes practically useless when used without love. As we seek to identify and utilize the gifts, let us make the love of God and the love of fellow Christians our highest motives.
We Affect Each Other (27)
26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
It is important that we realize our relationship to one another in the church. There can be unity even where there is not uniformity.
Christ never prayed for uniformity in His church, but for the same spiritual unity that exists between Him and His Father. We should likewise pray for spiritual unity and do all we can to guard it and extend it.
The idea that Christians can somehow function and flourish outside of the body of Christ sounds as ludicrous as a rebellious ear or foot. Solitary Christianity has no basis in God’s Word. We need the church, and we are needed by other Christians.
There should be no division (schism) in the body, since we all share the same life through the Spirit. But it is not enough simply to avoid division; we must also care for each other and seek to build the church and strengthen the body.
In the human body, the weakness or pain of one member affects the other members. This is also true in the spiritual body: one believer suffers, we all suffer; if one member grows in strength, we all receive help. This fact lays upon each Christian the responsibility for being the strongest member possible.
It is essential that we keep in mind God’s method for strengthening the body. He has chosen spiritual leaders, given them spiritual gifts, and placed them in the body as He chooses. There were, in the early days of the church, apostles, and prophets. There are no apostles today, since it was necessary to have seen the risen Christ to qualify for apostleship.
28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. 1 And I will show you a still more excellent way.
We must recognize, however, that God’s purpose in giving gifts has little to do with self-esteem. We cannot ask for gifts in order to feel more powerful, important, or significant (James 4:3). When we make it our goal to be available to God and to seek to serve others for Christ’s sake, our spiritual gifts will come to the surface. We may need the insight of others to recognize our specific gifts.
Consider these steps:
1. Ask God to increase your usefulness.
2. Seek opportunities of service.
3. Observe how other believers serve.
4. Ask those you’ve served and those who serve with you to help you discern your spiritual strengths.
5. Practice these gifts even more.