1 - 7 The Holy Spirit
1 Now concerning spiritual [gifts], brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know that when you were pagans, [you were] led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all [persons]. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
This new chapter deals with a new and again important issue. It is about the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit and the task each believer has. In His wisdom God firstly spoke about the Table of the Lord and the Lord's Supper in the previous chapters. You have seen how each believer can take his place at the Table of the Lord and how he can partake of the Lord's Supper (at least, if there is no mention of a sin that is not judged in the believer's life).
The gifts of the Spirit have got nothing to do with that. That means: it is not important at all what gift you have if you want to partake of the Lord’s Supper. Nevertheless, the gifts of the Spirit are important. Only you should see them in the right place and that is what Paul will make clear in this chapter.
V1. He starts to point the Corinthians to the spiritual gifts. They were very familiar with them. When they were unconverted they saw and also experienced by themselves many spiritual manifestations. Now they are converted they also have got to do with spiritual manifestations. What they should learn is that the spiritual manifestations in the church of God are from a totally different source and that they are for other purposes than the spiritual manifestations from the past. What they needed, was to learn to see the difference between, on the one hand, the Holy Spirit Who now dwells in them and Who works in the church and on the other hand the evil spirits or demons by whom they were guided in their unawareness and ignorance in the past.
V2. In the past they went to “the mute idols”. That's where they brought their offerings and in the service that went together with that, they went into a trance, out of self-control. Indeed the idols were dumb, they could not speak, but, as you remember from chapter 10: behind these idols evil spirits, demons, are hidden. These demons use the imagination of the ones who bring the offerings and take possession of their spirit. The more people surrender themselves to these demons the more they get into a trance.
When they were Gentiles, when they were unconverted, they “[were] led astray” to these mute or dumb idols. Then they were will-less people, who were led by their own intuition. They were not aware of that then. They thought that they were free to choose how to live their own lives, without being aware that they were led by the prince of the world, satan.
It is still like that today. Each person who is unconverted is a person who is being led by the devil. He thinks he is free and that he can decide how to live his life, but he is not aware that satan leads him to the cinema, the disco, the gambling house or the stadium. It happens often enough in a conversation with an unconverted, that he even denies the existence of the devil. You see how subtle the devil is. His biggest trick is to let people believe that he does not exist. Then he can deceive them most easily.
A striking example of being carried away to the dumb idols and to get into a trance you find in 1 Kings 18. It strikes you how idolatrous priests put themselves on and torture themselves, in order to awaken their god, Baal, to come into action (1Kgs 18:26-30). After that it strikes you far more when Elijah calls to God only once and He proves Himself to be the living God (1Kgs 18:36-38).
V3. To demonstrate to the Corinthians the difference between the past and now, Paul uses the Name of the Lord Jesus as the touchstone. In the church it is impossible that the Spirit of God would do something that dishonors the Lord Jesus. The demons will make every effort to make the Name of the Lord Jesus despicable. They want nothing more than to put a curse over that Name. They succeed when they can activate believers to live a sinful life. The Holy Spirit on the contrary will do everything to honor the Lord Jesus and to give Him the glory He is worthy of. He will make it possible for the believers to surrender their lives to the Lord Jesus in full obedience.
Demons do not acknowledge the Lord Jesus as Lord. In the gospels we come across several confrontations between demons and the Lord Jesus. It is striking that they never address Him as ‘Lord’. When He shall reign in the millennial kingdom of peace over the universe, they will be constrained to acknowledge Him as Lord. You can read that in Philippians 2 where those who are “under the earth” mean the demons (Phil 2:9-11).
Also unbelievers do not acknowledge Him as Lord. They do not consider His authority, but they live their own life. In Matthew 7 you read that there are people who say “Lord, Lord” (Mt 7:21), but have not considered His will in their lives. They only want to be named Christian, but control their own lives. Where this is to be seen, you haven’t got to do with the work of the Holy Spirit, but with the work of demons.
A born-again Christian will speak respectfully about Jesus and therefore would prefer to call Him ‘Lord’ Jesus. From his life it will be apparent that his faith is not only a lip-confession, but he considers the authority of the Lord Jesus in every aspect of his life. Where this is to be seen you haven’t got to do with the work of demons, but with the work of the Holy Spirit.
V4. The next difference between the manifestations of demons and the manifestations of the Holy Spirit, is that the diversities of gifts is not the work of different spirits, but of one and “the same Spirit”. With the demons there are more spirits. In Mark 5 a legion of demons took possession of a man (Mk 5:9). In Mark 16 there is a mention of seven demons that have dwelled in Mary, but they were exorcised by the Lord Jesus (Mk 16:9).
In paganism each idol has, whether it is the sun, the moon or a tree, its own demon or a multitude of demons. What the Corinthians absolutely should not think when they see the diversities of gifts, is that those diversities are inspired by different spirits. They are all from the same Spirit.
V5. It is also one and “the same Lord” Who gives orders for using the different gifts. Therefore every person needs to practice his gift in dependency on Him and is not allowed to work with the gift as it pleases himself.
V6. Finally it is one and “the same God” Who works through the gift. He works in him who practices the gift and He works in those who are being served through the gift.
V7. Each member of the church has received a gift. Nobody has received all the gifts and there is no one who has received no gift. That means that we all need one another, just as the members of a body need each other. Further on in this chapter you will see how this works. You too have received a gift. You have not received it for yourself, but to serve others with it, for “to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”.
The particular thing about this section is that the Holy Spirit is present and works in the church. That is something that always will amaze you and you can profit by it to the honor of the Lord Jesus, for you want to live to His honor, right? God the Holy Spirit dwells now on earth in the church. He has not come to glorify Himself, but the Lord Jesus (Jn 16:13). How wonderful that would be when the believers in the local church let Him direct everything to the glory of God and His Son!
Now read 1 Corinthians 12:1-7 again.
Reflection: What are you used to: saying ‘Jesus’ or ‘Lord Jesus’? Why?
8 - 13 The Gifts of the Spirit
8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another [various] kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. 12 For even as the body is one and [yet] has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
V8. There is no man who can convey a certain gift to another person. The source, the origin of all the gifts is not found in a man, but in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives and distributes. The gifts come from Him. Thereby the Holy Spirit considers the natural abilities of the believer.
A beautiful illustration of that you find in Matthew 25 (Mt 25:15). In the parable of the talents the Lord Jesus is telling there, He compares Himself with a man who went abroad and gives talents to his slaves. These talents represent the gifts each person receives to work with. You see that there is a distinction in the number of talents that each person receives, just as there is a distinction in the gift that each person receives from the Spirit.
Then you read further that these talents are given “each according to his own ability”. That refers to the natural abilities that each person is born with. As long as a person is not converted, he uses that natural ability for himself, to his own glory. After his conversion he can use that natural ability to serve the Lord, while he constantly ought to be alert not to take the credit for using his abilities.
A person, who is naturally capable to put something well into words, might receive the gift from the Spirit to serve others with the Word. A person who is caring and considerate will receive in many cases a pastoral gift from the Spirit. There are many examples like that, whereby the spiritual gift is related to the natural ability. In most cases it happens like that.
I can hardly imagine that, if you have no ability to work with children, you would receive a task to do children’s work. Nevertheless, in this respect we should not try to control the freedom of the Spirit in distributing to whom He wants. I believe that you might have a gift, which, according to your feeling, doesn’t directly connect to your natural capabilities. I know of somebody who thought that he had no ability to work among children. However, once he began this work, it became apparent that he, on the contrary, could deal very well with children. By opening up yourself to His guidance you will discover which gift you have.
The gifts that are mentioned in verses 8-10, are not a complete list of all gifts. It is important to pay attention to the sequence of these gifts. Paul summarizes the gifts according to their importance for the edification of the church. The Corinthians were proud of the so-called miracle gifts, especially speaking in tongues, which they held in high esteem. However, Paul doesn’t start with the miraculous gifts, but puts speaking in tongues and their interpretation at the bottom of the list. In chapter 14 he will deal with speaking in tongues in great detail and will clarify that this gift is not that important as the Corinthians thought it was.
The first gift that he mentions is “the word of wisdom”. In the church there may be situations, where it is not always clear what ought to be done. Wisdom is then the only way to deal with it. The definition of wisdom is, the capability to discern between good and evil and then to choose the good. Someone with this gift will then be able to tell the church what to do.
Another person has “the word of knowledge”. The believers of the church need to learn God’s thoughts, otherwise they will operate on their own understanding and the church will lose its character as a church of God. You can gain knowledge by being zealous in studying God’s Word.
V9-10. “Faith” is another gift. It is about a gift to a believer here; thus it cannot possibly refer to the saving faith. The saving faith is not a gift that is given to only a few. A believer who has the gift of faith, will always firmly trust in what God has said in relation to a certain task He has given, in spite of how many obstacles may come his way, while others would have given up a long time ago.
“Prophecy” is the gift to pass on God’s thoughts concerning the church, with regard to the present and the future. The basis of prophecy will always be the Word of God and will never contradict it. Therefore prophecy will never be based on speculation or imagination, but will always be testable to the Bible. In chapter 14 this gift is compared to the gift of speaking in tongues.
Another person may have the gift of “distinguishing of spirits”. You may relate this to what happens in the church. A person with this gift will be able to discern whether something comes from the Holy Spirit or comes from demons. In the last section you have seen that it is often quite difficult to determine from which source a certain message comes.
Speaking in “tongues” was important in case a stranger joins the gathering of the church. When such a person would suddenly hear a person speaking about God and the Lord Jesus in his own language, that could be his salvation for eternity, when he may be converted. The “interpretation of tongues” was necessary with a view to the church, because otherwise people would not understand anything about what is said. After all, the gifts were given to the profit of the whole. As it is said, in chapter 14 Paul deals in great detail with speaking in tongues in church.
V11. You see that there are many diversities of gifts and yet there is still a unity. That’s because one and the same Spirit works all these things. He distributes to each one individually as He wills. He determines which place each person has in the body. No theological training can work this. Only the Holy Spirit determines that.
One more thing. You can learn from the last three words of verse 11 that the Holy Spirit is God, for in verse 18 the same thing is said about God. Thus He is a Person, and surely a Divine Person, and not just an influence or a power, for only a person has a will.
V12. In this verse an example of a body is given to clarify what is previously said about the diversities of the gifts. A body has a couple of characteristics. Two of them are brought forward here. Firstly, a body forms a unity. Secondly, a body consists of a number of different members.
You might then expect it to be written: so also is the church. After all it is about the church. However, it is said “so also is Christ”. This makes it clear that Christ and the church are one. What goes for the church also goes for Christ.
Saul, later called Paul, had already got to grips with that aspect when he was still a persecutor of the church. In Acts 9:4 is told that, while he was on his journey to Damascus in order to bring the disciples of the Lord bound to Jerusalem, a voice from heaven said to him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” By persecuting the church he, in fact, persecuted Christ in heaven. In such a unity Christ is with His own on earth.
V13. All members of the church form together the one church. Each member of the body has its own function. It is about the unity of the body and about the many members, wherein Christ is seen on earth. As a member of the body your origins or social status are insignificant, “for by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body”.
Into that same Spirit you were made able to drink, in order to exercise your function in the body properly. From your own you have no power to function. Only when you let your life, as it were, be permeated with the Holy Spirit and when He totally infuses you, you will be able to function in your own place in the church.
Now read 1 Corinthians 12:8-13 again.
Reflection: Who is the Holy Spirit to you? How do you experience His presence in the church?
14 - 23 The Members of the Body
14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not [a part] of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less [a part] of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not [a part] of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less [a part] of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those [members] of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable,
V14. Paul now uses the human body very engagingly as an example to clarify that also the body of Christ, the church, consists of different members. By this example it also becomes clear that there are two risks to which the members of the church are exposed. The one risk is that of laziness: I am nothing and not capable of doing anything; somebody else will do that. The other risk is that of pride: I alone am important and can do something, I don’t need anybody. Of course these are the extremes, but I think they are quite recognizable.
The starting point for this example is: “The body is not one member, but many.” So it is about the multitude of different members of which the body consists. I say this just to make sure: the members of the body are the individual believers, that are you personally and me personally. Once in a while you may hear of the thought that the members are the different denominations but that is, of course, absolutely out of the question.
V15-16. Now about the first risk: laziness. Just imagine, Paul says here, that a foot and an ear would say, that they are not of the body. Just look at the reason they mention for this foolish phrase. They say respectively: “Because I am not a hand, … because I am not an eye.” What does this saying imply actually? That they envy another member for having that place and that they are not satisfied with their own place. That’s why they feel like they are “not [a part] of the body”. They feel like outsiders.
As absurd as this reasoning is for the human body, in that way it is absurd for the body of Christ. You cannot deny the function you have in the body, only because of the fact that you are unsatisfied with the place you take in the body, can you?
Despite that, there are believers to whom this applies. They are often critical, regarding many things, but in their life you cannot find anything that is for the profit of the church. They argue their responsibilities out and live their own easy life.
They resemble the man from the parable of Matthew 25. That’s the parable I referred you to at the beginning of the previous part. The servant who received five talents, traded with those and earned five more. He made a hundred percent profit. The servant with two talents made a profit of one hundred percent as well. However, what do you read about the servant who received one talent? “I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground” (Mt 25:25). It is apparent here that he dealt in a wrong way with his talent, because he did not know his lord; he was afraid of him.
In fact he did not find it worthy to trade with and hid his talent in the ground. After all it was ‘just’ one talent, while the others had more. His lord calls him a “wicked, lazy slave” (Mt 25:26). He was wicked and lazy. He was wicked because he called his lord a hard man and he was lazy because he did not do anything with his talent.
Do you recognize the similarity with our verses from 1 Corinthians 12? Therefore bear in mind: which function you may have, be satisfied with it and trade with it. You are only useful and needed for the other members of the body when you take the place God has given you. You could not possibly exert any influence on that.
V17-20. “God” has given the members, each of them, a place in the body “just as He pleased”. His will is always the best and the wisest. He knows exactly where someone fits best. What a monster a body would be if it was only an eye or an ear at all! That is no body. No, each member has been put on the right place by God in the body with the intention to serve each of the other members.
V21. The second risk is pride. Believers who as we say ‘have a great gift’ are in danger to think that they do not need other believers. That may not happen consciously, but unconsciously. Because of the ‘great gift’ he might exalt himself. He alone knows it; he can put it into words very well. It can also happen that the other members of the church, because of their laziness, love to give him that position.
Therefore, where situations are destabilized, the wrong positions strengthen each other. The lazy ones like to delegate to others, while the others like to have people who depend on them. But let this be clear: they who have a greater gift (at least what they think themselves) in order to function well, are dependent on those with a smaller gift (at least what they think themselves). If there is a piece of dirt in the eye, the little finger is an especially suited member to remove it.
What we consider great or small, is not the same as how God considers great and small. We often consider a gift from what we can see of it and how it impresses us. We are often more impressed by someone who is proclaiming the gospel to a full hall, than by someone who is testifying to his or her Savior with a highly blushed face towards a neighbor, a colleague or a fellow-student.
To God one thing is important and that is that we faithfully fulfill the order He gives us. He doesn’t reward to the size of the gift, but to the faithfulness with which the gift has been practiced. In Matthew 25 the reward for the man who received two talents, was as great as for the man with five talents: “Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Mt 25:21,23). Do you also notice that it is said here: “You were faithful with a few things”? Even the greatest gift is just few in comparison to what the Lord Jesus possesses and distributes.
V22-23. In a human body you have members that are hidden, like the heart, kidneys and lungs. Although you do not see them, they are of crucial importance for the proper functioning of your body. In the body of Christ it is also exactly like that.
There is a story of Spurgeon, a great preacher from the nineteenth century. He always had full halls and many have become believers due to his ministry. One evening when the building was full of people again, he was asked why he was that successful. He replied to this question by suggesting the questioner follow him to another room where he would show him the ‘central heating’. When he opened the door of that room, his companion saw a number of people who were kneeling down in prayer for the sake of the gathering.
All the work that may be done for the Lord Jesus and His own is done well through prayer. Eternity will tell what has mattered more: the eloquence of a speaker or the intensive prayers that an unknown believer prayed to God on behalf of the speaker as well as the sermon and also the audience.
In the meantime you must have figured out what the importance is of this section. The members of the body are given to one another to complement each other and support one another and not to fight against each other. If one of your legs wants to go left and the other leg wants to go right, you will not move one step forward. Just try how far you can spread your legs from each other. If you’re not agile, you might end up in a painful posture. Take your own place and pay attention to where you can be of profit for others.
Now read 1 Corinthians 12:14-23 again.
Reflection: Do you recognize one of the two risks to yourself? What should you do about that?
24 - 31 God Composed the Body
24 whereas our more presentable members have no need [of it]. But God has [so] composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that [member] which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but [that] the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if [one] member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, [various] kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not [workers of] miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.
V24-25. Division in the body is one of the worst things that can happen. You have learnt that this can be caused by laziness, also by jealousy and by pride as well. It is as if God has taken that into consideration. He gives more honor to the members of the body who do not attract attention than the members who do. God operates differently than we often do. We often look on the outward appearance and what is impressive, but with God that is not the case. Therefore we ought to look at the gifts with the eyes of God.
When God gives more honor to those who (in our eyes) have smaller gifts it would be good if we do that too. That is not to belittle the greater gifts, but that there should be no division in the body. By giving the greater gifts more honor – and how easily that happens – the balance in the body gets lost.
You find that explicitly in many parts of Christianity, where all gifts seem to be concentrated in one person. He is the one who prays, the one who addresses the ‘church’, who leads the service of the Lord’s Supper, who proclaims the gospel, who gives pastoral care to the flock. But even within denominations where there is not a ‘one-man-service’, where there is freedom in practicing the gifts, there is a great danger that the believers put their trust in the ones who have ‘greater’ gifts.
God’s intention is that all members care the same for one another. So it is about what you can do for another.
V26. How much the members are connected with one another, is shown in this verse. What is written there is not an order for the members to suffer with one another or to rejoice with one another. It is not something they should do, but it is something that happens. What is written there is a fact. Just compare it to your own body. When somebody kicks you very hard in your shin bone, your whole body aches because of that. Therefore when one member of the church cannot function, it affects the whole church.
The reason why a member is not able to function can be very different. A member who is involved with a church where all the gifts are assumed to be present in only one person (the clergy-man or the pastor) has no room to develop in his function, because of the church doctrine. Neither a church member, who had to be disciplined because of sin, can practice his function. In both cases all other members of the church are affected, because they lack the practical effect of that function.
Conversely the fact is that when a member of a church takes the right place and functions rightly, all members rejoice in that. When you practice your function, despite your feelings of weakness, then that is truly a joy for all members of the body.
You see how closely the members of the church are related to one another. Keep that in mind in everything you do. Everything you do, affects the other members of the body. The good things you do, edifies the church. The wrong things you do, has a negative impact on the church.
V27. Then something important follows. To all the members of the church at Corinth Paul says: ”Now you are Christ’s body.” Before I clarify the importance of this verse to you, I need to tell you some other things about the body of Christ first. The body of Christ can be examined from different angles.
Firstly, through the ages. The body of Christ came into existence on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out. This event is described in Acts 2. In our chapter, verse 13, this event is being referred to. Everyone who has converted to God and has accepted the Lord Jesus since the day of Pentecost belongs to the church. In this light the church is not complete yet, for happily it happens that daily people convert to God and are added to the church. The church is only complete when the Lord Jesus comes to take the believers to Himself. You can read about that event in 1 Thessalonians 4 (1Thes 4:15-18).
Secondly, you can see the church as it is at this moment on earth. In that way the church comprises all the believers who are still alive at this moment and who are, so to speak, actively a part of the church. This way of describing the church you can read in Ephesians 4 (Eph 4:16).
Thirdly, the body of Christ is also used to indicate the church as a whole of all believers in a certain city. That is the way it is used in our verse. The church at Corinth is addressed like that, in spite of many things that were not good. What is meant here by the expression “Christ’s body”, is, as it is sometimes said, the local reflection of the worldwide or universal church. A local church is a kind of miniature of the whole. What applies to the whole church on earth becomes visible in the local church.
The division, at the moment that Paul wrote this, was not that great as we are dealing with today. Nevertheless this verse gives an important indication which applies for our time as well. It actually indicates that there is a church in every place where believers live. Unfortunately, due to divisions that is often not visible at all on the outside. Yet, just as at Corinth, nowadays it can become visible too.
Even if there are only two or three believers at a certain place who do want to gather as nothing more and nothing less than as members of the body, they form the ‘miniature’ body. It is not their intention to be a new denomination next to the other denominations, but simply take what Paul says here as a starting point for their gatherings. If all Christians would do that, then division would soon be finished.
V28. Do the believers, who gather like that, have all the gifts that are mentioned in verse 28? No, certainly not. Due to divisions the gifts are also scattered. But God surely gives what’s needed, even when there are only two or three believers who truly want to express what the genuine intention of the body of Christ is. I say this consciously: ‘want to express’, to prevent the misconception that all other believers would not belong to the body of Christ. They are certainly included, but the point is that it ought to be expressed also.
The gifts mentioned, are gifts that God has given to the whole church. If you look carefully at the order in which the gifts are summarized, it seems to me that they are summarized according to the measure of importance that they have for the edification of the church.
V29-30. The questions that Paul is asking about the gifts emphasize once more that the gifts are not all united in one member or that all members have the same gift. In this case the questions give the answers at the same time. Of course not all are apostles, not all are prophets, etc. Each member has his own gift, though everyone is encouraged to strive using the gift optimally. To possess the gift is one thing, to really practice the gift and that in the best way, is another thing.
V31. If you look at your gift like that and you want to practice it with all your strength, you will discover in chapter 13 “a still more excellent way”. Actually that is the way of love.
Now read 1 Corinthians 12:24-31 again.
Reflection: How do you experience the suffering and the joy of verse 26?