1 Corinthians 12 starts a 3 chapter long discussion by Paul on what true Christian spirituality looks like. The Corinthians have asked Paul’s advice on spirituality (that’s the word used in the first verse!) and in particular, it seems, about the gifts or “special abilities” that the Spirit gives. I can understand the Corinthians wanting further advice about what it means to be spiritual. They came from a society where there were plenty of spiritual options on the table. All around them were examples of “spiritual gifts” – some not dissimilar to those being found in the church. Most of the Gentiles in the congregation would have been participants in this spiritual smorgasbord before they became Christians. Sound familiar? They wanted to know how to tell the genuine article – the gifting of the Holy Spirit – from the frauds of Satan.
Paul’s first point then is key: it’s all about Jesus. If someone curses Jesus, then they’re obviously not speaking by the Spirit of God. (Kind of obvious to us – but the point needs to be made!) But the other side of the coin is true too: nobody can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. Not that we’re talking about merely rolling the words “Jesus is Lord” off one’s tongue… we’re talking about believing and professing Jesus as Lord in the face of a hostile world. Without God’s Spirit assuring us of the truth of that Lordship, why would we keep professing it?
So… what about spiritual gifts. Well, says Paul, when we’re dealing with the Spirit of God, we’ve got to realise that God has a plan and a purpose in mind when he hands out gifts to his children. The gifts show something of the unity of God: all the gifts come from the one Spirit, there are different kinds of service, but the same Lord that is served, God works in different ways – but God does the work in all of us. I’d suggest that those are three different ways of approaching the same topic… the Spirit, the Lord and the Father are united in giving gifts to the church, so that we might serve the Lord as God works in us. Which is why Paul says that we’re all given a spiritual gift so that we can help each other; is that not serving Jesus?
Note also: everybody is given a spiritual gift. If you are a Christian, you have been given a gift. Not necessarily one of those listed in this chapter – the Spirit can give an innumerable number of gifts; here Paul is just focussing on a representative sample. Paul’s point is that the Spirit of God gives out what gifts he wants to whom he wants. I can’t simply decide that I want to speak in tongues, or prophesy (though I do want to – Paul even says its good to desire helpful gifts!).
No – God gives gifts based on his plans and purposes for the body of Christ, that is, his church. If we all had exactly the same gifts, the body wouldn’t be able to function. We’re all baptised into Christ’s body by the Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. But that Spirit is expressed differently depending on how the Spirit would equip the church. Some are eyes, some are calves. Some are apostles or prophets, some are helpers. In fact, says Paul, just because my gift does seem as spiffy and out there doesn’t mean it’s not vital… it is. And my gift might not see me paraded on the stage; I might be the one to pack up the chairs. Actually, those parts that seem “less honourable”…. they get clothed more carefully. That is, the body as a whole should be doing more to look after those who don’t have “upfront” or “impressive” gifts. Thing is: we need each other. When my toe hurts, all of me knows about it – not just the toe. If my voice is honoured – it’s my whole being that gets the praise.
Yes – God has gifted his church with all that she needs. I don’t have the same gifts as you. But, as GOd powerfully works within us both, let us pray that he would gift us in such a way that I could be helpful to you, and that you could be helpful to me. Let me serve Christ by serving you. Father – please make me a better servant of Christ.