1 Corinthians

The gifts of the Spirit. 12:1-11


In our passage for study, Paul introduces the subject of tongue-speaking; "now concerning spiritual speaking, I do not want you to be uninformed", 12:1. Paul goes to deal with the subject of tongue-speaking in the context of spiritual gifts in general.

The passage

v1-3. Paul now addresses a new topic, namely, "spiritual gifts", although in the Greek text the word simply means "spiritual matters." It is likely that Paul has in mind "spiritual speaking" and therefore, "speaking in tongues." Paul says it is easy to distinguish the genuine from the imitation, since the genuine article gives recognition and praise to Jesus, while the Satanic form curses Jesus.

v4-6. These verses present Paul's central point. There is not just one gift (tongues), but a variety of spiritual expression in the Christian life, all of which finds their origin in the one God. All these gifts should be widely diffused within the Christian church.

v7. The point of v4-6 was that the unity of the Godhead works as one in the giving of a diversity of spiritual gifts to the individual members of the church. The point of this verse is that this variety of gifts, given to the individual, has a common end, namely, the good of the congregation (upbuilding, edification).

v8. Paul now lists some of the variety of operations of the Spirit (along with the gift of tongues) that are given to individual Christians to enable them to serve the Lord for the upbuilding of the congregation ("the common good"). The first set of gifts are personal abilities that enable an understanding of the mind of Christ for the exercise of a Word ministry.

v9-10. The next set of manifestations of the Spirit fall under the heading of "faith". Two demonstrative outworkings of the gift of faith are the ministries of "healing" and of "wonderful works". Then follows the gifts that Paul is primarily concerned with; the gifts of "prophecy" and "tongues". Prophecy is the ministry of powerfully proclaiming the word of God. Tongues is a similar ministry, although the content of the message is not easily understood because there is a lack of clarity in the language used, ie. it is a form of ecstatic prophecy. It is for this reason that there is an associated ministry of Interpretation. The gift of "the ability to distinguish between spirits", may be an ability to discern whether the words of the prophets and tongue speakers are of the Lord, or are of natural man, or are even demonic.

v11. All these gifts come from the Spirit and He gives them as He wills. He gives variety, and apportions them within the sovereign will of God.

v12. Thus, there is a variety of gifts given to the members of Christ's body, the church, yet the individuals so endowed make up one organic whole - unity through variety.

Many parts but one body

The institutional church today has limited the Spirit's ministry of edification. Often our view of ministry smothers the variety of spiritual abilities that are available to individual members for the upbuilding of the congregation. This we do by institutionalizing spiritual abilities within the structure of ordained ministry. We often see the clergyman/pastor/priest as the possessor of all the gifts necessary for the growth of the people of God. In so doing we funnel the Spirit's ministry through the relative size of the minister's ecclesiastical collar and consequently, restrict the potential for growth.

Recent studies, attempting to identify the factors that make for lively, effective congregations, have found that a "motivated and mobilized laity" is the mark of a successful church. Of course, that's the jargon of human dynamics, but none-the-less, pragmatic observations can be an aid to assessing the life of our church.

The "funnel" phenomenon exists in many churches. Management decisions are initiated and controlled by a single person. Initiative is therefore, stifled, and the potential for the congregation to maximize its effectiveness is limited to the ability of the funnel's orifice.

Yet, too often, when power is moved from the minister, it falls into the hands of a church committee, parish council, eldership, deacons... This usually turns out to be a worse scenario. We all know that the best committee is a committee of one. When power is centered with a group of lay-managers who determine and manage policy through a monthly debating society, then the life of a church is easily stifled.

Our Lord's desire for his church is that we understand and apply the diversity of spiritual abilities found within the membership. It is the Spirit's task to give to individual members of the congregation abilities that can be used within the group to enable each individual to grow in their relationship with the Lord, to grow in fellowship one with another, and to reach out to God's broken world. We need to remember that from one God there is a diversity of gifts for the common good.

Let us shape our church-life in such a way as to provide the maximum freedom for the exercise of ministry gifts.


1. Taking the phrase "spiritual gifts" in v1 to mean "speaking in tongues", how can we distinguish between genuine and false tongue-speaking?

2. What are "gifts", "manifestations of the spirit"?

3. In v.4-7, Paul makes three points about "gifts", what are they?

4. Run through the different gifts listed in verses 7-10 and discuss what they might be.

5. In what ways do we limit the development and exercise of spiritual abilities within our own congregation?

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