1Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. 2You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.
4There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
7Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
A well-known American basketball player, Kobe Bryant, recently won his fourth NBA championship. He had won three very early in his career but spent the last several seasons coming up short, amidst much criticism that he was a selfish player. He no longer had great veteran players around him like he did when he was younger and won his championships, he was now surrounded by younger players. Bryant, said his critics, would never win again until he learned to trust his teammates and actually pass them the ball on occasion. Kobe had to learn that his immense individual talent would be of little advantage if he only used it with himself in mind. He had to harness it and use it to build up and support his teammates. He finally learned how to do this year and won another championship.
Paul now turns his attention to a question that the Corinthians have written him concerning spiritual gifts. There are many varieties of spiritual gifts, yet what Paul seems to be ultimately after is a realization among the Church for the need of unity. They have been operating as individuals not as a team. The great thing about good teams is that they have all sorts of players with different skills and talents. A good basketball team must have some players who can shoot from the outside well and others who can score from the inside. Just as they need these great offensive players, the team also needs great defensive players and great rebounders. Each player has his own gifts and when they are put all together towards the same purpose, a symphony of unity flows out in a beautiful display of team basketball. This is what Paul wants for the Corinthian Church. Just as a players on a team all need each other if they are to succeed, so do Christians in the Church.
The root problem that Paul is apparently dealing with is that some in the Church at Corinth were considering themselves more important than others in the Church. This is yet another sign of their problem with pride and self-focus, and is quite probably another instance of the rich and self-important looking down upon the rest of the Church. Paul will take the next three chapters to address this issue and it will help us greatly to remember that all three chapters are part of a larger argument. In this chapter Paul will address, in theory, the issue of unity. In chapter 13 he will remind the Corinthians that all of this must be seen in the light of the great motivator, love. In chapter 14, he will take the theory, drenched in love and apply it to real situations that they were having. He will bring this all together in chapter 15 as he discusses the foundation for the way they act in the present age which is the Gospel, the resurrection of Christ and the future resurrection of those in Christ.
Paul begins reminding them that they used to be pagans (or Gentiles). He has three points in this. The first is that He sees Christians as a different sort of human being from the normal categories of Jews and Gentiles. The second is somewhat of a sarcastic reminder that they have been wrong before. The third is to make an analogy. Just as pagans are led astray in their use of spiritual things, so were the Corinthians. They had not made a direct enough break between spiritual behavior and Christian behavior. Some of them were getting caught up in the emotional fervor of spiritual behavior rather than seeking to glorify God with their Christian spiritual gifts. It is easy to suppose that anything that looks spiritual is also automatically from God. Some in Corinth were getting caught up in the hype of their own spiritual gifts and believing that this spiritual experience made them better than others. Thus, Paul’s point is that it can be difficult to distinguish between genuine Christian behavior that glorifies God and ecstatic spiritual behavior that exalts oneself. The test is whether the behavior truly exalts Christ and acknowledge that “Jesus is Lord,” or does it exalt oneself and thus, ultimately, deny the lordship of Christ?
All of the different gifts and abilities that were available within the body of Christ must all be tempered by the unity of the source. In making this point, Paul turns to very trinitarian thought, although he is not directly addressing the issue of the Trinity. If he didn’t embrace some sort of belief in the equality and unity of the Trinity, though, verses 4-6 would not only be incoherent, they would be blasphemous. There are varieties of gifts given by the Spirit’s grace that are to be used in the Christ-like attitude of service, and are the result of God’s powerful working in someone’s life. All of the different aspects and gifts that are ordained by God, enabled by Christ, and bestowed by the Spirit must bring the body together not cause division among it.
Paul now turns to the discussion of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, but not before reminding them that these gifts are given for the common good, not for exhilarating personal experiences. He gives an extensive representative, but not exhaustive list of the gifts of the Spirit. He mentions nine gifts that can be divided generally into three categories. The first category is revelation (wisdom, and messages of knowledge); the second is proclamation (prophecy—giving the message; distinguishing between spirits—recognizing the proper message; and interpreting tongues—the proper language); the third is confirmation (faith, healing, miraculous powers and tongues) to confirm that one really was from God.
Verse 11 serves as a summary for what Paul has just said, yet it underlines his point. All of these gifts are the work of one and the same Spirit; they all come from the same source, the Spirit, who is perfectly united with God. Just as the Spirit is united with the Father and the Son, so should the Church be. At the same time, though, Paul points out that these gifts are given at the determination of the Spirit. Thus, in the same sentence he both confirms the unity of the Spirit and His gifts, while affirming the diversity of free will and creativity. Both are important in the body of Christ and a balance between unity and diversity must always be found and struck in the healthy Church.
Do you value the gifts that God has given you and the role in which the Spirit has placed you, or do you often question the gifts and role that God has given to you? We are often prone to the opposite errors of thinking ourselves better than others due to our gifts, or thinking our gifts not good enough when compared to others. Neither attitude pleases God. Where do you fall? Are you grateful and humble about the things God has given you or do you need to rethink your attitudes in this area?