Week 13– Spiritual Gifts and Their Purpose
1 Corinthians 12:1-13:13
By Michael Green
Countless times I’ve crossed the Vicksburg bridge that spans the Mississippi River, connecting Vicksburg, Mississippi to Delta, LA. Every time I cross it I am struck by the size and the grandeur of the mighty Mississippi. It’s technically not the longest river in the U.S., but it’s definitely the largest in terms of the volume of water passing through it. Crossing the bridge, I’m always in awe of its size and its power. The waters move so swiftly under the bridge and appear to be in a constant state of turmoil, continually churning. Looking over the edge while crossing, who would think that the Mississippi begins as a little runoff bubbling over rocks, flowing out of Lake Itasca in Minnesota about a 1,300-mile drive from that point? By the time the river passes between Vicksburg and Delta, a bucket drawn from its waters would contain drops from countless tributaries and major rivers such as the Missouri, Ohio, and Arkansas. Huge swaths of the continental United States would be represented. In a sense, that scene, in all of its glory, is really just a manifestation of countless unseen sources. In chapters 12 and 13 of 1 Corinthians, Paul will be discussing spiritual gifts given to every believer in Christ. These gifts are really manifestations of an unseen source, the one true God making himself known through his children.
Read 1 Corinthians 12:1-13:13 together.
- What does this passage say about God, who He is, and what He does? (Father, Son, and Spirit)
- What does this passage teach me about me?
- What comfort/promise/challenge can I take away from this passage?
- How will I respond or live differently because of what I’ve read?
Passage Specific Questions
- Paul basically provides a definition of spiritual gifts in 12:7, calling them “manifestation[s] of the Spirit for the common good.” Discuss the ins and outs of that definition with the group.
- Have you used your gifts in the church? If so, discuss a time that you did.
- Discuss a time when you experienced gift envy. How do we take captive this type of thinking, bringing it under the reign of Christ?
- If you are in Christ, you have a spiritual gift. And, you have been arranged by Christ in this body to deploy it. Are you currently using it at Anchor? Why or why not?
12:1-11 –Fresh off his admonishment to take The Lord’s Supper reverentially, Paul now turns his attention toward spiritual gifts. Paul doesn’t want the Corinthians to be “uniform” (v. 1) on the topic. He wants to educate them in an effort to eradicate the confusion permeating their church. The foundation of Paul’s discussion is that the gifts have one source. There is one ultimate gift giver. While the gifts take on varying forms, the source of the gifts remains the same. It is God the Spirit who indwells every believer (John 3:5-6, Romans 8:9). Each person is given a gift(s) when that takes place (vv. 7 & 11, Ephesians 4:7-8). Verse 7 actually states that the gifts are “manifestations of the Spirit.” Given that the gift does not originate in the child of God, but is due to being born again, the gift is really an expression of the Holy Spirit through the believer. It is God made manifest. This is not a person’s cleverness, talents, ingenuity, or skill. To be sure, all of those types of things may be used by God in the life of a believer and are gifts from the Lord. But, this is different. This is God in man, making himself known through man. It is divinity radiating through humanity.
And what is the purpose of these manifestations of the Spirit? Why does the Lord make himself manifest in his children in this way? The gifts of the Spirit are given for the “common good” (v. 7). In 1 Peter 4:10-11, Peter tells believers to use their gifts “to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” in order that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. Having stated the purpose of the gifts, Paul then lists various examples of gifts. This is not the only list of giftings outlined in the Bible and shouldn’t be taken to be exhaustive or systematically prioritized. This becomes clear when reading the other lists. They contain gifts not mentioned here and they are provided in varying orders. Wikipedia actually contains a very helpful table of the lists provided in Scripture that I have included below. (Have no fear, I have confirmed its validity since you can’t exactly believe everything that you read on the internet.)
12:12-31 – Verses 12-31 are housed in a central simile: the church is like a human body. There is one Spirit that regenerates us, adopting us as children of God. When we put our faith in Christ, we are immediately joined to the body of Christ, and we are to use our giftings to build up the body of Christ. Underlying Paul’s discussion are really two main errors that rear their heads many times in the church. The first is the thought that my gifts aren’t as valuable/special/usable/necessary as others’ gifts. The second is that we should all have the same gifts. In my experience, the two errors typically express themselves in opposite ways. The first is dejection, receding to the sidelines as others use their gifts on the field. The second is gift envy, which can result in attempting to play a role that I am not designed to play in the body.
Paul says that it is the Lord who has arranged us, and every believer’s role in the body is essential. You are in the body of Christ by design. You are there on purpose, with a purpose. “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (v. 18). There is inherent worth and dignity in that. It is really neat to think that every child of God has a role to play in God’s Church. He brings us into his purposes and asks us to join him in his work. In walking through various imaginary conversations between body parts, Paul is communicating that each member is indispensable, and their gifts are needed. No one member should be elevated above any other and all are necessary for the body to function properly. There is rest in that. The believer is being remade in Christ’s image according to his purposes and plans. Dwelling in that thought helps to free me from gift envy and trying to be something that I am not in Christ. The Spirit of God is remaking me on purpose, with a purpose, expressing himself uniquely through me. When everyone takes on that mindset, playing the role that they are designed to play, then the church is collectively bringing glory to Christ through members individually manifesting the Spirit by using their gifts. And, the church is strengthened as a result.
Lest the Corinthians become sidetracked on the gifts, Paul brings them back to the core of living out the Christian life. Alluding to his upcoming discourse on the primacy of love, Paul sets up his thoughts with the foreshadowing statement, “And I will show you a still more excellent way” (v. 31).
13:1-13 –I think that humans are generally fascinated with uniquely talented individuals. We are captivated by people that stand out from the crowd. It’s why multitudes of viewers tune in when Tiger Woods plays on a Sunday. When you read a biography, it is probably because that person stands out in your mind for some dramatic reason. Documentaries exploring the lives of people like Steve Jobs are fascinating to watch. But, this kind of thinking in the church can be dangerous. I am as captivated as anybody by the well-known figures in the history of Christianity, but the more miraculous fact is that the power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead resides within every believer (Romans 8:11)! As Paul made clear in the previous chapter, every believer has a spiritual gift(s) to be used to magnify the Lord and build up his body. Thus, it can be unhealthy to migrate our praise and adulation away from the gift giver and toward the gift itself. If we aren’t careful, we can also find ourselves elevating a person with a particularly pronounced gift, and a person’s giftedness can be falsely interpreted as spiritual maturity.
But, after discussing various spiritual gifts and their purpose, Paul reorients the minds of the Corinthians to the primacy of love. Speaking in hyperbole, Paul lists some jaw dropping gifts, but then states that those gifts are nothing if they aren’t embedded in love. I can’t really read this passage without thinking about Jesus’ words below from Matthew 22:35-40,
35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
All of the Law and the Prophets depend on loving God and loving others. Paul says that a dramatically overt demonstration of the Spirit like speaking “in the tongues of men and angels” becomes a clumsy clanging of symbols when devoid of love. Understanding all mysteries is nothing without love. Sacrificing one’s body to be burned is useless apart from love. These are incredible feats of the Christian walk, whose meaningfulness is emptied when love is not the motivating force. Paul outlines characteristics of a rich, biblical love, a love that involves the heart, mind, and will. Gifts, and the need for gifts, will pass away. But, love will remain. Love is preeminent in God’s kingdom.
The Main Point
Believers are indwelled by the Holy Spirit when they are born again. The Spirit of God then manifests himself through spiritual gifts that are given to every believer and are designed to bring glory to Christ and build up the church. All children of God are called to use their gifts, remembering that love is of primary importance in God’s kingdom.
A Few Relevant Scriptures
- 1 Peter 4 – Resist evil, use your spiritual gifts, and don’t be surprised by trials.
- Romans 12 – Offer yourselves to the Lord daily, using your gifts as God has apportioned and loving each other well.
- Ephesians 4:10-16 – Use your gifts to build up one another in love.