In this and the following two chapters of Corinthians, Paul discusses the use of gifts in the church. Along the same lines of order in the church stressed in chapter 11, Paul teaches that gifts are to be used for the edification of the church as a whole. The theme of chapter 12 is the diversity of gifts and the unity of the body of Christ.
Did You Know...?
“Spiritual gifts” (12:1): The word “gift” is added by the translators. The Greek simply has “concerning the spiritual.” The term “the spiritual” is used again in 14:1 where Paul teaches the believers to earnestly desire “the spiritual.” Apparently, the term means “the spiritual things,” namely, the gifts he mentions in chapter 12.
Identify the contrasting pairs in this chapter.Hide Answer
Varieties and sameness (vv. 4–6); many and one (vv. 12, 14, 20); weaker and indispensable (v. 22); less honorable and greater honor (v. 23); unpresentable and greater modesty (v. 23); division and same care (v. 25).
Why does Paul wish for the Corinthians to recall their former days as idol-worshippers?Hide Answer
Paul contrasts and compares the former influence the Corinthians were under and the current guidance of the Spirit. Whereas unbelievers are swayed by the evil one to worship idols, believers live under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, in the body of Christ, the Holy Spirit plays a central role in determining how the gifts are distributed to different individual members. At the same time, the Holy Spirit also unites all believers with a common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (“no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit”).
Does verse 3 teach that everyone who professes the name of Jesus Christ has received the Holy Spirit?Hide Answer
The phrase “in the Spirit of God” may be understood in the instrumental sense, indicating that it is by means of the Spirit of God that a person confesses the Lord Jesus. In other words, the Holy Spirit inspires a person to honor Jesus as Lord. This is the initial work of the Holy Spirit upon a believer. It is to be distinguished from receiving the promised Holy Spirit. A person does not receive the promised Holy Spirit instantly upon believing the Lord Jesus (cf. Acts 8:12, 14–17, 19:1–6). He still needs to ask for and wait for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 11:13). When the Holy Spirit falls on a person, it is accompanied by speaking in tongues (cf. Acts 2:4: 10:45–46; 19:6).
What point is Paul making by stating that all the gifts originate from the same source?Hide Answer
The various gifts of the Holy Spirit ought to be well-coordinated because it is the same Spirit who orchestrates their functions. Hence, no matter how diverse our respective gifts are, we are to work in unity rather than engage in rivalry.
What is the purpose of the gifts of the Spirit?Hide Answer
The different manifestations of the Spirit work together to serve the common good (v. 7). Our gifts are for the purpose of building up the entire body of Christ.
How is the human body an apt analogy for the church?Hide Answer
The body is made up of many different members, but there is no division among the members. No member can claim that it has no need of the other members (vv. 14–17). All the members all work perfectly together to serve the good of the whole body. This is how the members of Christ’s body are to work together with their various gifts and functions. Our goal in serving is to contribute to the larger good rather than feed our individual interests.
Another characteristic of the human body is that each member is directly affected by other members of the body. When one member suffers, all the other members feel the same pain even though they are not the ones being hurt (vv. 25–26). Such kind of mutual care is crucial in the body of Christ. We cannot only look to our interests but should also look to each other’s interests (cf. Php 2:4).
What does it mean that we were all baptized in one Spirit?Hide Answer
The phrase “in one Spirit,” like the phrases “in the Spirit of God” and “in the Holy Spirit” in verse 3, may be in the instrumental sense. Thus, we may understand verse 12 as saying that by means of one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. This is consistent with the truth presented in
1 Corinthians 6:11, that we were washed, sanctified, and justified by the Spirit of God. Our baptism into Christ is in fact the work of the Holy Spirit and not the work of man. The Holy Spirit actively participates in baptism by granting the forgiveness of sins and bearing witness together with the blood and water (Jn 20:21–23; 1 Jn 5:6–9).
What does it mean that we were all made to drink of one Spirit?Hide Answer
When the Lord Jesus promised that those who believed in Him would later receive the Holy Spirit, He used the analogy of drinking water (Jn 7:37–39). Therefore, for all of us to drink of one Spirit means that we who have received the promised Holy Spirit have the same indwelling Spirit in us.
What makes a member of the body think that he or she is more important than other members?Hide Answer
Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that certain gifts are not very useful, especially when we feel that we have certain gifts that others do not have. For example, if we have the gift of prophecy (i.e. to speak the word of God in public), we may feel that the gift of administration another person has is not very important because it is not directly related to the proclamation of God’s word. But no one gift is dispensable. Thinking that the gifts we have are more important is contrary to the unity in the body of Christ. In addition, we cannot take credit for our gifts because we are simply recipients of these gifts assigned to carry out our respective functions, and it is God who ultimately brings about the growth of His body (cf.
1 Cor 3:5–7, 4:7).
Why is it important to remember that there are many members and a variety of gifts (vv. 14–20)?Hide Answer
No single member can function alone. Ministry is a team work. To think that doing God’s work is a one-person show is as absurd as to think that one member of the body can meet all the needs of the whole body. With the correct mindset that all members need to work together in harmony, we would humbly seek the help of coworkers and respect the roles of others.
How do we members of Christ’s body show the same care for one another?Hide Answer
In verse 26 we see a concrete expression of what it means for the members of the body to show the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. To have the same care for one another is to stand in solidarity regardless of our diversity. We need to love all the members equally by being connected to them and sharing their burdens and joys. The problems of other members should be like our own problems, and their success should be like our own success.
In your experience, what are important qualities in working with other members?Hide Answer
Working in unity as one body takes much conscious effort on the part of every member, including humility, gentleness, and patience (Eph 4:1–3). Differences of opinion are common because we all have different ways of looking at things. To work together with people who are different from us requires training ourselves to be active listeners and not insisting on having things done our way. Above all, we need to care for each other with love. The church is not a business that only focuses on maximizing profit. Our goal is to spur each other unto spiritual maturity. Genuine concern for each other’s spiritual well-being enables us to work out our differences and overcome whatever frictions that may occur.
Verses 28 and 30 are often cited as the basis for the argument that not everyone who receives the Holy Spirit speaks in tongues. How would you answer this argument?Hide Answer
Speaking in tongues is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and not everyone has this gift. It is a special ability given by the Holy Spirit. Verse 10 calls this gift “various kinds of tongues.” It is used in worship only when someone present is able to interpret the tongues (
1 Cor 14:27–28). This special ability is to be distinguished from the speaking of tongues that accompanies receiving the Holy Spirit, just as the special gift of faith mentioned in verse 9 is to be distinguished from the faith in Christ that we all should have. Speaking in tongues as evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit is common to everyone who receives the Holy Spirit and is not limited to a gifted few. If speaking in tongues does not occur every time the Holy Spirit is poured out, the apostles and the writer of Acts would not have used it to determine if someone had received the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 10:44–47, 11:15, 19:1–6).