11. Diverse and Unifying Gifts in the Church (1 Corinthians 12)

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Detail of Joseph Ignaz Mildorfer (1719-1775), Pentecost (1750s), oil on canvas, 55x33 cm, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest.
Detail of Joseph Ignaz Mildorfer (1719-1775), Pentecost (1750s), oil on canvas, 55x33 cm, Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest.

It is possible to have strong spiritual gifts in your life, but be way off-base in the way you use them. It is possible to have spiritual gifts and not understand their correct use. And it's possible when you're not personally familiar with a particular spiritual gift to have no appreciation for it, or even teach that it has passed away.

The Corinthian church was rich in spiritual gifts -- but weak in wisdom. As Paul began this letter, he told the Corinthians, "You do not lack any spiritual gift" (1:7). The church needs teaching. They need perspective from Paul who has had a lot of experience with spiritual gifts -- their use, misuse, and disuse.

Spiritual Gifts and Spirituality (12:1)

"Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant." (12:1)

The words "spiritual gifts" translate the Greek word pneumatikos, here, "spiritual things or matters,"418 or, perhaps, "spiritual persons," since he begins by explaining the difference between the evil spirits that motivated pagan prophecy and the Holy Spirit of God.

One of the issues at Corinth is what it means to be "spiritual." Paul has indicated earlier that, despite their protests, they are not spiritual.

"Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual (pneumatikos) but as worldly -- mere infants in Christ." (3:1)

True spirituality, as he contends in chapters 12-14, is motivated by love and seeks to build up the body with spiritual gifts, not motivated by pride with no thought of the needs of the church.

Discerning the Spirit (12:2-3)

Paul begins by giving the Corinthians a basic lesson in discernment.

"2 You know that when you were pagans419, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore 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." (12:2-3)

Paul is saying that these formerly-pagan Corinthian believers knew something about speaking under the influence420 of false spirits -- even though the idols themselves had no real existence (8:4; 10:19) and no ability to speak themselves.421 The Greeks had a long history with prophetic oracles from Delphi, where a priestess under the influence of a spirit (pneuma) would utter predictions.

Paul tells them that a person who prophesies that Jesus is cursed can't be from the true God. And that only a Holy Spirit inspired prophet can prophesy that "Jesus is Lord." This isn't really a test he is proposing. Rather, Paul is affirming the existence of false spirits in prophecy, and calls on these formerly-pagan believers to be discerning, as the Apostle John taught the churches he ministered to (1 John 4:2).

I once pastored in a small town that had its own annual psychic festival -- a very New-Agey kind of place. A number of people there would describe themselves as "spiritual," even though they wouldn't identify themselves as Christ-followers. There are real spiritual powers that are behind false religions -- Paul called them "demons" (10:20-21). Often, people who are involved in this kind of false worship are themselves infected spiritually with these spirits, as was the slave girl in Philippi, who "had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling" (Philippians 16:16-18).

 Origin of Spiritual Gifts (12:4-6)

Having called for discernment, Paul begins to explain about spiritual gifts from the true God.

"4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (12:4-6)

God is the author of all true spiritual gifts, even though there may be great differences between the gifts. As we'll see, the Corinthians tended to value speaking in tongues much too highly, and thus denigrate or ignore some of the other gifts. Notice the synonyms Paul uses in verses 4-6:

Vs. 4 Gifts same Spirit
Vs. 5 Service same Lord
Vs. 6 Working same God

These spiritual gifts can be thought of as gifts, as service, and as working. "Gifts" is charisma, plural, charismata (from which we get our word "charismatic," gifted). Charisma means, "that which is freely and graciously given, favor bestowed, gift,"422 from charis, "grace, unmerited favor." It is important that we understand that spiritual gifts are not given to us as a badge of righteousness or spirituality. They are a gift given in spite of ourselves, to fulfill God's own purposes, not to enhance our spiritual portfolio.

"Service/s" (NIV, NRSV), "administrations" (KJV) is diakonia, "service," here, "functioning in the interest of a larger public, service, office," of the prophets and apostles.423 This is not just an act of service, but an assignment to serve. The so-called "five ministry gifts" of Ephesians 4:11 might be thought of in this light.

"Working" (NIV), "activities" (NRSV, ESV), "operations" (KJV) is energēma (from a root which underlies our word "energy"), "activity as expression of capability, activity."424 You might think it is a gifted person working, but it is, in fact, the Holy Spirit working through him or her.

Notice the words "differences, diversities, varieties425" that appear in verses 4-6. The Corinthians seem to have fixated on speaking in tongues, and undervalued other gifts. One of Paul's tasks in chapter 12 is to help them appreciate the wide range of gifts that the Holy Spirit has distributed, not just one or two gifts, as he says in verse 11.

"All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines." (12:11)

Their unity, Paul is saying, is not found in uniformity of the gifts exercised, but in the one God who distributes the wide variety of gifts.

The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts (12:7)

Paul has described the operation of these diverse gifts in several ways, but now he points again toward unity, the "common good."

"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." (12:7)

"Manifestation" is phanerōsis, "disclosure, announcement, revelation, appearance," from phainō, "to show, become visible."426 It is through the working of the various spiritual gifts that God "shows up" and reveals himself at work in our midst.

The purpose of the gifts is "for the common good" (NIV, NRSV), "to profit withal" (KJV). The prepositional phrase is pros427 to sympheron. The object is a participle of the verb sympherō, with the sense, "to be advantageous, help, confer a benefit, be profitable/useful."428 The Corinthians, however, seemed to be using spiritual gifts for their own benefit, without regard to the needs of the assembled congregation (14:12). In fact, sometimes their use of spiritual gifts hurt the body (14:23). Gifts are given to build up the body and strengthen God's people.

Q1. (1 Corinthians 12:7) What is the purpose of spiritual gifts? What happens when people don't employ spiritual gifts for their intended purpose? What happens when a whole church full of people start using their diverse spiritual gifts?

Numbering the Spiritual Gifts

It's amusing to see how rigidly some teachers have categorized the spiritual gifts. Here are the Nine Gifts. In Ephesians 4:11 are the Ministry Offices. But Paul isn't nearly as dogmatic as some modern-day teachers. He is emphasizing the great variety of gifts, not a limited number. Peter Wagner lists 27 gifts of the Spirit.429 Others come up with a few less. But when you consider several factors with the gifts, you can come up with a huge variety -- literally billions. Here's the formula:

Gifts x Personality x Context x Passion = infinite variety

You will have a unique "gift mix," particular gifts, ministered a certain way, that characterize your unique ministry.

Before we get into the individual gifts, it's important to note that all Christians can access the God of wonders by prayer. But some find that God often uses them in a certain way; those people probably have a special gift. Over my ministry I've occasionally seen God work through me with a wide variety of gifts -- occasionally miraculous -- but my core gifts probably boil down to two gifts that aren't so spectacular. Perhaps an apostle might have more core gifts, but most people probably mostly use one primary gift, or just a few. That's okay, as we'll learn in 12:27-31.

Finding out what your core gifts are is important to you growing and maturing as a productive Christian.

Words of Wisdom and Knowledge (12:8)

So let's begin by studying the nine gifts Paul lists in this passage.

"To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit...." (12:8)

Paul begins his list with two gifts related to a "word" (KJV), "message" (NIV), "utterance" (NRSV). The Greek is logos, a very common noun, "a communication whereby the mind finds expression, word." It is used primarily of oral expression, and could well mean, "message."430

Paul mentions two varieties: wisdom and knowledge. In English we differentiate between these by saying that knowledge is related to knowing facts or having understanding, while wisdom is knowing what action to take in a situation. Greek seems to be similar. "Knowledge" is gnosis, "comprehension or intellectual grasp of something,"431 while "wisdom" (sophia) is "the capacity to understand and function accordingly."432 You can probably imagine a person who is a genius so far as intellect is concerned, but an infant with his ability to live a normal life, that is, wisdom with regard to relating appropriately to family, to work, to neighbors, etc.

Here is what seems to make sense to me. The word of knowledge is a supernatural ability to know something that helps you minister to a person. This is more than an acute ability to "read" people -- though God uses that too. It is supernatural, something you wouldn't have known otherwise.

You can see Jesus modeling the gifts of the Spirit for us. Unlike some people who see Jesus' miracles as unique and impossible for anyone but the Son of God to perform, I see Jesus as our exemplar in ministry, who ministered supernaturally because the Holy Spirit was upon him (Acts 10:38; Luke 4:14) and because of his intimate communication with his Father (John 5:19). In fact, he told his disciples that they "will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father...." (John 14:12) "It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7).

We see the word of knowledge in Jesus' ministry in his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. He told her,

"You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband." (John 4:17-18)

The result of him sharing this information with her was her belief that he was a prophet, and her evangelization of her whole town.

I've seen the word of knowledge used in conjunction with ministries of counseling, exhortation, and healing. Yes, some abuse it and try to counterfeit it, but that doesn't mean there isn't a true gift of knowledge

Jesus models the word of wisdom in his confrontations with the Pharisees. They try to trick him into taking a position on Roman taxation. He asks for a denarius coin, inquires whose image is on the coin, and replies, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (Matthew 22:18-22). It was an amazing answer to a trick question. Another example is Jesus and the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11).

In our day we see an occasional situation where God shows someone in the church what action to take that is unexpected and profound. Perhaps this is a gift needed by church leaders so that they might guide Christ's church well.

Q2. Is it legitimate to use Jesus as our example in the use of spiritual gifts? Or was he so different than we are that we can't pattern our ministry after his example?

Gifts of Faith, Healing, and Miracles (12:9-10a)

Now Paul mentions the gifts of faith, healing, and miracles.

"9 ... To another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers...." (12:9-10a)

The gift of faith is not your garden-variety saving faith that has been apportioned to all (Romans 12:3), but enormous faith beyond anyone's expectation. This kind of faith often results in great works.

One of the best examples of this is the ministry of George Müller (1805-1898), director of the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England, that cared for more than 10,000 orphans during his lifetime. He made it a practice never to tell people of the financial needs, but to bring them to God in prayer. I encourage you to research his life. Some of the great ministries and churches have been built by men and women with this gift of faith.

Gifts of healing are well-documented in Jesus' life. But they also were a mark of the early church's ministry. The early writer of the concluding chapter of Mark's gospel certainly had this expectation:

"And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name ... they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well." (Mark 16:17-18)

There are many examples of miraculous healing in the book of Acts. What isn't as well known is that miraculous healing continued to occur throughout the history of the church up to the present day. It is well-documented.433 I have a Southern Baptist pastor friend who invites people for healing prayer after his services and carries a bottle of anointing oil with him at all times. His church has seen many healings -- some gradual and a few immediate. This present-day example could be multiplied many thousands of times.

Note that the text reads literally, "gifts of healings." This probably indicates a variety in this gift. It seems that some people with the gift of healing "specialize," that is, they have better results healing certain types of illnesses than others. Some work with individuals, other with crowds of people. It depends upon how one is gifted.

In the twentieth century we saw the rise of healing evangelists who ministered to the masses. T.L. Osborn (1923-2013), Oral Roberts (1918-2009), Kathryn Kuhlman (1907-1976), Ray Jennings, and many others have seen hundreds of thousands of people come to Christ in this way. Have some healing evangelists missteped and manipulated people? Sadly, yes. But has the gift produced genuine and abundant fruit for the Kingdom? Absolutely!

Perhaps you believe you have a healing gift. I encourage you to talk to your pastor about it and seek opportunities to pray for people who are sick.434

The gift of "working of miracles" (NRSV, KJV), "miraculous powers" (NIV), is two words: energēma, "activity as expression of capability," which we saw in 12:6, and dynamis (from which we get our words "dynamic" and "dynamite"). It means, "power, might, force," here, "a deed that exhibits ability to function powerfully, deed of power, miracle, wonder."435 The miracles of Moses -- opening the Red Sea, water from the rock, etc. -- were followed by miracles done by the prophets. Jesus performed many healing miracles, but miracles without healing included the stilling of the storm, walking on the water, the feeding of the 5,000 and 4,000, and others.

While healing miracles might happen more regularly as gifted people offer Christ's healing in crusades, outdoor meetings, and churches, non-healing miracles are probably less predictable. But many, many missionaries come home with stories of God's miraculous provision. Many of you have seen miracles yourselves. A person with a gift of miracles probably has the gift of faith working with the gift of working of miracles, and sees miracles much more often than the average Christian, though many believers have seen genuine miracles at least once.

Prophecy, Discernment of Spirits, Tongues, and Interpretation (12:10b)

Now we come to some of the more controversial gifts -- prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues and interpretation.

"... To another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues." (12:10b)

I'm going to defer a detailed discussion of prophecy, tongues, and interpretation to chapter 14 (Lesson 13), where Paul speaks of them at length. However, let me offer a few definitions here.

Prophecy is a gift whereby God brings a message to an individual or a congregation through a person. Those who are used often in this gift could be termed "prophets." We see prophets referred to in the early church (Ephesians 4:11; Acts 13:1; 11:27-28; 21:10-11). Prophecy is sometimes seen in the Bible as accompanying a filling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:6; 1 Samuel 10:6, 10; 19:20-24). I don't see prophecy as the gift of preaching, even anointed preaching. However, I have heard preachers move into prophecy in their sermons occasionally.436 More often I've seen people receive a "word" for someone else in the congregation, and when that is shared with the person it is often a moving confirmation of what God is saying to them. Some congregations regularly hear words of prophecy brought in the congregation. Is prophecy sometimes abused? Yes. But that is no reason to "despise" it; rather an excellent reason to be discerning (14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:21-23). More in Lesson 13.

Tongues (singular glōssa, plural glōssalalia) is the supernatural ability to speak in another language. It was used evangelistically on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4) and was common in the early church (Mark 16:17). Paul probably refers to tongues in chapter 13 when he says, "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels..." (13:1). Tongues with an interpretation can -- like prophecy -- build up the congregation (14:13). Sometimes tongues and prophecy seem to accompany a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:45-46; 11:15-17; 19:1-7), a phenomenon that Pentecostals have built into a doctrine of speaking in tongues as the "necessary evidence" of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.437 Paul seemed to use tongues as a kind of personal "prayer language" (14:13-18). Can speaking in tongues be abused? Yes. It was abused in Corinth and in many churches today that don't follow Paul's instructions in chapter 14. But that is no reason to reject it completely. We'll talk at length about tongues in Lesson 13.

Interpretation of Tongues is the ability to interpret speaking in tongues, so that the whole congregation might understand what is being said. We'll discuss this further in Lesson 13.

Discernment of spirits is the special ability to be able to discern438 the spirits that motivate or oppress a person. Jesus modeled this ability for us in several of his healing miracles. I've found that people who have been delivered from occult practices often have spiritual sensitivities in this area. Sadly, we sometimes encounter people today who are spiritually infected with unclean spirits. The gift of discernment of spirits is important for at least one member of a team seeking to deliver a person from demonic influence or exorcise an evil spirit.

We've commented on each of the nine spiritual gifts listed here, but, of course, that list isn't exhaustive. And much more could be said profitably. Whole books have been written by people who are experienced in a particular gift. But I hope you find my comments helpful and suggestive.

Note: This is not the time to criticize others' use of spiritual gifts, but to look for positive examples of the use of spiritual gifts.

Q3. (1 Corinthians 12:8-10) Has God used you in one of these nine spiritual gifts -- or someone you know? How has this gift help build up and strengthen your congregation or community?

The Spirit Gives Gifts (12:11)

"All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines." (12:11)

At the close of this chapter, Paul tells us to "eagerly desire the greater gifts" (12:31), but we're not in some kind of Gift Accumulation Race to show who is most spiritual. You can't just receive spiritual gifts by pestering God for them. Verse 11 explains five things about spiritual gifts.

  1. The Holy Spirit empowers the gifts. The word is energeō (which we saw in verse 6), "to bring something about through use of capability, work, produce, effect."439 These don't operate according to your energy or power, but God's. Sometimes gifted ministers can begin to take gifts for granted, and get a feeling of power, pride, and entitlement. No! God empowers the gifts; humans only employ them by faith.
  2. The Holy Spirit distributes the gifts. Gives" (NIV), "allots" (NRSV), "dividing" (KJV) is diaireō, "distribute, divide, apportion."440 God's purpose with the gifts is to have a healthy, balanced, powerful Church that is a place of healing and equipping to do Christ's work. As Paul will explain in a moment, this requires a wide variety of gifts, not just a couple of popular, crowd-awing gifts that everybody asks for.
  3. The Holy Spirit gives at least one gift to every person. This verse suggests that each Christian has at least one spiritual gift. The distributive pronoun is hekastos, "each, every."441
  4. The Holy Spirit distributes the gifts individually. The NRSV translates well the phrase, "to each one individually." The pronoun is idios, "one's own," here, "pertaining to a particular individual, by oneself, privately."442 The Spirit has gifts specially suited to the way He has "wired" you. They are tailored to you. That doesn't mean you are now fully ready to minister them with power, but as you yield yourself to God you will be.
  5. The Holy Spirit distributes the gifts according to his own will and plan. You don't get to decide your destiny. God does. The verb is boulomai, "to plan on a course of action, intend, plan, will."443 The "4 Spiritual Laws" is true; God does have "a wonderful plan for your life" -- and it includes spiritual gifts. Without learning to use well the spiritual gifts God has for you, your life and future will be stunted, unfulfilled.

Q4. (1 Corinthians 12:11) What are several lessons that we learn from verse 11? What is the role of the Holy Spirit in spiritual gifts?

Many Parts, One Body (12:12)

Now Paul introduces the analogy of a body that explains unity through diversity, how each very different person and gift goes into making a healthy, capable, well-rounded body.

"The body is a unit444, though it is made up of many parts445; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ." (12:12)

Just as a human body has many parts and organs, so does Paul's analogy to Christ's body, the church.

Baptized by the Spirit into Christ's Body (12:13)

Baptism is the introduction to being a part of the church -- and a "member" of Christ.

"For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free -- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." (12:13)

The Baptizer in this analogy is the Holy Spirit -- He is the one through whom we come to faith and to water baptism. And when we become Christians, that is, members of Christ's body, we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, or, as Paul puts it here, "given the one Spirit to drink."

Notice, Paul isn't speaking of an experience of some, but of all believers. Though some of my Pentecostal brothers and sisters may disagree with me at this point, I don't believe Paul is speaking here of the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" as a second work of grace. I believe Paul is speaking of our initial salvation and continuing life in Christ, in the same sense that Paul talks about it in other letters.

"If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ." (Romans 8:9)

"He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit." (Titus 3:5)

Paul is stressing the unifying action of the Spirit here to a church that has divisions. The Spirit unites all -- Jew or Greek, slave or free. Paul says it in a similar way to the Galatian church:

"You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26-28)

The Body Is Made Up of Many Essential Parts (12:14-17)

The Corinthians were over-emphasizing speaking in tongues and under-emphasizing prophecy. So Paul says that each part is important. It is not only the tongue-speakers that are part of this body.

"14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?" (12:14-17)

Each Part is Needed in the Body (12:18-25)

Each part of the body is necessary, even though it isn't prominent or visible.

"18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be?
20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!' 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment." (12:18-24)

With the "less honorable" and "unpresentable" parts, Paul is doubtlessly referring to sexual organs. Though we don't display them like we do our faces, they are of extreme value to the body's purpose and function. Things are not always as they seem.

The older you are, the more you are aware that church trends and fads come and go. What seems so popular and important in one decade is passe in the next. So don't be too upset if people don't understand your gifting or appreciate it. That happens. However, it is very important that you begin to understand and appreciate your own gifting, so that you can do the very best job you can. This isn't just automatic. People can be extremely gifted violinists, but if they don't practice and seek to improve, they won't get very far. You must improve on the gift God has given you, so that you can operate in it with maximum effectiveness.

"24b But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other." (12:24b-25)

God has arranged the body so that each part will be considered important and well-taken care of. So should it be true in the congregation. Unity is Paul's theme here.

If One Part Suffers, All Suffer (12:26-27)

Now Paul begins to apply his analogy of the body to the congregation.

"26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." (12:26-27)

If you bang your finger, it puts your whole body out of commission for a little while, as you deal with the pain and try to treat your mangled finger. In the same way, if one member of the church is hurting, it affects all of us, even if we don't understand it. If we are self-centered and insensitive, we won't know that our brother or sister is hurting, but we will feel the effects nevertheless.

As a husband, the concept of the husband and wife being one with each other came as a profound revelation to me.

"Husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself." (Ephesians 5:28)

I learned that I must protect my wife, if even for selfish reasons, because what hurts her, hurts me too.

Dear brothers and sisters, if we want a healthy church, it is vital that we do our best to care for each other, and help each other as we can. If you can help hurting brothers and sisters move beyond their pain into healing, you'll help them be able to get back to being effective in using their own spiritual gifts in the congregation, and so the congregation gets richer and healthier. We are interconnected!

Q5. (1 Corinthians 12:27) How are you hurt by the people who don't use their spiritual gifts for one reason or another? How much richer would your congregation be if you -- and everyone else -- were to use their spiritual gifts? What might happen in people's lives? What might be the community impact of your congregation?

Examples of Gifted Members of the Body (12:28-30)

Now Paul lists some of the gifted people in the church, giving preeminence to apostles, prophets, and teachers as he does elsewhere (Ephesians 2:20; 4:11).

"And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues." (12:28)

These are just examples. The list could be very long indeed. But in this list we see four gifts we haven't seen earlier in this chapter:

"Apostles" (apostolos). The noun is derived from apostellō, "to dispatch someone for the achievement of some objective, send away/out."446 The noun was used in Greek of an ordinary "delegate, envoy, messenger," and in the New Testament especially of God's "messenger, envoy."447 Besides the Twelve, other apostles are mentioned in the New Testament -- Barnabas (Acts 14:14; 15:14), Andronicus and Junia (Romans 15:7), James, the Lord's brother (Galatians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 15:7), and perhaps Silas (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:2, 6).

How one defines an apostle is controversial because of the question of whether there are apostles in our day. An apostle must be one who is commissioned to that role by Christ himself (Matthew 10:1-7; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Acts 1:24; 26:16-17). Qualifications for a person to replace Judas among the original twelve apostles required a person who had been with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry (Acts 1:21-22). Earlier in this letter Paul defends his apostleship as one who has "seen Jesus our Lord" (9:1) and as one who founded the Church at Corinth (9:2). Later Paul mentions, "the things that mark an apostle -- signs, wonders and miracles" (2 Corinthians 12:12).

Most people believe that apostles have passed away. Grudem (who believes in present-day prophecy) notes that none of the great leaders of the Christian church was ever designated as "apostle," and cites Paul's statement, "last of all, as to one untimely born...." (15:58) as an indication that we shouldn't expect further apostles.448

On the other hand, J.B. Lightfoot notes a considerable elasticity in the use of the term "apostle" among the early Church Fathers. He notes, for example, that Clement I of Rome is named as an apostle by Clement of Alexandria (125-215 AD).449 Lightfoot also observes that the existence of false apostles in Scripture presupposes an open-ended time period for the office (Revelation 2:2; 2 Corinthians 11:13).450 C. Peter Wagner has written widely on modern-day apostles.

"An apostle is a Christian leader gifted, taught, commissioned, and sent by God with the authority to establish the foundational government of the church within a defined sphere of ministry by hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches and setting things in order accordingly for the expansion of the kingdom of God."451

I'm not ready to adopt Wagner's definition for myself. My own position is a more functional definition of an apostle. I agree that apostles today are not authorized to write foundational scripture for the church. But having said that, I met a missionary to Mexico who had established 50 churches and later would travel to each of them in a kind of circuit to supervise and encourage them. That looks to me like the ministry of an apostle, using Paul's functional argument of his apostleship:

"Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord." (9:2)452

Can a claim to apostleship be faked and abused? Of course, just like any of the gifts. I've met a few self-proclaimed apostles myself. But that is no reason to reject them out of hand without careful examination (Revelation 2:2). Jesus said of false prophets, "By their fruit you shall know them" (Matthew 7:20). Whether or not there are actual apostles today, we do have people whom God is using in power to establish his church in our day. Praise God!

"Teachers" (didaskalos). These are the people who teach the Bible, who teach a chatechism class or Sunday school. Many pastors, also, are primarily teaching pastors rather than oratorical sermonizers.453 They are vital if you want to have knowledgeable church members. As I visit different churches, I see that these days teachers of adults are often underutilized. Many of the sermons are at a popular level, but aren't really teaching sermons. And Christian education classes have given away to small groups that may emphasize sharing and caring (good), but underemphasize teaching (not good). If we realize that our members are biblically illiterate, the solution is teaching.

As I've looked at all the things I've done in the ministry, I realize that God has blessed me with many talents. But at heart, my core gifting is as a teacher, and secondly as a leader. You may be a teacher. If your church doesn't offer ways for you to use your gift adequately, then try to invent some ways you can teach in your home or at a coffee shop. Fulfill your calling!

"Helps" (KJV), "helping" (ESV), "those able to help others" (NIV), "forms of assistance" (NRSV) is the noun antilēmpsis, "helpful deeds."454 The main idea is that of "taking up" or "grasping," or perhaps our idiom, "giving a hand." This could refer to the work of the deacons, giving help to the poor and sick. But it could also refer to the person who runs the sound system or keeps the building clean. You may think of this as a lowly gift, but it is a vital gift. Without a lot of people exercising this gift, the work of the church would grind to a halt. You also might get a promotion. In Jesus' Parable of the Minas, we read:

"Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities." (Luke 19:17)

"Gifts of administration" (NIV), "forms of leadership" (NRSV), "governments" (KJV) is kybernēsis, "administration."455 It derives from the verb kybernaō, which means "to steer," then "to rule." The kybernētēs is the "helmsman," then the "statesman."456 Those who guide the local church are usually the pastor and some elders or board members. They not only minister to the flock through prayer and the word, but also make decisions about the direction the church should go (1 Timothy 5:17. I've attended lots of church board meetings in my lifetime. I've seen some people who are excellent in working through to a solution, people who can grasp complex issues and see possible solutions. And then I've seen obstructionists and people who just didn't seem to be able to understand what the issues were.

Dear friends, when you're selecting leaders for your congregation, don't just put someone there because they want power or you need to "fill a slot." Rather select people whom God has gifted for a role of guiding the ship, for leading. Otherwise, you cripple the church with non-visionaries who will stand in the way of where God wants to lead your congregation.

Transition (12:29-31)

Now Paul summarizes and bridges to his next topic. He has taught that a body has different parts, that everyone doesn't have the same role. So he asks a series of rhetorical questions, the answer to each being, "No."

"29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?
30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?" (12:28-30)

Here Paul suggests that not everyone will be gifted the same way. Does that mean that God can't use you to heal, if you don't have that gift? No. God can use every Christian that way occasionally, just as you can lead a person to Christ, even if you're not a gifted evangelist. But, for the most part, we need a variety of gifts to make up a healthy body.

Now Paul makes a transition to chapter 13, the "Love Chapter."

"But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way." (12:31)

1 Corinthians: Discipleship Lessons from a Troubled Church, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available as a book in paperback, PDF, and Kindle formats.

What are the "greater gifts" we should desire? Not gifts that we can wear as badges of spirituality. As we'll see in 14:4-5 the greater gifts are those that are most effective in building up the people in the congregation. For example, prophecy is more important for congregational edification than speaking in tongues.

But now he is ready to show them the "most excellent" path or way -- the way of love -- which we'll study in chapter 13.


Father, thank you for blessing your church with a great variety of gifts -- and gifted people who are all different. Give us discernment that we can see what you've given us as individuals and use these gifts. And that we can see what you've given our brothers and sisters, so we can encourage them to use their gifts. Bring our churches into balance and health, so that we might be your church where the whole body ministers, not just a pastor or leader. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." (1 Corinthians 12:7)

"To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to 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." (1 Corinthians 12:8-10)

"All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines." (1 Corinthians 12:11)

"For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body -- whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free -- and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." (1 Corinthians 12:13)

"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it." (1 Corinthians 11:27)

"And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues." (1 Corinthians 12:28)


418. Pneumatikos, BDAG 837, 2bα.

419. Ethnos (from which we get our word "ethnic"), here, "the nations, gentiles, unbelievers" (BDAG 276, 2a).

420. "Influenced" (NIV), "enticed" (NRSV), "led" (KJV) is the very common verb agō, "lead," here, "to lead/guide morally or spiritually, lead, encourage (in the direction of)" (BDAG 16, 3). "Led astray" (NIV, NRSV), "carried away" (KJV) is apagō, "lead away," here, "to cause to depart from correct behavior, pass. be misled, carried away" (BDAG 95, 4).

421. "Mute" (NIV), "that could not speak" (NRSV), "dumb" (KJV) is aphōnos, "incapable of vocal utterance, mute" (BDAG 159, 2).

422. Charisma, BDAG 1081, b.

423. Diakonia, BDAG 230, 3.

424. Energēma, BDAG 335, 1.

425. Diairesis, can mean either, "division or distribution of something to persons, apportionment, division" or "a state of difference in the nature of objects or events, difference, variety." The idea of apportionment is supported by verse 11: (BDAG 229, 1 and 2).

426. Phanerōsis, BDAG 1049; Rudolf Bultmann and D. Lührmann, phanerōsis, TDNT 9:1-10.

427. The preposition pros denotes (with the accusative), the aim of an action, "with a view to" or even "for the sake of." Bo Reicke, pros, TDNT 6:720-725.

428. Sympherō, BDAG 960, 2bγ. The verb means literally, "to bear or bring together." Paul has used this verb and related noun several times in the letter (6:12; 7:35; 10:23, 33).

429. C. Peter Wagner, Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow (Regal, revised 1997). (Wagner was one of my seminary professors, so it's probably not surprising that I agree with most -- but not all -- of his conclusions.)

430. Logos, BDAG 602, 1aβ.

431. Gnōsis, BDAG 203, 1.

432. Sophia, BDAG 934, 1bα.

433. J. Sidlow Baxter recounts this history in his book Divine Healing of the Body (Zondervan, 1979), pp. 29-105. See also Morton T. Kelsey, Healing and Christianity (Harper & Row, 1973), pp. 129-199.

434. For more information, read C. Peter Wagner, How to Have a Healing Ministry without Making Your Church Sick (Regal, 1988) or Wagner, How to Have a Healing Ministry in any Church (Regal, 1992), now out of print, but available used on Amazon.com.

435. Dynamis, BDAG 263, 3.

436. For more on prophecy, see a series of my articles: "Is Preaching Prophecy?" (joyfulheart.com/scholar/preach.htm), "The Purpose of Prophecy Today" (joyfulheart.com/scholar/purp-pro.htm), and "Beginning to Prophesy" (joyfulheart.com/scholar/beginpro.htm).

437. You can read more of how I understand speaking in tongues in relation to the baptism of the Holy Spirit in my article, "Spirit Baptism, the New Birth, and Speaking in Tongues" (joyfulheart.com/scholar/spirit-baptism.htm).

438. "Distinguishing between spirits" (NIV), "discernment/discerning of spirits" (NRSV, KJV) uses the noun diakrisis, "the ability to distinguish and evaluate, distinguishing, differentiation," from diakrinō, "to differentiate by separating, separate, arrange" (BDAG 232, 1).

439. Energeō, BDAG 335, 2.

440. Diaireō, BDAG 229.

441. Hekastos, BDAG 298, b.

442. Idios, BDAG 466, 5.

443. Boulomai, BDAG 182, 2b.

444. Heis, "one" in contrast to the parts, of which a whole is made up (BDAG 291, 1b).

445. "Parts" (NIV), "members" (NRSV, KJV) is melos, "a part of the human body, member, part, limb," lit., of parts of the human body, then, figuratively, "a part as member of a whole, member," of members of the body of Christ (BDAG 628, 1 and 2).

446. Apostellō, BDAG 120, 1.

447. Apostolos, BDAG 122.

448. Grudem, Systematic Theology, pp. 905-911.

449. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 4:17.

450. J.B. Lightfoot, "The Name and Office of an Apostle," in The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians (1865; Zondervan, 1957), pp. 92-101.

451. C. Peter Wagner, Wrestling with Alligators, Prophets and Theologians (Regal, 2010), p. 210. His final book on modern-day apostles is Apostles Today: Biblical Government for Biblical Power (Regal, 2006).

452. Of course, the role of "bishop" in the historic church was used to describe this kind of ministry -- for example, St. Patrick in Ireland.

453. Ephesians 4:11 seems to combine the roles of pastor and teacher.

454. Antilēmpsis, BDAG 89.

455. BDAG 573.

456. H.W. Beyer, kybernēsis, kybernḗtēs, TDNT 3:35-37.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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