To the Word

Reflections on the call to live by the Word of God

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

One Body, One Spirit

1 Corinthians 12
Preached Sunday morning, November 12, 2006
Lexington Church of Christ, Milton Stanley

Here in chapter 12 we enter a new section in 1 Corinthians. The Apostle Paul begins writing about spiritual gifts, especially the gift of miraculously speaking in unknown tongues or languages. And as Paul does with all the topics he discusses with the factional congregation at Corinth, he addresses the topic with an eye to unity in the body of Christ. As we’ve seen throughout our study, the Corinthian Christians had trouble with divisions over favorite teachers, over sexuality, over suing one another, over idolatry, and, worst of all, over the Lord’s Supper. Some of the very issues that should have brought Christians together were the subject of contention. Sad to say, these topics are at times the subject of contention today.

Paul begins this section with a reference to "spirituals," a term usually thought in this case to refer to spiritual gifts but one equally as descriptive of spiritual persons. Paul reminds the Corinthians that not all spirituality is necessarily good: "You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led" [1]. In other words, we can be led by false spirits or by the Holy Spirit, and each has its various fruits. The words here about either cursing or affirming the lordship of Jesus are not a formula but a guide. They remind us that true spiritual gifts are received and exercised under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Paul goes on to make some important points about these gifts: where they come from, what they’re given for, and how each gift and each member fit into the body of Christ.

In verses 7-11 we learn that spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit as the Spirit chooses. The gifts Paul describes here wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, and interpretations are more than merely natural abilities. God certainly intends us to use our natural abilities, but what we see here is much more than what comes to us naturally. They are gifts from God to his people, with supernatural power, for the common good of the church. They may not be razzle-dazzle displays, but they are more than we would have available without our faith.

Looking back over the history of the church, it seems that miraculous gifts dwindled and went away from the church around the end of the second century, about the time the New Testament took shape. We should not be surprised that miraculous gifts passed from the scene, because the Holy Spirit blows where it will (Jn. 3:8), and throughout the history of God’s people, miraculous gifts have waxed and waned. But simply because we don’t enjoy a profusion of miraculous gifts today doesn’t mean God has quit gifting is people. Again, our gifts today may not have the razzle-dazzle of first-century gifts, but they are nevertheless real and powerful. We may not feel much different at our baptism, but we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

Spiritual power is much more than natural ability. Of course, if we refuse to acknowledge we have that power, neither we nor anyone else will see it in our lives. At the end of 1 Corinthians 2, the Apostle refers to all Christians as spiritual, as having received the Holy Spirit. But many of the Corinthians were walking in the flesh rather than the Spirit [2]. If, like the Corinthians, we live according to the spirits of the world around us, we are not accessing or manifesting the power of God’s spiritual gifts. Paul wanted all Christians to walk spiritually. When we do, we can accomplish God’s work with God’s power.

Notice in today’s passage that spiritual gifts are given to every Christian [3]. As Paul tells the Corinthians, To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. . . . All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills (1 Cor. 12:7, 11). Every Christian is gifted by God for the good of the church. As we’ll see, we’re gifted not to hold onto the gifts, but to exercise them.

The Spirit gives gifts as he wills not necessarily as we would like. We may not particularly desire the gifts or roles God gives us. Moses didn’t want to be a prophet; Saul didn’t want to be king. God may equip us to do work we would rather not do. But all Christians are called to do the Lord’s work with his power and his authority. And if the power is not our own, then we have no reason to be proud of it [4]. It’s important to remember, however, that although spiritual power comes from God, it is a power he has entrusted to his people.

And when we are given this incredible power from God, we are equipped to serve the body in the way God has prepared us. Paul says,
To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. (1 Cor. 12:8-10)
The gifts mentioned here are not an exhaustive list, but merely examples. How do we know? We know because Paul lists spiritual gifts elsewhere (e.g. Rom. 12, Eph. 4), and the lists are not identical. In fact, spiritual gifts are as different as the needs of the church. They also cover widely different functions, from speaking knowledge to working miracles.

The length to which Paul goes in writing to the Corinthians about spiritual gifts suggests that they were having trouble with this very topic. For one thing, it seems many of the Corinthian Christians didn’t appreciate one another’s gifts. Reading between the lines of Paul’s letter here, it seems the Corinthians assigned too much value to speaking in tongues. So Paul goes on to remind them that every gift is given to serve the body. What good would a body be that were nothing but eyes? Nothing but hands? Nothing but feet or heads? Each member has a function in the body.

God has given his people a variety of gifts and wants all those gifts used. The temptation for every Christian is to play up the importance of our own at the expense of the gifts God has given others. I know a retired pipefitter, a man who faught with the Marines in World War II. God has blessed this brother with an ability to see all of life in light of the cross. Even in his eighties, he continues to be a help to many brothers and sisters in Christ and even to unbelievers. He knows the Bible and sees life in the light of the Word. But he's not much of a public speaker. Although he often has spiritual insights to offer, it may take him a while to get those ideas out of his mouth. One of the preachers at this brother's congregation didn't have much patience with this older brother, and showed it during mid-week Bible study whenever this brother stuttered and struggled to get his ideas across. Other members of the congregation, in turn, didn't have much respect for the preacher, because as an adult he had never done any work other than preach and live off the contributions of the saints. The congregation had been blessed with gifts from God, but the members needed to appreciate not only their own, but each others' gifts.

Each gift is given to the church for edification. We may have the role of facilities maintenance, cooking, or greeting visitors. We may be writers, musicians, teachers, scholars, or administrators. We may be gifted in nurturing children, encouraging, helping, or serving where needed. Each one of us is gifted in different ways, and we must never despise a fellow child of God for being gifted differently, or for using them in ways other than we think they should. The Apostle Paul addressed this very issue in his letter to Christians in Rome when he wrote, "Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand" (Rom. 14:4). We have each been gifted by God and charged to be fruitful for the Kingdom. And as someone said long ago, not one of us has been given the gift of fruit inspector.

Christians often ask, "How do I know what gifts God has given me?" That's a good question, because if we understand our gifts we better understand our mission. People have come up with ways for helping Christians discover their gifts. In my office I have a "Spiritual Gifts Inventory," and I'll be happy to let you take it and see what it says about your life. But it isn't necessary to take any kind of test to find out what our gifts are. The church has plenty of work before us. The best way to discover our gifts is to jump into that work! The more we involve ourselves in the work of the church, the more our gifts begin to emerge and manifest themselves. So if you see something that needs to be done: do it! That's where we discover our gifts.

And when each member is doing the work God has given him or her to do, then all parts of the church are working together for the common good (vv. 7, 11). The Corinthian Christians were treating spiritual gifts as they had teachers: as the subject of positioning for prestige, of one-upsmanship [10]. They failed to see that the gifts were given for all, and that the gifts themselves are not more important than the giver [11]. But if Christians do use our gifts for God, we will have unity in the Body of Christ. The exhortation here is that there be no division in the body, but that Christians care for one another (vv. 25-27). Spiritual gifts are given for the unity of the body, but the Corinthians' focus on the gifts themselves and personal power had led to disunity [12]. They were supposed to be depending on one another, but instead they were trying to outdo each other with their spiritual gifts [13].

Unfortunately, spiritual gifts can still be a point of division in the church. Christians argue over whether or not today God gives spiritual gifts outside the Bible while others argue over the relative values of the gifts. The foot wishes everyone would help carry some of the load, while the eyes wish they didn't have to do all the spotting. The fact is, though, God gives each member gifts for the good of the whole body. And as we'll see in the next chapter, he also gave us love to appreciate the gifts he's given every other member.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we Christians are bound together as a body just as organic and interdependent as a physical body. When one Christian suffers, we all suffer; when one is honored, we're all honored. On the one hand, this is a picture of how the church should be. On the other hand it's a picture of how the church is, whether we act like it or not. One member's sickness is the church's sickness. The sin of one member is the sin of the body. Coldness between members of the church is like a numb, unconscious body. Does this congregation need to wake up out of numbness and unconsciousness? I pray we begin to act like, not a collection of parts, but a body and a healthy one!

So every Christian is gifted by God. You have the power, I have the power to benefit the church, to do the wonderous work God has set before us for the common good of the whole body. And we are a body. When one of us suffers, we all suffer. But we all benefit when one obeys.

And here's a final thought. The Body of Christ is the only place we can really be who God created each one of us to be. We live in a culture of self-sufficiency and individualism. We may want a relationship with God, but perhaps only with our own personal Jesus. But God does not call us to have a generic relationship with Christ where he and I are on equal terms. God calls us into a relationship in which we are one part of something much bigger than ourselves, and in which Christ is the head over all. That's the church the only place to be in fellowship with Jesus Christ, our Savior, our Head, the one one who died and then rose alive to win our forgiveness and equip us in power for whatever comes our way.


1. 1 Cor. 12:2. Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version of the Bible.
2. Thomas Constable, Notes on 1 Corinthians, 2004 ed. Available online at, 126.
3. Bob Deffinbaugh, "Spirituality and Spiritual Gifts Part 2 (1 Cor. 12:4-11)," online study at
4. Deffinbaugh.
5. Constable, 127.
6. William Loader, "First Thoughts on Year C Epistle Passages from the Lectionary: Epiphany," online study.
7. William Loader, "First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages from the Lectionary: Pentecost," online study.
8. Deffinbaugh.
9. Ibid.
10. Constable, 127.
11. Loader, "Epiphany."
12. Loader, "Pentecost."
13. Deffinbaugh

(c) Copyright 2006, A. Milton Stanley


Blogger Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

Very thoughtful lesson. I am beginning a series on the Holy Spirit on my blog that has some similiar themes as this lesson.

Thanks for dropping by and commenting on my blog.

Bobby Valentine

12:09 PM  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Thanks for your kind words, Bobby. I look forward to having a look at your HS series. Peace.

10:21 AM  

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