Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For 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. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. – 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 ESV
Paul now takes on yet another issue causing conflict within the Corinthian church. Like authority in worship and the celebration of the Lord’s table, this one has led to conflict and confusion. It is being misunderstood and therefore, misused by many within the church. And Paul will dedicate far more time and attention to this topic than any of the previous ones, indicating its importance within the body of Christ. The topic is the Spirit of God and the role of the gifts of the Spirit within the church. There is an obvious difference of opinion between Paul and some in the church regarding the Holy Spirit’s role and the use of the gifts He gives. The Corinthians, having come out of a pagan background, brought their own definition of the Spirit to the table. They tended to tie the Spirit to the spiritual life as they understood it from their pagan background. We have already seen that they viewed life through their dualistic perspective. They separated the spiritual from the material. The spiritual portion of their life is what led to wisdom and knowledge. It was good. But the physical or material aspects of life and the world were evil. Even tongues, as practiced in the pagan religions of the time, was a means of having a spiritual, heavenly-like experience while living in the physical/material realm. We will see that they tended to view tongues from a self-centered perspective, seeing it as a highly personal experience, giving little thought about its influence of impact on the body of Christ as a whole.
Paul tells them, “I do not want you to be uninformed.” That word can also be translated as “ignorant.” He is inferring that they actually were ignorant regarding the role of the Spirit and the proper use of the spiritual gifts, but he didn’t want them to remain that way. Flowing throughout this section of the letter, and culminating in chapter 14, Paul will stress the role of love and the importance of community when it comes to the Spirit and the spiritual gifts. He will tell them, “Since you are so eager to have the special abilities the Spirit gives, seek those that will strengthen the whole church” (1 Corinthians 14:12 NLT). And sandwiched in-between chapters 12 and 14 he places his famous “Love” chapter – dedicating a section on the significance of love when it comes to the use of the gifts of the Spirit.
Early on in this chapter, Paul provides a simple test for true Spirit-filled expression. He wants to clear up any misconception that any seemingly spiritual-sounding utterance was necessarily from the Spirit of God. People could claim to be filled with the Spirit, but be anything but filled. So he tells them, “no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3 NLT). In other words, a Spirit-filled person would never deny Christ. And a non-Spirit-filled person will never proclaim the deity of Christ. The presence of the Spirit is the key. And the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ – always promoting and making much of Christ.
Paul confirms that there are all kinds of spiritual gifts, but they all come through the Holy Spirit and are ultimately given by God to the church. In fact, Paul states, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV). Every spiritual gift is intended for the building up of the body of Christ, not the personal pleasure of the individual. Paul gives them a partial list of the gifts, indicating that each and every one of them comes from the Spirit. He is the one who determines how the gifts are distributed. And in the opening of his letter, Paul seemed to indicate that the church in Corinth had been given all of the gifts of the Spirit. He proudly proclaimed, “you are not lacking in any gift” (1 Corinthians 1:7 ESV). The problem was not the presence of the gifts, but the proper use and understanding of them. The Corinthians were guilty of prioritizing the gifts, making some more important or significant than others. They tended to elevate and aspire after the more flamboyant gifts, such as tongues or prophecy. They were turning the gifts into badges of honor, wearing them with arrogance and pride, and promoting themselves as somehow more spiritual than others because of their particular gift.
But the gifts of the Spirit, like the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5, were not to be self-promoting or self-focused. They were intended for the good of others. The Holy Spirit apportions or hands out the gifts based on community need, not individual merit. Your gift was given to you for the good of others. The gift of tongues was intended to minister to those who spoke another language. The gift of wisdom was not meant to make one person wiser than everyone else, but was given to share the wisdom of God with all. Healing, miracles, faith, prophecy, tongues – they are all other-oriented – designed to build up, edify, minister to and strengthen the body of Christ. The Spirit of God brings a spirit of unity and love, not division and competition. We know the Spirit of God is active within us when our lives have a positive influence on those around us. The Spirit does not produce jealousy, pride, anger, or division. When we think we are more spiritual than someone else, we can’t blame that conclusion on the Spirit. He produces a spirit of humility and a heart of service. He creates within us a totally unnatural compassion and care for others. When He is at work within us, He helps us focus on everyone else but us.
The words of Paul to the believers in Galatia are as applicable today as they were when he first penned them. “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:25-26 NLT). Our new life in Christ was made possible by the Spirit. And He is the one who makes possible our daily walk with Christ, living in selfless, sacrificial, loving community with our brothers and sisters in Christ.