Thus far we have looked at two verses where Paul would not have the saints to be ignorant of personal matters, and last month we commenced a study linked to two verses where Paul would not have the saints to be ignorant of practical matters relative to Old Testament teaching (1 Cor 10.1); and relative to New Testament teaching (1 Cor 12.1).
In 1 Corinthians 12.1 Paul writes, "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant". The word "gifts" is in italics and, since the word for "spiritual" is plural, strictly speaking, the text reads, "Now concerning spirituals ", but the context indicates that spiritual gifts are in view. That these are spiritual immediately rules out any thought of human appointment; that they are gifts rules out the idea of natural attainments. These are Spirit given capacities, Spirit given ministries, imparted to those who believe.
Why did Paul consider it necessary to give instruction to the Corinthians regarding this subject? We suggest at least two reasons.
(a) Because of their past conduct. In v.2 we read, "Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led". In unconverted days the Corinthians had been involved in idolatry; that had been an integral part of the culture, and also the general direction of the society in which they lived, and to which they belonged. Already in this epistle (10.19) writing about idols, Paul has commented, "What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?". He is drawing out the lesson that in reality the idol is nothing, a mere lifeless image, and this is reflected here as Paul describes them as "dumb idols". But he then adds in 10.20, "But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils". He is indicating that behind the idols there were satanic influences, evil spirits. That was the background from which the Corinthians had come, and they needed to appreciate that what they had known in the past regarding spirit influences, and the practices associated with them, was very different from that which they had now.
(b) Because of their present conduct. In 1.7 we find that the Corinthian assembly, came "behind in no gift"; there was an abundance of spiritual gift amongst them. Again in 14.12 Paul describes the saints as being "zealous of spiritual gifts", interested in their exercise and use. But while there was abundant gift among them, and while there was a clear interest in those gifts, the believers lacked understanding regarding the purpose of the gifts and their relative values, with the result that, instead of being used for the edification of the church, gifts were being promoted in a way that was dividing the church. Hence the need for instruction! Paul indicates in ch.12 certain key features that attend the proper use of spiritual gift.
(1) Christ will be exalted (vv.3-6)
Paul states (v.3), "Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost". Where the Holy Spirit is present, where the Holy Spirit is speaking, Christ will be exalted - "Jesus is the Lord". This is the hallmark of the Spirits ministry, and to that there can be no exceptions, even though within the assembly there is a tremendous variety of gift (vv.4-6). It is true that there are:
(a) "Diversities of gifts" (v.4), but it is "the same Spirit". While the gifts that are bestowed vary, they nevertheless are imparted from the one source, "the same Spirit". Here divinely imparted abilities are in view.
(b) "Differences of administrations" (v.5), but it is "the same Lord". The word "administration" has the idea of ministry, or service, so now it is activities that are in view. While each has his own particular ministry to fulfil, those ministries are distributed by the one Lord, to be exercised for His glory.
(c) "Diversities of operations" (v.6), but it is "the same God which worketh all in all". The word "operations" looks on to what is accomplished in the exercise of the gifts; the achievements are now in view. While the results and outcome of the exercise of the gifts vary, they are all governed and produced from one source, "the same God", who works through the exercise of all the gifts in all the believers.
(2) The saints will be profited (vv.7-11)
Paul writes, "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal" (v.7). The gifts are not given with a view to personal profit, but for the profit of the whole assembly. Nine gifts are enumerated in vv.8-11. Each is equally a manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit. No one gift is marked out for special mention. No individual is given all the gifts, and not one gift is given to all believers alike. But, having enumerated those various gifts, Paul says in v.11 that "all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will". Although there is a variety, differing gifts being given to different people, the one Divine source denotes that behind the distribution and exercise of the gifts there is one united purpose, not the individuals personal benefit but the mutual benefit of all.
(3) Every gift will be valued (vv.12-31)
In the first part of v.12 Paul takes up the metaphor of the human body, and its different members. He is reminding us that within one body there is a great variety of members. He then applies that illustration to the church, the Body of Christ (vv.12-13), made up of Jew and Gentile, bond and free. He takes up the figure again in v.14: "For the body is not one member, but many", and goes on to demonstrate that every member is important to the one body. He then applies the teaching to the local assembly at v.27.
In the illustration Paul mentions the head, the feet, the hand, the eye, and the ear, and also, by inference, the nose. Each part is very different from the other, each has its own particular function to perform, and each is necessary that the body might function completely.
In vv.15-16 he uses the illustration of the foot and the hand, the ear, and the eye. The basic idea is that although the foot is not as high as the hand, or the ear as forward as the eye, each is nevertheless vital, and without them the body would be deficient. The foot cannot say, "I am not of the body" because it is not as high as the hand, nor can the ear say, "I am not of the body" because it is not as forward as the eye. The lesson is that those believers whose ministry or gift does not seem to be as prominent or public as others are not to think that they are not important or essential to the well-being and proper functioning of the assembly.
In vv.17-20 we see that this diversity is essential. If every member was the same there would be a gross deficiency in the body, in fact there would hardly be the character of a body at all.
In vv.21-22 the lesson is that the members which occupy a "higher" position in the body must not think that they have no need of the "lower" members; the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you". So those who might seem to have a more prominent ministry in the assembly must not think that they have no need of those who have a less prominent or public gift.
God has designed the body (vv.18,24) so that there can be no place for envy (vv.15-16), no place for monopoly (vv.17-20), and no place for independency (vv.21-22). Spiritual gift when rightly used will give pre-eminence to Christ, will be profitable to the saints, and will produce spiritual conditions whereby all gift will be valued and exercised.
To be continued.