1 Corinthians 12 • Spiritual Gifts


We really need to put Paul’s teaching into the proper context. One of the biggest problems in the church at Corinth was division. (See 1:10-16; 6:1-8; 11:18-22) They had devolved into groups who followed their chosen human leader, selfishly exercised their spiritual gifts, and seemed to care little if anything for the health or ministry of the body as a whole. Although the Christians at Corinth had received an abundance of spiritual gifts (see 1:4-7), they were exceedingly lacking in spiritual graces – the kind of Christian character that the Holy Spirit longed for in them. We need to understand that spiritual gifts are not necessarily a mark of Christian character or spiritual maturity. In the Corinthians’ case, these believers were carnal even though they exercised wonderful and miraculous gifts. The foremost lesson WE want to derive from this is the proper application of the gifts in the course of not just our ministry, but our relationships.

Read verses 1-3

Q: To what religious ritual of the time is Paul probably referring to?

A: At this time a citizen of the Roman Empire was required once a year to place a pinch of incense on the altar and declare, “Caesar is Lord!” This was a definite test of whether or not a person of these times was saved.

It is only by the Spirit that we can confess Christ as Lord. that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.

— Romans 10:9-10

Point: We all share the same confession.

Read verses 4-6

Q: What are the two repeated words in these verses which teach about the biblical nature of unity?

A: “Varieties” (“gifts”, “ministries”, and “effects”) and “same” (“Spirit”, “Lord”, and “God”).

Q: How is there diversity in the unity of the spiritual body of the church?

Point: We all serve the same God.

Read verses 7-11

Q: So from the outset, what does Paul establish as the primary purpose of the spiritual gifts?

A: That they are given for the benefit of the whole church – “for the common good” – not for private enjoyment of individuals.

Q: There are 4 types of spiritual things which Paul in his teachings distinguishes between. What are they and how do they differ from each other?

Point: Paul makes it clear that every Christian has THE gift of the Holy Spirit (12:3) and at least one spiritual gift (12:7). However, not every Christian has a spiritual office, but all Christians should manifest the graces of the Spirit which are far more important than miraculous gifts because they’re the proof of love building up the body.

Q: Does Paul state that all the gifts have to be present in a church? What can we infer from v.11 about how the gifts might operate differently for the church of Corinth then than for our own church today?

A: The gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit as He sees fit. They may not all be present because they are not all needed in a particular church or at a particular time.

Q: So what is probably at the root of the problem of someone actively seeking specific spiritual gifts?

A: They may not be seeking the will of the Holy Spirit but instead seeking to satisfy their own will. The Holy Spirit will provide what is necessary, even if it means manifesting a supernatural gift. But it’s not something we can invoke by our own will.

Point: We all seek to build the same body.

Read verses 12-13

Q: What does Paul remind us where the greater work of the Holy Spirit is concerned?

A: The work of the Holy Spirit did not begin in each believer’s life as a spiritual gift, but initially as our baptism. Just as Holy Spirit baptizes us into one body, so the goal of all subsequent work of the Holy Spirit such as spiritual gifts is the building up together into one body.

Point: We all share the same baptism.

Read verses 14-20

Q: So how does Paul characterize what happens to us when we are baptized by the Spirit?

A: At the moment of conversion we were specifically placed as members of the body of Christ.

Q: How is it determined where each person is placed and what role they are given?

A: They Holy Spirit places each believer in the body as He sees fit, but each part has an important ministry to perform.

Q: What is another form of foolishness where seeking gifts is concerned?

A: Again, it’s pursuing one’s own desires rather than the Spirit’s desire for the greater good of the overall body. Rather than seeking something that we DON’T have, we’re to maximize what He HAS given, trusting the Spirit’s selection.

Point: We are individual members but of the same body of Christ.

Overall Application

Many churches, denominations, and movements are emphasizing the work of the Holy Spirit today, and we need to clearly know what God has to say on this subject. However, this chapter has to be clearly studied in the context of the problems in the Corinthian church which Paul has been addressing to this point: division, immorality, stunted spiritual growth, and confusion in their assembly. The gifts of the Spirit in and of themselves are not the solution to all of these problems, only their proper application for the building up of the unity of the body of Christ in our common confession of faith (v.1-3), our common service of God (v.4-6), seeking to build the same body (v.7-11), our common baptism in the Spirit (v.12-13), and clearly understanding how our individuality contributes to the body as a whole. It’s not about what “I have” but rather how “I contribute” where the gifts are concerned.

Overall Point: We belong to each other.

Read verses 21-26

Q: What is the precise meaning of “division in the body”? How might this alternatively be translated?

A: It can also be translated as “schism”, the point at which believers literally divide a church and leave each other. Paul is talking about something much deeper than a mere difference of opinion.

Q: What is the relationship problem Paul is alluding to here among the Corinthians?

A: Those believers possessing spectacular gifts were apparently looking down on those they believed to possess less important gifts.

Q: But what is the reality within the context of Paul’s teaching wherein all gifts belong to a single body?

A: No one can say, “I don’t need you.” In reality everyone is interdependent on each other. In fact, no single entity can properly function without the support of the whole. The inference is that spiritual gifts don’t work properly, if at all, when isolated unto themselves.

Q: Knowing that an individual member’s suffering affects everyone else, what motivation from this should we personally derive?

A: To be the strongest member possible so as to be of the most benefit to the body possible.

Every part of the body makes some kind of contribution toward the growth of the church. from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

— Ephesians 4:16

Point: We need each other.

Read verses 27-31

Q: Based on Paul’s teaching to this point, what is the common goal of each of the positions within the body of Christ?

A: To strengthen the body as a whole, not the individual parts.

Q: So what is the greater goal implied here?

A: To seek to use our spiritual assignments for the greater good rather than our individual self.

Point: We affect each other.

Overall Application

Paul’s overall, greater teaching concerning the work of the Holy Spirit is:

Taken altogether, how does this set up the proper context for the transition to the next chapter’s teaching on love based on Paul’s ending statement, “And I show you a still more excellent way”? [Answer: When the gifts are properly applied and working, they produce biblical love.]

Discuss with the group your agreement/disagreement with the following application: “There can be unity without uniformity.”

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.

—John 17:20-23