Teaching series from 1 Corinthians

Authentic Christian Community (Part 3) Spiritual Gifts

1 Corinthians 12:1-31

Teaching t21895

Introduction

1 Corinthians is a letter arguing that true Christians should turn away from self-centered, consumer spirituality, and embrace other-centered, self-giving spirituality (motivated and empowered by an other-centered God). In chapters 11-14, Paul applies this theme to the subject of Christian community: how we conduct ourselves when we meet together, what kind of personal relationships we build, and how we view and use our spiritual gifts (the focus of chapter 12). “Spiritual gifts” refers to the special spiritual abilities that God gives to those who personally receive Christ.

Read 12:1. This is the title sentence of the whole chapter. Misinformation about spiritual gifts is common (as we will see), and costly to the quality of Christian community. To that end, Paul informs us of four important truths concerning spiritual gifts...

WARNING: Overtly supernatural gifts are not necessarily from God

Paul begins with a brief warning against spiritual naiveté: overtly supernatural gifts are not necessarily from God. Read 12:2,3. He reminds the Corinthians of their own pre-Christian experience in this regard. The Oracle of Delphi, for example, give predictions of the future and specific counsel. Other mystery-cult priests went into trance-states, spoke in tongues, and could induce these same altered states of consciousness in their followers.

Paul doesn’t debate that such people have supernatural power, but he insists that it is the height of gullibility to think that real spiritual power like this proves it is from God! Satan and demons also have this kind of power, and they use it to deceive people and lead them away from the true God (cf.2Thess.2:9,10). How can you tell the source? By what it says about Jesus. The Apostle John gave this same warning (read and explain 1Jn.4:1-3). Demons will always deny (sometimes overtly, sometimes very subtly) that Jesus is the unique Lord and Savior.

Some of us were led astray in the same way before we received Jesus. How many of you were attracted by the spiritual charisma and/or power of blatantly anti-Christian leaders or authors? All of us are aware for people who have been led astray by so-called “Christian” cults for the same reason. Be careful about people who claim to receive revelations from God—even/especially if they claim to be Christian (“Many will come in My name”), even if they clearly have supernatural knowledge and/or power. Unless their teaching focuses on the biblical Jesus, they are dangerous!

The best way to be able to detect these counterfeits is to become super-familiar with the real Jesus—the Jesus revealed in the Bible (FEDERAL COUNTERFEIT AGENTS). Then as you listen to spiritual teachers (including me), ask: “What do they say about Jesus? Does it agree with what the Bible says?” If not, steer clear!

Key basic information about spiritual gifts

Read 12:4-11. Here Paul summarizes key basic information about Christian spiritual gifts: God sovereignly gives different gifts to every Christian for the common good. Let’s take a closer look at this...

First, God gives a variety of spiritual gifts (12:4). He describes some of them in 12:8-10, probably the ones the Corinthians made much of (see Rom.12:6-8 for a probably more “normal” list of gifts). God delights in variety (e.g., CREATION; PERSONALITY), so He gives His children different gifts, different degrees of gifting, and different mixes of gifting.

Second, God gives spiritual gifts to every Christian (12:7). No one is left out; everyone is gifted to play an important role in His church; everyone is therefore responsible to build a ministry (12:5,6). (CONTRA CLERGY-LAITY)

Third, it is God who sovereignly decides what gifts each of us gets (12:11). It is “just as He wills,” not “just as I will.” God knows best, and He doesn’t consult us on this decision. The gifts He gives us and the gifts He doesn’t give us are the very best both for His purposes and for our good. (CONTRA: “I WAS BEHIND THE DOOR”)

Fourth, God gives us spiritual gifts primarily for the common good (12:7)—that is, to contribute to the health and growth of Christian community. They are not to draw attention to myself; they are to serve my brothers and sisters. They are not primarily for my personal fulfillment, though using them to serve others will result in real joy and satisfaction. God gives diverse spiritual gifts to His people as one way that He helps them live in real community. This is what Paul elaborates on in 12:12-27...

Spiritual gifts help us to experience our identity as inter-dependent members of Christ’s body

Read 12:12,13. You may wonder why Christians sometimes refer to involvement in Christian community as “Body-life.” It is because of this analogy that Paul employs here and elsewhere. The church (and here Paul is thinking of a local church) is analogous to a human body, and individual Christians are analogous to different organs, or members, of a human body.

Now this is not just an analogy; it is a spiritual reality. The moment you personally entrust yourself to Jesus as your Savior and Lord, His Spirit unites you to the living Jesus. This is crucial, because this is what gives us right standing before God (GOSPEL). You may say: “But I don’t feel very righteous,” but you are nonetheless. And it is only as you begin to relate God by faith with this identity that you develop a stable relationship with Him.

This same Spirit also united you at the same time with other Christians. That is, He put you in an inter-dependent relationship with your brothers and sisters, just like your body’s members are in an inter-dependent relationship with one another. You may say: “But I don’t feel very inter-dependent with them,” but you are nonetheless. And it is only as you unless you begin relate to them by faith in this way that you can become who God made you to be.

In fact, to view yourself and/or other Christians differently than this is a form of spiritual insanity. Read Rom.12:3-5. The word for “sound judgment” is literally right-minded, or sane (see Mk.5:15). What does Paul call Christians who do not view themselves as members of one another? They are insane—just as insane as my liver if it viewed itself as “Mr. Liver” rather than “Gary’s liver” or “a member of Gary’s body.”

So, since we are in fact inter-dependent members of one another, we should relate to one another in ways that experience that inter-dependence. This is why Body-life is far more than mere attendance at Christian meetings; it includes inter-dependent functional involvement in one another’s lives. Unless you are involved enough with other Christians that you regularly experience this inter-dependence, you are not spiritually sane, you will not be spiritually healthy, and the church will not accomplish what Christ wants it to accomplish. Paul now describes the two most common forms of “insanity” that provide excuses from this kind of involvement.

Read 12:14-18. The first form of insanity is: “I’m not needed by the other members; I have nothing to contribute to them.” Imagine that tomorrow morning, you get awakened by your foot or your ear speaking to you! During the night, they have become self-aware and able to speak. If they said 12:15,16, what would you conclude about their sanity? You would conclude that they are insane, because they are in fact valuable members with important roles to play. And you would know that unless they played these roles, your life would suffer terribly!

Now the tragic fact is that what none of us would ever believe about our own feet and ears, many of us believe about ourselves. When you say, “It doesn’t matter whether or not I am deeply involved with other Christians because they can get along without me,” you are spiritually insane! God says you are in fact an important member, you do in fact have something important to contribute, and you need to be involved so you can do this.

Who are the Christians in the last few months who have benefitted from your contribution? What are their names? How have you benefitted them? If you cannot answer these questions, you are not involved enough—and this is probably because you don’t believe what God says here about you.

“But I don’t know what my special contribution is.” Get involved by faith and start looking for ways to serve your brothers and sisters (EXAMPLES). You will be helping the Body, and eventually you will discover your unique contribution. This is probably why the Bible never tells us how to discover our spiritual gifts. It just tells us to get involved serving a group of brothers and sisters, and as we humbly obey God on this, He will give us further insight on our specific roles.

Paul describes the second form of insanity in 12:21,22,26 (read)—“I don’t need the other members; I can get along fine without them.” Imagine that your eye said this to your hands, or that your head said this to your feet! What would you conclude about their sanity? You would conclude that they are insane, because they do in fact need the contribution that other members make. And you would know that unless they did this, your life would suffer terribly!

Now the tragic fact is that what none of us would ever believe about our own head and eyes, many of us believe about ourselves. When you say, “It doesn’t matter whether or not I am deeply involved with other Christians because I can get along fine without them,” you are spiritually insane! God says you are in fact dependent upon them, they do in fact have something important to contribute, and you need to be involved so they can do this.

Who are the Christians in the last few months from whom you have benefitted? What are their names? How have you benefitted from them? If you cannot answer these questions, you are not involved enough—and this is probably because you don’t believe what God says here about you.

“But I don’t feel like I need them.” Get involved by faith and let people into your life, and you will discover why and how you need them (EXAMPLES). Humbly obey God on this, and you will come to appreciate how spiritually impoverished your life was without them.

If you’ve been tracking with me, you understand why we shouldn’t speak of “going to church.” We are the church! The church is not a building; it is the people who belong to Christ. This is why we don’t have formal church membership. We are already members of Christ’s Body; the issue is: Will we live like members of Christ’s Body, in real inter-dependent Body-life? This is why home groups are not peripheral. They are central. Inter-dependent Body-life requires deep involvement with a relatively small group of people—deeply enough that you experience their need for you and your need for them. Home groups provide the opportunity for this kind of involvement. (CALL FOR COMMITMENT TO BODY-LIFE HOME GROUP INVOLVEMENT)

And this involvement, while it is functional, must be more than functional. That’s why Paul ends this chapter the way he does...

Developing a lifestyle of self-giving love is far more important than focusing on spiritual gifts

In 12:28-31a, Paul summarizes what we have learned about spiritual gifts, adding that those gifts that communicate God’s Word are “first” in importance, and therefore urging them as a church to seek them more than tongues, etc. But then he says there is a way toward Christian community that far surpasses a focus on spiritual gifts (read 12:31b-13:2). That way is developing a lifestyle of self-giving love. This is so important that we’re going to spend a few weeks (more than on this one week on spiritual gifts) on how to develop this lifestyle, beginning NEXT WEEK by learning what real love is.

"In classical literature, Apollo was particularly renowned as the source of ecstatic utterances, as on the lips of Cassander of Troy, the priestess of Delphi or the Sibyl of Cumae (whose frenzy as she prophesied under the god's control is vividly described by Virgil)." F.F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians, New Century Bible (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1971).

In an adjectival use 1 C. 12:31b calls the mode of Christian life described in 13:1–13 one which “far surpasses” (“a much superior way”) the life controlled by charismata, 12:28–30. Vol. 8: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (521). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.