How Does Paul Describe the Spiritual Gifts in 1 Corinthians 12? Part 2

This post is a continuation of tracing Paul’s flow of thought concerning the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12. If you missed the first half, you can read it here. The second half of 1 Corinthians 12 deals with the operation of the gifts within the body of Christ.

Operating the Gifts

Image of the Body (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:12–13, ESV)

To explain how Christians with spiritual gifts work together, Paul uses the image of the human body. The human body is one organism and yet it is made up of many members. In the same way, Christ’s body is one body controlled by one Spirit. And yet, there are many members, and each member has a gift that is useful to the body.

This describes the unity of the body even though it is diverse in gifts and members. The diverse gifts are vital to the one body. Our gifts empower the body of Christ but they must not divide us. We are all different but we find unity in the body of Christ through the Spirit.

Every Member Is Vital (1 Corinthians 12:14-20)

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.” (1 Corinthians 12:14–20, ESV)

This part of Paul’s image illustrates the importance of every gift and member of the body. When we compare ourselves to one another, we fight against the unity of the Spirit. No member should think that he or she is not vital in the role and gift the Spirit gives them.

We Need Each Other (1 Corinthians 12:21-26)

“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:21–26, ESV)

We need one another. Since none of us has all the gifts, we must rely on one another to be fully used by the Holy Spirit as a body. The body of Christ is incomplete without all of its members using their gifts.

We value our gifts and our ministries to the body based on limited human perspective. We think some of the gifts are more glorious or spiritual than others. But without every gift and every member serving the whole body, the body is incomplete and cannot complete its mission.

The gifts of the Spirit give value when we operate in the moment that gift is needed. Not every gift is used all the time. The Holy Spirit directs which gifts need to be used at what times. And his orchestration and leading of the gifts is perfect. Every gift is valuable when it is used properly at the Spirit’s leading.

We are all in this relationship with God together. We suffer together and we rejoice together. But we remain unified in the Spirit as one body of Christ.

No One Has All the Gifts (1 Corinthians 12:27-31)

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:27–31, ESV)

Paul first mentions part of the ministry gifts found in Ephesians 4:11. This may have referred to the historical operation of the church. Apostles were appointed by Jesus before he left. They had authority because of their relationship with him as they walked with him and the ability to write Scripture.

We see the same listing in Ephesians 4:11. But then Paul mentions two of the power gifts and then a number of the service or helping gifts. This combination of several lists of the gifts shows how much diversity is in the gifts and yet how much the body of Christ needs them.

In 1 Corinthians 12:29, Paul asks six questions that many take out of context. All of these questions expect the answer, “No.” He mentions these gifts based on the context of 1 Corinthians 12. The same spiritual gifts mentioned in the beginning of the chapter are being referred to here.

This is one of the passages of Scripture often used to show that speaking in tongues is not for everyone. Is also used to show that there was a cessation, or stopping of the use of gifts, during the time of the writing of the Bible. But that is not what the context presents.

These questions reiterate the fact that no one has all the gifts. We each have one were a few of these gifts. But we need one another because we don’t have all of them. Not everyone is an apostle, or a teacher, or a prophet.

Not everyone speaks in tongues. But what about the baptism in the Holy Spirit and personal prayer languages? Don’t all believers have access to these? Yes. Let me rephrase Paul’s question to agree with the context. Are all used by the Spirit in the gift of speaking in tongues for the whole body of Christ’s benefit?

Just as Paul is speaking of the gift of prophecy or miracles or healings within the context of a public meeting of believers, so he is referring to the gift of speaking in tongues. This is not the private prayer language or baptism in the Holy Spirit. It is the gift of speaking in tongues within the public service.

Paul transitions from the operation of the gifts within the unified body of Christ by diverse members to the desire for the higher gifts and the foundation for being used by the Spirit in the gifts.

This is the first of three times that Paul uses the phrase, “eagerly desire gifts.” They go from general to specific. This first time speaks generally of the higher gifts. But he does not define with the “higher gifts” are. This will be further defined in 1 Corinthians 14.

When Paul says that he will show us the most excellent way, he will talk about love as the foundation for the gifts. The gifts operate most effectively with the foundation of love.

So that we don’t abuse these wonderful gifts the Spirit gives, we must have the foundation first. Join me in the next post to dive deep into the foundation for the gifts.

Principles for Practice

  • Unity in Christ’s body is maintained through use of the Spirit’s gifts.
  • Every member of the body is vital to its unity. Our gifts are unique to us and necessary.
  • We must not compare ourselves to one another. Comparison causes division.

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