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Spiritual Gifts

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 12

We have been placed in the church, the body of Christ, so we can exercise the gifts the Spirit has given each of us for the common good of the whole church. We are all important, but we are not all-important in the Lord’s plan for His church.


There is a lot of debate, division, and confusion today over the issue of spiritual gifts. But that is nothing new. In fact, we can go all the way back to this little, first-century church in Corinth and find them exalting some gifts and devaluing others. And pride was certainly at the center of their debate.

As we sail into 1 Corinthians 12, Paul will remind the believers in Corinth of their former ignorance as idol worshipers. But now they have the Holy Spirit indwelling them; and because of Him, they not only identify Jesus as Lord and Master, but they have been given something special to use—a Spirit-given endowment.

Let me define it, from what we observe in Scripture: A spiritual gift is a God-given capacity that enables the believer to serve the body of Christ.

Paul writes about the gifts here in verses 4-6:

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.

The word Paul uses for “gift” is charisma, which comes from charis, the Greek word for grace. The very word means that nobody can run around boasting about their gifting—it is a gift of God’s grace.

In verse 7, Paul uses a different word. He writes, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit.” This emphasizes that the gift will be manifested in a believer’s life. Paul also clarifies here that this gifting is “for the common good.” So, your gift is not for you; it is for the benefit of others.

Then in verses 8-11, Paul gives a list of several gifts. Other gifts are named in Scripture, but those mentioned here were more than likely the ones the Corinthians were chasing after in order to promote themselves.

First are “the utterance [or word] of wisdom . . . and the utterance of knowledge.” These refer to special insights and the ability to communicate them.

While all Christians have faith, the gift of faith Paul mentions in verse 9 is an unusual ability to trust God. “Gifts of healing” is mentioned next—a supernatural ability to restore health. Paul then lists “miracles,” which is a more general term for miraculous works of power. Read the book of Acts, and you see people healed by simply touching those things that Paul touched (Acts 19:12). By the way, nobody has ever been healed by touching my Sunday suit after the service, and that is because these miraculous gifts were apostolic—and temporary.

Paul next mentions the gift of “prophecy,” which is the supernatural ability to receive and communicate revelation from God. Also in verse 10, he lists “the ability to distinguish between spirits.” This refers to the ability to discern whether a message is truly from God or has demonic origins. This was especially important before the New Testament was completed and available.

Finally, Paul mentions the gift of tongues. This is the supernatural ability to speak a real language one has never learned. But with this Paul also lists “the interpretation of tongues” here in verse 10. One who has this gift can interpret the “tongue,” or language, and explain its meaning to the church.  

Now there are several things we need to keep in mind. First, the New Testament is not yet complete as Paul writes this. Imagine meeting as a church and trying to figure out what to believe or what to do without the book of Matthew, or Romans, or Revelation. Some of these gifts were crucial to leading the early church.  

Second, many of these gifts were exclusive to the apostolic community. In fact, these miraculous abilities identified the true apostles of Christ. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:12, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you . . . with signs and wonders and mighty works.” This clearly means that these miraculous gifts could not be for everyone; otherwise, they would not be “signs of a true apostle.”

The question to ask, beloved, is not, “Why can I not do what the apostles did?” The question is, “Why did the apostles do what they did?” The answer is clear from Scripture: they were miraculously empowered to do things Jesus did—including raising the dead and healing the sick—to validate their authenticity as messengers from God. Does that mean God does not miraculously heal people today? No, He does heal. But there is a difference between divine healing and divine healers, and the apostles were uniquely divine healers.

Paul then illustrates how the church should serve one another:

Just as the [physical] body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (verse 12)

And how did you get into this body of Christ? Paul writes in verse 13, “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”

In other words, when you trusted in Christ for salvation, the Holy Spirit immersed you into the body of Christ, the church. This is the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which unites you with Christ and with other believers. Every believer is baptized by the Holy Spirit at the moment of salvation.

Paul then develops this human body analogy. In verses 14-19, he speaks of the body consisting of many body parts—like ears, hands, and eyes. He effectively says that your body could not function if you were one big eye or just one big ear. Paul is painting a comical picture here. The trouble is, the Corinthians all wanted to be the mouth—they wanted speaking roles, public roles, sensational roles. Who, then, would be the feet or the hands?

Paul describes here the wonderful way God has put the body, the church, together with each person playing an equally important role, just like the parts of a physical body. Let me illustrate this with what I call “the scenario of spilled soup.”

Suppose your congregation had dinner together after church one Sunday. Everyone moved through the line to get their food. One woman was carrying a bowl of soup, but on the way to her table, she caught her foot on a chair and tripped, spilling her soup as she fell.

Everyone in the church reacted. The person with the gift of leadership asked everyone to form a line and follow him so they would not trip over her. The person with the gift of administration stood there thinking of a better way to set up the chairs. The person with the gift of teaching stood up and shared three ways people could carry their soup without tripping—and each point started with the letter s in honor of the soup. The person with the gift of mercy brushed past the teacher and sat down next to the embarrassed woman, wiping the soup off her dress and telling her how sorry she was for the accident. The person with the gift of giving walked over and offered her own bowl of soup once the woman got back on her feet. But the person with the gift of helps was nowhere to be seen, because as soon as he saw it happen, he ran to find a mop so he could clean up the mess.

What made people respond the way they did? It was the capacities God gave them to offer their unique service. The danger is that the person with the gift of helps could complain that he is always the one cleaning up the mess; the person with the gift of giving could complain that she did not get to eat her bowl of soup.

Here is the point: When we realize that God has enabled us to sense the need and serve the body, the church will function effectively in love and unity.

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