March 26 – 1 Corinthians 12:4-11
Main focus: The Spirit animates the life of God’s people and gives them gifts to reflect the diverse-but-unified community of the Godhead.
This week we’re continuing our exploration and study of the Trinity by looking at the Holy Spirit as a giver of gifts. When Paul wrote his first letter to the church at Corinth he wrote to a church in total discord. Here in chapter 12 we see they were fighting among themselves and using their gifts for the sake of power over one another. That might make you think of something like Gandalf and Sauroman in Lord of the Rings, fighting one another with their wizard powers, but this isn’t quite the same. While the Corinthians weren’t using their spiritual gifts to fight each other, they were abusing God’s blessings for selfish reasons. (Sound familiar? See Genesis 4 and the story of Cane and Abel for more on this)
Here we read that the people—members and leaders included—were holding their abilities and gifts over one another in the name of being more “spiritual” or holy. What’s jaw-dropping about this is that Paul writes to them again with similar criticisms and encouragements in 2 Corinthians. Later, Paul says that we should not “classify or compare ourselves” or “boast beyond measure but according to the area of ministry that God has assigned” (2 Cor. 10:12-13). Paul is pleading with the people at Corinth to stop comparing and lording their God-given gifts over one another. The gifts given to the global church from the Holy Spirit are not a form of spiritual status in ministry, but a means to bless one another and the church as a whole.
Returning to 1 Corinthians 12 and reading v4-6, we see this repetition of “different gifts, but the same Spirit…different ministries, but the same Lord,” and “different activities, but the same God.” These gifts and ministries are given by the Triune God through the person of the Holy Spirit. The same God gives each gift to each person. Each gift is granted by the Holy Spirit “as he wills” (v11). This draws a line in the sand for where we stand concerning God’s goodness. God is perfectly good with a perfect will. Challenging or comparing the giving of gifts by the Spirit is to ask, “is God really good?”
Looking at your neighbor’s gifts and thinking, “I wish I had that,” “I’m so much better at that,” or “thank God I don’t have to deal with that,” is an act of comparison and lets doubt in God’s sovereignty and goodness creep in. Scripture tells us that God is “good and upright” (Psalm 25:8) and that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Taking this to heart, we see that God’s goodness informs his giving of gifts. They are not intended to be used to formally or informally assign earthly status but to encourage, help, and serve one another. Someone with the gift of teaching isn’t more spiritual or holy than someone in the back row. Each are gifted in a way that allows them to communicate and live according to the gospel of Jesus, blessing the church.
In reading 1 Corinthians 12, it can be easy to fixate on the literal gifts that are mentioned, which gifts we do and don’t have, which gifts seem more or less weird, and while there is something to be learned in assessing the various gifts there is also a message underneath the surface. In discussion, we’ll talk about how Paul shows the Holy Spirit’s divine nature and presence in the giving of all gifts. We’ll also look at our own tendencies to compare ourselves with others for our own inflation or self-deprecation. When we read ahead in 1 Corinthians, we see that God gave the body of the church many different parts (or people with gifts) for the blessing of the church so that they can be built up in faith, not torn down by one another. Paul writes of this again to the church in Ephesus as well (seems like a common theme in the early church—what’s that like, right?).
In Ephesians 4, Paul writes that Christ gave the church “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-13).
The giving of gifts was so that the church would be unified in Christ. This paints an even more in-depth picture of the unity within the Trinity and how the church is to reflect that relational unity: People with diverse backgrounds and gifts from God come together to worship God and to live unified. God is unified in his will and in his Triune relationship, and that is his vision for his church. He desires that we would coexist with one another in the church, utilizing our gifts and strengths to benefit one another for his glory.
• Could someone read 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 for us?
• What stood out to you from the passage?
• Read verses 4-7 again. What phrase is repeated in this passage, and why do you think Paul is emphasizing this?
• Why do you think Paul emphasizes the source of our gifts?
• In what ways are you prone to compare yourself to others and their gifts?
• Could someone read 1 Corinthians 12:12-26?
• How could this challenge the way you interact with others?
• How might this affect how we use our gifts?