In our last essay we studied the conclusion of Paul’s criticism of the Corinthians’ misuse of the Lord’s Supper in 11:27-34. Then we noted in 12:1-3 that Paul wanted to correct the Corinthians’ abuse of gifts of the Spirit. As Paul continues, he gives this issue a great deal of space in the letter. The total section runs from 12:1 through 14:40. In verse three we saw Paul immediately establish that genuinely spiritually gifted persons always confess Jesus as Lord and mean it (v. 3).
I concluded the lesson by giving a list of nine general principles that we find in the New Testament regarding the gifts of the Spirit. They are important enough that I will quickly review them here. First, there is a difference between the gift (Acts 2:38) and the gifts of the Spirit. Second, there is a difference between the fruit (Gal. 5:22-23) and the gifts of the Spirit. Third, there is a difference between natural talents and supernatural gifts of the Spirit. Fourth, gifts of the Spirit are not earned (Eph. 4:7-8). Fifth, God decides who receives which supernatural gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:11; Heb. 2:4). Sixth, gifts of the Spirit are for every Christian (1 Cor. 12:7, 11). Seventh, gifts of the Spirit are quite diverse (1 Cor. 12:4-11). Eighth, gifts of the Spirit are for ministry and service (1 Pet. 4:10; 1 Cor. 12:7). And ninth, our personal ministry and service are part of the larger ministry of the Church (2 Cor. 10:3-4).
All right, in this essay we are studying 1 Cor. 12:4-11 in which Paul stresses the tremendous diversity of gifts of the Spirit found in the body of Christ. In verses 4-6 Paul begins his discussion of the variety of spiritual gifts with a Trinitarian formula. There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, meaning the Holy Spirit. There are varieties of services (or ministries), but the same Lord, meaning the Lord Jesus. And there are varieties of activities (or workings), but the same God doing the working. Fee reminds us that this is the earliest clear Trinitarian expression in the New Testament. And Barrett suggests that it appears to be “artless and unconscious.” But I don’t see any reason why Paul couldn’t have consciously put it that way.
Verse seven tells us that each Christian is given “the manifestation of the Spirit.” Some scholars have tried to interpret “the manifestation of the Spirit” as something different from a gift of the Spirit, but the phrase is simply another name for gifts of the Spirit. When gifts of the Spirit are exercised, they are manifestations of the Spirit’s work in the Christians involved.
Notice that the purpose of the manifestation of the gifts in the congregation is “the common good.” In other words, the entire congregation profits from exercise of the gifts. Now we must remember that gifts of the Spirit often are manifested apart from worship services. But in the larger context of this section, Paul is concerned about their use in worship. And he will focus on that in chapters 13-14.
In verses 8-10 Paul provides a list of examples, which he meant to be illustrative, rather than exhaustive. Then at the end of the chapter, in 12:8-10 and 28, Paul offers a second list that names a few more gifts.
I believe that this subject of gifts of the Spirit is important enough for us to take the time to work through the list and attempt to come to an understanding of what each one means. You will notice that there are nine gifts in the verses 8-10 list. Some have grouped them into three categories.
Pentecostals have tended to group them as follows:
–Gifts of Illumination (wisdom, knowledge, discernment of spirits)
–Gifts of Action (faith, miracles, healings)
–Gifts of Communication (prophecy, tongues, discernment of tongues)
Another popular grouping is:
–Gifts of Instruction (wisdom, knowledge)
–Gifts of Power (faith, miracles, healings)
–Gifts of Inspired Utterance (prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, discernment of tongues)
Personally, I doubt very much if Paul had such categories in mind. But for some people they seem to be helpful. The first item on this list is a word (or utterance) of wisdom, which is a perceptive insight into an immediate situation. In other words, God reveals to a believer “wisdom” in that situation that the believer would not otherwise have. It probably would come in the form of a statement full of, or characterized by, wisdom; and others present would recognize it as such. A biblical example would be Stephen. As Stephen was ministering in power in Jerusalem, certain people from the synagogue of the Freedmen challenged him. But we are told in Acts 6:10 that “they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.”
Next is a word (or utterance) of knowledge, which is different from a word of wisdom. A word of knowledge is a gift or revelation of specific information of which the recipient had no previous knowledge. This gift was demonstrated in the ministry of Jesus when he was with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. You will recall that he was gifted with considerable information about her personal life. For example he knew she had had five husbands, and that the man she was living with was not her husband.
Another biblical example was the apostle Peter, when he made his famous confession of Christ at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus said to Peter on that occasion, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Mt. 16:17).
Ken Kinghorn defines the gift of faith as a gift “given to some Christians as a special ability to see the adequacy of God and to tap it for particular situations.” That is as good a definition as I have seen. It is important that we realize that this gift of the Spirit is not the faith that saves and sanctifies us. Rather it is an enablement to believe for something that God will do, even though the person has no idea how God will do it.
An outstanding biblical example of a person with this gift was Abraham. God enabled him to believe that God would provide an heir from he and his wife Sarah even though she was many years past menopause and could not bear children even in her youth. Another kind of example was George Mueller. God led him into a ministry with orphans. He had no money, but he believed for the support his orphans from day to day. And it always was there. Eventually he had, I believe, seven orphanages. He never asked anyone for money. He simply prayed, and God provided.
Gifts of healing enable the one gifted to function as an instrument of God’s healing grace in the lives of others. Notice the plural “gifts.” The plural may indicate either of two things. It may mean that various Christians are gifted to heal various specific diseases. Or it may mean that certain individuals are gifted to heal a variety of diseases.
God heals sick spirits, sick relationships, sick emotions, and sick bodies. But physical healing seems to get the most attention among Christians, though I believe it is at or near the bottom of God’s priority list. At any rate, divine physical healing is accomplished in four ways. Sometimes God heals instantly and directly by means of a miracle. Sometimes God heals gradually through natural processes. In our culture God frequently heals by means of a combination of medical science and natural processes. But God heals most frequently by means of the resurrection.
Physical illness must be understood in the context of God’s circumstantial, or permissive, will. That is, he does not intend or cause it; but he does permit it. A direct instantaneous healing, therefore, requires God to choose to act miraculously in that particular situation to produce a new situation that somehow better reflects his will at a level beyond the individual involved.
All right, this discussion of physical healing leads us to the next related gift, miracles. Paul evidently distinguished in his mind between healing miracles and other miraculous acts of God. The gift of miracles is given on special occasions to meet special needs, according to the good judgment of God. A powerful biblical example is the Exodus, when God delivered Israel out of Egypt by his mighty hand. Another is the ministry of Jesus, when many non-healing miracles of various kinds took place.
Today God still intervenes miraculously in the affairs of the Church, but only occasionally. God’s miracles certainly do not occur as often as some Christians want to believe. Jesus himself made a profound statement in respect to miracles when he said, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Lk. 16:31).
We will continue our consideration of the gifts of the Spirit in our next essay.