Lesson 6: Comparing Different Gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14)
The New Testament teaches that every Christian is given spiritual gifts and these gifts determine the shape of our service to God.
1 Peter 4:10 says three things:
- Every person has received a gift.
- The gift is best used in ministering to the community – “one another.”
- Doing so makes the best use of the grace God extends to us.
That is easy to understand. The problem is there are two types of gifts.
- Some are “supernatural” and some are “natural.”
- Some are sensationally demonstrated and some are expressed through practical skills.
- Some display the power of God alone and some display God’s power working through the abilities of His people.
- Some gifts are very exciting and appealing while others are more mundane.
But all of them are “spiritual.”
Paul mentions both kinds in 1 Corinthians 12. In fact, he makes a very clear statement of his subject, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant,” (v. 1).
Before we go further let’s define our terms more specifically. What is a spiritual gift? What qualifies to be called a spiritual gift? There are several facts to consider.
- The word “gift” is not in the Greek text.
The Greek word translated “spiritual gift” is “pneumatikos” and literally means “spirituals.” You could say that Paul was discussing “spiritual things” or “spirituality.”
- Spirituality is demonstrated in many different ways.
“Spiritual” is not synonymous with “supernatural” and “supernatural” isn’t the only form of God’s power. Natural ability is no less God’s power than supernatural ability. Inner strength, personal ability and mental capability are evidence of God’s power.
- All gifts or abilities are spiritual in nature.
Ability is naturally spiritual. It is characterized as good or bad depending on how it is used. When used in the right way for the right purpose, it is good. When used differently, it is bad. That is the case in Ephesians 6:12 where Paul refers to “spiritual wickedness.” The word “spiritual” is “pneumatikos.”
- Everyone has God given ability.
Some people recognize God as the source and some don’t but everyone has some kind of God given spiritual ability, everyone. Our abilities are different in degree if not kind. We can take no credit for them, although we are responsible for developing them.
Awards are won because people have developed their potential. We applaud that. It is hard to believe, however, that any person can honestly attribute their ability to luck.
- God given abilities must be developed.
A good example of this truth are the gifts of knowldege or understanding. Not even the Apostles could claim instantaneous knowledge due to supernatural intervention. Jesus spent three years personally training these men and even then it took several more years for some truths to really sink in.
Knowledge and understanding are gained by reading, studying, thinking, praying and working for God. All of these things are very usual and ordinary but this is how spiritual gifts and abilities develop. Even an epiphany is the outcome study and effort.
Therefore we could define “spiritual gift” as any ability which is used for God’s purposes. Sensational ability is included but it encompasses more than just sensational displays.
This subject (spiritual gifts or spirituality) became such a problem for the early believers (and still is today) that Paul devoted three chapters to discussing and clarifying the matter – 1 Corinthians 12-14. A study of tongues would not be complete without taking a look at this material.
These chapters represent three related but separate trains of thought:
1 Corinthians 12
The objective of the Spirit – Unity and Organization
1 Corinthians 13
The motive of the Spirit – Love
1 Corinthians 14
The effect or result of the Spirit – Clarity, Communication and Understanding
1 Corinthians 12
This chapter is not a treatise on how to get spiritual gifts. Paul is actually discussing a concept which transcends the gift itself: unity and organization. Gifts used chaotically do more harm than good.
- Understanding, vs. 1-3
Paul wrote about spiritual gifts because they had it all wrong. In fact, he referred to them as “ignorant” which may be blissful sometimes but in this case was distracting.
Remember, the key issue in this chapter is unity. Any gift used properly will dove tail nicely with the others.
- Unity of the Trinity, vs. 4-6
God the Spirit, God the Son and God the Father are all three mentioned in these verses and the implication is the actions of any one person of the Godhead will not contradict the actions of the others.
Additionally, whatever gifting the Spirit gives to one person will work well with other gifts. There should be no disunity. The agreement that exists in the Trinity should be demonstrated among church members.
- Unity of the Spirit, vs. 7-11
The Spirit ministers to all of us in a different way but His work in and among us is for His purpose not ours. He does not contradict Himself. He leads many different people to do many different things but for the same over all objective.
- Unity of the Body, vs. 12-31
The Spirit will not lead any one member of a local church to do things in contradiction to the other members. Our gifts, abilities and functions should complement each other.
Every member is only a part, vs. 12-20.
Every part is needed, vs. 21-27.
Every part is different, vs. 28-31.
1 Corinthiand 13
Why do we do the things we do? What is the motive behind your words and actions? Do we serve to be seen or to be useful? For the Christian there should be only one answer, love and that is the point of this chapter.
- Charity’s impact, vs. 1-3
You may have great talents and abilities (gifts) but if you do not have a charitable attitude or motive you are still at the bottom looking up. Your gifts without love mean nothing.
- Charity’s characteristics, vs. 4-7
How do you know if a person is being loving? They are patient, kind, supportive, not self promoting, not full of pride, behaves appropriately, not self seeking, not easily provoked, and so on. No spiritual gift, properly used, is self seeking.
- Charities endurance, vs. 8-13
Charity will last for all eternity. Paul actually mentions three qualities which compare in importance for the Christian in this age: faith, hope and love but only love will last forever.
Faith and hope will not be necessary when we reach heaven but love will keep on growing until we get to heaven and be constant throughout eternity.
1 Corinthians 14
- Prophecy and tongues compared, vs. 1-5
If there was one gift that all people should have it would be the gift of prophecy. Speaking in an unknown language edifies no one but the person speaking. Prophesying, speaking publicly in a common language, edifies everyone who hears.
- Clear communication emphasized, vs. 6-19, 23-25
When tongues are spoken there is a demonstration only. It is a noise without meaning or purpose. When God works there is communication and understanding.
The truth is, if the minds of people are not challenged the lives of people will not change. Changing of the mind, repentance, always precedes changing of the heart and life.
Paul explained that an unbeliever will be “convinced” when people prophesy (v. 24). Tongues will make them think you are mad (v. 23).
- The principle truth regarding tongues, vs. 20-22
This has been well covered in Tongues Are A Sign, Part 1.
- Rules of order
Rules for conducting a service were necessary because of the multi-lingual situation that existed in Corinth. People from many different cultural backgrounds were part of this church so there was no common language.
Rules were added to keep communication flowing. Only one person to speak at a time and only if someone could interpret the message for others.
He also regulated the service from a cultural point of view. He encouraged them not to allow women to speak in the public services not because God disallowed it but because the culture did. It was important not use Christian liberty offensively. It would defeat the purpose.
Points To Consider:
- Not all spiritual gifts are the same.
All spiritual gifts require supernatural empowering but not to the same extent. Some gifts require only supernatural power, e.g., raising the dead, exorcising demons, etc. Other gifts , however, require human effort as well. The gifts of knowledge, wisdom, faith and prophesy (preaching) to name a few.
It is the power of God that makes these gifts effective but God’s power is not realized without human effort. Therefore, we would classify some gifts as “only supernatural” and others as “partly supernatural.”
- Of the gifts listed in 1 Cor. 12:7-11 all are only partly supernatural with the exception of one, working of miracles.
Those gifts which require only supernatural power are obviously the most spectacular but they are gifts which require no human ability. These gifts are not the focus.
Most of the gifts require human effort and all the gifts listed in this passage except one are in this category. Even healing can be understood as more than just supernatural. A good doctor is a gifted person. When a gifted doctor uses this ability in a ministry capacity it is no less a gift of healing than those performed supernaturally through Peter and Paul.
If the healing mentioned in v. 9 was only supernatural then why would Paul also include the category of “miracle worker?” Any healing that was supernatural would be included in “miracle worker.” Every other gift then is understood as human ability used for God and blessed by Him.
- The use of spiritual gifts demonstrates character and is useful.
We understand the gifts of tongues and interpretation mentioned in 1 Corinthians to be those belonging to a linguist. The ability to speak different languages and to translate languages effectively have been valuable tools of missionary work ever since the days of the Apostles. We must not think that tongues is nothing more than speaking gibberish in a showy way. The gifts and abilities which God provide demonstrate character and are useful in ministry.
- A gift is an extraordinary ability in areas which should be commonly demonstrated by all Christians.
Referring to “faith” as a specific gift does not mean that only those who have the gift will exercise faith. Every Christian is to exercise faith. They do so when they become a Christian and they do so every time they implement some spiritual truth in their lives. To say that a person has the gift of faith means that the person has great confidence in God to supply needs in the face of great obstacles.
- A person’s gift is best used when they are in right relation to a New Testament church.
A gift without a church is like a limb without a body. Bodies can survive without limbs but limbs have no usefulness apart from the body. The body gives life to the limb not the limb to the body.
- A healthy church body has many different parts, v. 14.
A body is strongest when all the gifts and abilities are well represented. To say that every person in a church must have the gift of tongues is like saying every member of a person’s body must be a tongue. Even though every person will exercise faith, some people will be particularly capable in that area.
- Our focus is to be on an attitude not a gift.
The whole of chapter 13 is devoted to the importance of developing a loving attitude. Without it all gifts are useless. It is said to be greater than faith in this chapter and Galatians 5:6 tells us that faith works by love making it even more superior.
If we would learn to follow the directions of Scripture on how to love we will have no problems identifying and developing the spiritual gift with which we have been blessed.
- The purpose of a worship service is edification.
We are trying to build people up in the faith of Christ. You cannot build people up by putting on a demonstration. You might get their attention with a demonstration but you can only build their lives if you have communication.
- The nature of a church service is orderly, 14:33 & 40
Chaos and confusion have never achieved anything constructive. There is nothing wrong with good planning and organization. A church service should never get out of hand.