Before we list and unpack how each individual gift operates, we should pay some attention to the effect that any truly spiritual gift will have when it operates as God intended it to. Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12–14 describes the gifts as the Spirit-endowed activities of a transformed people serving God and edifying each other; and Ephesians 4 describes the gifts as the offices that God has granted the church so the entire body will mature into the image of Jesus Christ.
How the Gifts Work (1 Cor 12:1–7, 12–13)
Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 12 speaks of the Spirit accomplishing three things through the divine distribution of gifts:
- Proclaiming that Jesus Christ is Lord (1 Cor 12:1–3)
- Producing the common good in a congregation (1 Cor 12:4–7)
- Maintaining unity with a healthy diversity in a congregation that is made of of many members (1 Cor 12:12–13).
Proclaiming, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor 12:1–3)
Now, dear brothers and sisters, regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this. You know that when you were still pagans, you were led astray and swept along in worshiping speechless idols. So I want you to know that no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Cor 12:1–3).
Denial: “Anathema Jesus”
- Pressure could have come from Jewish anti-evangelists like Saul who had pressured Jewish Christians to curse Jesus Christ (Acts 26:11, cf. Matt 10:17; Acts 9:1; 22:5, 19). It’s even possible that may here be remembering with shame a time when that blasphemy would have been on his own lips as he forced it on the churches he persecuted.
- Pressure might have come from imperial powers menacing Christians with demands that they curse Jesus Christ rather than acknowledge anyone other than their Roman rulers as “Lord” and master.
- Some might have arrived at a confused way of talking because Law pronounced anyone hung on a tree to be accursed, and that had happened to Jesus (Gal 3:13, quoting Deut 21:23). Some early Christians may have failed to understand that the one who “took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing” (Gal 3:13) was not himself accursed.
Confession: “Jesus is Lord”
On the other hand, every loyal confession of Jesus as Lord is from the Spirit. Just as the Spirit confesses that God is “Abba Father” (Gal 4:6), the Spirit confesses that Jesus is the Lord. Of course, this verbal confession must genuinely signal a cry for salvation (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:14–40) and acknowledge submission to the authority inherent in that title. Jesus must really be Lord, or your use of the title only testifies against you.
Jesus complained, “Why do you keep calling me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?” (Luke 6:46). And he warned, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter” (Matt 7:21). In other words, even while a liturgical tongue chants, “Jesus is Lord,” disobedience can mumble, “… but not mine!”
Working for the Common Good (2 Cor 12:4–7)
The Holy Spirit interlaces all of the church’s human individuality and frailty with divine unity and power.
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts (χάρισμα), but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service (διακονία), but we serve the same Lord. God works (ἐνέργημα) in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us. A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. (1 Cor 12:4–7)
So on both the human and divine sides, the Holy Spirit’s work reflects unity. Any genuine exercise of the gifts of the Spirit reflects inner-Trinitarian unity as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work among us: There are varieties of gifts by the same Spirit, varieties of service by the same Lord, and varieties of activities by the same God.” And on the human side, authentic exercise of spiritual gifts will promote church unity, effecting actions for the common good.
In general, one’s spiritual gifts determine one’s function; indeed, it’s not so much a matter of having a gift, as being a gift. But such matters as holiness, spiritual maturity, and good order also play a critical role in determining who actually does what in a church. For example, one might have the administrative skills of a Fortune 500 CEO’s executive assistant but have an unloving spirit and therefore be disqualified for church leadership. One might have a knack for helping others but not rule one’s own home well and therefore be disqualified from serving as an elder or deacon (1 Tim 3:4, 12; Titus 1:5–9). One might even have administrative, prophetic, and teaching gifts but have fallen into immorality and thus be disqualified from being a pastor (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:5–9).
And God is sovereign in his distribution of the gifts. When Paul notes that “a spiritual gift is given to each of us” (1 Cor 12:7), he implies distribution as the Spirit wills (1 Cor 12:11). That not only means that some people have certain gifts; it also means many others do not have certain gifts. Even with regard to general characteristics and functions of Christians, the Spirit provides some a special gift, and leaves others to function in a less-gifted manner in that area.
By definition, all believers have faith, but the Spirit gives some a special gift of faith; all disciples should share the good news, but God calls some in particular to be evangelists; all Christians should be merciful, but Christ gives some a special gift of mercy. Referring to uniquely apostolic work, Paul spoke of God, “who worked through Peter as the apostle to the Jews” and through himself as “the apostle to the Gentiles” (Gal 2:8). But Paul could also refer to God’s work through the general believer: “God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases hi” (Phil 2:13). Whether apostle, pastor, or laymen, we can all work out our calling in ways that manifest the Holy Spirit.
Paul insisted that immature individualism must yield to corporate maturity, to the one mature man in Christ. So the loving and edifying work that Paul emphasizes in 1 Corinthians 12–14 aims to build up the body of Christ not the charismatic; likewise, Ephesians 4 emphasizes the growth of the whole body, not the perfectionism of individual saints pressing on to a “higher life.”
Producing Unity and Fostering Diversity
The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. (1 Cor 12:12–13)
Christ makes the whole body fit together perfectly. The body is a favorite Pauline analogy for the church. It speaks of diverse manifestations, unified purpose, and interdependence under the overall authority of Jesus Christ. Paul taught the basic analogy: “We are members of his body” (Eph 5:30) and are made “complete through … union with Christ, who is the head” (Col 2:10). Sometimes he expanded on the analogy. For example he told the Roman congregation, “Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other” (Rom 12:4–5). Likewise, he told the Ephesians, “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love” (Eph 4:16). This is the idea behind Paul’s regulation of the gifts (1 Cor 14).
Source of the Unity
The source of that unity is the work of the Holy Spirit, who effects regeneration and reconciliation.
“In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:13). This baptism gives us new life, so “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). In other words, we are one body because we share the life of Christ. We “have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come” (Heb 6:5), we “were all made to drink of the one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13).
We are also one body because the Holy Spirit breaks down real and perceived barriers, working by diverse gifts and through many members to produce and sustain the common good. Ultimately, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, black nor white, male nor female, slave nor free; rather, Christ is all and is in all (Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). He reconciled us all into one body by the work of the cross (Eph 2:16).
- What is Paul affirming and denying when he says, “no one speaking by the Spirit of God will curse Jesus, and no one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:1–3)?
- How would you describe a the need for unity and diversity in the church’s exercise of the charismata?