Despite their obvious flaws, Paul loved the church at Corinth. And in his section on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12–14, he aims to help his spiritual children come to a true understanding of the Holy Spirit and the purpose of the spiritual gifts.
Important for us standing twenty centuries removed is the way he begins with the Holy Spirit as the greatest gift in 12:1–3, followed by an understanding of the triune God in vv. 4–6. When questions about spiritual gifts come up, we must begin here: the greatest gift is the Holy Spirit himself. He is the one by whom we might know the triune God.
Only after nailing down this truth can we move to understand the purpose and particulars of the spiritual gifts. Therefore, as I preached on this passage, this is where I focused—on the Gift and the Giver. We also considered the purpose or goal of the spiritual gifts and how these gifts functioned to promote the gospel in the early days of the church.
Next week we’ll focus more on the particular used of the sign gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10, but for now you can listen to yesterdays sermon on Holy Spirit Power. Sermon notes are also available. Discussion questions and resources for further study are listed below.
1 Corinthians 12:1–11
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
- When you hear “spiritual gift(s)” what comes to mind? What about “sign gifts” or “miraculous gifts,” tongues, or faith-healing?
- Why is this such a contentious issue today? What level of doctrine is it–first, second, third tier? (See Mohler’s article below)
- Why is Paul bringing up spiritual gifts? How are these gifts being used/manifested in Corinth? Is this is a problem in the church or a practice he wants the Corinthians to exercise? What difference does that make?
- What are the overarching problems in Corinth? (Hint: divisions galore, high-mindedness, unlove, selfishness, etc.) How does those problems relate to spiritual gifts in the church? How might that help us understand Paul’s goal in writing about these gifts?
- What is the first thing Paul says in vv. 1–3? Who are the “spiritual”? Who are the three types of people in vv. 2–3? What does his focus on salvation (those who say ‘Jesus is Lord’) teach about the Holy Spirit, spiritual gifts, salvation?
- Read vv. 4–6. What does the Trinity have to do with spiritual gifts? What does it mean that God works with “inseparable operations”? (See Scott Swain article below).
- Read v. 7. What is the purpose of the gifts? How do the miraculous gifts accomplish this—in the Universal Church? in your local church?
- What role do miraculous gifts play in redemptive history? Read Exodus 3:16–19; John 5:36; 10:38; Acts 4:29–30; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:1–4? How should we compare/contrast the less clear instructions to the Corinthians about miraculous gifts with the clear testimony about miraculous signs and wonders?
- What other questions do you have? (Application: Keep reading 1 Corinthians 12–14 as expositional listeners).
- Albert Mohler, A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity — an important reminder as we debate the continuation of miraculous gifts
- Scott Swain, “On Not Destroying Fruitful Trees: A Brief Defense of the Doctrine of Inseparable Operations” — an explanation and defense of God’s “inseparable operations”
- Richard Gaffin, “Basic Perspectives [on Pentecost]” — a look at how the Spirit’s work relates to redemptive-history; see also his book, Perspectives on Pentecost
- David Schrock, ‘Power’ in Paul’s Letters: How Apostolic Miracles Magnify the Gospel Message — an exegetical look at “the working of miracles” in 1 Corinthians 12:10
- David Schrock, Understanding the Spiritual Gifts: A Few Translation Notes on 1 Corinthians 12:1–11
- John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine, pp. 800–20 — a succinct defense of cessationism
- Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, ch. 52–53 — the leading evangelical proponent of the miraculous gifts continuing
- Ebenezer Henderson (1784–1858), Divine Inspiration; or, The supernatural influence exerted in the communication of divine truth and is special bearing on the composition of the sacred Scriptures : with notes and illustrations, pp. 148–200 — a 19th C. defense of the miraculous gifts ceasing with the apostles; and yes, that is the whole title :-)
Soli Deo Gloria, ds