Holy Spirit Gifts, Motivated by Love (1 Corinthians 12-13 Selections)

Holy Spirit Gifts, Motivated by Love (1 Corinthians 12-13 Selections)

As we’ve been working through Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, a theme we continue to see time and again is that because God is One—and has given his Holy Spirit to those who are his—then those who are his are also One not only with him (which is incredible to think about) but also with each other. Through sending his Son to take on the penalty for our sin, our heavenly Father now adopts those who have accepted this sacrifice on their behalf into his family. And the sign of that adoption is the seal of his Holy Spirit who is a deposit—God’s promise and guarantee—of our eternal life to come.[1]

This is a message we need to hear. And it’s also a message the Corinthians needed to hear for they converted to Christ from a pagan culture and had not yet quite figured out what was required in order to live a holy life, a life set apart not for serving themselves but for knowing, serving, and sharing God in Christ. So in chapter 12 Paul is still addressing the division and boasting this church was undergoing and he reminds them that whatever differences, gifts, and abilities they might have, because of what God in Christ has done, they are one in him. So they can embrace those differences and use those differences to serve one another, to edify the body, and so bear witness to the one Lord they together worship.

So Paul begins in verse 1, “Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.” Previously we saw this church seek Paul’s guidance about marriage and singleness and then about food offered to idols.[2] Now we see that they also wanted to know about spiritual gifts. And by way of response Paul will repeatedly explain to them that because it is God’s Spirit who is the giver of all gifts, there is no place for boasting about these gifts. There is no place for dividing over these gifts. Verses 4–6 provide the framework by which spiritual gifts should be understood: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” In the different words used here for God, we have a triune expression of God who is “Spirit”—referring to the Holy Spirit; “Lord”—referring to Jesus Christ, the Son; and “God” referring to the Father.[3] Just as God, though three persons is one God, so too ought the Corinthians be—though they are different persons with different gifts, they, too, are one. So there ought to be unity within diversity. And what they—and we—need always remember is that God’s Spirit is the One who distributes the variety of gifts, service, and working. And they—and we—further need to remember that the purpose of all of these manifestations of the Spirit, verse 7, is the common good. As God has given himself for us, so we should give our gifts, ourselves, for the sake of those whom he’s placed in our lives.

Now in verses 8­ through 10 Paul provides a representative listing of the types of gifts the Spirit gives:

The Spirit may give a message (or word) of wisdom or a message (or word) of knowledge (8);

Or the same Spirit may give faith or gifts of healing (9),

Or the one Spirit may give miraculous powers—or prophecy—or distinguishing between spirits—or speaking in or interpreting tongues (10).

And, in case they missed it, Paul yet again reiterates in verse 11, “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” So no matter what ability or gift we may have, there are two things we need to remember. First, we can’t take credit for having such a gift because it is God’s Spirit who has given it to us. And second, whatever gift we may have, we are to use it to serve others. Spiritual gifts are given for the common good.

Now with Kai’s exuberant clapping and contagious joy and smiles during our services, I’ve joked that he’ll turn us into a charismatic church yet! But for those who either have not been associated with any charismatic churches or who may generally be unfamiliar with them, I want to take a moment to provide some brief background on them because one of the principal matters that distinguishes—and sadly often divides—charismatic churches from other churches, that is, from that that are not charismatic, revolves in part around the gifts listed in verse 8 through 10 of our passage.[4]

In short, so-called “spiritual gift lists” in Scripture are often divided into “natural” vs. “supernatural” spiritual gifts. Examples of “natural” gifts would include serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, and leading. And many examples of “supernatural” gifts are listed in our passage this morning—a message or word of wisdom, a message or word of knowledge, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, speaking in tongues. Now whereas understanding the natural gifts is self-evident since they are natural, understanding the supernatural gifts is more complicated not only because they are supernatural but also because Paul doesn’t spell out what these gifts may entail. And what distinguishes charismatic from non-charismatic churches is that charismatic churches and believers embrace, practice, and display the supernatural gifts in their worship and lives whereas non-charismatic churches and believers tend to focus on the natural gifts.

Further for many believers who exercise the supernatural gifts, such gifting may be initiated by what is known as the “baptism of the Holy Spirit.” This isn’t the same as being baptized by water as an indication that one is a follower of Christ and part of his eternal family, but rather it’s an experience that takes place after one has come to a saving faith and knowledge in Christ that may come about by your asking for the Holy Spirit to fall on you as other believers lay their hands upon you. And for some, an indication that such a request has been granted by God is that they begin to speak in tongues. Now these tongues aren’t human languages that we can learn like Spanish or German or Swahili or Chinese with recognizable parts of speech or vocabulary or signs that can be learned. Speaking in tongues is a spiritual language in which your spirit prays or talks with God’s Spirit. And though such speaking is edifying to the one doing it, the speaker doesn’t necessarily know or understand what is being spoken. And if you’ve ever sat next to someone who is speaking in tongues during worship, it can sound like soft mumbling.

Now in addition to tongue-speaking, current day practitioners of the supernatural gifts of the Spirit may stand up during a worship service and declare they have a “word of wisdom” or perhaps a “word of knowledge” to share with some individual or the body at large and those who share such messages do so from a sense that God’s Spirit is leading them to do so. And as already noted other supernatural gifts include healing, miraculous powers, and prophecy.

Now though God’s church today isn’t dealing with the particular issues Paul is addressing and seeking to correct in Corinth, this matter of natural versus supernatural gifts is one that too often and tragically divides the community of oneness that the giving of God’s Spirit was intended to create. Sadly, just as spiritual gifts divided the Corinthian Church in Paul’s day, so it continues to do in our own. What ends up happening is that those who haven’t received the baptism of the Spirit—and I count myself among those who haven’t—may look at those who have and judge them to be odd or emotional; and those who have received the baptism of the Spirit may look at those of us who haven’t as somehow being less spiritual because we lack such spiritual manifestations of God’s Spirit. Yet, again, though we can’t be certain of what exactly such gifting entails, what we all can and must embrace are the truths Paul is making crystal clear: Again, 1) all gifts come from God’s Spirit and 2) all gifts are to be used for the common good. Therefore there’s no place for boasting or envy or looking down upon one another because God is the One who has given and distributed all gifts, whether natural or supernatural. So there’s no place for division because God’s Spirit is the One who makes us one in Christ and he has given us these gifts—whether natural or supernatural—that we might better serve him and each other.

Beginning in verse 12, Paul makes this very point: “12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized[5] by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” It’s important that we understand and appreciate what Paul is stating. In being baptized in Christ, we have died to our independence from God in Christ and have risen with Christ that we might live, individually and corporately, dependent upon him—in him—through him—and for him. And that oneness pre-empts any other way we may seek to identify or classify ourselves.

In Paul’s day, this meant that the centuries long divide that existed between Jews, or God’s chosen people, and Gentiles, or everyone else, no longer applied. For when God sent his Holy Spirit during the Jewish celebration of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2, this was in fulfillment of the prophecy God spoke through his prophet Joel. And God sent his Holy Spirit not only to Jewish followers of the one true God but also to Samaritans, or those Jews who had inter-married with people of other nations and thereby too-often followed their false gods, and finally to Gentiles, or those who were included in God’s promise to Abraham that one day through him all of the nations of the world would be blessed.[6] So that now all who profess faith in Jesus as God’s promised Messiah, as Savior and Lord, are equally one in him, are equally brothers and sisters of each other, and are equally recipients of the gifts God’s Spirit gives for the sake of others, for the sake of the common good. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile

And in Christ, there is neither slave nor free so one’s socio-economic class is no indicator of worthiness or unworthiness in God’s eyes. A believing slave in Paul’s day was just as likely to manifest a spiritual gift as a believing free person. So the point in being a follower of Christ isn’t to focus upon our ethnicity or race or socio-economic class but whether or not we have given our lives over to following and living for Jesus Christ and have so been enabled to live for him by the common Spirit he gives to all who call upon his name. So though there are many gifts, there is only one body and one head to that body, Jesus Christ.

In the remainder of this chapter, Paul develops this body analogy noting that if a human body tried to function the way this Corinthian body of believers was functioning, it wouldn’t work. A foot can’t be independent of the rest of the body anymore than a hand (verse 15) or an ear (verse 16) or an eye (verse 17) can. Just as the eye cannot say it doesn’t need a hand, neither can a head say it doesn’t need the feet (21). You get the idea. Paul’s point, beginning in the latter part of verse 24 through 26 is this: “But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” Brothers and sisters, for better or for worse, God in Christ by his Spirit has given us to one another that together we might worship and serve our loving and heavenly Father. Therefore whatever differences we may have in background or education or vocation or ability, we are to embrace the fact that by his Spirit God has made us one in him. So we are to have equal concern for one another. And if any one us suffers, we all should suffer; if any one of us is honored, we all should rejoice. Our focus should be each other not the gifts or abilities we may have. Gifts are a means to an end, not the end itself.

In verse 27 Paul again reminds the Corinthians of both their oneness and the role each one has to play in stating “ Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” It is by means of the Church to which he’s given his Spirit that God in Christ has chosen to continue his ministry in this world. The Church is the body of Christ and we must never forget that though seemingly mundane or great, everyone is a part of his body and ought to be using their time, energy, and gifts so that Christ’s ministry on earth might continue. In verses 28–30 Paul again notes various calls and gifts: apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, gifts of healing, helping, guidance, and tongues. And in verse 31 he encourages the Corinthians to desire the greater gifts—that is, the gifts that most edify the church—closing with a statement that transitions to the well-known faith chapter as he states, “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.” Not surprisingly, that “most excellent way” is the way of love.

Now notice how chapter 13 begins and connects so closely with what Paul has said in chapter 12:

Having addressed the gift of tongues in chapter 12,[7] he begins chapter 13 by stating “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”

Having addressed the gifts of prophecy and faith in chapter 12, he states in verse 2 of chapter 13,[8] “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

And though Paul didn’t include the gift of giving in chapter 12, he does include it in another gift list in Romans 12 where he states that if one’s gift is “…is giving, then give generously.”[9] Yet about even such an evidently selfless gift, Paul say in verse 3 of I Corinthians 13, “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” Another possible translation of this verse is “If I give my body to be burned” or “to the flames” which brings to mind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the Old Testament.[10] But, whichever translation, the point is the same—whether a gift of giving to the poor or martyrdom, even these must be done with love.

For a follower of Christ, our gifts and actions shouldn’t simply be a matter of rote, mechanical, joyless obedience; for a follower of Christ, the motive of what we do matters. Though it is no doubt better to do what is right even if our heart isn’t in it, what our gracious God desires is that we be “all in” and do the right thing for the right reason; that we use our gifts and energies and time from a motive of our love for God and for those whom he has placed in our lives.

But how are we to understand what Paul means by “love”? Is this love a feeling? Is it romantic love? Is it love between a parent and child? Is it Platonic love between friends? I’m glad you asked! Because in keeping with God’s disclosure to his people in the Old Testament in which by means of his prophets God spells out what loving actions look like in providing his law, so, too, in the New Testament by means of his apostles God spells out what loving actions are about. So in verses 4 through the beginning of verse 8, Paul tells the Corinthians what love is and isn’t:

Love [2nd time, Jesus; 3rd time “your name here”] is patient. It accepts delays, problems, and suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.

Love is kind. It is generous and considerate of others.

Love doesn’t envy or want what others have. It is happy for others and their accomplishments.

Love doesn’t boast. It listens.

Love isn’t proud. It’s humble.

Love doesn’t dishonor others. It respects and lifts them up.

Love isn’t self-seeking. It seeks the good of others.

Love isn’t easily angered. It keeps anger in check.

Love keeps no record of wrongs. When love forgives, it moves on.

Love doesn’t delight in evil but rejoices in the truth.

Love always protects. It looks after and takes care of others.

Love always trusts. It believes in others.

Love always hopes. It doesn’t give up on others.

Love always perseveres. It stays there to the end.

Love never fails.

So the value of gifts lies not in the gifts themselves but in their loving use to serve those around us. And I’m going to briefly do two quick substitutions and re-read this list describing love. First, I’m going to substitute Jesus,’ who is God, name for love for we’re told in Scripture that he is love.[11] And now I’d like you to substitute your name because we are called to be like God. It’s humbling to consider how high this bar is, isn’t it?

At the end of this chapter Paul places continues to place spiritual gifts in perspective. So verse 8: Prophecies? They’ll cease. Tongues? They’ll be stilled. Knowledge? It’ll pass away. For one day, when Christ returns, we’ll be complete even as he is and will no longer need these particular gifts. But we’ll still need love. We’ll always need love. We were made for love. And when Christ returns, hard though it may be to believe at times, we will be able to love even as he loves; even as he is love. Though “now we see only a reflection as in a mirror”—verse 12—“then we shall see face to face.” Though now we “know in part; then [we] shall know fully, even as [we are] fully known.” But until then, for the time being, faith, hope and love remain, verse 13. “But the greatest of these is love.”

So let us ever seek to use our lives—so let us ever seek to use our time—so let us ever seek to use our gifts in a loving manner that reflects our loving Savior and Lord.

Let us pray.

Rejoice not in what we know, but that we can use what we know to better love and serve others.

Rejoice not in what we can do, but in doing things to better love and serve others.

[1] 2 Corinthians 1:21–22: 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

[2] In chapter 7, marriage and singleness; in chapter 8, food offered to idols.

[3] Crossway ESV Study Bible: “The most common pattern in the NT Epistles is to refer to God the Father with the word, ‘God’ (Gk. Theos, which is the normal Septuaging translation for the OT Hb. Elohim, ‘God’) and to refer to God the Son with the word ‘Lord’ (Gk. Kyrios, which is used in the Septuaging over 6,000 times to translate the OT Hb. Name YHWH, ‘Yahweh’ OR “LORD’).”

[4] See also Romans 12:6–8:We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. Ephesians 4:11–13: 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. I Peter 4:10–11: 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

[5] There is no agreement about whether this refers to water baptism or the giving of the Spirit that occurs at the time of conversion.

[6] Genesis 12:1–3: 1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

[7] Verse 10: to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.; verse 28: And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.; verse 30: Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

[8] Verse 10: to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.; verse 28: And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.; verse 29: Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Verse 9: to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,….

[9] Romans 12:8.

[10] Daniel 3:19–23, 26: 19 Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual 20 and commanded some of the strongest soldiers in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and throw them into the blazing furnace. 21 So these men, wearing their robes, trousers, turbans and other clothes, were bound and thrown into the blazing furnace. 22 The king’s command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, 23 and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace…. 26 Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire,

[11] I John 4:8: Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love

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