Call to Worship November 8 2020
Expository Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 12:13-31
After Paul set the foundation and primary purpose of spiritual gifts, by the Triune God, he set the context of the gifts in the body of Christ. Paul developed this context by way of an illustration of the physical body. Our physical bodies are one body with many members of that body. We have hands, eyes, ears, and noses. Those parts of our bodies are individually recognizable, but not individually functional apart from the whole system of the body. To simply have a hand with no arm, shoulder, torso and so forth is of little consequence and aid. Therefore, Paul taught them that just as the physical body is one form with many members, so the body of Christ is one group with many members.
Just as the physical body must not demean what may be perceived as lesser parts of it, neither may the body of Christ diminish the various gifts God has given to individuals in Christ’s church through the Spirit. “And the eye cannot say to the hand,” according to Paul, “‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Cor. 12:21 NAU). Where would we be physically if our body was all eyes or only a head? Not only would that look strange, but the functioning of such a figure would be awkward at best and deadly at worst.
The body of Christ is no different than the outworking of Paul’s illustration. God has made people with all types of different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. He has granted the members of Christ’s body their personalities and gifts to be used in the body. None of those gifts or the people that have those gifts are to be diminished in the church. Each person and their gift must be appreciated. If we alienate or amputate the gifts or the people with them, without appropriate biblical cause, we will severely damage the local body of Christ.
Instead, Paul explained the importance of honoring one another in Christ no matter what gifts that person may or may not have in the context of the local church. First, this was for the purpose of recognizing the necessity of each person and gift even if it seemed smaller or weaker in the larger scope of the church (vs. 22). Second, this was to teach and affirm the attitude of humility in life and specifically in the church (vs. 23-24). Third, Paul once again confronted contentiousness and divisions in the church with his explanation regarding gifts (vs. 25). Last, he sought to direct the church at Corinth to recognize the importance of steadfast loving-kindness toward one another (vs. 26). All of this was to establish the foundation and framework in the functioning of the gifts.
Furthermore, Paul listed several spiritual gifts-word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, prophecy, apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healings, helps, administrations, and tongues. First, recognize the historical context of many of these gifts during the time of the early church. Many Conservative and Reformed minded Pastors/Theologians note that each of these gifts found their usefulness at somewhat of an intermediary period. The Old Covenant had been fulfilled in Christ and the New Covenant had been ushered in, but not with a fully written and compiled New Testament scripture. So, some believers were given a word of wisdom and knowledge to speak by the Holy Spirit. They were given revelation from God concerning that which Christ testified about himself (Luke 24:25-27). Also there were gifts of healing and miracles that were used in the context of revelation and the confirmation of revelation that was being spoken by the apostles in words of knowledge and wisdom. Tongues and prophecy were used in the same vein so that Christ may be revealed from all the scriptures. Others were granted these gifts as the apostles laid hands on some for the purpose of Christ’s revelation in the early church. Yet, not everyone in the early church had or needed these gifts.
In addition, these revelatory gifts were not meant to be perpetually in existence. These gifts were meant to establish the proper teaching of Christ from and through the Old Testament scriptures. They were to give revelation and illumination of New Covenant truth. Even the gift of tongues fit this design. Think of how tongues was used in Acts 2. The speaking of tongues was the Spirit’s use of known languages, so that all those in the hearing of the preaching understood the revelation of Christ in their own known language. Once the scripture could be read in Koine Greek, Old Testament and New Testament, then the gift of tongues was no longer necessary. Consequently that gift along with other revelatory gifts faded out during the early church period. They were never to be used again because the scripture was complete and recorded these gifts, their uses, and effects for all future generations of believers to read and hear proclaimed.
Therefore, Paul’s purpose was not to first and foremost establish a sign-up list for gifts in all churches for all ages. His purpose noted that although some gifts are more evident and needed in certain circumstances, not everyone can or should have the same gift. The church at Corinth had a dangerous issue facing them regarding the desiring of gifts. Many wanted the gifts of most notability. Paul’s greatest interest was not defining these gifts, but warning the church of the desires of remaining flesh to misuse, mishandle, and misappropriate these gifts. Not everyone was an apostle, miracle worker, healer, or tongue speaker, but every professing believer in the congregation at Corinth had important value. So he cautioned them that they were taking the Lord’s Supper with the wrong thinking and doing the same with the spiritual gifts. They needed to stop and check their motives of heart and soul in these matters. Many of them were concerned about promoting themselves or their own agendas and not properly proclaiming Christ and living Christ-like lives for God’s glory. The soul issue addressed by Paul then is of concern in any modern church as well. Are we living for the glory of God or desiring to bring glory to ourselves? Whatever we are to be doing we need to do it first and foremost to glorify the God who saved us by His grace. Soli Deo Gloria!
(Note: If you desire to read more about the spiritual gifts the article below is a good starting place. [ https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/spirit-of-light/ ] If you desire more details about the gifts themselves from the context of I Corinthians chapter 12, read Understanding Spiritual Gifts: A Verse by Verse Study of 1 Corinthians 12-14 by Robert L. Thomas. Also, to read a solid biblical understanding of why certain gifts ceased during the time of and at the end of the early church period into the modern day church, read To Be Continued: Are the Miraculous Gifts for Today?, by Samuel E. Waldron, and The Final Word, by O. Palmer Robertson.)