For today's lesson, the quarterly examines the first portion of 1 Corinthians 12. 1 Corinthians 13 is next week. They skipped 1 Corinthians 14, but that must be covered in concert with 12. Omitting that chapter from this week's study leads to problems with the interpretation of 12. So some of what you hear will be the good bits I got from the lesson, and I will add other items from my own history to fill in some of the gaps they left out.
I am afraid that very little of this will be from a traditional Methodist perspective. But, as I have mentioned, I try to stick to the Bible and what God lays on my heart (when I am in tune enough to listen clearly anyway) and you'll have to let God talk to you about what I say and the Scriptures I use and decide for yourselves where you want to take the information. I can assure you that the decisions you make about this subject can be life changing and church changing. If you don't want your life or your church to change, then you can tune out now. This will be a longer lesson, but that isn't an apology. It is a very important subject that needs addressed.
The Fruit of the Spirit Filled Life
There are a couple of basic things that I would like to start with. It is often said that by a Christian's fruit, you will know them. As we listed last week, the Fruit of the Spirit from Galatians, includes love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance. There are no laws against this fruit. It is not the fruits of the Spirit - it is a single fruit. Each person will have an expanding display of each of these qualities as they grow in the Spirit. You aren't a growing plant if you have 4 out of 9. It might be a great batting average, but it is a dismal Christian record.
That isn't to say that you will be immediately perfect in all of these things right after salvation. Every person has to live and react in a world full of stimuli, many of which we have no control over. But people should be able to see a difference in you even immediately after salvation in a broad spectrum of these things. If you have been a Christian a long time, and find that you are having problems in one or more of these areas, then you need to go back to basics and seek a closer walk with the Spirit on a day to day basis. Invite Him to take control of your life. Surrender to Him. Let Him have His way with you.
The Ministries of the Church
On to the lesson for the day. This chapter of 1 Cor. has three breakdowns of gifts of the Spirit and the body of Christ. We will first look at 1 Cor. 12:4-6. This section emphasizes the nature of the Trinity. Each of the verses describes a separate work and then identifies a member of the Trinity. The linkage may not be exact, but that is the way it is presented here. There are diversities of gifts linked to one Spirit; there are differences of administrations linked to one Lord, Jesus Christ; there are diversities of operations linked to one God. In the lists of gifts we will cover, some fall into each category.
The Body and its Members
As we examine the last gift listing in the chapter (and a couple of others mentioned in the quarterly), it is important to note that in all three areas, there is a nearby reference to the body of Christ. The longest treatment is here in 1 Cor. 12 where Paul makes it clear that the body of Christ is made up of many different members. I'd like to talk just a little bit about the body metaphor. Paul's main points that I will summarize here are as follows:
- the members of the body are to work cooperatively, (v. 13)
- no part of the body can say that it doesn't need the other parts of the body, (v. 21)
- no part of the body should feel more important than the other because of its function, (v. 21)
- all parts of the body must be present for the body to be complete, (vs. 15-16)
- there should be no schism in the body - no wars between its parts - no disunity, (v. 25)
- all parts of the body should care for the other parts, all parts of the body should suffer when one part suffers, and all
parts should rejoice when one is honored, (vs. 25-26)
- God has put the body together with all its pieces and declared it complete - He was pleased with it as it existed in the
early church. (v. 18)
The concept of needing all members or functions to be present in order to be a healthy growing organism is the key to understanding this scripture. All of the three scripture sections we will read deal with the work of the Spirit in some facet of the Church and individual believer's lives. It is critical that all Christian churches have the ability to allow God to use all facets and gifts listed in these passages at any time He chooses. That is not to say that they must all be in use each and every time the body meets. But the capacity and freedom for the gifts to be used when the Spirit so desires must be present.
It is not enough to say that as long as there are the required number of hands, eyes, ears, feet, et cetera, if you add up all the body parts scattered around all denominations that you have a properly functioning and growing organism. The organism is not complete if all of the eyes belong to one denomination, all of the ears belong to another, all of the feet belong to another, all of the tongues belong to yet another, et cetera. Sadly, in many cases that is just what we have today.
Many people tend to feel that when people switch around between denominations and mix the parts up, well that just messes everything up! We had our neat little boxes all laid out and counted and now you've gone and messed things up! Perhaps by the time I get done, you will all feel that way about me! I'm being a bit over the top here, but there are some basic truths you can glean from those statements if you think about them. Our unwillingness (whether in denominations, in individual churches, or personally) to accept and use all the parts (gifts) that God established and were practiced by the early church, is one of the main reasons Christianity in America is losing ground daily.
The Lists of Gifts
The last breakdown of gifts in this chapter is found in 1 Cor. 12:27-30. Both the student and teacher quarterlies suggest looking in Romans 12:3-8 and Ephesians 4:11 for other partial lists of gifts. These are also good descriptions. Let's read all these selections aloud before we continue.
In all of these scripture passages there are elements that deal with the church as a whole on a practical level, and elements that deal with the church on a spiritual level. What is clear in these passages is that God will provide for His church. In the passage in 1 Cor. 12:27-30 we see a prioritized listing as Paul saw the gifts. Paul says that God set some people up as apostles. These were sent out as modern day evangelists, backed up by the local church they came from. Prophets came next. They worked via the gift of prophecy from the Holy Spirit. They spoke for God. When this was a prophetic utterance about the future, their prophecies were judged by the people based on whether or not their prophecies came true just as with the Old Testament prophets. Prophets, just as in the Old Testament, can simply give timely messages of warning or instruction from God. They don't necessarily have to be words about what will come to pass in the future as many think of prophets today.
Next in line were teachers. These people simply taught the people about God. These were followed by those who had other Gifts of the Spirit for working miracles, healing, helps, governments (those entrusted with the means of guiding the church via the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and discerning of spirits), and diversity of tongues.
The list in Ephesians adds evangelists (bringers of good news) and pastors to the list between prophets and teachers. After an aside about the Corinthian church in general, I'll take each of these in turn.
Gifts and the Corinthian Church
The quarterly writer again tries to warp this into an educated elitist yuppie Corinthian church problem as in other lessons to try to make it relevant to today's audience. I don't believe that this was the case. In my estimation, the Corinthian church was made up of a bunch of new converts who had grown up either living with the death, futility, and powerlessness of idolatry or who had grown up in the ritualistic worship of Judaism. They were simply excited about the new presence of God in their hearts and in their lives via the baptism of the Spirit.
When they were new converts they wanted to spread the Word. The church had grown. Now that they had experienced the baptism in the Holy Ghost, they all wanted to share this new and exciting facet of their lives with each other. Some, and perhaps many of the people had received gifts from God through the Holy Spirit. They wanted to share. The fact that so many of them were wanting to express themselves at once in every church service was the main problem that Paul was addressing here. I'm sure that human nature being what it is, there was a bit of pride and showing off occasionally as well, but I don't think that was the primary problem he was addressing.
Paul didn't condemn them for letting the Spirit of God move in them or in their services. He tried to do three things. He tried to help people see that there was a hierarchy of gifts and that people should seek the best gifts (v. 12:31, 14:1). He tried to encourage the people to use the gifts in love and without pride and arrogance. We'll hit this next week when we study Chapter 13. And finally, in Chapter 14, he set out to establish some guidelines about the time, place, and order that the gifts should be used in order to not have confusion in services or get in the way of making new converts to Christ.
His description of the priority of the gifts is found here in 1 Cor. 12. The most important gift that he said anyone should seek was to be an apostle. Paul (and God) wants and needs apostles to be spreading His Word to convert the lost to Christ. That is just as true now as it was in the Early Church. God's number one goal in all of the gifts He gives His children and in the positions and ministries He sets people apart to perform, is to win people to Christ. He doesn't put people in positions or ministries for their own ego trip. He doesn't primarily give people gifts in the Spirit just to make Christian's lives better - that can be a good side effect - but it isn't the primary purpose. The gifts aren't provided for an ego trip either. They are to help you work the harvest field.
Why were the apostles told by Christ to tarry in Jerusalem? So they could be baptized in the Holy Ghost to Go, Preach, Baptize, and Make Disciples, first in Jerusalem (where they were then), then Judea (their locality), then Samaria (their nearby neighbors) and finally the whole world!
I'll make a couple other brief points. I believe that Paul expected that every apostle would be baptized in the Spirit and thus would be able to prophecy as needed, and would certainly be able to teach. In Paul's time, the apostles were taking the Word to lands where the name of Christ was unknown. There are fewer of those places today, but they still exist. Sadly, even in America, the youth aren't learning from their parents and church enough about God. Much of what they are seeing on TV is incorrect, at best. They may know of Christ, but they don't know Christ and have some pretty poor examples of Christianity to use as yardsticks. Even in America, after 2,000 years, apostles still need to be teachers.
The apostles, filled with the Spirit, would also have been enabled to use any of the gifts of the Spirit that God required at any time provided they accepted those additional gifts and responsibilities. This would prove that God was with their ministry and would also allow them to be a blessing to the people they met.
Prophets and Teachers
After this, the next two ministries on Paul's list were that of a prophet and a teacher. The prophets told of God's plans for His church and provided correction as needed. Their function in the New Testament church was thus similar to that of the Old Testament prophet. The teachers were to train others in God's ways and expectations. These were in second and third place.
Prophets might not be called to spread the Word like an apostle, but must be ready to teach as needed. As with the prophets of the Old Testament, the other gifts of the Spirit they may have received could be used as needed to back up and support their prophetic calling. Teachers might have no need to go about doing the work of a prophet, but likewise might have some of the gifts of the Spirit to support their ministry.
All other gifts were lumped together in fourth place as a needed part of the body, but as basically equally important. These gifts were available to all who had been baptized in the Spirit, and were distributed at the Spirit's choosing. 1 Cor. 12:7 makes clear that the manifestations (the visible and audible examples of the Spirit's work) were given to every man to profit with. Since everyone was to seek the baptism in the Spirit, this meant that the gifts of the Spirit were for every Christian. Continuing in verse 11, "But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will."
Overall, this hierarchy looked like a pyramid. The base of the pyramid was the biggest group and was available to all the people who were baptized in the Spirit. The Spirit made the selections as to who received which gifts, as is clear in verse 11. But in any large enough body of people, it would be expected that all of the gifts would be present in one or more individuals. As you went up the pyramid, the numbers of people called to those posts were fewer, but would have had the gifts working in them. Those who could prophecy, could teach along with everything else. Those called to be apostles could exercise any other item on the list. That is mostly perhaps personal opinion, but we make similar assumptions in the church hierarchy today so I don't think I'm far off base.
The Gifts of the Spirit
Let's look a little deeper into the list of gifts mentioned in 1 Cor. 12. This passage provides a detailed list of nine visible manifestations of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Can we name them? From Dake, I will provide the following breakdown...
- Gifts of revelation - the mind gifts
- The word of wisdom. This is supernatural revelation, or insight into the divine will and purpose, showing how to solve any problem that may arise (1 Ki. 3:16-28; Mt. 2:20; Lk. 22:10-12; Jn. 2:22-24;4:16-19; Acts 26:16;27:21-25; 1 Cor. 5)
- The word of knowledge. This is supernatural revelation of divine knowledge, or insight in the divine mind, will, or plan; and also the plans of others that man could not know of himself (Gen. 1:1-2:25; 1 Sam. 3:7-15; 2 Ki. 6:8-12; Acts 9:11-12; Mt. 16:16; Jn. 1:1-3; Acts 5:3-4;21:11; Eph. 3)
- Discerning of spirits. This is supernatural revelation, or insight into the realm of spirits to detect them and their plans and to read the minds of men (Mt. 9:4; Lk. 13:16; Jn. 2:25; Acts 13:9-10;16:16; 1 Tim. 4:1-4; 1 Jn. 4:1-6)
- Gifts of inspiration - vocal gifts
- Prophecy. This is supernatural utterance in the native tongue (1 Cor. 14:3). It is a miracle of divine utterance, not conceived by human thought or reasoning (Acts 3:21;11:28; 21:11; 2 Pet. 1:21; 1 Cor. 14:23-32). It includes speaking unto men to edification, and exhortation and comfort (1 Cor. 14:3)
- Divers kinds of tongues. This is supernatural utterance in other languages which are not known to the speaker (Isa. 28:11; Mk. 16:17; Acts 2:4;10:44-48; 19:1-7; 1 Cor. 12:10, 28-31;13:1-3; 14:2, 4-22, 26, 27-32)
- The interpretation of tongues. This is simply supernatural ability to interpret in the native tongue what is uttered in other languages not known by the one who interprets by the Spirit (12:10, 14:5, 13-15, 27-28)
- Gifts of power - working gifts
- Faith. This is supernatural ability to believe God without human doubt, unbelief, and reasoning (Rom. 4:17; Jas. 1:5-8; Mt. 17:20;21:22; Mk. 9:23;11:22-24; Heb. 11:6;12:1-3)
- The gifts of healing. This is supernatural power to heal all manner of sickness without human aid or medicine (Mk. 16:18; Jn. 14:12; 1 Cor. 12:9)
- The working of miracles. This is supernatural power to intervene in the ordinary course of nature and to counteract natural laws if necessary (12:10, 27-31; Heb. 2:3-4; Ps. 107; Ex. 7:10-14:21; 2 Ki. 4:1-44;6:1-7; Mt. 17:20; Mk. 9:23;11:22-24; Jn. 14:12)
The list in Romans doesn't match the order listed here, but adds giving, exhorting, and mercy as other gifts that the Spirit can impart.
It is important to note some things about these gifts. They are gifts. You can't earn them. You can't buy them. And although they are meant to be freely given from God, like all gifts they are sometimes hard to receive. People are afraid of what they don't understand. Why are you afraid of God? He isn't out to hurt you or destroy your church by letting His Spirit move! He loves you. He made a plan to equip His church. Then His church turned the gifts away. We need to pray for forgiveness and again seek His gifts and His way.
Certain individuals may receive all of the gifts of the Spirit. Some may only receive one. Some may receive none. The Spirit of God chooses how they are distributed in the church. They can be sought, but the Spirit decides when and where and to whom to offer them. The gift is yours if you accept it. You are in control of whether or not to use it. If you have the gift of healing, and you see someone that needs healed, you must be in tune with the Spirit to know whether or not you are to get involved. Even if you feel you are supposed to get involved, you can still say no. You shouldn't (1 Tim. 4:14), but God won't force you. Of course, like Jonah, He can make your life a bit miserable if you don't follow through. It is better to not neglect the gifts (2 Tim. 1:6)
Likewise, the gifts of the Spirit don't leave you just because you backslide. Some of the gifts may not have much effect in a backslidden condition as they do require God's working through you to operate (Rom. 11:29). But, as an example, Solomon didn't all of a sudden get stupid when he went against God's will. His wisdom was still with Him (Eccl. 2:9). The gifts can be misused. That is one reason why discerning of Spirits is important. That way you can be on your guard to know if a person is speaking in tongues and interpreting according to the Spirit's willing or if they are speaking of themselves.
Their Proper Place in a Worship Service
1 Cor. 14 deals with the proper use of the gifts. This has gotten to be a really long sermon, so I am going to keep this section brief and ask you to study 1 Cor. 14. First, Paul suggested that prophecy was best for edifying, exhorting, and comforting the body. It was more beneficial to the church than tongues were in this regard. Tongues must be interpreted to edify the body and thus there should be an interpreter present when messages in tongues are given, or the speaker of the message in tongues should pray to be given the interpretation. The messages in tongues and interpretations are given as a sign to unbelievers. The words that are spoken may well be directed to specific believers or the church just as a prophetic message would be. Giving the message in this form, however, is done to help the unbelievers in the hearing audience believe.
All such utterances should be done in order. It doesn't do any good if everyone is speaking at once. Each person having a message in tongues or prophecy from God to give should do so in order and wait for the interpretation (for messages in tongues) before proceeding. For most services, there should be at most two or three of each given so there is still time for worshiping, praying, teaching, and preaching to take place. "For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints." 1 Cor. 14:33
"How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying." 1 Cor. 14:26. As part of this edification I would urge all churches who receive Words from God to start publishing them on the Internet for all to read. Where would we be today if the Holy Bible was not present and translated to our language. It would aid the church greatly to have God's word for today spread just as far and wide. It would help the church to see the plans of God if what was being told and done in each church was published better.
"Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophecy, and forbid not to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order." 1 Cor. 14:39-40
Why Do the Gifts Still Matter Today?
How is the Church Filling Its Needs Today?
The gifts that have been mentioned here today cover the spectrum of needs of the church. The church's needs haven't changed since the Early Church was established since humanity hasn't really changed all that much in the 2,000 years. Surprising enough, God's means of meeting the needs of His church hasn't changed either.
So many Christians need help, need healing, need direction in their lives or need some sort of miracle. Yet so many churches resist God's plan that He established in order to fill these needs. Many churches and denominations today have substituted their own plan in meeting the needs of their people instead of relying on God. We don't rely on miracles unless we have no other options. We support food pantries and give to funds to help people with special needs and circumstances to do the helping ourselves.
Healing is done through prayers or doctors. That isn't a slam against the medical profession. They have come a long way in the last 2,000 years. There are a lot of things they can fix or medicate. There are still several things they can't fix. Some of their patches don't last long and you get to go through the procedure again. For what it is worth, I'm glad that God responds to our prayer to guide the doctor's hand or to help the doctor find what is wrong with us, or to grant us a speedy recovery from a medical procedure. But don't confuse that with the gift of healing.
Anything that gives most of the glory for a recovery to the medical community didn't have the gift of healing involved. The gift of healing provides just that - a total and complete medically verifiable healing of the body. I would have much preferred to have someone in the local Christian community with the true gift of healing I could have gone to when my gall-bladder was about to explode. The surgery wasn't much fun. Don't you feel the same? Why do you resist the Holy Spirit's work?
As an aside, in James where he is talking about bringing the afflicted to the elders to be prayed over and anointed with oil, confessing our faults one to another, for healing, it is my firm belief that James' expectation was that the elders of the church would be baptized in the Spirit and that the gift of healing would be present amongst them (Jas. 5:13-16). That is not to say that God can't answer any prayer He so chooses. It is simply an acknowledgment that when He makes a plan for how He expects things to be done, He doesn't usually change it.
Instead of words of wisdom, knowledge, and prophecy, we train our pastors in how to counsel, how to listen, how to be good mini-psychologists to meet the people's needs. No need of God here. Sure, we'll spout out scriptural advice most of the time, but it has to come from the pastor or the official staff (no one else need apply) and we sure don't want the pastor (or certainly the person sitting next to us) to let God work through him or her and peel away our outer layers and get right to the heart of the problem immediately! We couldn't whine and complain enough if he did that! Why that would just never do!!! Read Jas. 5:16 again.
Why have a discerning spirit gift from God? We rely on our denomination's leadership to send us approved pastors and special speakers. They should know who is right and who is wrong. That's what we pay them for, right? I think that there are a few denominations that have had some real destructive problems lately because of leaders without discerning spirits that let their staff do wrong, and turned their eyes away from the wrong they did (or tried to hide the wrong under a rock) for a long time. That is why the people of God need discernment today - so that they can protect their own families by leaving a church and going somewhere else if they feel there is a problem with the leadership. You may not be able to prove anything - or it may just not be the right place for you - but go if the Spirit says go!
Lastly, and I know that this has been a long sermon, but most importantly, Satan is after you and your family. He has planted all sorts of religions out there that are not centered on Christ. He has even planted one or two that give lip service to a historical Christ, but deny that He was part of the triune God and that it was He who created everything in the first place.
The lesson writer tried to dilute the power of the gifts by mixing in the talents that people have and turning the lesson into one of service. Everyone has talents that they should use for the kingdom. Some people are better suited to particular services in the church than others. But these are things that are developed by man. They are not the gifts that are talked about in this chapter that come from God. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is a talented musical group. They sing mostly religious music in mostly church settings. They are using their talents for their denomination. Other worldly Satan backed religions promise enlightenment if you follow their way long enough - world's wisdom. These sorts of things are not gifts of the Spirit as Paul related in 1 Cor. 12.
Satan is out to lead you away from God. He is out to destroy you. He is out to provide all sorts of choices from the ultra black and evil Satan worshiping cults to the merely gray religions that look so close to Christianity that it is easy to be deceived into following them and their precepts instead of those from the Holy Bible. Even in Peter's day, he warned against this. "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not." 2 Pet. 2:1-3. The rest of 2 Pet 2. is good to read too.
Problems in the House
Lots of denominations today come dangerously close to the warnings in 2 Tim. 3:1-9 as well. Reading portions, "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, ... Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth..." How that describes many churches today. Dake's quote is Their religion is only in their creed and formal confession of faith, not in their hearts. Ever studying, but denying the power of God.
The Church at Corinth may not have been perfect. Their use of the gifts of the Spirit might not have started out right. But they had something the idolatrous acts all around them didn't have. They had the power of God that people could see working in their midst.
If your church or denomination is dry and the power of God isn't in the service... If you go just to have your ears tickled with a sermon or teaching, without ever expecting to feel God's presence or see Him work, then it is time for you, your church, and possibly even your denomination to get down on their knees and start earnestly coveting the best gifts as Paul admonished here. Get the Holy Spirit back in the people's lives in power and with the full baptism in the Spirit rather than just the normal everyday amount that you had based on your salvation experience. Make Christ's church stand out in the face of the world's religions as the one where God is actively moving.
You wonder why the youth aren't interested in the church today. They have TV, the Internet, movies, video games, a whole artificial virtual reality where they can tune reality out and vegetate. They need to see that there is holiness, uprightness, and power in the church once again. It would probably make a lot of people in the pews out there this morning nervous if they new they might have an Ananias and Sapphira experience due to the working of the Spirit when they walked into the church the next Sunday (Acts 5:1-11). But if you wonder why 3,000 were converted to Christianity from Judaism after Pentecost (Acts 2:41), it wasn't because the choir sang a pretty number and the pastor preached a safe sermon on Sunday. It was because the power of God was present and the people could see it.
I do know that all generations look for signs (Mt. 12:39) and Jesus warned that the generation there would only see the sign of the Prophet Jonas (in Christ's resurrection after three days). Perhaps this generation has also fallen in under the wicked and adulterous generation category. If so it is time that we change. Christ also said, "Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it." (John 14:10-14). The works are not for our sake - they are that the Father may be glorified. His promise can be for today as well.
Like Elijah taking on the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18, we have had 1,000 plus years of water dumped on God's Early Church Experience. God lit the match in a few denominations in the last century. Now it is time for God to pour out the fire from heaven again, consume His sacrifice, and demonstrate that His plan for His church works! He needs Elijahs to rise up in each church and build His altar again. Be that Elijah in your own church! Pray for the baptism in the Holy Ghost. Pray earnestly for the gifts to be poured out in you. Don't just set on the bleachers hoping that it will be poured out on the person sitting next to you. Pray to be a part of God's work today. Help spread the fire!