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"Lord of the Gifts"
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Wednesday AM Bible Study
November 7, 2007
Theme: Paul begins his instructions on spiritual gifts by emphasizing the Lordship of the triune God over those gifts.
Paul has been addressing the problems that the Corinthians were experiencing with respect to worship; and in this new section (chapters 12-14), he deals specifically with how the Corinthians were abusing spiritual gifts. In chapter 12, he deals with the way the spiritual gifts fit in with the whole concept of the body of Christ. In chapter 13, because certain gifts were being sought for the wrong reasons, he emphasizes love as "the more excellent way" (12:31). Finally, he deals with the problem of the abuse of one particular gift--speaking in tongues; and gives detailed instructions for the proper use of it and all the other gifts for the edification of the body at large.
Because the Corinthians were seeking after "spiritual gifts" in order to bring attention to themselves, Paul begins by emphasizing the Lord's 'lordship' over those gifts.
I. THE GIFTS ARE DISTINCT FROM PAGAN SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCES (vv. 1-3).
A. Apparently, this was another one of the matters about which the Corinthians wrote to Paul (v.1). He begins this section with the words, "Now concerning spiritual gifts . . ."; which is how he began the other sections in which he answers questions that the Corinthians sent to him (see 7:1 and 8:1). These are matters about which he doesn't want the believers to be ignorant. We should give our careful attention to his instructions for the good of our own church as well.
B. He points them back in their memories to the time when they were "Gentiles" (that is, unbelievers who were outside of the community of God's covenant people; v. 2). He reminds them of how, at that time, they were "carried away" to "dumb" (that is, mute) idols. Many of the pagan temples of Corinth had, as their centerpiece, ornately crafted idols. It was believed that these idols gave messages through human spokesmen through trances or ecstatic experiences. Those who had these experiences were considered very gifted and spiritual--being (as it was assumed) instruments through which the god spoke. Often these experiences were accompanied with acts of great immorality--which is probably what's behind Paul's words "however you were led". Such conduct is utterly unbecoming of one who is in Christ; but it appears that the Corinthians still retained some of their old paganistic ways and sought to import them into their worship of Christ.
C. Paul makes it clear, therefore, that a work of the Spirit must be truly discerned with respect to its manifestation (v. 3). For example, Paul makes it clear that "no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed" (literally "anathama"). It was typical of pagan worship to evoke the name of a god in a curse; and thus, someone would say that their "god" is a curse. As unbelievable as it may seem, some in Corinth were actually experiencing (or pretending) an ecstatic experience in which they gave themselves over to whatever came out of their mouths--and in the course of the experience, actually uttered either a curse in the name of Jesus, or uttered a curse upon Jesus. Paul makes it clear that anyone who does this is not speaking by the Holy Spirit--whose ministry is to glorify Jesus. Likewise, he affirms that no one can even say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
D. We need to be discerning when it comes to claims of spiritual experiences. Just because someone has an "experience", and just because someone claims it is "spiritual", does not mean that it is a work of the Holy Spirit. We need to hold all things up to the word of God and to standards of holiness, and learn to discern a true work of the Holy Spirit.
II. THE GIFTS ARE UNDER THE LORDSHIP OF THE TRIUNE GOD (vv. 4-6).
A. Paul goes on to speak of true spiritual gifts that are works of God. First, he affirms that there are "diversities" of gifts (literally charismata), but the same Spirit. In the church, a diversity of gifts does not indicate a diversity of spirits--as it did in paganism. Then, he affirms that there are differences of ministries (literally diakonia), but the same Lord. In the church, there are a variety of different ministries to meet a variety of different needs, but one Lord rules over them all. Finally, he says that there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. The gifts empower ministries that lead to activities to meet needs within the body; but it is all done under the power of one God.
B. This all emphasizes that there is only one Lord and Ruler over the gifts. They are not subject to men, but to God. It's important to notice in this that the God who rules over these gifts is triune. All three Persons of the Godhead are involved in the workings of the body--the Spirit (v. 4), the Son (v. 5), and the Father (v. 6).
III. THE GIFTS ARE DISTRUBUTED AS THE HOLY SPIRIT WILLS (vv. 7-11).
A. The gifts are not given only for the benefit of the ones who receives them. If they draw attention to the one who possesses them, they are being abused. These gifts in verse 7 are called "manifestations of the Spirit"; but they are given for the profit of all.
B. Paul shows how each gift is used to moderate and advance the effectiveness of the other (vv. 8-10). One receives "the word of wisdom", but another receives "the word of knowledge" to accompany it. One receives "faith", but another receives "gifts of healing" and another "the working of miracles" to accompany it. One receives "the gift of prophecy", but it is moderated and enhanced by another receiving "discerning of spirits". One receives "tongues", another receives "the interpretation of tongues" by which the message in tongues is made edifying to the body.
C. In the end, all of the distribution of these gifts works to the benefit of the whole body; because "one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills" (v. 11). How inappropriate, then, for someone to claim spiritual superiority over others in the body through a "spiritual experience". If it is given by the Spirit, it is given as He wills for the benefit of all.
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