INTRODUCTION (v. 1-3)
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led.” (1 Corinthians 12: 1 – 2)
Paui begins this chapter by addressing his Corinthian brothers on the topic of spiritual gifts. First of all, it is noteworthy to mention Paul’s emphasis on unity and the Spirit throughout the whole of this letter. Back in chapter one, Paul opened up his exhortation against the problem of divisions in the church by pointing us to the true wisdom found in Christ, not in the things of this world. Here in chapter 12 now, we see Paul express his desire for his brothers to not be “uninformed” regarding the topic of spiritual gifts. Paul immediately recollects their pagan past when they used to indulge in mystical and shamanistic practices, even being led astray to say “Jesus is accursed” (v. 3). He teaches them that their “not lacking in any gift” (1 Corinthians 1: 7) is a spiritual blessing by the grace of God, and that such gifts that come from the Spirit need to be understood correctly and to be used for unity in the church.
SPIRITUAL GIFTS (v. 4-11)
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12: 4 – 7)
Paul highlights in this section that spiritual gifts are from the Holy Spirit and that the manifestation of these gifts are to benefit the whole family of God. The varieties of gifts, service, and activities that we have and do are from the same source: Father God, the Lord Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. In God our heavenly Father, we have been created and put to motion. In Jesus Christ our Lord, we recognize true service, humility, and love. And in the Holy Spirit our greatest gift, we have assurance of salvation, so that we may be evidence of the Gospel. All that we now have and do are then empowered by the Holy Spirit, who has blessed every single believer with gifts appropriate for the work of ministry.
From verse 8 to 10, Paul lists out some nine different spiritual gifts, but the Giver of them is the one and only Holy Spirit. It is a beautiful truth that God is gracious to give each individual a role in building up His church. Therefore, we must remember that it is only by His grace that we have such gifts and that we are to steward them for blessing others, not to selfishly benefit or elevate ourselves, for that would not be glorifying to Christ. As Paul also writes in Ephesians 2: 10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” we must recognize that we have the Holy Spirit in us to do the good work that God has willed for us.
ONE BODY WITH MANY MEMBERS (v. 12-26)
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 7: 12 – 13)
Here, we see Paul really honing in on the spiritual reality that we are united in Christ, dispelling all notion of divisions in the church. No, Paul is not saying we need to work to achieve this unity; he is stating that this is the objective reality that we already have, for he says that we were all baptized into one body in the Spirit, regardless of who you are, what you look like, or what you have done before being called into the kingdom family. Yes, the members of the church are very diverse, but the unity we have in the Spirit as children of God stands greatly above all differences.
Paul continues his illustration of this unity by describing different physical body parts from verse 14 to 20. The example he paints using the foot and the ear teaches us that our differences should not exclude any of us from the body. Every body part is essential to completing the body – there is no useless or unneeded component. Paul also teaches us that if anyone in the body is feeling that he or she does not belong to the body, then the members should care for that person. The relationship that Paul depicts using the eye and the hand, as well the head and the feet shows us the kind of attitude we should guard and flee from in our hearts. No member should say to another, “I have no need of you.” God is our Creator and we have been made in His image. He has bestowed honor to every part of the body, and therefore, every member in the body of Christ should be treated as such. We ought to care for each other – to hurt and to be joyous with one another (v. 25 – 26).
CALLED TO CHRIST TOGETHER FOR HIS GLORY (v. 27-31)
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 7: 27)
Paul sums up this chapter by declaring to his Corinthian brothers that they are altogether the body of Christ, each present and united in the Spirit of God. He also lists out the various appointments and gifts that exist in the church, teaching us that each of us has a placement that God has called us to and we should be faithful to our posts. However, Paul does encourage us to earnestly desire from the Spirit “higher gifts” to be used for the glory of our God, while advising that he will show us a “still more excellent way,” hinting at something that is more important than the gifts themselves (the way of love in ch. 13).