This entire reading is on one subject: spiritual gifts. Apparently, there was a dispute (imagine that: a dispute in a church!) about the relative value of certain spiritual gifts.
Verses 1-3. Idolatry causes one to be led astray. When we place anything or anyone in the position that only God rightfully possesses, we are deceived and lead astray. In other words, idoloatry is failure to acknowledge God as God. The ultimate deception is failure to acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Paul gives us a test that we can use to discern whether or not someone is a believer or not. Only the presence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life makes it possible for that person to proclaim that “Jesus is Lord.”
Have you heard the term Christian atheist? It is used by some to describe people who say they believe in Jesus, but whose lives are in no way a reflection of Christ. How is it possible that someone would say “Jesus is Lord” and not actually live like it?
Verses 4-11. In our common parlance, in verse 4-6 Paul in describing unity in diversity. Our gifts differ, our ministries differ accordingly, and the results of the ministries will all be different. But it is the Trinity-God, Lord, Spirit-that holds these three together.
Verse 7 tells us that the Spirit manifests (or reveals) Himself in every person in a slightly different way. The way the Spirit reveals Himself in and through me is unique. The way the Spirit reveals Himself in and through others is unique. Paul reminds us that the purpose of this unique expression of the Spirit in each of us is not for our own benefit, but for the common good. When we exercise the spirituals gift in us, we are to seek the advantage of the faith community, not ourselves as individuals. We are to seek to build up the community and act in a way that is profitable to the community. This runs painfully counter to our Western individualistic society. It’s as if we all have a piece of the Holy Spirit puzzle and the only way to complete the puzzle is to work together by sharing the puzzle pieces.
Give an example of a time when you saw the body of Christ come together to accomplish some task by using many different gifts and talents?
Give some examples of the “common good” toward which you and your church have worked.
Verses 12-26. In this section Paul draws an analogy between the body of Christ and our physical bodies. In verses 12-13, He introduces the analogy. He notes that just like our physical bodies are made up of a variety of body parts, each of which have a specific function, so to the body of Christ is composed of various gifts and each of the gifts have an important role to play in the composition of the whole. Again, Paul circles back in justifying this claim by noting the common source for all the gifts as the Spirit of God.
In verses 14-26 he goes into greater detail. He reports an imaginary conversation between various body parts—the foot, ear, eye—to demonstrate the important role that each play in the whole.
Verse 22-26 are somewhat more difficult to understand. What is a weaker part of the body? Let me give to examples: little toe and little finger. How much more difficult would balance be if we did not have a little toe? Probably a great deal more difficult. But most of us have never even considered the important of our little toe until I’ve brought it up now. The little finger is by far the weakest of the fingers. Yet how much more difficult would daily tasks be if you suddenly didn’t have it? How much more difficult would playing an instrument be? Picking up a glass? Typing? Again, we wouldn’t even think about it until we didn’t have our pinky finger. Some of the Corinthians were apparently devaluing some of the “weaker” members of their fellowship. Paul was reminding them by using this analogy that everyone has a role to play by using the gift that the Spirit has given them. He urges both those who are deemed strong, honorable and presentable (more interpersonally attractive) and those who are more lightly esteemed and seen as weak to all have the same care for one another despite their perceived differences. In verse 26, Paul is emphasizing the shared experience of the entire fellowship of Christ.
Is there an informal hierarchy of spiritual gifts in your church? If so, describe it.
What role does the Spirit play in valuing your gifts and others’ gifts in your church?
Verses 27-31. Here Paul lists several types of gifts. This is not an exhaustive list of spiritual gifts. Similar lists are found in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. Some scholars have searched for spiritual gifts and come up with variety of lists. For the purpose of this post, we will only consider those listed here:
- Apostles—those sent by Jesus to proclaim His message; emphasis is on the “sentness”
- Prophets—in the New Testament, those who proclaim or preach; emphasis on the preaching
- Teachers—imparter of theoretical and practical knowledge with the aim of personal development of the learner
- Miracles—performer of miracles
- Healing—capacity to heal illness
- Helps—the ability to come alongside others to assist in accomplishing tasks
- Administrations—leadership and group guidance
- Tongues—the New Testament talks about this in two ways. First, the ability to speak other known languages (as at Pentecost). Second, to speak an ecstatic, spiritual language.
Paul points out the not everyone has the same gifts. No single person has all the gifts.
What is/are your spiritual gift/gifts? How have you had this gift confirmed by others?
Significantly, Paul ends his list of gifts in verses 28 and 30 with the gift of tongues. He then uses this gift as a pivot point to describe what is really important in the exercise of spiritual gifts.
Verses 1-3. Paul describes the more excellent way (12:31) as the way of love. Paul tells us that no matter how well we execute the gift that God has given us, if we do it without love, then we have failed to act in a way that is profitable to the community (12:7).
How have you seen someone attempt to use their gifts in an unloving way? What was the result?
How have you seen the spiritual gifts used lovingly? What was the result?
Verses 4-13. These are some of the most misused verses in all the Bible. They are ripped out of context and misapplied more than they are applied in the proper context. Many couples have these verses read at their weddings. And they are a beautiful expression of an ideal marital love. However, these verses are too often not applied to community life within the body of Christ which is the original intent of the writer.
Going into detail about each of these descriptors of love is beyond the scope of this post, but I want to ask the reader to reflect on this question: What does it mean to embody each of these characteristic of love with the Christian community? Within your church, how would things change if each of these descriptors of love was actually lived out?
Verses 8-12 are summed up succinctly in verse 13: Faith, hope and love are eternal. The gifts of the spirit are temporal; they will cease. Love lasts. For the Corinthians, who were debating the relative importance of spiritual gifts, Paul was emphasizing that they were placing their emphasis in the wrong area. Rather, they should be focusing on love.
Reread the list of characteristics of love. Which one is your strength? Which one do you need to work on?
What would happen in the church if everyone actually loved one another as these verses describe?
Chapter 13 was a digression from the main point of Paul’s discussion. Actually, technically, these chapters can be seen as a chiastic structure, A-B-A. Paul established the topic of gifts, then discusses an underlying issue, then returns to the main topic. So, a proper understanding of the use of spiritual gifts can only be obtained by understanding them with respect to the love of God in Christ (Chapter 13).
Verses 1-25. Paul urges the Corinthians to seek to prophesy rather than speak in tongues. Yes, tongues is splashy, but tongues, unless there is an interpreter, edifies no one including the one speaking in tongues because the tongue cannot be understood. Prophecy, however, can be understood and edifies those believers who hear and convicts not-yet-believers who hear it. Again, the purpose of the gifts is to build up the community (12:7 & 14:12).
Even today, speaking in tongues is quite controversial. Have you ever witnessed someone speaking in tongues? Have you ever spoken in tongues? What were these experiences like?
Verses 26-40. In these verses, Paul gives several sets of instructions to the church. First, he describes that each person present is to be an active participant. Of course, the way they did church was small house churches. One of the drawbacks of the way we currently do church is that it encourages passive “participation” and consumption rather than active participation and contribution. This is why small groups are so important; LIFE Groups can function much more like the early church than our modern traditional worship services. Speaking in tongues should be orderly. If there is no interpreter speaking in tongues is prohibited.
Two to three prophets should speak in an orderly fashion, one by one. Can you imagine three sermons? Notice in verse 29 that Paul instructs the hearers to “pass judgment” on the statements of those who prophesy. I hear many people say that we are not to judge these days. True, Jesus did tell us not to judge in Matthew 7:1. Rather than devote time here to a full discussion of what Jesus meant when He said not to judge other, I will direct you to a discussion of the Matthew 7 passage and other related passages: https://www.gotquestions.org/do-not-judge.html. I’ll also direct you to another article that describes two of the main Greek words behind the word translated judge in the New Testament: http://awildernessvoice.com/judge.html. These articles indicate that Jesus was talking about judging in the sense of condemnation. However, there are times when it is necessary and good for us to make judgments in the sense of making distinctions between right and wrong and discerning truth and error.
Read the linked articles. How do they shape your view of how we interact with one another?
What if we are doing church all wrong?
How can we be both discerning and loving?
Verses 34-36. Ready for controversy? You’re welcome. Thanks, Paul. Paul’s teaching is that women are to be silent during the fellowship time of the church. They are to be instructed at home by their husbands. Paul says in verse 35 that it is “improper” for women to speak in church. The Greek word for improper means disgraceful, shameful. This command likely applied to married women only. It would be disgraceful for them to be talking to their husbands during the gathering in a way that was disruptive, so waiting to get home before asking questions would have been more appropriate in Paul’s view. This is consistent with Paul’s view that wives were subordinate, though not inferior, to their husbands. Paul viewed men as leaders within the home. The fact that we bristle at this teaching probably says as much about failed male leadership in the home and church in our age as it does about Paul’s antiquated (from the viewpoint of twenty-first century North American) view of marriage. Given Paul’s concern for orderly gatherings in the passage, there may have been a local concern that he was addressing in which wives were being disruptive. We must also place this command in the broader context of the letter. Women were allowed to pray and prophecy in a group setting (1 Corinthians 11:5), so again, this prohibition from speaking was probably connected directly to the disruptions wives may have been causing during a gathering of the Corinthian church. In my view, the command to orderliness is what is timeless and not the command for women to be silent in church. No one should engage in disgraceful or shameful or disruptive behavior during a worship service.
Based on what you just read about the role of women and wives, how do you think it shapes the role of women in the church? What about the role of men in the church?
Verses 37-38. Paul gives a litmus test for whether or not a person has the gift of prophecy: if a person claims to be a prophet and accepts Paul’s teaching, then they are acknowledged as a prophet, otherwise, they are not. Paul is again asserting his authority.
Verses 39-40. Paul summarizes all he has said about the exercise of spiritual gifts. First, seek the higher ranked gift of prophecy (12:28). Second, be orderly in your times of fellowship. The latter may be a command that we have taken to extremes in our modern worship.
What are the implications that we as believers can seek one gift or another?
How does a church strike a balance between orderliness and spontaneity in worship?
Paul’s main discussion is the proper use of spiritual gifts. However, at the heart of his discussion is love. Gifts of the Spirit exercised without love are of no value to followers of Christ or the community.
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