Are Spiritual Gifts For Today? (Part 3)

18 03 2009

Continuing on today with a look 1 Corinthians 12 and the question of Spiritual gifts. Are they for today? So far we’ve seen nothing in 1 Corinthians 12 that would tell us otherwise. But Paul has definately put a lot more effort into explaining what the gifts are and how they are to be used. I’ll continue with verses 12-31.

12The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Corinth was a Greek city until 146BC when it was destroyed by the Romans. It lay in ruins for 102 years until the Romans rebuilt it. The city was populated with “freedmen”, men who had been slaves or prisoners in the past. That meant that they were not of noble birth or of any special rank in society. However very quickly a social structure emerged and within a generation or two the Roman conventions of rank and status started playing out in the Society.

Corinth was also a hotbed for Sophists and Philosophers. They were great orators greatly skilled in rhetoric. One of the chief concerns of all philosophers of the time (and all of history so far according to Ravi Zacharias) was to explain how unity could exist in such diversity.
Paul nails it with verse 12. The body of Christ is one unit yet it is made up of many parts.

Paul wants to highlight the unity of the Church comes from one source. The Triune God. It is because we as believers have been baptised into Christ through the Spirit that we can now be a unity and diversity. The crazy idea here is that Jew’s and Greeks, Slaves and Free are all the same in this mix. There is no one greater than the other. Something the Corinthians found very hard to get used to.

14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

Paul again emphasises that no one part in the body is more important than the other. No one gift can trump another. They are all just as important as the other. Even the parts that seem like they are pretty useless, God has honoured to make them equal. This is completely upside down to anyone in Corinthian society. At the head of everyone is Caesar. He’s the head. Everyone else is under him and arranged in order of rank. Everyone aspires to improve their social standing and desires to be the head. Paul is saying be happy with what you are, and rejoice in the diversity that you see. Each of you is as needed as the other. The body cannot function without its “arms” and “legs”. It needs all parts.

27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
      And now I will show you the most excellent way

While all parts are needed God has still ordained order within the church. Apostles are first because they are the ones that found the church. Prophets and Teachers are next to make sure people learn and hear the right things from God. Not everyone is in each ministry, but each person has their own gifting for use in the Church. Even administration is mentioned as a gift. Each is given for the edification and ordering of the body. But then Paul makes this peculiar statement about desiring the greater gifts in verse 31. What does he mean?

Paul seems to be highlighting two kinds of desires for the gifts. One good and one bad. The good way he will talk about in the next chapter. It is the way of Love. The second way is the way of competitiveness, and over active desire. This is most likely what the corinthians were guilty of. They were fervent for the gifts, but in order to build themselves up and increase their social standing. That was their desire. Paul wants to curb that desire and give it the right motivation.

What can we learn from this text?

1. God (Father, Spirit, Son) is our unity in diversity

I can’t stress this enough. Paul has brought the Corinthians back to this basic fact many times in this chapter. We serve a new Lord now. The one who is the true Lord, the one who shows the others up for the parodies that they are. We are not in unity around any one gift or human leader, but God alone.

2. No one gift is greater than the other

How easy is it these days to exalt someone who is a great performer or speaker? We tend to value these people more than someone who cleans the toilets. Thats the way the world works. Paul is saying that every person has a gift and needs to use it for the edification of the Church. Not only that but if the Church doesn’t value all gifts equally it’s going to fall into problems and start looking just like the world.

3. God has ordained order through love

The most excellent way is the way of Love. Love does not seek its own, but the betterment of another. It does not hold grudges, and is slow to anger. Love is patient and kind. It is the only way for their to be true peace, and order. Show me a Church that is full of love, and you will have shown me a church full of the Spirit and its gifts and manifestations.

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6 responses

18 03 2009
Peter Park

I believe that people these days are afraid of the Holy Spirit and the fullness of the fruits and love of God. But there is coming a time soon when that fear will be diminished.

18 03 2009
aworthydiscussion

Yeah I agree Peter – I think for a long time we’ve been afraid of the abuses becoming the norm, and churches have swung the other way in order to avoid them. I do see a lot of change coming about. The emerging/emergent church is a lot more open to the Holy Spirit and the gifts. It’s going to be an interesting time to be in the Church.

19 03 2009
Mason

“Paul seems to be highlighting two kinds of desires for the gifts. One good and one bad.”

Great point. It seems that even many of those who start out with a desire that is based on the best of intentions quickly are faced with the temptation to use their gifts for personal glory. So you might be a great speaker or writer, and that is excellent, God can use that in amazing ways for his glory, but they are also gifts that are really easy to use for self aggrandizement.

19 03 2009
aworthydiscussion

Yeah this is always the temptation – I think it’s exactly what they faced in Corinth. Gifts were used to improve their social standing.

BTW – sorry I havent been commenting on your blog – I can’t remember a time in my life when I’ve been this busy. I scarcely get time to do anything these days – I did have a look last night and it seems you’ve been really active in your posts 🙂

22 03 2009
Mason

No worries, I very much understand being busy. I got to go to ETS (the Evangelical Theological Society) the last few days with a number of friends, and I think I may have slept 8 hours total since waking up Thursday morning.

22 03 2009
aworthydiscussion

Ah those are good times 🙂

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