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1 Corinthians Chapter 12, Part 1 (of 3 Parts)

by Karl Kemp  
6/05/2012 / Bible Studies

This verse-by-verse study on 1 Corinthians chapter 12 was taken from my paper titled "A Verse-by-Verse Study of 1 Corinthians Chapters 10-14; Philippians Chapter 3; and James 3:1-4:6. In the original paper and the version on my internet site I was able to use bold, underlining, italics, and footnotes. I always use the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless I mention otherwise. Sometimes I will use double brackets [[ ]] and (( )) to make them more obvious.

In 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 the apostle Paul taught about charismatic gifts to address a misuse of the gifts by some in the church at Corinth. 1 Corinthians chapter 12 contains important teaching about the church being like a human body, with each member having different, important functions to perform for the good of the body, by the enablement/gifts of the Holy Spirit. 1 Corinthians chapter 13 is located between two chapters that deal with charismatic gifts, and it deals with the gifts to some extent, but it is known as the great love (Greek "agape") chapter. The apostle demonstrates that love is more basic and more important than charismatic gifts (not that the gifts are not important for this age) and shows that our entire Christian walk, very much including the use of the charismatic gifts, must be characterized by love.

When discussing 1 Corinthians chapter 12 in the original paper, I devoted some ten pages to the topic of baptism in the Holy Spirit, which is a very important, but controversial, topic. It is very important for us to come to a balanced understanding of what the apostle Paul meant by the words, "For by [in] one Spirit we were all baptized into [resulting in] one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and were all made to drink of one Spirit" in 1 Cor. 12:13. The words baptism in the Spirit (or very similar words) are also used six other places in the New Testament, in the Gospels and Acts. Most Pentecostals and charismatics believe that baptism in the Spirit is separate from (it does not include), and is typically subsequent to, the all-important life-imparting work of the Spirit (the new birth). As I have discussed in previous writings (I'll include the references to those discussions as we continue), it seems clear to me that the words baptism in the Spirit, as these words are used in all seven of their occurrences in the New Testament, include the new birth, the all-important sanctifying work of the Spirit, and the charismatic dimension of the work of the Spirit.

It seems to me that Pentecostals and charismatics could modify their viewpoint regarding baptism in the Spirit without giving up anything essential. Even though the New Testament presents the entrance into the charismatic dimension as part of the initial baptism in the Spirit at the time we become Christians (along with the new birth and the sanctifying work of the Spirit), this modified viewpoint leaves room for born-again Christians to enter the charismatic dimension of the Spirit's work as a second experience, as it often happens in our day. (And there always is room for subsequent experiences as God increases our measure, giving us new gifts, etc.)

The ten pages dealing with baptism in the Spirit in the original version of this paper include extensive excerpts from three scholars, one a Pentecostal, one a charismatic, and one who is at least sympathetic to the charismatic renewal. As the quotations demonstrate, we (those three and myself) are all in essential agreement on this topic. In the internet version of this paper that is on my website and in these present articles, I greatly reduced the extensive excerpts that I had included from the three scholars in the original paper. (I had received permission to quote extensively from those other writings for the original paper, but not for the internet version of the paper. You could get a copy of the original version of the verse-by-verse study of 1 Corinthians chapter 12 by contacting me.)

When Pentecostals and charismatics adopt (what I believe is) a more accurate viewpoint regarding the terminology baptism in the Spirit, they are removing a major source of division in the evangelical Christian community, which will help open the door for Pentecostals and charismatics to share with their brethren what they have learned about the very important charismatic dimension of the work of the Spirit.

The primary topic that the apostle Paul dealt with in 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 was the gifts of the Spirit (charismatic gifts). We learn quite a bit about the gifts in these chapters, but we must understand that these chapters (like so many other chapters in the epistles of Paul) were written in a specific context. The apostle wrote these chapters to deal with misunderstandings about and a misuse of the gifts, especially the gift of tongues, at Corinth. He didn't tell us everything we would like to know, but God reveals everything we need to know.

(1 Cor. 12:1) "Now concerning spiritual gifts [[The NASB has "gifts" in italics. "The things of the Spirit" would be a more literal translation of the Greek. However, "the things of the Spirit" here is comparable in meaning with the "gifts [of the Spirit]" mentioned in 12:4 (and with the "manifestation of the Spirit" mentioned in 12:7). The (neuter gender, plural number) Greek adjective translated "spiritual" here in 12:1 (which was derived from "pneuma," which is the Greek noun typically translated Spirit/spirit) is also used in 1 Cor. 14:1).]], brethren, I do not want you to be unaware [or, ignorant]. (2) You know that when you were pagans [The apostle is referring to the pagan background of the Gentile Christians at Corinth.], you were led astray to the mute [cf. Psalm 115:5; Isa. 46:7; Jer. 10:5; and Hab. 2:18, 19] idols, however you were led. [Compare 1 Thess. 1:9; 1 Pet. 4:3. Instead of being "led" by the Holy Spirit, they were formerly being "led astray" to the mute (dumb) idols, idols that could not speak. Much of their former guidance came from demon spirits, who were/are actively involved in pagan religions (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 10:19-21).] (3) Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by [or, in] the Spirit of God says, 'Jesus is accursed'; and no one can say, 'Jesus is Lord,' except by the Holy Spirit. [[In these first three verses of chapter 12, the apostle Paul somewhat insulted the Corinthians. He was trying to wake them up (those who needed to be awakened) so that they might humble themselves and repent, where repentance was required. I don't believe Paul thought that the Christians at Corinth needed to be taught that the Holy Spirit doesn't lead people to say "Jesus is accursed." Furthermore, I doubt that these words were ever spoken in a prophetic utterance in the church at Corinth, and even if they were spoken, I don't believe that any real Christian seriously wondered if it was the Holy Spirit behind this utterance.

The Holy Spirit is here to lead people to Jesus Christ (and through Him to God the Father) and to exalt Him in every way. There is perfect unity and harmony between the work of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor. 12:4-6). The work of the Spirit exalts Jesus Christ and perfectly harmonizes with His work. All the charismatic gifts that are distributed, and wrought, by the Spirit in and through the body of Christ exalt Christ Jesus, and they work for the good of God's people. But more must be said: When you observed the manifestation of the charismatic gifts in the church at Corinth (and this problem was not at all limited to the ancient church at Corinth), you might have thought that the gifts of the Spirit were given to promote disunity and confusion in the body of Christ. The problems, of course, did not originate with the Spirit; they came from a fleshly misuse of the gifts.

One last point here, I don't believe the apostle was saying that it would be impossible for a non Christian, including one inspired by a demon spirit, to speak the words "Jesus is Lord"; these words are sometimes spoken apart from the Holy Spirit in a deceptive way, or just in a way that does not include faith in Jesus as Lord.]] (4) Now there are varieties of gifts [[The Greek has "charismata," a plural form of the Greek noun "charisma." The noun charisma (though not derived directly from) traces back to "charis" (grace); a charismatic gift is a manifestation of God's grace. There are nine charismatic gifts listed in 1 Cor. 12:8-10, but in the New Testament the word charisma is used in a fuller sense, including many other gifts that the Spirit distributes to the saints, enabling them to fulfill their roles in the church. (See Rom. 1:11; Rom. 12:6 [See the discussion of Rom. 12:1-8 in my "A Paper On Faith."]; 1 Cor. 1:7; 12:9, 28, 30, 31; 1 Tim. 4:14; and 1 Pet. 4:10; all these verses use charisma; also compare Heb. 2:4.)]], but the same Spirit. [[Several places throughout 1 Cor. 12:8-13, the apostle mentions the "same Spirit" and the "one Spirit." He is emphasizing the point that since all the charismatic gifts originate from the one and the same Spirit, we can be sure they will all work together for the common good (unless they are misused by Christians); they are not coming from various sources that are disorganized or are in competition/strife with one another. The confusion and strife associated with the charismatic gifts at Corinth resulted from a fleshly misuse of the gifts. Of course chaos, even greater chaos, would have resulted if the source of some of the gifts at Corinth had been demonic, but (although that potential is always real) there is no indication that Paul attributed any of the problems with charismatic gifts at Corinth to counterfeit, demonic gifts.]] (5) And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. [[The "ministries" undoubtedly include the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, elders, and deacons (cf. 1 Cor. 12:28-30; Rom. 12:3-8: Eph. 4:11-16 [As I mentioned, Romans 12:1-8 are discussed in my "A Paper on Faith" and Ephesians chapter 4 is discussed verse-by-verse in a paper on my internet site.]; Acts 6:1-6 (note "ministry" in 6:4); 1 Tim. 3:1-13; 2 Tim. 4:5 (note "ministry"); and Titus 1:5-9. Using the word "ministries" in the fullest sense, we could say that all Christians have a ministry since all Christians have important functions to perform in the body of Christ - each Christian has a "measure." (See 1 Cor. 12:14-27; and see the discussion of Romans 12:1-8 in my "A Paper on Faith." For one thing, the word "measure" is used in Rom. 12:3. Also see the discussion of Eph. 4:1-16 on my internet site. For one thing, the word "measure" is used in Eph. 4:7, 16.) However, the New Testament typically uses the word ministries in a more limited sense, and I believe we should understand ministries in a more limited sense here.

As this verse (1 Cor. 12:5) shows, the LORD Jesus Christ (note "the same LORD") is directly associated with the ministries in the church. Ephesians 4:11 says, "He (Christ Jesus) gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers." (Many Christians speak of the five-fold ministry based on Eph. 4:11.) Since all the ministries are under the same Lord, they will be perfectly unified and working together for the common good (except to the extent the ministers are not following Christ, but are doing their own thing in the flesh). It is obvious that the work of God the Son and the work of God the Spirit overlap here: Much of the enablement to fulfill these ministries comes by/through the work of the Spirit, very much including the charismatic gifts. As I mentioned, we certainly need not be concerned about any lack of unity and harmony between the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit.]] (6) There are varieties of effects [or, workings], but the same God who works all things in all persons. [[Compare Rom. 11:36; Eph. 4:6. God the Father is spoken of here; in 1 Cor. 12:4-6 Paul mentions God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God the Son and God the Spirit are fully deity with God the Father, but they are subordinate to God the Father in their roles. The "effects [workings]" of God the Father include the gifts given by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4) and the ministries given by the Son (12:5). As the apostle demonstrates in this chapter, we need all the members of the body of Christ with their different functions/measures/gifts/ministries. As I mentioned, each Christian has important and necessary contributions to make to the proper functioning of the body of Christ. It is not just our gifts/ministries, however, that contribute to the proper functioning of the church. Even more important is our living in the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God and our manifesting the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23), as we humbly walk/live in the Spirit by faith. Starting in 1 Cor. 12:31b and throughout chapter 13, Paul emphasizes the need for Christians to continuously walk in love (a fruit of the Spirit). Without love, the gifts can do more harm than good.]] (7) But [Now] to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. [[The words "each one" need not be understood here to include every single Christian. Sometimes Paul uses these words (actually it is one word in the Greek) in a way that does not include everyone (cf. 1 Cor. 1:12; 11:21; and 14:26). I do not believe that Paul says here that each Christian will be given, and used on a regular basis in, at least one of the nine charismatic ministry-gifts listed in 12:8-10. For one thing, not all Christians will have a ministry, using the word ministry in the more limited sense discussed above. Some, quite wrongly I believe, teach that we should all expect to be used on a regular basis in all nine gifts.

We should all be open to be used in any gift at any time; we do not want to limit God in any way. However, if I understand Paul here, and I believe I do, he is speaking (at least for the most part) of Christians being used (according to the plan of God) on a regular basis in particular gifts/ministries. That way we can become proficient (specialists) in the use of our gifts/in the fulfillment of our ministries. This enhances order in the church, with each minister having their recognized roles to fulfill and being proficient at them.

The key point the apostle makes in this verse is that whatever manifestations of the Spirit are given, they are always given FOR THE COMMON GOOD (and the glory of God); they are not given to exalt individuals or to cause strife, competition, pride, inferiority complexes, or things like these; and they never will lead to such things unless they are misused in fleshly/sinful ways. I'll quote a sentence from what F. Godet said under this verse ("First Epistle to the Corinthians" [Zondervan, 1971 reprint of the 1886 edition], page 193). "And as the Spirit is one (verse 4), it follows that all the gifts, however different, must tend to a common end, the good of the whole, and not to the selfish satisfaction of the individual on whom they were bestowed."

We are different because, for one thing, in the will of God, we are given differing gifts, but this will not lead to strife and disharmony (unless we misuse the gifts) any more than it causes problems for a human body to have different members like eyes, ears, hands, and feet (see 12:12-27). We need all the gifts, and we really do need one another. This is part of God's plan. I'll quote part of what D. A. Carson said under 1 Cor. 12:4-11 ("Showing the Spirit" [Baker, 1987], page 32). "Doubtless the church is in some sense like a mighty army, but that does not mean we should think of ourselves as undifferentiated khaki. We should be more like an orchestra: each part making its own unique contribution to the symphonic harmony. Dictators of the right and left seek to establish their brand of harmony by forcefully imposing monotonous sameness, by seeking to limit differentiation. God establishes his brand of harmony by a lavish grant of highly diverse gifts, each contributing to the body as a whole."]] (8) For to one is given the word [[The Greek noun translated "word" here (and later in this verse) is "logos." Much of the popular teaching I have heard around the body of Christ regarding "logos" and "rhema" (another Greek noun normally translated word, which is not used nearly as often as logos) is wrong. (Logos is used 332 times in the New Testament; rhema 67 times.) You often hear that logos is used (or is always used) for the written word and rhema for the spoken word and that the rhema word is revealed, alive, understood, powerful, effective, etc., but that the logos word isn't. This is a serious error regarding logos. The two uses of logos here in 1 Cor. 12:8, for example, demonstrate that logos isn't always used for the written word (in fact it is only used for the written word in seven percent of its uses in the New Testament) and the "word of wisdom" and "word of knowledge" are some of the best examples in the New Testament of words that are revealed, alive, etc.

I'll list some other examples where the logos word is quite the opposite of being dead, ineffective, etc.: Matt. 8:8, 16; Mark 13:31; Luke 4:32, 36; John 1:1, 14; 5:24, 38; 8:31; 12:48b; 14:23, 24; 15:3, 7; Acts 12:24; 15:32; 19:20; 20:32; Rom. 15:16; 1 Cor. 1:18; 2:4, 5 (first use of logos);14:19b; 15:1, 2; Eph. 1:13; Phil. 2:14-16; Col. 3:16; 1 Thess. 2:13; 1 Tim. 4:6; 2 Tim. 2:9, 15; Titus 2:5; Heb. 4:12; James 1:18, 21, 22, 23; 1 Pet. 1:23; 2:8; 3:1; 2 Pet. 3:5, 7; 1 John 1:1, 10; 2:14; and Rev. 19:13.

God's Word (His Logos/Rhema), as it is recorded in the Bible, the Word of the gospel of the new covenant, for example, is personal, alive, powerful, and effective (by the Spirit) for those who submit to it in faith (see, e.g., 1 Thess. 2:13). We need to come to the Bible with this attitude; it is mandatory for us to understand and to submit (in faith) to God's written Word.

Second Corinthians 3:6 is often seriously misunderstood: "who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." When the apostle Paul wrote "the letter kills," he was speaking, as the context shows, of the letter of the Mosaic Law (which was the foundation for the old covenant). He was showing that we need the new covenant because the sin/spiritual death problem, which is solved by the new covenant through the atoning death of the Lamb of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, was not solved by the Mosaic Law/old covenant. God did not give the Mosaic Law/old covenant for that purpose; He always planned to send His Son to save His people. The letter of the Law intensified the sin problem for those under the Law. In that sense it "kills." (See, for example, 2 Cor. 3:7-9; Rom. 4:15: 5:13; 7:5, 6, 8-13; 1 Cor. 15:56; and Gal. 3:19-21.)

Paul certainly was not saying (in 2 Cor. 3:6) that the letter of the New Testament (which includes God's moral law) "kills." For one thing, born-again believers are enabled to keep God's moral law (cf., e.g. Jer. 31:33; Ezek. 36:26, 27; Rom. 2:26-29; 8:4 [see on these verses from Romans in my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin," start under Rom. 8:4 on page 118] and see my paper titled, "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism). I have heard it said many times that Paul taught here that the letter of God's Word is dead (some say, in a disparaging manner, "it is only a logos word") and that we need to put all the emphasis on the Spirit. For one thing, God's written Word is alive by the Spirit. For another thing, the Spirit, who gave us the written Word of God (the Bible), does much of His work through the written Word. We are dependent on the Word of God to learn the basics of the gospel, to learn what God has provided for us and what He requires of us, etc. Those who are trying to be led by the Spirit without making the Word of God a top priority in their hearts and lives typically get into big trouble.

For more details on logos and rhema, see my thirty-seven page paper titled, "Logos and Rhema: An Exaltation of Logos" that was published in April, 2012. It is available on this Christian article site in five-parts.]] of wisdom through the Spirit [[In defining these gifts, I am aiming to say the minimum. For one thing, I don't want to limit God by my definitions. There is quite a bit of room for variety in the working of the charismatic gifts. It is not especially important for us to always be able to categorize what gift a particular manifestation of the Spirit was. Sometimes a combination of gifts is manifested, for example, a combination of a word of knowledge and a word of wisdom. (One thing that is especially important is to make sure that we avoid manifestations of the flesh or manifestations of demons, which is a far greater problem. Demons are active in the supernatural, and we must be very aware of that fact.)

I believe (in agreement with many) that the "word of wisdom" is the most important of the nine gifts listed in 1 Cor. 12:8-10, but all of them are important or God would not have given them to us. In this gift God reveals something of His purposes and plans and gives direction to His people by His Spirit. One major role for the word of wisdom is to help us understand and rightly apply the Scriptures. The word of wisdom can answer questions like "What does God want us to do in this situation?" or "How are we going to solve this problem?" For an example, consider the revelation (including directions for Peter to go to the house of Cornelius) that God gave Peter concerning His plans to save Gentiles (Acts 10:9-35).]], and to another the word [logos] of knowledge according to the same Spirit [In the word of knowledge, the Spirit reveals knowledge/information such as "What is the cause of this problem?" or "Where is the lost item?" There is almost no limit to the kind of information that God can reveal through this gift. He is interested in every area of our lives, but some areas are more important than others, like our living in the center of His will with the victory over all sin.]; (9) to another faith [cf. 1 Cor. 13:2] by the same Spirit [This gift enables God's people to do things and to handle situations and deal with problems in a manner that would not be possible without this special enablement by the Spirit. This is a charismatic gift given to Christians (to those who already have faith in God and saving faith in Christ); it can be considered an amplification of faith that enables the believer to do what would be impossible without this gifting.], and to another gifts of healing by [or, in] the one Spirit [Compare 1 Cor. 12:28, 30. As the margin of the NASB shows, "healing" is plural (healings) in the Greek. (The NASB has the plural "healings" in 1 Cor. 12:28, 30.) The fact that gifts of healings has the plurals apparently includes the often-observed fact that some healing ministries are especially effective with certain types of sicknesses/problems: Some are very effective with eye/sight problems; others with ear/hearing problems; others with types of growths; etc.], (10) and to another effecting of miracles [or, "workings of powers"; cf. 1 Cor. 12:28; Gal. 3:5], and to another prophecy [[Here "prophecy" apparently speaks of Spirit-inspired utterance through Christians (the Christian speaks out messages that come from the Spirit, under the anointing of the Spirit). Sometimes the Bible uses the words "prophecy/prophesy" of Christians sharing a revelation that the Spirit had given them (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 14:29-32). We will discuss prophecy/prophesy/prophets further as these words come up in the rest of chapter 12 and in chapters 13 and 14.]], and to another the distinguishing of spirits [[This gift can enable Christians to distinguish between the working of the Spirit of God and the angels of God, and the working of the spirits of Satan's kingdom. It is very important for us to be able to be able to discern Satan's works, including counterfeit gifts and ministries. We cannot be very effective in our warfare against Satan's forces (cf. Eph. 6:11, 12) without being able to discern their activities. This is extremely important because Satan and his hosts have their supernatural works too, and many Christians have been deceived by them, thinking they were from God.]], to another various kinds of tongues [[Compare Mark 16:17; 1 Cor. 12:28, 30; 13:1; 14:2-39. This verse (12:10) and 1 Cor. 12:28 are the only places in the New Testament where we read of "kinds of tongues." In the context of this chapter (especially note 12:28-30), it seems clear that the apostle is speaking of a ministry-gift here. He is not speaking of a personal, devotional use of tongues, and he is not dealing with the experience of individuals speaking with tongues at the time they entered the charismatic dimension (as in Acts 2:4; 10:44-47; and 19:6). This ministry-gift, when coupled with the gift of interpretation, is comparable with the gift of prophecy in its results (cf. 1 Cor. 14:5). We also should leave room for those occasions where God speaks to a person(s) in a language they know, but which is unknown to the person(s) speaking in tongues, as on the Day of Pentecost. I have heard of quite a few occasions where this has happened in our day.]], and to another the interpretation of tongues. [Compare 1 Cor. 12:30; 14:5, 13, 26-28. Since the tongues are typically unknown to the speaker and to the others who are listening, the tongues are to be interpreted so that the Spirit may reveal what was said in tongues. Paul deals extensively with the need for the interpretation of tongues that are spoken in church in chapter 14. The interpretation of tongues is a gift of the Spirit; we are not dealing here with a translation by someone who knows the language.] (11) But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. [Compare 1 Cor. 12:4. This does not mean that the Spirit distributes the gifts "as He wills" independently of God the Father and God the Son (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 12:5, 6). On the words "one" and "same," see under 12:4. I am very thankful that it is God who determines what gifts each Christian is to receive. We can trust Him for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters; He does not make mistakes. We cannot complain about His decisions (at least we had better not complain); our job is to be faithful, and as we are faithful, He may well increase our measure.] (12) For even as the body [referring to the human physical body] is one and yet has many members [with each different member having different functions to perform, each of them being important to the proper functioning of the body], and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. [Compare Rom. 12:4, 5; 1 Cor. 10:17; and 12:13-27. "So also is Christ" means so also is the body of Christ, the church. The apostle is emphasizing the unity of all Christians (in union with Christ and by the Holy Spirit) in the one body (by the plan of God), as he does in the following verses.]

We will continue this verse-by-verse study of 1 Corinthians chapter 12 with verse 13 in Part 2.

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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