In my last post I referenced the motivational gifts in Romans 12:3-8. In this post I want to look at the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, bearing in mind that 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, is very intentionally between chapters 12 and 14 to remind us that expressing love always needs to be our goal in exercising spiritual gifts.
So how do 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 fit in with spiritual gifts? For those who believe they exist what I have generally heard taught is that we may have one or more gifts sovereignly given and we can function in that gift or gifts as the Holy Spirit leads. This conclusion is drawn from the passage below.
4 There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (NKJV)
So to reiterate, what is generally taught regarding the verses above is that the Holy Spirit distributes a specific gift or gifts to us and that is what we are able to operate in at various times under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. I think there is some truth here but not a complete truth. This is where I have another paradigm. I do agree with and believe the interpretation that the Holy Spirit gives different gives as He wills (vs. 11) yet we are also told to desire these gifts (14:1). However, the context of 1 Corinthians 12-14 is about how the gifts of the Spirit operate in a congregational meeting not an individual life.
It is very important to understand the congregational context and what Paul was addressing. The city of Corinth had a population of about 700,000 people but only one church made up of many small congregations. Remember, though we tend to refer to building as churches, it is actually scripturally inaccurate. The buildings are where the church meets. If we have no true Christians in any given location we have no church, no matter how many buildings we have.
In the early centuries the church met in small groups in homes. In this environment everyone could participate in a meeting so Paul provided guidelines around how they were to conduct themselves. Unlike most of our modern church meetings and church culture that focus on being ministered to, the early church functioned ministering to one another. That is why Paul wrote what he did below.
7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 1 Corinthians 12:7 (NKJV)
1 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 1 Corinthians 14:1 (NKJV)
26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. 27 If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. 28 But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 (NKJV)
Paul viewed everyone as contributing to a congregational meeting and everyone coming with an expectation of giving. Paul expected that the Holy Spirit could and would move through each believer to bless those around them. He particularly highlighted the blessing of prophecy. I have often heard it taught that prophesying is preaching. However, while there may be a prophetic element in any given sermon that is certainly not what Paul was referring to here. If there were twenty adults and their children in a meeting do we think Paul was suggesting 20 different sermons be given? The meaning of the Greek word translated as prophecy is below.
4253. προφητεύω prophēteuō verb
Prophesy, speak by divine inspiration, foretell the future, be a prophet.
Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary, The
Paul said in verse 31 that all of the Corinthians could prophesy, that is they could all speak by divine inspiration. I believe Paul highlighted this gift because prophetic words given to congregations or individuals tend to release and reveal God’s mind for the moment about their lives. However, I also believe that anyone in the congregational meeting could function in any of the gifts at any time. Paul was clear in 1 Corinthians 14:1 that we are to pursue love and desire gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. This verse alone should suggest the idea that we do not receive a specific gift or gift and that is it. Paul told all the Corinthians they should desire the gift of prophecy. Why would he tell them that if the gift were reserved for a few? Did Paul want all of them to pursue it in hopes the special few called to function in prophecy would receive the gift? It seems far more plausible to conclude that the Holy Spirit would give the gifts required for the specific needs or a particular congregation when they met.
Something to bear in mind is how to function in gifts that are given. In his teaching Paul reminded the Corinthians “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” (14:33). The problem in Corinth was not a lack of willingness to participate in a home church meetings, it was managing everything that people wanted to give, hence Paul’s exhortation above. It reminds me of a story I heard.
A new young country preacher had a circuit of congregations. At one he showed up and there was only one person there, an old farmer. So he said, “Since you are the only one here do you think I should still give the sermon?” The farmer replied, “If I go out into the field and only one cow shows up, I still feed her.” So the young preacher gave his message and at the end said to the farmer, “So what did you think?” The farmer replied, “If I go out to the field and only one cow shows up I don’t give her the whole load!”
The illustration above speaks to Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. We need to learn to receive but also how to give. When someone is receptive, as the farmer above, then we need to give. At the same time, we need to know how much to give and when. I have received words for people that I gave at a later time and I have received words for people that I never gave and simply prayed about. We need His wisdom to know what to feed when and the right amount.
Lastly, we need to come to the Holy Spirit desiring to see His gifts freely functioning in our lives to be a blessing to others. He is in us and He wants out!