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The Sunday Sermon – 1 Corinthians 12:1-3


Spiritual Gifts – Introduction and Framework.

1st Corinthians 12:1-3

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. 2Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. 3Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.

As we begin to examine chapter 12, we are confronted with the reality that worship at Corinth had descended into confusion, and in more ways than one.  As we read through 12-14, we will see the various strands of chaos that permeated the services in the Corinthian church.

When I was young, we teenagers had a rather irreverent way of describing what was officially called ‘open worship’ in the church that I attended.  We called it the ‘time of prayer and total confusion.’  During this time, people would pray, and others would pray at the same time.  Sometimes people would vie with each other over whose turn it was to pray.  Some people prayed and couldn’t be heard.  Some shouted, as if God was deaf.  Some preached in the prayers.  Some started up hymns, then realised that nobody else knew them, and at some point in the verse, the singing just petered out.  Others started songs, which were totally inappropriate.  Some stood, while others sat.  Some waved their arms in the air, while others moaned.  Some sucked in breath between their teeth, making a strange sound with the lips.  And our church was fairly conservative!  But for this 15 or 20 minutes, utter confusion reigned.  I often wondered what a stranger would think if they walked into such a gathering.  It was one of the reasons why the morning service attracted far less people than the evening service, for the evening meeting was a plain evangelistic meeting, at which most people would feel comfortable.

Now, I am not telling you all of that to complain about other churches, or to indulge in personal regrets or to criticise anyone else.  I am simply saying that, because I think that it is a fair picture of what the worship must have been like at Corinth.  In fact, Paul’s closing words in this section of the book are this, 1 Cor. 14:40  Let all things be done decently and in order.   It was when people felt that the Lord had spiritually gifted them, it seems, that most of this mayhem occurred.  So Paul begins his teaching with a plea for understanding!

A Plea for Spiritual Discipline in Worship!

1 Cor. 12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.   The original Greek omits the word ‘gifts.’  It literally reads, “Now, concerning the spirituals, brethren.” What are these ‘spirituals?’  We are living, as were the Corinthians, in extraordinary times.  We are living in the era or the day of GRACE.  In the days of the Messiah, days in which God is working across the years and across the world and across the races, to bring about the completion of His church, His elect, to gather in sinners to His Kingdom, to save them by His grace and present them faultless before Him one day in Glory.  The agent of God to accomplish this powerful work upon earth is the Holy Spirit, working in and through the Church of God, equipping and GIFTING that Church for service.  Listen to what the Bible says about this period of Grace: Acts 2:17-18 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:  Mark 16:17-18  Acts 1:5 

So, in the church, there are certain special gifts, administered to Christian servants by the Holy Spirit, special abilities, given to enable the church to reach the world for the Lord.  In Corinth, people felt that the Lord had gifted them in particular ways.  Knowing the nature of the Corinthian Christians, as we now do, you can imagine what their reaction to a particular blessing of the Lord might be!  Some would boast about how gifted they were.  Some would despise others, whom they seen as less spiritual than themselves, some would want to exercise their particular gift regardless of whether it was opportune to do so, and without regard for whoever else they would ride roughshod over in so doing!  So Paul says, “Now about spiritual gifts, the special endowments of supernatural energy, brethren, I do not want you to be misinformed!”  Paul will spend the rest of this chapter informing the Corinthians about the nature and use of spiritual gifts in the church, and we shall learn much from it too.

A Picture of Spiritual Difference in Worship!

1 Cor. 12:2, Paul now reminds the Corinthians of where they had been before they were brought out of darkness, and what their previous experience of worship had been.  So, what was it like to worship as a Gentile heathen?

  1. They were carried away! Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away.  Well, we know that it was unrestrained, for they were ‘carried away.’  (Ranting and raving, singing and dancing, whipping up the people in a drug induced emotional frenzy)  Hodge[i] comments, “They were swayed by a blind, unintelligent impulse, which carried them away.”  Hodge argues that this is why they needed this instruction!  They had no former understanding of the nature of true worship!  They were new converts.  I fully believe that when new converts come into the church, they should be instructed about the nature and practice of Christian worship!  About what is acceptable to God, so that they do not expect the church to be like the world!
  2. To dumb idols!  unto these dumb idols The result of their emotional hysteria in worship was to lead them in a wrong direction!  Instead of their heathen worship being directed to the God of heaven who could save them, it was directed to a dumb idol, a useless piece of wood, which could impart no spiritual benefit whatsoever!
  3. They were ledeven as ye were led.   They were being controlled by an influence which they did not understand, and did not attempt to resist!  Some time ago Janette and I were out for a meal, and as we left the restaurant we heard the noise coming from a discothèque.  We stopped to look inside and one of the doorkeepers let us look in!  It was a mad frenzy!  But we commented to each other as we left, “We’ve seen meetings just like that!”  The people in that disco were being led!  They were being mindlessly driven by the thud of the music and the influence of the alcohol.  The Greek word literally means ‘lead away’, apagomenoi, it is the same word which would be used for the act of taking away a person who is under arrest!  They are powerless to resist!  But what of the leaders of Charismatic churches who encourage their congregations to worship God in a manner which more reflects the pagan practices of Corinth, rather than the simple, Godly, holy worship of the New Testament.  Are these leaders not guilty of false leadership, as depicted by Paul here?   Are they not leading their flocks astray, taking them away from God’s Word, into practices of worship which are designed to appease, please and gratify the flesh, rather than to bring glory and honour to a Holy Sovereign God?

Do you see that Paul is making a contrast in this verse!  There is a difference between the heathen understanding of worship and the Christian understanding of worship.  Being ‘led away’ is contrasted with being ‘led of the spirit.’  The one is a mindless irrational compulsion, and the other is an influence of Godliness upon our hearts and minds!  I fear that some modern believers have never fully appreciated that difference, and have never attempted to formulate a biblical doctrine of worship, particularly in relation to the gifts that people claim to have been given by the Lord!  Why should the worship of the saved and regenerated people of God conform to the patterns of this world?

A Pattern for Spiritual Discernment in Worship!

1 Cor. 12:3 Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.   How will we know what is of the Lord, and what is not?  How would the Corinthians exercise discernment, as to who had a true spiritual gifting, and who was just a counterfeit?  How would they be able to know when their use of people’s ‘gifts’ in worship was acceptable?   Notice:-

  1. Truth can be misunderstood! Paul wants us to understand!  The opposite of ignorance is knowledge!  We get knowledge by a study of God’s Word!  2 Tim. 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  Col. 3:16  
  2. Truth can be misrepresented! These people were claiming that Jesus was accursed, in their worship!  How could they do such a thing? There might be a number of reasons!
    1. They might distort the truth of the Gospel!  The Scriptures proclaim that Jesus became a curse for us!  Galatians 3:13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.   But does that mean that we can say, “Jesus is accursed” as part of our worship?  We would know that we couldn’t do that, but was that what these people were doing?  Were they taking a Biblical verse and completely rending it to shreds by wresting it from its context?  Do you know that there are preachers today, who lift a verse from its context, and use it to formulate a doctrine, which finds no authentication anywhere else in Scripture?  We must be very careful that we do not take a Scripture text out of its context, and turn it into a pretext!  How do we interpret the Scriptures?  By comparing Scripture with Scripture!  By letting the Scripture interpret itself!  comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
    2. b.      They might proclaim a false message1 Tim. 4:1-2 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;   Spurgeon called false teachers ‘evening wolves’, preying on the flock of God!  There are no greater foes to sheep than wild dogs. In some regions sheep were no longer to be found because these fierce creatures utterly devoured the flocks. The church has never had worse enemies than false teachers. Infidels and persecutors do but mild injury to her, but her heretical preachers have been as evening wolves.
    3. They might suffer a false message to be preached1 Tim. 4:1-2 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.  We have a great responsibility to guard our pulpits from falsehood!  We must be ever so careful who we allow to occupy the pulpits of our churches, for false doctrine taught can hardly be retracted!   2 Peter 2:1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
    4. They might mingle the truth of the Gospel with the ways of the World!  Perhaps this was happening at Corinth!  Perhaps the language of the street was coming into the church!
  1. They would have heard this language in the Jewish synagogue!  The prayers of the synagogue contained a recitation of curses upon those considered to be opposed to the Jewish faith!  No doubt the Jewish Christians had heard Jesus so cursed by their former leaders.  And we have Paul’s testimony that he forced Christians to blaspheme the name of Jesus, under severe duress.  Acts 26:11 And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.  Paul’s tactic was to make Christians curse the name of Christ!
  2. They would have heard this language in the Roman arenas!  The Roman authorities persecuted the Christians, accusing them of atheism!  The charge was that they refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods.  When arrested, they were required to pronounce that Jesus is accursed!  Many believers refused to do so, and the penalty for such refusal was death in the arena!

Was there a possibility, that in the worship of the Corinthian church, the language of the world was being introduced to the church?  Is this what Paul was talking about here?  No true Christian adopts the language of the fallen world, especially where it is dishonouring to our Lord!  Let me give you one example of this.  The world has changed many words so that their meaning is ambiguous.  I recently saw a poster, aimed at young people, proclaiming “Jesus is really wicked!”  Now that, apparently means that He is ‘cool’ or appropriate…  But I personally think that is devilish blasphemy!

  1. They might subject truth to human emotion!  Let me give an illustration of how human emotion may influence worship, when it is unrestrained by truth.  An urban legend has been built up around a certain incident.   A man, now deceased, was at a meeting, and that particular meeting had a time of ‘open worship.’  This man, normally a reasonable, Godly and faithful man became so emotional that he completely forgot where he was.  At one point he rose excitedly to his feet, and at the top of his voice he sang, “He’ll be coming round the mountain when he comes…” But this is not unintentional in some modern worship patterns.  One of the great mantras of the modern charismatic movement, especially during the so-called Toronto Blessing, was to tell people to ‘switch off your mind.’  Listen to your heart, don’t think about what you are doing, and just let go!  Hence people laughed hysterically, danced and sang like dervishes, barked like dogs, snorted like pigs and crowed like roosters.  It was like Corinth!  The cause of the whole problem was that Biblical cognitive truth had been over-ruled by base human emotion.
  2. Truth should be subject to God’s Spirit!  Paul now sets us straight on the proper understanding of the place of God’s truth in worship.  no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.  Here is the truth about true spiritual worship!  You cannot acknowledge the Lordship of Christ, you cannot hope to praise Him, to worship Him or to please Him unless you are so directed by the work of the Holy Spirit in conviction, conversion, regeneration, repentance and sanctification!  Listen to what the Bible says about the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the truth of God:-

John 16:13  Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.


1 Cor. 2:12-13 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 13Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.  

So Paul establishes the framework for his teaching about the nature and purpose of spiritual gifts in the church.  It is this, that Christian worship will be in sharp contrast to the ways of worship adopted by pagan society.  Spiritual gifts, properly understood and applied will be edifying to the Lord, and will glorify Him, establishing His Lordship (headship) over His Church.

[i]               Hodge, Charles,                    1st Corinthians, Geneva Commentary,             Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1959 Pg 239

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