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The Sunday Sermon – 1 Corinthians 12:4-11


Spiritual Gifts – A Source of Unity 

1st Corinthians 12:4-11

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.  But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.  For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;  To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;  To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:  But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.


We have seen that one of the great problems at Corinth was that of disunity in the church.  Now there were terrible divisions being caused by the operation of Spiritual Gifts in the church.  In our last study, I attempted to show you what worship in Corinth was like.  Remember that they were, ‘carried away,’ and that this lack of emotional self-control led into falsehood.  We saw that this is described as being ‘led,’ meaning to be taken captive by emotion, or by music or by some outside force, so that the worshipper is no longer in control of what he or she is doing.  That, I argued, is a fair representation of false worship, and is often replicated today.  This lack of restraint in worship, this emotional high, wrought havoc among the church, as, in their state of frenzy, worshippers vied with each other to exercise their special gifts.  It is to address this issue that Paul teaches the Corinthians that the Holy Spirit gifts God’s children and God’s church, not only to provide the power and means of witness, but also to bring UNITY in the church!

God’s Unity as the Source of Spiritual Gifts

1st Corinthians 12:4-6

Paul points out the work of the holy and undivided Trinity of God, in the business of the granting of different gifts in the church!  He does so by way of an example, and an exhortation to unity, for us!

1)      The Holy Spirit is the giver of gifts1 Cor. 12:4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are many gifted people in God’s church!  Some can preach, some are great intercessors, some are gifted administrators, some are gifted musically, some can sing, some can relate to young people and teach in Sunday School, some have great bravery and spiritual endeavour, and go out as missionaries.  But all of these gifts are given by the Holy Spirit!  These are GIFTS, freely granted to us, in His sovereignty, by the Holy Spirit.   But notice that the HOLY SPIRIT IS THE SAME!  God’s Spirit never changes!  So we cannot express any pride in our gifts!  We cannot claim to be a great preacher, or put ourselves forward as a great prayer warrior, for anything that we have has been given to us by the Holy Spirit of the Lord!

2)      The Lord Jesus is the focus of our giftsAnd there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. There are different ways, different ‘ministrations’ by which our spiritual endowments can be expressed.  But all our ministries are for the one Lord!   Any spiritual gift that we have is for one purpose only, that we might serve the Lord! They are specifically to glorify Him and to bring praise to His Name!  When the Lord grants the believer the privilege of serving Him that is an occasion for humble brokenness, and grateful service.  We must never use our ministries for pride or self-importance!

3)      God the Father is the empowerment of our gifts! He is the One who operates these gifts, that is, He is the very source of their effectiveness and power! And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.   The Amplified Bible here reads, “There are distinctive varieties of operation, of working to accomplish things – but it is the same God Who inspires and energises them all in all!”

Now Paul is not speaking of three different types of gift!  There is an essential unity in the operation of the Trinity in the spiritual empowerment of Christ’s Church!  There are two practical points that we need to note from Paul’s teaching:-

* Firstly, none of us can claim to be more intrinsic spiritual than any other! Because all of these gifts come from God, direct our focus to Jesus, and obtain their effectiveness from God the Father, not from ourselves!  There is nothing of man in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, except to passively accept the role and abilities that God has granted us!

* Secondly, Paul is saying here that spiritual gifts are to be a unifying factor in the church.  There are great differences between believers.  We are not all the same, and we do not have the same gifts but our spiritual abilities, given to us by God, are given to unite us, not to divide us!  1 Cor. 4:7.  I believe that we can serve God better when we reflect the unity of God in our service!  A small child had wandered off in the tall jungle grass near and African village.  The little child could not be found anywhere, even though the people searched throughout the whole day.  The next day, someone suggested that the whole village should hold hands with each other and walk through the grass in a long straight line.  The child was found, but alas it was too late, he was dead – for the cold African night had been too much for him.  The poor mother wept and wept.  Through here tears she could be heard to cry, “Oh, if only we had all held hands yesterday!”  How many lost souls have perished in this world and gone into a lost eternity, because Christian believers have failed to join hands in service!


God’s Usage and Structure in the Spiritual Gifts

1st Corinthians 12:7-10

1 Cor. 12:7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.  

1. How God uses spiritual gifts to achieve unity in the church.  Now this is a very important verse indeed, for it shows us one of the great divisive errors of the charismatic movement.  Traditional Pentecostals have proposed that a person comes to Christ, then, at a later date in their Christian life, they are blessed with something that they call, “The Baptism in the Holy Spirit.”  (We shall see more of this in the next study.)  At this time of great Holy Ghost empowerment, they believe that a person is given a ‘spiritual gift.’  Initially, they may teach, it will be the gift of ‘tongues,’[1] but later they may get another ‘spiritual gift.’  The important thing to note, they say,  is that these gifts are only for those who are so ‘baptised in the Holy Ghost.’  BUT THIS VERSE TEACHES US CLEARLY THAT THE HOLY GHOST GIVES HIS GIFTS TO EVERY BELIEVER!  Not just to those who have some form of secondary experience!  (The Amplified Bible). “To each one is given the manifestation of the Holy Spirit – the evidence, the spiritual illumination of the Spirit for good and profit.”  The Holy Spirit is given to all – for the benefit of all!

2. How God furthers unity by structuring the variety of Gifts throughout the church!  We are given different gifts, so that we all ‘slot together’ as part of God’s plan for His church.   Look at the list of gifts that Paul gives here, and do not think for a moment that this is an exhaustive list!  (cf Rom 12:6-8)Nor must we think that these gifts are an ongoing experience! (compare this with Pentecostal theology where gifts are considered to be ongoing ministries!)

  • WISDOM  To one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom.  Wisdom here refers to the wisdom of God, the truth about Himself that God has revealed to mankind.  This ‘word of wisdom’ is the ability to share the revelation of God with other men!  To be able to share the Christian faith with others!
  • KNOWLEDGE  to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit.  Here’s a very important gift.  To have practical knowledge to apply the ‘word of wisdom.’  If wisdom is understanding the revelation of God, then knowledge is having the ‘know-how’ to apply that wisdom in a meaningful way in everyday situations!  London cabbies have a thing called ‘the knowledge.’  It is a very practical skill that makes practical application of their ability to learn the name of every street in London.  They have a mental road map!  When they have to drive from Charing Cross to Hammersmith, ‘the knowledge’ kicks in, and they have a practical ability to drive down exactly the right street without getting caught in one way systems or getting lost or wasting time.  What a gift for a Christian!  Jesus said, ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.John 8:31-32
  • FAITH To another faith by the same Spirit.  This is not the kind of faith by which we accept God’s offer of mercy.  This is a different kind of faith.  Perhaps similar to the faith talked about by Jesus in Matthew 17:20 And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.
  • HEALING.  To another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit.  There is no doubt that occasionally God heals people in a strange and wonderful way, and in the time of Corinth, when medical progress had not yet been made, people would certainly have entrusted their life and their health far more to the Lord, than we do today.  Do remember what Jesus said,Matthew 10:1 And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.   Now that does not give us the right to hold divine healing services, nor does it imply that healing of the body is a part of the Atonement of Christ, nor does it mean that God’s will is that every Christian should be healthy all the time, but it does imply that we are to pray that the Lord Himself will heal our sicknesses, if it should be His will to do so!
  • MIRACLES To another the working of miracles.  Now here we run into terrible difficulties, if we start to believe, as some Charismatics do, that miraculous signs and gifts are normal occurrences in the church today.  They are not.  There are far too many people looking for signs and wonders, instead of looking for the Lord.  But is it not the case, that at times of great need in the church, or at times of wonderful blessing and revival, the Lord has moved in some totally unnatural manner, to achieve His purpose?  I will give you two illustrations.

Alexander Peden, the ‘Prophet of the Covenant’ was one of those great preachers of Scotland during the ‘killing times’ of the seventeenth century.  The government of the day would have loved to capture Peden.  He had been arrested and imprisoned for his faith, but he had gained release, and instead of behaving himself and ceasing his ‘troublesome’ preaching, peden preached on, often fleeing to County Antrim to escape the wrath of the Dragoons.  There is an incident recorded of how Peden was surrounded by the enemy on a Scottish moor.  There was no escape.  Peden fell to his knees and cried out to the Lord for deliverance!  Remember the words of the Psalmist, Psalm 34:6  This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.   Peden’s cry was, “Oh Lord, let down thy cloke!”  Even as he spoke the others with him were amazed, as the thick Scottish mist suddenly descended on the moor, and Peden walked away to freedom under the very noses of the disorientated dragoons! (He never did it again – for the need never again arose, and he never did it as a regular part of meetings, in oder to’show God’s power!’  It was not an ongoing ministry of fog-calling!)

  • PROPHECY to another prophecy. Again, the nature of prophesy is totally different from that practiced in the Charismatic movement.  Here is what the Bible says about this great spiritual gift, 1 Cor. 14:3 But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.   So, prophecy is most rightly administered in the form of preaching and teaching!
  • DISCERNMENT to another discerning of spirits.  Oh this is sadly lacking in the visible church today!  We need this in every generation!  It will stop us being led astray by false teaching and false cults and religions!
  • LANGUAGES to another divers kinds of tongues.  The word tongues carries a kind of mystique with it.  But there is no mystery here, it simply means LANGUAGES![2]  Sometimes, believers have this God-given gift of ability in languages, far beyond their natural capabilities! We see this gift in operation in Acts 2:4-11, where people from different language groups heard the disciples preaching about Jesus in their own language!  Yet they had never learned such diverse tongues! The hearers were astonished!  They said,  Acts 2:8 And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?  
  • INTERPRETATION to another the interpretation of tongues.  This is literally what it says!  The God-given ability to translate and interpret different languages.  Again Hodge, “If speaking with tongues was speaking incoherently in ecstasy, it is hard to see how what was said could admit of interpretation.  Unless coherent it was irrational, and if irrational, it could not be translated.”[i]

So, Paul has given us some examples of the Gifts which the Holy Spirit has set in the church, it is not exhaustive, and it is important that we do not fall into the Pentecostal error of thinking of the Holy Spirit’s gifts as some kind of super-spiritual and mysterious endowment, confined only to those who have been granted a second experience of God which other Christians do not have.  Such a theory is far from the teaching of Paul in this chapter.


God’s Undeniable Sovereignty in the Spiritual Gifts.

1 Cor. 12:11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.  Here is the key to humble acceptance of the gift with which the Lord has blessed us.  The Lord divides to every man, severally as He will!  The spiritual gifts that we have are given to us as an act of God’s grace!  God does not look at the merits of any man, he does not cast around to see who deserves His gifts the most.  He gives us gifts, even though we do not deserve them!  God always knows what is best for us, for His way is always perfect!  This way, there is no room whatsoever for self conceited arrogance on the part of any Christian.  We all have different gifts, but none of us deserve anything from the Lord.  He knows best.  He knows what we need, and He knows what His church needs, and He gifts us accordingly.


So, we have seen that God the Holy Spirit is the giver of Gifts to His church, and He gives us (true believers) gifts to unite us, that we might be a united, effective force in the battle against sin and evil.  Our great example in that unity, is the Triune Godhead, where there is harmony and complete unity.  We have seen that these gifts are granted to every single Christian, and not just to a select few, so that everyone has a part in the structure of God’s church, and we have examined the nature of some gifts that were operative in Corinth.  Finally we noticed that it is God who chooses who the recipients of each particular gift will be, not us, and that ought to make us very humble in our service for Him.  In our next study, we will look again at the unity of the body of Christ, and we shall see something of how we enter that unity, and how the body of Christ is constituted on earth!

[1] See notes on Chapter 14 for more on ‘the gift of tongues’

[2] See notes on Chapter 14 for more on ‘the gift of tongues’

[i]               Hodge, Charles,                    1st Corinthians, Geneva Commentary,             Banner of Truth, Edinburgh, 1959 Pg 252

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