1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Spiritual Gifts and Church Unity

Discussion Questions

1. How do we discern which spiritual experiences are from the Lord?  What should true experiences of the Holy Spirit produce?

2. What issues did the Corinthians have in their belief and practice of the spiritual gifts? How might we err in our belief and practice of the gifts today?

3. Why is it important to remember who the Lord of the Gifts is? How should this affect the way that we think about ourselves and other members of the church?

4. What encouragement does this text give Christians who doubt their usefulness and value in the church? Have you ever experienced this? If so, describe.

5. How do we find out which spiritual gifts we have? And how can we encourage other Christians in our church to use their gifts?

Sermon Manuscript

When I was in seminary, there were a few theological topics that were sure to invoke fiery debate among young pastors-in-training: Young Earth vs Old Earth creationism, end times eschatology, Calvinism, and spiritual gifts. The seminary that Marc and I attended was theologically very conservative and grounded, and so there was no disagreement on the essentials of the faith—the inerrancy of scripture, the Trinity, the faith in Jesus alone for salvation, heaven and hell, etc. And I’m so incredibly grateful for the theological unity that was shared between the faculty and students during my time at Southern.

However, one of the inescapable facts of life is that we are all infatuated with controversy to some degree, and in seminary this was no different. And so, many of us relished some good debate on doctrines that were less clear-cut in the Bible. If you’ve been at Quinault long enough, you’ve probably heard us talk about “theological triage,” a tool we use to figure out which theological hills we should die on, divide on, debate on, or decide on—Die, divide, debate, decide. There’s actually a really excellent book by the same name, Theological Triage, written by Gavin Ortlund that we have available right now in the church library. 

There are some doctrinal “hills” in the Bible that are so clear, and so eternally significant that we are willing to die for them: (including a few I’ve already mentioned, inerrancy, Trinity, faith in Christ alone, heaven and hell), as well as the virgin birth, the sanctity of all human life, and God’s good design in marriage and gender. 

There are other second-level issues, Ortlund explains in his book, that are urgent for the health and practice of the church such that they frequently cause Christians to divide at the level of local church, denomination, and/or ministry. These include issues like mode of baptism, beliefs about the Lord’s Supper, women serving as pastors, and church governance. 

Finally, there are third and even fourth-level issues that are even less clear in the Bible that, while still worth debating and deciding, are not matters serious enough that they should prohibit fellowship among believers in the same local church. These include things like, eschatology, young or old earth creationism, head coverings, music styles, how to discipline your child, home school vs public school, and the list goes on. 

I think this concept of theological triage is so immensely helpful in helping to educate us on what are the essential matters of the faith, and how we can disagree charitably on the rest. And so, as we approach 1 Corinthians 12, it’s worth asking, where does our belief and practice of the spiritual gifts fall on our theological triage? Die, divide, debate, or decide? I think we should place spiritual gifts on the third level of our 4-tier triage—an issue that holds significant implications for the life and practice of the church, and something that every Christian should consider and debate, but not something that should divide a church. Spiritual gifts, when rightly practiced and understood, should not be something that divides a church. 

Unfortunately, for the first-century Corinthian church and our 21-century modern church, this is all too often not what happens. A quick 5-minute search on YouTube for “spiritual gifts” reveals countless videos of Christians tearing down other Christians for their beliefs and practice on this matter. On one side you hear some teaching that you can’t be a “true Christian” unless you speak in tongues, and that churches that do not practice all of the miraculous gifts are devoid of the Spirit. And on the other side you’ll see some Christian who devote their whole “online ministry” to mocking Christians who claim to practice the miraculous gifts, questioning their motives and their intelligence.

What both sides of the YouTube algorithm often miss and what many Christians today miss is God’s purpose in giving the spiritual gifts—to display his power, and to build up and unify his church. God’s purpose in giving spiritual gifts to every Christian--and specifically to every member of our church here, is not to divide us, but unite us. This will be our focus as we work through 1 Corinthians 12.

Let me just briefly say what we won’t be covering in this sermon: Which of the spiritual gifts have continued today? Which have ceased? We’re going to dig into this question in more detail over the coming weeks as Marc preaches on one of the most famous chapters in all the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, where Paul says, “As for prophecies they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” What in the world Paul means by that? We’re not going to answer that tantalizing question today, I’ll leave that there for you as an appetizer and let Marc explain that for us in the weeks ahead. 

Let’s turn now and read 1 Corinthians 12:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

1. The Lord of the Gifts (12:1-6, 11)

Notice this phrase—“Now concerning” in 12:1. Paul is writing chapter 12 in response to a specific question the Corinthians wrote him in a previous letter. So far we’ve seen three other instances where Paul has used this phrase—“now concerning”: two times in chapter 7 regarding the Corinthian’s confusion surrounding sex and marriage, and once in chapter 8 in reference to eating meat offered to idols. In all these issues so far, pastor Paul has labored to show the Corinthians (and us) just how much of their confusion and division is not caused so much by differences in theological opinions, but by the ugly root sins of pride and arrogance. So, what is first antidote Paul gives the Corinthians to quell their confusion and abuse of the spiritual gifts? Paul brings the Corinthians back to the purpose of spiritual gifts. He reminds them where these gifts come from, and Who they are for. 

Spiritual Gifts are given to communicate that Jesus is Lord (v1-3)

Look with me again at verse 2 and 3: “You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” Now, what on earth does this mean? Was Paul giving the Corinthians a litmus test to discern between true and false spirits?  Did the Corinthians actually need reminding that, Hey, if someone claims to have the Holy Spirit and says, “Jesus is accursed,” you probably shouldn’t believe them? No, I don’t think so. I think the reason why Paul reminds the church of their pagan past in verse 2 is to reorient their assessment of true spiritual power. The Corinthians were obsessed with ecstatic experiences (leftover from their pagan days), and thus became fixated on the gift of tongues. But Paul is saying, even pagans can claim to have deeply spiritual experiences and speak in strange tongues, but what actually evidences a true work of the Holy Spirit is the heart-posture it produces—Jesus is Lord. 

There are some today who claim to have many amazing spiritual experiences and yet functionally do not live under the Lordship of Christ. Maybe that is you here today. You come to church each week not because Jesus is your Lord, but because you want to receive a “spiritual high.” You like Christianity, not because of truth it presents, but because of how it makes you feel. I’ve also spoken with people before who claim to follow Christ and yet choose to hike on a Sunday morning instead attending church because “that’s where they feel closest to God.” 

Oh friend, you need to know that subjective spiritual experiences are not the measure of your spiritual life. If your spiritual experiences are not moving you internally to a deeper posture of submission to Christ and moving you externally to proclaim his Lordship to the world, they are at best misguided, or worst, demonically influenced. 

Spiritual Gifts, though diverse, are specially given by the One Triune God (4-6, 11)

Notice the Trinitarian language in 4-6: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” Have you ever considered how the Trinity is a beautiful example of the kind of diversity and unity that should characterize the church? In the godhead we see a distinction of persons—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yet a unified whole. The Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father (distinction), and yet all three persons are inseparably connected (unity). So it is with the church. There are a variety of spiritual gifts, given to a variety of very different people, and yet together these distinctions serve to highlight and empower the great unity that we have in Christ. 

How should our knowledge of the “Lord of the Gifts” encourage us in our practice of the spiritual gifts?

First, be reminded of your position.

Remember where your gifts came from—not luck, not your merit, not your discipline or worthiness, but from God himself. 1 Corinthians 4:7 “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” Spiritual gifts are not an occasion for boasting, but for blessing—blessing God in our thanksgiving for the gifts, and blessing others in our use of the gifts

Don’t think you are wiser than God. Look again at verse 11, “All these [spiritual gifts] are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. You may look around the church and think, “If only we had more members who were gifted in this specific way, for this specific kind of ministry—then we would grow, then we would be healthy. Or maybe your temptation is not to look “out there,” but in here: “Oh, if only I were gifted in these specific ways—then I could actually contribute in a truly meaningful way in the church. These are two sides to the same coin—pride. If you look around our church and wish that others were more like you, or look inside and wish you were more like others, let me ask you again, Do you think that you are wiser than God? Do you think that you care more about the health and growth of this church than he does? Be reminded—there is one Lord of the gifts, and he is far greater, and far wiser than you and me.

Second, Be encouraged by God’s special, providential consideration of you.

“Who apportions to each one individually”: The same God who in his love chose you for salvation before the beginning of time (Eph 1:4), who knit you together in your mother’s womb (Ps 139:13), who meticulously crafted every part of you—your personality, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses, has chosen a spiritual gift especially for you that is absolutely critical for the proclamation of the gospel and the building up of our church. Paul gives this encouragement to another church in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

2. The Nature of the Gifts (7-11)

It’s worth our time to first consider the nature of these spiritual gifts. What are they? Now, there are other places in the New Testament where we see listings of spiritual gifts including many of the gifts we see in our text this morning, but also others like the gift of exhorting, the gift of mercy, and the gift of giving. However, the purpose of these texts is not to give Christians an exhaustive list of every possible spiritual gift that Christians may have, but more to give us an idea of the scope and shape of these gifts—the special skills and abilities given to Christians by the Holy Spirit for the common good of the church. But let’s turn now and examine this specific listing Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 12 (adapted from D.A. Carson’s, Showing the Spirit and Schreiner’s Spiritual Gifts).

i. Utterance of wisdom” and “utterance of knowledge”: These are probably synonymous for a gift of teaching—the ability to rightly interpret, unpack, and give instruction on truth already revealed (the Bible).

ii. Faith”: This can’t mean saving faith, because every Christian must possess this, but this likely refers to a special faith to perform extraordinary works, faith like Jesus says, that can “move mountains”. A special faith, D.A. Carson says, that “enables a believer to trust God to bring about certain things for which he or she cannot claim some divine promise recorded in scripture. You might think of George Müller in 19th century Bristol who recorded over 50,000 specific answers to prayer in his journal amidst his work in the orphanage.

iii. Gifts of Healing”: A special empowering of the Holy Spirit to miraculously bring about healing, similar to the miraculous healings performed by Jesus and the apostles. It’s helpful to notice the plural here—“gifts” of healing which he uses three times in chapter 12. This might imply that there is diversity among this spiritual gift, perhaps to make it clear that no one person had a monopoly on the gift and could start a “healing ministry”. Maybe believers with this gift were only able to heal certain diseases, and only at certain times according to God’s providence. 

iv. Working of miracles”: We could say that all healings are demonstration of miraculous power, but “not all miraculous powers” are healings. Working of miracles might also include exorcisms, miracles in nature, and other displays of divine power. Again, there is plural at play in the Greek which literally reads, workings of power. It’s unlikely that the early church had a shaman-like resident healer or miracle worker who could produce these miraculous powers on demand. The Holy Spirit is the one who both apportions these gifts and empowers each use of them.  Consider how we read about the miracles and healings that occurred among in the early church in the book of Acts. The Holy Spirit empowered specific Christians at specific times to heal the lame, cast out demons, and even raise the dead. These miracles were not performed for their own sake, but served to prove the power and truth of the gospel message they preached. 

v. Prophecy”: Of all the miraculous spiritual gifts, the nature of prophecy is almost certainly the one that is most debated among Christians today. Here’s an umbrella definition of prophecy that I think all sides would agree one: Prophecy is the spontaneous receiving of a special revelation from God that is not derived through studying the Bible. God communicates a message directly to the mind of the prophet. This is where there is agreement. However, there are three major views worth digging into.

1. New Apostolic View: This is the view that the gift of prophecy continues today, as has the office of “prophet” and “apostle.” Proponents of this view teach that God continues to provide new AND authoritative revelation outside of the Bible through these modern day apostles and prophets and that Christians should be regularly seeking these new revelations in order to grow. Unsurprisingly, this movement is propagated by an elite group of men and women claiming the titles of “apostle” and “prophet” who command a cult-like following and rake in millions of dollars per year. I want to be clear—this view is heresy. Peter reminds us in 2 Peter 1:3 that God’s power “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” through his Word. And Proverbs 30:5-6 tells us, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.” The Canon of the Bible has been closed, there is no new revelation that Christians need to seek outside of the Bible. Why? Because the Bible is Holy-Spirit-Inspired, living and active! Those who seek to add or subtract from the Bible, John says in Revelation 22, will receive eternal judgment.

2. Continuationist View: This is a Christian view held by many faithful believers and churches that the gift of prophecy does continue today, but that it is of a different kind and quality than Biblical revelation and does not carry the same authority. Even within this camp, there is great variation and nuance that I don’t have time to unpack this morning. However, this view teaches that God may still give spontaneous, Spirit-inspired revelations to specific Christians for the upbuilding of the church. Yet continuationists will be quick to point out that these prophesies, like the Christians who share them, may be fallible and mixed with error and thus must be tested by others in the church before being accepted. These prophecies, they teach, must never contradict or add to scripture and will always be subservient to it.  

3. Cessationist View: The third view of prophecy, and the one that I am currently convinced the most by, is the Cessationist view. This view teaches that prophecy, while active during the apostolic age to confirm and strengthen the message of the gospel, has ceased. The Biblical rationale behind this view is that prophecy in the New Testament does not seem to be qualitatively different from prophecy in the Old Testament. Both testaments teach, I believe, that true prophecy and true prophets cannot be mixed with error. There are either true prophets, or false prophets. Likewise, the Bible doesn’t seem to give any indication that we should treat New Testament prophecy as any less authoritative and binding for the church than Old Testament prophecy. Yet, we know from passages like 2 Timothy 3:16 that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” In the Bible that you are holding, you have everything that you need to flourish in your faith and to be equipped for every good work. 

Again, I just want to be so careful to say that while I am currently more persuaded by the cessationist view of prophecy, there are faithful Christians who subscribe to the continuationist view that are far wiser and godlier than I am who I would gladly link arms with.

vi. Ability to distinguish between spirits”: This probably refers to the special ability to discern whether a spiritual display of power is originating from demonic outside forces or the Holy Spirit. Recall the beginning of chapter 12—not every display of spiritual power has the Holy Spirit as its source. Think too of Jesus’ sharp words in Matthew 7:23 to those who claimed to cast out demons, perform miracles, and prophecy in his name—“I never knew you; depart from me you workers of lawlessness.”

vii. Various kinds of tongues”: There’s some disagreement here among Bible scholars. By “various kinds” Paul could be making a similar case like he does with healings and miracles to say that the giving out of the gift of tongues and the practice of tongues is multifaceted and may manifest in unique ways at different times by different believers. Or, he could be referring to several distinctive gifts of tongues, like a private prayer language, the ability to speak in foreign languages unknown by the believer, and a kind of supernatural language that once interpreted (see, “interpretation of tongues), should be weighed with the same authority as prophecy.

3. The Purpose of the Gifts

Now that we’ve defined the gifts, we should answer the question most important in Paul’s mind —What is the purpose of the gifts? Thankfully, this is probably the easiest question to answer in this sermon! The answer is right there in verse 7: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

Not for our self-promotion, not to establish a hierarchy of importance in the church, but so that the church of Christ would be built up, edified, and encouraged. This cuts to the heart of the Corinthians’ issue: they saw the spiritual gifts (especially tongues) as an opportunity to one-up other believers and to divide the church between those who are in and those who are out. 

But what does “common good” imply? It envisions life in the church where God is powerfully at work, not just in a select group of Christians, but in the body as a whole. Where every Christian is using their gift, whether up front and extraordinary or behind the scenes and more “ordinary,” for the shared goal of edifying and blessing everyone else. Where no special attention is drawn to any one person, yet when an unbeliever shows up on a Sunday morning, as Paul imagines in 1 Corinthians 14:24-25, “he is convicted by all…and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.”

Basil, one of the early 4th century Church fathers: “Since no one has the capacity to receive all spiritual gifts… when one is living in community with others, the grace privately bestowed on each individual becomes the common possession of the others.… One who receives any of these gifts does not possess it for his own sake but rather for the sake of others.”

You might imagine a household made up of a father, a mother, and their adult children. Each one works and puts the money they earn into a shared family safe. They may have different jobs, some of them might earn a lot of money, and some might earn a little money, but those distinctions are not what is most important. Each one makes their unique contribution, but all that is in the safe is theirs together. So too is it with the church and the spiritual gifts. We are gifted differently, but each of our gifts share the same goal—the common good of the church.

Brothers and sisters, this is what we are aiming for at Quinault Baptist Church. If you have turned from your sins and turned to Christ by faith, you have been born again, filled with the Holy Spirit, and have been given spiritual gifts that are essential for the life of our church. There is “good” that is withheld from our church when even one member of Quinault fails to use the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit has given them.

The fact that each of us have been gifted differently should not lead us to pride, embarrassment, or indifference, but to a joyful fervency in using our gifts. Romans 12:6 says, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”

God has gifted you in a unique way because that is exactly what our church needs. Some of us spend so much time and mental energy fretting over how we wish God had gifted us differently. We begin to see Sunday morning services and Wednesday evening small groups as simply another place to compete with others—to show our value as a member of this church, to contribute unique spiritual wisdom and insight into each conversation, to teach, or pray, or sing, or welcome, or serve, or whatever to prove our worth to each other, to ourselves, and even to God. And isn’t this exhausting? But look again at Romans 12:6. What should our differences in the church lead us to? Not competition, not despair, not inaction, but action! “Let us use them,” Paul says, and not just begrudgingly, but with great joy and zeal! 

Two Final Points of Application:

1. Be content in the gifts and calling God has given you.

At the end of John’s gospel we see this beautifully poignant scene where the resurrected Jesus lovingly restores Peter after he had denied Jesus three times. Yet Jesus’ purpose is not simply to restore Peter, but to prepare him for the persecution that is to come. He says (John 21:18-19), “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” Peter then looks over at the disciple John and says, “Lord what about this man?” And Jesus’ response here to Peter is so instructive for us today. He says, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me.” 

This is true for all of life, but also for our thinking about spiritual gifts. It’s as if Jesus is saying to us, “Don’t spend time fretting how I may gift and use my other disciples. Don’t envy their gifts, their possessions, and their callings. What is it that to you? You follow me. You use the gifts and resources that I’ve given you to serve the church and glorify me in the life that I’ve sovereignly laid out for you.”

2. Be on the lookout for needs in the church and try to fill them.

It might sound like I’m contradicting my first point, but hang with me. Yes, it’s wonderful that the Holy Spirit has uniquely gifted every believer which spiritual gifts, and yes, it’s freeing to know that we aren’t the only member of the body and that we don’t need to be the one to meet every need. Still, every Christian, regardless of how you feel gifted, should have their antennae up for new needs in the church and should regularly be asking, “Do I have the power and the capacity to meet this need?”

This actually leads nicely into a question that you might be wondering about in light of a sermon on spiritual gifts: How do I know what spiritual gifts I have? In our undergraduate studies, Melissa and I were required to take an online “spiritual gifts inventory.” It was basically a glorified personality test that asked questions like, “On a scale of 1-5, how much do you like to work with your hands?” or “Do you like to take the lead?” or “Are you good at pointing out sin in other people’s lives?” As if you could discern your spiritual giftedness as easily as you could determine your Harry Potter house on a Buzzfeed quiz. Tom Schreiner gives a helpful corrective here: “Such an abstract way of discovering our gift is actually contrary to the spirit of the New Testament, where we are summoned to give ourselves to other believers in the congregation. To put it another way, we will discover our gift when we pour ourselves into the lives of other believers, when we get involved in the life of the body” (Spiritual Gifts, 82-83).

So, Christian, do you want a good method for figuring out how you might be gifted? Ask yourself, “What needs are currently present in my church?”, and then pour yourself out and serve. Right now, as I’m speaking, there are several specific areas of need in our church: hospitality, children’s ministry, finances, worship and technology, security team, facilities upkeep, member care, and I’m sure, many others that aren’t currently coming to mind. If you are a member of Quinault and are not currently serving, or feel led to serve more, our church needs you.

Lastly, don’t only be on the lookout for how you might meet a need in the life of the church, but be on the lookout for how another member of the church might also fill a need. I think I can speak for all of the elders when I say that one of greatest joys I have in pastoral ministry is when I see the members of Quinault Baptist Church, not just her pastors, serving, and giving, and meeting needs. Every Christian is filled with the Spirit and gifted for ministry, not just pastors. Whenever a new need arises at the church (maybe even a need that I could reasonably meet myself), I always want my first question be, “Which of our members might be gifted to serve here?” or, “Which brother or sister has been through a similar trial and might be able to offer some helpful wisdom here?”

If you’re a member of Quinault here, I want to encourage you to do the same. Don’t just have your antennae out for needs in the church, but also for members who are gifted to meet those needs. This means that we should be pursuing deep fellowship with one another. We should strive to know how God has gifted one another, and the burdens and passions that each of us possess. Or how about this—how often do you make a point to verbally encourage other members of our church with how you see God gifting and using them? You can and should be doing this on Sunday mornings, but our small groups are another wonderful arena for practicing this kind of encouragement in the gifts. 

Brothers and sisters, God has wired each of us differently, and God has gifted each of us differently according to his gracious sovereign will. May he empower us by the Holy Spirit to embrace, encourage, and use these spiritual gifts for the sake of the gospel and the health of our church.