Paul argues that while all believers have the same Spirit, God distributes different gifts to different believers on purpose. Paul’s point in this section is not to give a catalog of gifts, but examples of the diverse ways the Spirit works.
Paul is speaking to a group of believers who are grading and judging each other by whether or not they speak in tongues. Through chapters 12-14, Paul makes a series of points to give them perspective on that situation.
First, Paul said, the mark of the Spirit of God at work in a person’s life is not what kind of outward experience they have. The mark of the Spirit of God at work in a person’s life is that they say and mean in a profound way that Jesus is Lord.
12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. -1Corinthians 12:4-7
- Paul contrasts unity (what is the same) and diversity (what has variety).
- All God’s people have the same Spirit. But that same Spirit gives different gifts to different people.
- These gifts are given to us for the common good (12:7). They are meant for service to the body.
- Compare with 1 Peter 4:10.
12:8For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. -1Corinthians 12:8-11
- Paul’s purpose in giving us the list 12:8-11 is not to give a catalog of gifts so we can find our own. His purpose is to give a few examples of the variety of ways the spirit works.
- To be wise is to have God’s perspective on things.
- To have knowledge is to understand the truth God revealed.
- Faith in 12:9 is not saving faith but a particular kind of confidence despite outward circumstance. Compare with 1Corinthians 13:2.
- Healing and miracles could refer to the person who is benefits from the healing or miracle; or to the the person allowed to be the instrument through which God heals or performs a miracle.
- Prophecy, I think, is the general kind of teaching or explaining God’s word.
- Tongues, I think, are the kind of thing we see in Acts where people speak in a language they haven’t been taught.
- Distinguishing of Spirits is the discernment to recognize right from wrong and truth from error.
- 12:11 is his main point. The variety we see among God’s people is by God’s design.
- I think we should understand spiritual gifts as roles and opportunities, rather than supernatural talents.
Handout: What are spiritual gifts
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