02 Holy Spirit: Universal vs Individual

by | Sep 16, 2020 | 01 Podcasts, Holy Spirit

1Corinthians 12 teaches an important distinction in the type of work the Holy Spirit does. The “universal” work of the Holy Spirit is a work that he does for all believers to bring about the inner transformation of faith. The “individual” works of the Holy Spirit are works he does in some believers but not others.


We saw 2 themes in the first podcast: 1) The Holy Spirit is the Lord’s agent of change; and 2) one of his most crucial works is the inner transformation of the hearts of believers. Without that inner change we cannot be saved.

Even though 1Corinthians 12 contains little specific instruction about the Holy Spirit, this passage is important because one of Paul’s goals is to correct the Corinthians’ perspective on spirituality.


  • The practice of speaking of tongues was a divisive issue in Corinth. 
  • Some Corinthians thought if a person didn’t speak in tongues, the Holy Spirit was not working in that person.


12:1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.  2You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3Therefore 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.  – 1Corinthians 12:1-3

  • The Corinthians think the mark of the Holy Spirit at work is emotional, supernatural worship experiences, like speaking in tongues. 
  • Paul says the mark of the Holy Spirit at work is the ability to say and mean that Jesus is Lord.
  • No one can genuinely say and profoundly mean that Jesus is Lord unless the Spirit has been at work in him/her. 
  • The “universal” work of the Spirit is something the Holy Spirit does in all the people in whom he is working.
  • The universal mark of God’s Spirit is not a mouth which speaks in tongues. The universal mark of God’s Spirit is a mouth that says and means in a profound way that Jesus is Lord.
  • The universal work of the Spirit is the miracle of saving faith, a gift the Holy Spirit gives to every believer.

More: 1Corinthians 12:1-3 The mark of spirituality

4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to 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. 11All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.  -1Corinthians 12:4-11

  • The same Spirit, the same Lord, and the same God work differently in different people
  • The “individual” works of the Spirit are things the Spirit does in one person’s life but not another.
  • The individual works of the Spirit are the gifts he gives to some and not to others according to the purposes of God. 
  • The Spirit is responsible for the diversity of gifts, roles and opportunities in the people of God, because God wants this diversity in His children.

More: 1Corinthians 12:4-11 What are spiritual gifts?

12:12For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. 14For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. 27Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.  -1Corinthians 12:12-31

  • As believers, we are joined together the way the parts of the human body are joined together.
  • The different parts of the body have different roles and functions, yet together form one body. Similarly, believers have different roles and opportunities to serve the kingdom of God, yet together we are one people.
  • The very fact that the Spirit is at work in each of us unifies us in the same way the various body parts are members of the same body.
  • Instead of judging each other because of the specific manifestation (or lack) of the Spirit any individual has, we should rejoice that we are all part of the same body. 
  • This whole depends on the fact that we are different, just like a human body would be useless if it was missing half its parts. 
  • Diversity of parts is healthy for the human body. Likewise, diversity in the gifts of the Holy Spirit is healthy for the body of Christ.

More: 1Corinthians 12:11-13 Should everyone speak in tongues?

1Corinthians 12:14-31 Understanding the body of Christ


  • The “universal” work of the Holy Spirit is the saving faith he gives to every believer.
  • The “individual” works of the Holy Spirit are the different roles and opportunities to serve the church that the Holy Spirit gives to different believers.
  • We do not get the same roles by God’s design.
  • Diversity among believers is healthy and should unify us rather than divide us.

For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.

Next: 03 Holy Spirit: Revelation vs Understanding

Previous: 01 Holy Spirit: Agent of Change

Series: Who is the Holy Spirit?

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