A Study of 1 Corinthians 12: There Bible Teaching Commentary for 1 Corinthians 12

Written by Paul J. Bucknell on November, 08, 2021

A Study of 1 Corinthians 12: There Bible Teaching Commentary for 1 Corinthians 12

Bible Teaching Commentary for 1 Corinthians 12

Sections

1 Cor 12:1-6 God Reveals Himself Consistent with His Nature

1 Cor 12:7-11 Overview of the Holy Spirit’s Distribution of Spiritual Gifts

1 Cor 12:12-14 Reminder of the Importance of Each Person’s Gift

1 Cor 12:15-21 Necessity of Each Part Functioning Together

1 Cor 12:22-25 Weaker Members Are More Important

1 Cor 12:26a Unity of Members Brings Mutual Identification

1 Cor 12:27-31 Diverse Gifts Make Up The Body

Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians provides excellent insight into the nature and functioning of the church, some information not given in other places. We will progress through 1 Corinthians 12, making brief commentary.

I Corinthians 12:1-3 Commentary

God Reveals Himself Consistent with His Nature

1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:1-3 NASB).

Verse 1 Paul turns the new but important topic of spiritual gifts. Despite the Body Life teaching in the 1970s, many churches still are unaware of its importance and give no place for its usage except in supporting the church as an organization.

st to the puffed-up Gnostic knowledge, which was supposed to bring a type of salvation). Take this saving knowledge and treasure it.

Verse 2 The Corinthians formerly adopted idols, which couldn’t speak (Jer. 51:17), to guide their lives. ‘Pagan’ describes those imbibed in the world, whether Gentile or non-Jew.

Verse 3 Christianity works vastly differently from the idols because the living God through the Holy Spirit actively works in believers. This is clear when, by the Holy Spirit, they confess “Jesus is Lord” in contrast to those who say, “Jesus is accursed,” obviously being devoid of the Holy Spirit.

God is alive and speaks. Getting caught up with idols probably refers to their sacrifices, empty prayers, and rituals. However, God’s work makes itself evident through the testimonies of God’s people through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

I Corinthians 12: 4-6 Commentary

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.” (I Corinthians 12:4-6 NASB).

These verses mention varieties of 1) gifts, 2) ministries, and 3) effects.

This whole section, starting in 4-31, names the one Giver of gifts. Even though there are diverse spiritual gifts, God alone imparted each believer with at least one spiritual gift, not to serve in conflicting purposes. They differ but serve the Giver’s purpose. Much like the physical body’s cells which have different functions, they all serve the greater purpose of properly functioning. Verses 4-6 provide an overall framework of correctly interpreting and applying the remaining chapter’s verses.

The Trinity, in full operation and cooperation, takes part in this process.
Paul does not discuss the inner workings of salvation and sanctification here, and yet as we read on, we discover the triune God harmoniously accomplishes His work among His people. The triune God Himself illustrates how different functions/gifts can harmonize with no conflict of interest.

  • The Spirit gives spiritual gifts to believers (vs.4).
  • With His authoritative power as Head, the Lord Christ leads the church and accomplishes the Great Commission by empowering the various individuals for their ministries (vs. 5).
  • The Father God (lit. “the same God) sees to it that the service maintains specific effects enabling the whole plan to work (vs. 6). All persons refer to all the genuine Christians in the church, evident from the Spirit’s gifting.

Amazingly, God works out His purposes in us. Let us enjoy these gifts and remember they are not arenas of competition but for mutual edification.

I Corinthians12:7-11 Commentary

The Holy Spirit’s Distribution of Spiritual Gifts

7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and 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. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.” (I Corinthians 12:7-11 NASB).

Verse 7 Believers receive spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit, not to strengthen or draw attention to oneself but for the express purpose of strengthening the body of Christ. It’s for everybody’s good (lit. “common good”) to carry out God’s will. By utilizing one’s gift, he manifests the world of the Holy Spirit, effectively benefitting others. For this reason, it’s important to discern one’s gifting. This teaching fights against modernism’s individualism by preferring the corporate benefit.

Verses 8-10 The Spirit, in the same way, distributes various spiritual gifts: a word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing effecting of miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, kinds of tongues (i.e., foreign languages), and interpretation of tongues (i.e., foreign languages). Most of these gifts are related to revelation—receiving a certain message or knowledge from God and passing it on. The Spirit takes full responsibility for distributing each of the various gifts. Paul stops mentioning “through the Spirit” after the fourth listing for the sake of reducing redundancy, but his intent is clear. All of the gifts are given through the same Spirit and therefore serve the Spirit’s same common purpose. Gifts of the Holy Spirit are not meant to divide but to build up. No one should assert their gift to be better than another’s. They are equally valid and equally revelatory if indeed, they are truly from the one Spirit. The Spirit isn’t divided on these issues though the church often is. Sometimes, God’s people take sides, leaning on their flesh, to strengthen their case in point.

Interpretation

The author’s first intention in presenting this list of spiritual gifts was not primarily to help us identify spiritual gifts in individual believers. He was remarking on the gifts that were apparent to all and how they are important.

First, these gifts, though supernatural, are not always related to revelation (e.g., miracles). If these gifts were wholly related to revelation, they might be temporary, or even more clearly, they might be just for that church. The church needs to be ultra-careful, determining how the Holy Spirit should distribute His gifts. We might look for trends, but we cannot dictate how God would rightly equip each church or generation of believers.

Second, Paul states in the next chapter that certain gifts, such as the gift of knowledge and prophecy, will be done away with when the perfect comes. Some interpret this as the perfect age instituted when Christ returns, while others see it as already happened with the reception of the Canon of Scriptures. This is not certain, but we can say that these gifts are temporary and will not always be present. Faith will turn to sight when we see Christ.

Third, we should notice the gift of wisdom precedes the others. In terms of meeting their present needs, this gift deserved first place. He hoped that wisdom would confirm the arguments in these verses as true and not merely one revelation to be dismissed for another, which quickly gains favor.

Fourth, I think we need to be careful and research how these gifts are related to the way God worked in the Corinthian church, instead of assuming these gifts should be for all our churches. I am not saying, either way, is right, and in fact, have generally accepted that these gifts should generally be for all churches, as much as for the Corinthian church. The list in Romans 12 is much more ‘normal’ in that the list is much more in accord with what we find in our churches today. More charismatic churches would find them all equally valid and important. Let’s not be critical and dogmatic but accept different viewpoints as permissible, but Paul’s point is that we should see God’s harmonic will is conveyed (God’s common purpose).

Verse 11 The Holy Spirit works through a variety of gifts in His people. This should not be interpreted that there are many Spirits or that inconsistent messages are ‘being revealed’ from the one Holy Spirit. He has all these factors under control. So we must submit our interpretation and use of gifts to Him. If divisions arise, for example, then one or more individuals are not following the leading of the Spirit. However, be careful of the dominant individual who asserts he is always correct.

What’s tremendously exciting is the presence and power of the Holy Spirit working in our mortal lives. Those familiar with the Old Testament are not wrong to find familiar with how God anointed His prophets. Spiritual gifts are to carry out His greater purpose. May we ever be grateful that He is able and willing to use each one of us to accomplish His great work through our lives. If we might find ourselves in conflict with others, let us pray together and humbly seek the Spirit’s own message.

We know it won’t conflict with Scripture.

I Corinthians 12:15-21 Commentary

Importance of Each Part to Function Together

15 If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”” (I Corinthians 12:15-21 NASB).

Verse 15 Paul uses our physical bodies as an example of the functioning of the church body. He gives us a few examples of how important each part of the body is. He stressed our unity and now shows us the importance of our diversity. The key is co-functioning. The order of argument is essential. We must stress the body’s unity first, for, in this way, each part submits to the whole. Yet if we stop at that unity and forget to stress the important contribution each one brings, then we will still not function as we ought. Each of us serves in a different place in the body. This is critical to the perfect functioning of the body.

Verse 17 It is nonsensical to lift one function or gifting above another for they all serve their necessary places. In the physical body, a foot should not be jealous of the hand, or the ear of the nose. They are equally important; the loss of one particular function handicaps the whole. Beyond this, even if the eye functions perfectly, it could never begin to do the job of the ear.

God wisely, as He sees fit, distributes gifts to each member. We should understand this gifting should be understood as to how He deems to connect and work through our lives directly.

Verse 19 God, the perfect Designer, doesn’t make mistakes. Paul gave the example of the body and members in verse 17; the principle is stated here. Each part is only good as it carries out its own function—not usurping the function of others. (This is a danger when only a few church members do everything.)

Verse 20 God has seen fit to form this body from many different members; we need to esteem each part for their contribution. No member can take the place of another.

Verse 21 Any demeaning words of any other gift is improper. The original Greek says it is without power to say anything. In modern English, we would say he hasn’t any right to say anything derogatory. It’s simply not our prerogative since the Holy Spirit gave him/her the gift.

A body thrives when its members’ various functions work in harmony. The church of God likewise is formed from many variously gifted individuals, and if so, then God in His perfect design saw that the church needed those gifts. We don’t have a right to diminish their role in the church. If God has given them the gift, then certainly within proper parameters, that gift should be exercised.

Theological argument: [An argument from silence might follow; if the church doesn’t have any of these revelatory gifts, then the church doesn’t need them. However, we might never look for such gifts, presuming we do not need of them. That doesn’t mean God didn’t particularly equip that individual church for some special reason. He certainly disarms any factions within the body and seems to go out of His way in allowing for different types of gifts.]

I Corinthians12:22-25 Commentary

Weaker Members Are More Important

22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, 24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (I Corinthians 12:22-25 NASB).

Paul steps beyond the former discussion by an amazingly observant remark. The supposedly more necessary members, like legs and arms, are less important to the survival of the body than other less well-known, hidden members, namely the private or inner organs.

We might give less appreciation to these “lesser” members, partly because they are not seen and are usually taken for granted. On the other hand, we know people that lose limbs but still survive.

God has arranged that those with less prominent spiritual gifts gain more praise and honor. Those members, which are convinced of their importance by their gifting, receive less honor; they need a lesser amount of it (24).

No member should compete with another, but all should instead work together for the common good of the whole body. Each member should receive proper attention and support so that there is no room for jealousy.

Application

We should give abundant thanks to each member of the body for their labor in love. Those behind the scenes might get fewer thanks, but they know of their importance and are thankful that they can accomplish it for the Lord’s glory. Later on, Paul introduces us to a list of church workers, but meanwhile, let’s remember to thank and encourage all the helping hands and voices in the church.

I Corinthians12:26 Commentary

The Unity of Members Brings Mutual Identification

26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (I Corinthians 12:26 NASB).

The body is the joint function of many members, destining it to share the ups and downs of the individual members. The truest expression of unity happens when the individual members can 1) respond to the needs of other members, wherein the whole body is strengthened, and 2) honor certain individual members because they each have a part. The egotism of individual members is absent when they realize they have an inseparable bond with the other members. Hurt or success will be sensed as a body. This obviously produces certain safeguards. Those who are hurt will not go into deep despair because others are with him, and those rejoicing will not be carried off into pride because of the awareness of their importance in completing something for which he got credit.

America’s doctrine of individualism needs to be confronted with God’s truth of the `corporate.’ A mix between the western and eastern worlds will produce the needed balance in the body of Christ. The body of Christ has individual members but is a corporate group.

As individuals we are intensely aware of our functions that might seem inferior to others, but they never really are. Different backgrounds, placings, personal motivations, and emphases always distinguish the value of each individual. The more we realize the richness of the individual members and develop their resources, the more the whole body reaches its full potential.

The group symbolizes God’s entire purpose of the collective individual beings, just as a head represents the body. There is a common purpose, and when reached, the whole body is corporately enriched. The body might struggle to accomplish these purposes, but even if some individuals slack off or get hurt, others will come to their aid, accomplishing the overall purposes.

In summary, God has formed us as Christ’s body, and only as we, as individual members, fully utilize our gifts and abilities for the common good will we be adequately rewarded for accomplishing the task God sets before us.

I Corinthians 12:27-31 Commentary

Diverse Gifts Make Up The Body

27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.” (I Corinthians 12:27-31 NASB).

Verse 27 Christians, as individuals, comprise the whole body of Christ; the many are one. Each Christian forms part of Christ’s body. No one person, even the apostles, becomes the body’s sum but only serve as a member. This is awesome. How exciting to think we are part of Christ’s body! Each Christian finds plenty to rejoice, but much responsibility is laid on their shoulder. We need to fulfill our part that the whole body might be encouraged. How foolish for a Christian to think he can live his Christian life on his own. Each believer has a responsibility to the corporate group and will be held accountable. Meanwhile, the member’s absence of gift usage, hurts all.

Verse 28 The Lord has designed this diversity through the way He prioritized various appointments (lit. `set’), different positions within the church.

First, there are the apostles, second, the prophets, and third, there are teachers. After this (the Greek word maw, meaning ‘then’ or ‘next,’ is used), other gifts are listed, such as the works of power, gifts of healing, helps, administrations, and sorts of tongues. The first thing to notice is that they are all God-appointed. No person receives his/her spiritual gift by mistake. The delineation of gifts depicts a mixture of positions along with different gifts. Verse 31 refers to the first gifts as the greater gifts.

Here’s a brief list with definitions of the listed gifts (whether position or ability):

- 1 apostle: the sent ones; convert others to a specific way of life, set of ideas

- 2 prophets: the one who speaks God’s word, predicts events or developments

- 3 teachers: the one who teaches

- miracles: causes fascination, astonishment

- gifts of healings: the miraculous healing of individuals

- helps: helpful deeds, kind assistance

- administrations: leader; lit. it refers to the steering of a ship

- kinds of tongues: sorts of languages

Notice how different each gift is from the other. There are many completely different functions in the list above, and though one person sometimes has several gifts, every Christian has at least one gift. This gifting gives credence to the thought that everyone needs to be involved in the church. Unfortunately, many people believe this to mean working in Sunday School. The usage of these gifts though are mainly within the body but that does not mean only on Sunday.

The Christian culture back then differed, but these gifts remain crucial for the body’s well-functioning in every generation. Everyone needs to discover and use their gifts.

“By first, second and third, Paul did not mean to list them chronologically for tongues at the end of the list came first in church history. Neither is it a ranking of dignity or spiritual eminence for he was trying to combat spiritual pride, and rather than trying to claim dignity for himself, he considered apostles to be ‘exhibited last of all (4:9). Paul’ thought follows the word ‘greater’ by ranking them according to their usefulness in the church with edification being the standard from which each would be judged” (Grudem, p.43).

Verses 29-31 Using the logic of the former simple argument from the human body, Paul now narrows in on his chief concern. The gifts distributed from God enable each one, according to different abilities, to accomplish a task. This list is very similar to his former list. He adds the gift of interpretation at the end, dropping the gifts of helps and administrations, though the order remains the same. The former gifts are bound up in a position. His point in going through them one by one is to show that each one does not have all the gifts. And if any individual does not have all the gifts, then that one naturally depends on other members for the function of that gift. He, as an individual, is not fully equipped.

There is no place for jealousy; God distributes the gifts as He sees fit. We can be assured that each one of the members of the body of Christ has a significant contribution. However, Paul’s focus in his summary statement is unusual, “But earnestly desire the greater gifts.” We can never be jealous of another, but we can possess a disposition to have greater gifts.

These greater gifts evidently are the ones Paul referred to as ‘firstly,’ ‘secondly,’ and ‘thirdly.’ However, we must remember Paul breaks his tone and focus in the next verse/chapter by emphasizing the greater way of love (1 Corinthians 13). Paul, no doubt, places emphasis on these positions for a particular reason. Perhaps, he is subtly emphasizing that they, as our leaders, should be heeded. The people are the main body functions, which might not have any easily-observed outworking. The other gifts are fascinating but remain as lesser gifts. In some ways, they can be done without, but when properly utilized, they fill an important part of Christ’s body. Paul steers them away from their experience of tongues by relegating its importance to having an interpretation.

Summary

All the spiritual gifts are from the one true God to accomplish His purposes in the body, not to boost the individual. There are many kinds of gifts, but all are important. Some are more vital, but all are needed to get God’s work correctly done. There needs to be a realization that these gifts of apostleship, prophecy, and teaching hold a primary position in the church. Our focus needs to turn toward these gifts.

There remains, however, yet another focus greater than these individual gifts—love, for, without it, the gifts are meaningless (12:31b).

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