Spiritual Gifts, Toys, Weapons or Tools - 1 Corinthians 12

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1 Corinthians 12:1-30

Stephen Caswell © 2000

Gifts - A Whale and a Cactus

A whale is as unique as a cactus. But don't ask a whale to survive Death Valley. We all have spiritual gifts. Where we use them and how determines if we actually complete something.


Tonight we will have a look at God's purpose of spiritual gifts. God has given spiritual gifts to all believers. Everyone has at least one spiritual gift which they received at salvation. A great deal of misunderstanding exists in the Church today concerning spiritual gifts. Some teach that we can obtain them by seeking them or tarrying for them. But this cannot be proven from the Bible. Like all gifts, spiritual gifts are in fact a gift of the Holy Spirit. He gives them as He wills, not as we desire. Tonight we will answer the question, Are Spiritual Gifts, Toys , Weapons Or Tools? You play with toys, fight with weapons but build with tools. 

I. Unity Not Uniformity II. Diversity Not Division III. Priority Not Superiority

I. Unity Not Uniformity 


a. Confession Of The Same Lord


1 Corinthians 12:1-3 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant: You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.


Paul doesn't want the Corinthians to be ignorant about spiritual gifts. For Paul to say this they obviously weren't using their spiritual gifts the way that they should. If you read chapters 11 through to 14 you soon discover they had many problems in the worship services. The women in the Church were behaving in a disorderly way. They weren't respecting the leadership of the men. The Lord's Supper had become a drunken feast and the Church was using their spiritual gifts like toys to show off or weapons to fight with. As a result the Church services had become very disorderly.

So Paul reminds them how God had saved them out of idolatry. People worshipping idols are an abomination unto God. They are led into the most wicked practices. Their speech is also blasphemous toward God. However people saved by God's grace ought to behave differently. No one speaking by the power of God will curse Jesus Christ. Yet this is what was happening as some spoke in tongues. These tongues were being empowered by an unholy spirit and not the Spirit of God. Paul follows this up by saying that people don't confess Jesus is Lord unless the Holy Spirit has regenerated them. All believers ought to confess the same Lord!

Is Christ accursed today? Missionaries on furlough testify of people speaking blasphemy against Christ whilst speaking in tongues. Obviously the Holy Spirit was not empowering such utterances. 1 John 4:1 warns us: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Spiritual gifts should glorify Jesus Christ who has given them through His Spirit. Eph 4:8

b. Cooperation Within The Same God Head 

1 Corinthians 12:4-6 There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.


In these three verses we find the words same and different used three times each. Within the same Godhead there are different gifts, ministries and activities. Don't differences divide us? Not necessarily. Unity doesn't mean uniformity. The three members of the Godhead work together in the giving and functioning of spiritual gifts. They cooperate together. There is no rivalry or jealousy. Each member of the trinity is involved in the ministry of spiritual gifts. They have a united purpose even though they have a different part to play. They appreciate the different functions performed by the other members of the Godhead. We must learn from their example. Unity doesn't mean uniformity. True unity means different people working together for a common cause. The trinity practices this perfectly. 

c. Corporate Purpose For Spiritual Gifts


1 Cor 12:7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:

The Holy Spirit gives individual believers a gift for the benefit of others. The gifts are not given for personal edification as some claim. I have been told many times by sincere believers that they exercise the gift of tongues at home privately for self edification. In fact the word manifestation means to unveil, to openly display or reveal something. This can't be done secretly at home because it contradicts God's purpose for spiritual gifts. Just imagine if an evangelist announced, from now on I am only going to preach at home to myself. I want to edify myself and build myself up. Or how would you feel if I said that from now on I am staying at home all the time to teach myself and build myself up? That's crazy, worse, it's selfish. Every spiritual gift is given for the benefit of the whole Church.


d. Considerable Variety Of Spiritual Gifts


1 Corinthians 12:8-10 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.


In verses 8 to 10 Paul lists 9 various gifts distributed by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives many different gifts to believers. The list given here is not complete. Further lists are found in Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Peter 4:10-11. 18 spiritual gifts can be divided into three main groups, Speaking Gifts, Serving Gifts and Sign Gifts.


1a. Speaking Gifts -  Apostles, Prophets, Word Of Knowledge, Word Of Wisdom, Tongues, Interpretation of Tongues. * withdrawn at end of Apostolic Age.

1b. Speaking Gifts - Evangelists, Pastors, Teachers, Encouragers.

2. Serving Gifts - Faith, Serving, Mercy, Administration, Helps.

3. Sign Gifts - Miracles, Healing, Discernment Of Spirits * withdrawn, end of Apostolic Age.


Some of the speaking gifts and all of the sign gifts were removed at the end of the apostolic age. God used these gifts to make a transition from Judaism to the Church. These gifts helped establish the Church during this transition. They provided doctrine for the Church whilst the New Testament cannon was being progressively written. At the end of the apostolic age the Lord had established the Church, and completed His revelation in the New Testament. He had also made a transition from Judaism to His Church comprising of both Jew and Gentile.


e. Chosen By The Same Spirit


1 Corinthians 12:11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.


The Holy Spirit empowers ejnergew or energizes the gifts. In verses 8 to 11 the word same is used 4 times. The same Holy Spirit empowers many different gifts. The word another is used 8 times to stress the variety of the gifts. Six of the times another is used it means another of a different kind. The gifts vary in kind from each other even though the same Holy Spirit distributes them. He distributes them individually as He pleases. We cannot seek a particular spiritual gift. The word will boulomai in verse 11 means to purpose, desire or will.

The Holy Spirit knows each member of the body and distributes the gifts wisely to each. The choice of which spiritual gift we receive is God's and we know that His choice is best. Today great emphasis is made on tongues even as it was at Corinth. Everyone at Corinth wanted this gift. Today we are told that you can obtain this gift by listening to tapes, reading books or having hands laid on you. Some preachers say that you only need to seek it. Yet 1 Corinthians 12 verse 7 says that the Holy Spirit gives the gifts at conversion as He wills.  Which is right the ministers or God's Word, the recipients of the gifts or the giver of them?  



God has given many spiritual gifts to the Church. Although some gifts were foundational and have ceased to operate many still do. Do you know what your spiritual gift is? There is a spiritual gifts inventory to help you know! Every spiritual gift has been given for the profit of the whole Church. Are you using it for the benefit of the Church or are you neglecting it?    

II. Diversity Not Division 

a. All Members Are Needed For Existence


1 Corinthians 12:12-14 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.


Paul's main point in this section is that the Church is one body made up of many members. The human body is an amazing thing. There are literally trillions of cells in it. Yet there is a wonderful cohesion between them all. But even though there are so many different cells and organs working individually only one body exists. Paul uses the word one 7 times in the first three verses and 12 times in 15 verses. God has placed many different members in one body.

b. All Members Are Needed For Effectiveness


1 Corinthians 12:15-18 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.


1. Don't Despise Your Gift


Believers shouldn't despise the spiritual gift God has given them. They shouldn't think that they can't do anything because their gift is different to others. Or that their gift is not an up front gift. Every member has an important part to play in the body. Each body is well balanced having many organs doing different tasks. Some of the members are seen whilst others are at work beneath the surface. You can't say to yourself because I am not a hand I am not of the body. Each gift is needed for the body to function well. Some people are out front like hands, whilst others work behind the scenes like feet. All are important and all are needed. Just imagine what we would look like if we were made up of an eye or an ear or a tongue. To despise your ministry is to despise God's choice for you. He has placed each member in the body where he wants it.

2. Don't Despise Others Gifts

1 Corinthians 12:19-23 And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the 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.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty,

Believers shouldn't despise the spiritual gifts of others either. We can't say to them that we don't need them because they are different to us. Some of the Corinthians looked down on others in the fellowship. They thought that their own gifts were superior. But in reality the body is incomplete without all its members. Those members who minister behind the scenes are just as important as the ones out front.

c. All Members Are Needed For encouragement


1 Corinthians 12:25-26 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.


God has designed the body to function together in unity. The Church needs all its members if it is to be healthy and fulfill its purpose. When someone loses a limb through disease or accident we say that they are handicapped. This judgment is true since they can't accomplish what they could before. The same is true of the body of Christ. If members don't work together in the body it is handicapped. It can't function properly and achieve it's full potential. Every member is needed having an important part to play. God wants the body to grow into a mature man. This is the purpose of spiritual gifts.

Ephesians 4:11-13 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

In verse 26 Paul describes a practical outworking from all of this. One thing I have learned from life is that when I hurt one member of my body the whole body suffers. This is because we share a common fellowship. If I hit my finger with a hammer through some amazing connection my mouth yells out ouch. In fact it feels like far more than my finger has been hurt. If I put back out then my eyesight isn't as clear and I can get headaches. The same is true of the Church. When one member of the body suffers all the other members suffer with them. If one of our brethren is martyred we grieve with them. When one member is honored all the others rejoice with him. This is because we are all part of the same body.

A Soccer Team

One of my favorite sports is soccer. I have played the game from about 6 or 7 until two years ago. I really love the team spirit and cooperation that comes with team sports.  A soccer team has 11 players and up to three reserves. I have played games where we only had 8 or 9 players and it is very hard. You are incomplete without all the members of the team. There are many different positions in the team and all are important. The goalie defends your goal from the opposing team.

The fullbacks assist him in this and distribute the ball to the halves and forwards. The halves support both the backs and forwards. Whilst the forwards attack the opposition goal and score for the team. All are different, yet all are important. Sometimes you get a glory hound that thinks he is the greatest. He looks down on the rest of the team. He considers them to be inferior to himself. He thinks that he can do it all by himself. Such players destroy the teams unity and effectiveness. Sometimes players don't pull their weight and place an extra burden on the rest of the team. Often they excuse their lack of effort because they think they aren't as talented. Both positions are wrong. All players are needed in the team!  



Are you neglecting your spiritual gift because you think that it's an inferior one? Are you keeping back health and blessing from the body because you won't use it?  Do you think that the Church here is handicapped because of members that aren't functioning? Are you using your spiritual gift in the body?


III. Priority Not Superiority 


a. God Has A Priority For The Gifts

1 Corinthians 12:28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.

The Corinthian Church was obsessed with the showy gifts. They all wanted to speak in tongues. They placed it first on their list of priorities. Yet Paul placed it last in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 and here in verse 28. In fact he doesn't even mention it in Romans 12 or Ephesians 4. Even though all the gifts were needed in the early Church some had a greater priority! Why? Because God appointed them to higher positions. Apostles were placed first. Then prophets were second. This is understandable when you see the ministry God gave to them. Ephesians 2:19-20 says this: Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone,

The Foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ the chief cornerstone and His apostles and prophets. The third group to build on this were the teachers. These are called pastor teachers in Ephesians four where a similar list is given. Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, The same order is maintained here with the addition of evangelists. On this foundation all the members build together. God uses each member to build His Church. We build when we use our spiritual gifts in the Church. All have a part to play even though some members have been appointed to a higher office. Love enables us to work together as seen in chapter 13.

b. God Has Provided Different Gifts

1 Corinthians 12:29-30 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

In verses 29-30 Paul reminds them that God has not only prioritized the gifts, He has given them differently. He asks six rhetorical questions to prove his point. In the Greek language construction the word mh meaning no or not is placed at the beginning of each question. This construction always means that the answer to the question is no! The word ou would mean yes. Are all apostles? No they weren't. Out of thousands of New Testament believers only 16 are called apostles. And even then only 12 had the office of Apostle.

There were many New Testament prophets, but certainly not all believers were prophets. Not all had been given the gift of teaching, working miracles or healing. And the same is true of tongues and interpretation of tongues. Yet today many ministers preach that tongues is a sign of being filled with the Holy Spirit. But the Bible doesn't say this. However it does say that not all speak in tongues. It does say that the Spirit gives the gifts individually as He chooses. And It does say that we should not despise our gift or to seek another.


God has appointed people to specific ministries. Some like apostles and prophets do have a priority over others. But this is because they were the foundation of the Church. Today evangelists, pastors and teachers have an important position since they feed the flock and lead it. Nevertheless God has appointed each one a spiritual gift, a ministry to perform. All are needed. All are important! Are you unhappy with your spiritual gift? Are you seeking another? Don't! Use the gift that God has given to you. He knows best and wants to use you! 


Tonight we have looked at the ministry of spiritual gifts in the Church. God has given each believer at least one gift to use for the benefit of the body of Christ. They are tools we build with not toys to play with or weapons to fight with! We have seen three things in chapter 12.  I. Unity Not Uniformity  II. Diversity Not Division  III. Priority Not Superiority

I. Unity Not Uniformity

a. Confession Of The Same Lord - Spiritual gifts ought to glorify Christ, not curse Him! 

b. Cooperation Within The Same God Head - There is unity and diversity within the Trinity.

c. Corporate Purpose For Spiritual Gifts - Spiritual gifts are not for self edification.

d. Considerable Variety Of Spiritual Gifts - God gives many different spiritual gifts.

e. Chosen By The Same Spirit - The Holy Spirit decides what gift each believer receives.

II. Diversity Not Division


a. All Members Are Needed For Existence - The body of Christ consists of many members.

b. All Members Are Needed For Effectiveness - All members must work in a healthy Church.

c. All Members Are Needed For Encouragement - God wants us to care for one another.

III. Priority Not Superiority

a. God Has A Priority For The Gifts - God has set a priority in the Church so it will function.

b. God Has Provided Different Gifts - Everyone can not have the same gift. We are different.


2 Peter 3:17-18 You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.

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