May 20, 2018
Unpacking 1 Corinthians 12
And I have to admit that I have not heard a teaching in the churches I have attended over the years that satisfied all the questions I, myself, had. And, as I am again making my way through the Bible [in chronological order], and I reached this important chapter, I figured it was time to develop my own understanding according to the revelation God would give me as I dug in.
Let me say this before I begin to share my apprehension of Chapter 12 ... this time I am reading from The Passion Translation, and understanding jumped out at me so quickly as I saw the methodical way Paul "unpacked" the knowledge he had received from his own revelations. I no longer saw all the various interpretations different pastors had given this chapter; nor was Scripture tainted with denominational doctrine that obscured its clear meaning. At least this is how 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12 was revealed to me. And of course, I urge you to study it yourself with the help of the Holy Spirit, free of any man's bias [including mine]. With that caveat, let me begin to share what I have perceived...
Paul says he wants to impart to the believers in the Church in Corinth this conviction: It is the power and influence of the Holy Spirit that reveals that Jesus is God, and reveals the understanding of of His Word. Then 1 Corinthians 12:4 says this same Holy Spirit "distributes many different varieties of spiritual gifts". And the Passion Translation actually says "continues to distribute" these gifts. [Note: none of the other translations give any indication that the spiritual gifts were not for all believers, for all time]. These gifts include: the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, the gifts of faith, gifts of healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discerning of spirits, speaking in different kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues. I will elaborate more on these in a moment.
Verse 5 then says that the Lord Yahweh (Jesus who is One with the Father) "apportions to believers different varieties of ministries". These ministries [apportioned by grace] are the ministries of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher. Notice that Scripture calls these roles ministries or areas of service, NOT offices in the Church heirarchy. And then it is verse 6 that struck me as so important. I want to give it to you in several different translations so that it is clear that the meaning is consistent. Verse 6 in the Passion Translation reads, "The same God distributes different kinds of powers that accomplish different results through each believer’s gift AND ministry as He energizes and activates them". The New Living Translation says, "God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us". The Amplified version reads, "And there are [distinctive] ways of working [to accomplish things], but it is the same God who produces all things in all believers [inspiring, energizing, and empowering them]". And finally, the King James version says, "And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all."
Then Paul summarizes it all by saying, "Each believer is given continuous revelation by the Holy Spirit to benefit not just himself but all". First of all, I want to say that I truly believe Scripture is telling us that every believer has the Holy Spirit in us, and since the Holy Spirit possesses all the spiritual gifts, we each have ALL the gifts in us, and they are available to us as the Holy Spirit leads us to use them. Secondly, I also believe that verse 5 makes it clear that those five ministries [of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher] are available for each believer. We should all be walking in the gifts [as distributed by the Holy Spirit] and in a ministry [as apportioned by Jesus]. Not what you've been taught in Church? Let's go back and consider verses 4 through 6 again:
4 It is the same Holy Spirit who continues to distribute many different varieties of gifts.
5 The Lord Yahweh is one, and He is the one who apportions to believers different varieties of ministries.
6 The same God distributes different kinds of powers that accomplish different results through each believer’s gift and ministry as He energizes and activates them.
Can you see it now? Each believer has the availability of the spiritual gifts and a ministry. But they are activated and energized by the power of the Holy Spirit in us. Unless one is in communion with the Holy Spirit within themselves, I believe these gifts and ministries can be neglected [at the least] and/or misused [at the worst]. What we need to comprehend is that the spiritual gifts Paul talks about in Chapter 12 are the power source for Christians! If we are not walking in that divine power, or ministering to the Body of Christ in one of the five service ministries, then how much influence do you think Christians or the Church are going to have in the world?
A very good friend of mine, who is growing and maturing in her faith at an exponential rate, asked me a wise and insightful question.... Couldn't we operate in more than one gift and more than one ministry? And my first thought was, The Bible doesn't say we're restricted to just one, and then my second thought was, Shouldn't we want to? When you consider the purpose of the spiritual gifts and the ministries, it becomes obvious [to me, at least] that in order for the Kingdom of God on earth to be established, the Body of Christ/Church must step into the identities and gifts to which they've been called.
Consider the purpose of the spiritual gifts: Word of Wisdom: a revelation gift of the Holy Spirit to impart an understanding of strategy and insight that only God can give to unlock the hearts of people and free the corporate body of Christ to move forward under God's direction. Word of Knowledge: the gift of a revelation message from the Holy Spirit; often through an impression of thought in one's mind, a vision, an audible voice that gives understanding of a situation that cannot be known by the natural mind. Gift of Faith: faith that comes from the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit; released in a person's life to do the [miracle] works of God on earth. Gift of Healing: the power of the Holy Spirit [that raised Jesus from the dead] released in a believer to heal the sick here on earth. Miraculous Works of Power: this is a gift that gives a believer the divine power to do what Jesus did [still a storm, feed thousands, walk on water, cast out demons, turn water into wine, raise the dead, destroy cancer in a body]. Gift of Prophecy: to be given divine revelation from the Holy Spirit to speak the word of God in proclaiming God's will over a person's life or a particular situation. Scripture says this is one gift that every believer should desire and never despise [1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-20]. Gift of Discernment: the divine ability to recognize the origin of spirits; whether from God or demons; to hear the voice of the Lord clearly. Gifts of Tongues and Interpretation of Tongues: this is the gift of a divine language for the edification of the Body of Christ/Church and its interpretation [not the same as speaking in tongues, a personal prayer language].
Paul goes on in the rest of Chapter 12 to impress upon the Corinthian believers that these gifts are for the benefit of maturing the Church into one effective Body for Christ [with many parts]. There should be no competition for status or position within the Body, and he emphasizes over and over that collectively, they are the body of Jesus, "and each of you is a unique and vital part of it". He then goes on in the final verses to reiterate that God has placed in the Church apostles, prophets, teachers, those with gifts of miracles, gifts of divine healing, gifts of tongues, etc. And his final admonition in the chapter is to say that "not everyone [is these things or has these gifts]". BUT, my spirit discerns that he is not saying that only a select few receive them, but rather, that the Body is not made up of all apostles, or that only the gift of healing is evident in the Body. In fact, he says in verse 31, You should all constantly boil over with passion in seeking the higher gifts. And I believe those five ministries and the nine spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit are the "higher" gifts he is referring to. [Keep in mind there are other "services/ministries" and "gifts" that build up the Body, such as Deacon, Steward, Charity, Hospitality, Helps, etc].
Finally, I believe that we can grasp the bigger picture of Paul's message in 1 Corinthians by taking a look at his letter to the Ephesian Church: The ministries given to all believers by the grace of God "will function until we all attain oneness in the faith, until we all experience the fullness of what it means to know the Son of God, and finally we become one perfect man with the full dimensions of spiritual maturity and fully developed in the abundance of Christ". Furthermore, "every member [of the Body] has been given divine gifts to contribute to the growth of all; and as these gifts operate effectively throughout the whole body, we are built up and made perfect in love".
So, can you see that God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit delight in a Church in which every believer constantly and passionately seeks to fill his particular ministry role, using any and all gifts he/she receives from the Holy Spirit to empower Christ's Body on earth to walk in His image? Can you see how equipped the modern Church would be to battle against the lies and false values the Enemy has instilled in our culture, society, and yes, holy assemblies? I don't know about you, but I want all that God wants to give me, and I want to give my all to Him! Lord, I answer your call and receive as many of Your divine gifts as You will give me. I thank You for the opportunity to serve You!
Ephesians 4:6 And He is the perfect Father who leads us all, works through us all, and lives in us all!