Text: 1 Cor. 12:1-14
Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them…
The Christian Church has always had its more, shall we say, enthusiastic members. There have been those who have claimed supernatural abilities on and off throughout the years. Speaking of one would-be prophet in his day, Martin Luther said it was if he had “swallowed the Holy Ghost, feathers and all!”
For most of Christian history, however, people who claimed the ability to perform supernatural abilities, particularly things like prophecy and speaking in tongues, have been marginal and rare. However, sometime in the middle of the 1800s, what we now call the Pentecostal movement began. This movement taught that miraculous gifts, especially speaking in foreign or mysterious languages, should characterize all true worship services. This generated very large and high-profile revivals, and the phenomena known as “speaking in tongues” became a regular expectations of many Christian.
As we return to our series in 1 Corinthians, we have an occasion to talk about this very thing. We are now at chapter 12, which begins a section on the spiritual gifts. If you’ve never read it before, you might be surprised to see that supernatural gifts were going on at Corinth. We’ll talk about that. In fact we will devote an entire sermon to the question of whether supernatural gifts like prophecies, speaking in tongues, and healings continue as an ordinary part of the Christian Church today. But before we get there, I’d like for us to see how Paul treats the topic more generally.
In our text this morning, Paul’s big point is that all of our gifts are gifts from the Holy Spirit. They show us God, the true God, in our midst. And they are given to us for a reason. Our talents are spiritual gifts for the good of the rest of the church. They are given so that we can help the body of Christ. Since they are given for this reason, they must be accompanied by the other marks of Christian love and service, and they must always be combined with the teaching of the true gospel. If the gifts are from God’s Spirit, then they must tell us truth things about God. They must build up His Church. They must do so in a way that is consistent with what God has told us that He desires.
Know Who Gives the Gifts
The first thing to say about any and all spiritual gifts is that we have to know who gives them. This does not simply mean that if someone has a sort of gift that it necessarily comes from God. We actually have to determine that. And we can find out the source of the gift by the nature of the gift, by what it does. Paul writes:
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant… 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. (1 Cor. 12:1-3)
You can read that superficially and say that any time someone says something good about Jesus, they are being used by the Holy Spirit. But Paul is saying something more than that. He knows that there are false prophets out there, and he knows that false prophets pretend to be true prophets. Jesus had said that false prophets are wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15). Paul knows this. What he’s saying is that you can judge a so-called prophet by the overall content of what they teach. If they end up teaching something that leads you to a position that says Jesus Christ is accursed, then you can know that they are not true prophets.
Now who would teach such a thing? Well, they don’t just come out and say “Jesus Christ is accursed.” Instead, they, in the words of Peter, “secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them” (2 Peter 2:1). Who was teaching such things in Paul’s day? Well, the Judaizers for one. Paul says that they preached “another gospel” (Gal. 1:6-7). If “righteousness comes through the law,” as they taught, then “Christ died in vain” (Gal. 2:21). If Christ died in vain, then He was accursed. “Cursed in everyone who hands on a tree” (Gal. 3:13). Instead of becoming a curse for us to make us right with God, Jesus simply died as a man, and thus an accursed death simply. You can see, then, who Paul had in mind as saying that Jesus Christ was accursed. They didn’t literally say that, but their teaching necessarily implied that.
Therefore, if someone is claiming miraculous spiritual gifts but also preaching and teaching heresy, you can be sure that they did not get their gifts from the Holy Spirit. That’s Paul’s rule. The gifts must be matched by orthodoxy.
This simple rule disqualifies most of the famous charismatic preachers of our day. Many of them say shocking and blasphemous things. For example, Kenneth Copeland has said, “You don’t have a God in you. You are one!” He explains that when people are born again, they become “as much an incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth.” He’s not the only one who says things like this. The appropriately-named Creflo Dollar has publicly taught his congregation the following:
…if the Godhead gets together and says ‘Let us make man in our image’, and everything produces after its own kind, then they produce what? They’re producing gods. …You are gods. Little ‘g,’ you are gods because you came from God and you are gods. You’re not just human. The only human part about you is this physical body that you live in. The real me is just like God.
This same teaching has also been advocated by Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, and Paula White, all of whom lead famous international ministries that capture the imagination and the wallets of many. We need to be careful but faithful in our estimation of these teachings. They are antichrist. They are leading many away to a false gospel, and we should call these teachers what they are: false prophets. We should also call those who follow them away from such idolatry and to the light of the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
If the Holy Spirit is the one that is giving the gift, then the gift will be consistent with what that same Holy Spirit has taught in the Bible. No man can call Jesus accursed if they are being led by the Spirit, and so too they cannot call Jesus a mere man, nor can they say that humans are gods. The Spirit will never lead someone to deny the cross, nor to teach any other kind of false doctrine. If someone is claiming the Spirit of God but teaching heresy, then they are being led by another spirit entirely.
Thus, the mere existence of some sort of supernatural activity does not prove that it is a gift from the Spirit of God. We determine that the gifts are truly given by God by examining the consistency of the person’s teaching and the character of their life.
Spiritual Gifts are Gifts From God’s Spirit
What else can we say about spiritual gifts? First, we should note that they come in many different kinds. Look at all of gifts that Paul mentions. He does talk about healings, miracles, and tongues (1 Cor. 12:9-10). Those were present in the first century. But he also mentions wisdom and knowledge (1 Cor. 12:8). He says that there are “ministries” (vs. 5), which means service, and “activities” (vs. 6) which literally means “results” or “conclusions.” So really, all works of the church are spiritual gifts, even if they don’t strike you as miraculous or supernatural. In fact, in Ephesians 4, Paul says that “pastors and teachers” are gifts given by the Holy Spirit to the Church (Eph. 4:11). So both “ordinary” and “miraculous” gifts are spiritual gifts. They are gifts from God’s Spirit.
Secondly, we should remind ourselves of the obvious— gifts are gifts. This means that they are given to us from someone else, in this case God. We do not control their being given, and we do not get to take credit for having them given to us. They are all of grace. We cannot boast.
Thirdly, we must know that the Spirit gives the gifts as He sees fit. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:4). “One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:11). This means that there are different gifts, we don’t all get the same gifts, and we don’t get to choose who gets which gifts. In fact, we don’t get to choose which gifts we get. God chooses, and He gives what He wants us to have.
We shouldn’t wish we were someone that we aren’t. God has made us. He has made us the way He wants us. Yes, we all have sin. Yes, we have unique challenges. We shouldn’t deny that. But at the same time, we should never reject the gifts God has given us, especially not because we are coveting what other people have. Instead, we need to see the gifts God has given us. We need to be grateful for them, for what God has given us. And we should use our gifts. But how?
The Spirit Gives Gifts For the Body
The biggest point that Paul is going to make about spiritual gifts, indeed the point that is going to come up over and over again in the next three chapters, is that spiritual gifts are not given to us to use for ourselves. Spiritual gifts are given to us for the sake of other people. He writes, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Cor. 12:7).
The Holy Spirit gives us gifts precisely in order to empower us to bless others. And Paul adds to this by saying that we do not receive the Holy Spirit as individuals. We always receive the Holy Spirit in community with other Christians, in the Church:
But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. 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. (1 Cor. 12:11-14)
We should think of our gifts as not so much “ours” but as the Spirit’s. In fact, they are the Spirit in us, and that same Spirit is in all other Christians. This necessarily connects us to other Christians. We are all the body, the body of Christ.
It is the Spirit puts us into the Body of Christ. “By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” This is the same Spirit that gives us gifts and works in us. And so we should zoom out from ourselves and see all of the spiritual gifts as attributes of the Holy Spirit’s singular work. It just so happens that He is working in and through people, through believers. So the Spirit gives gifts to the body, and He gives them for the body.
Since this is the case, we must use our gifts for the body, for the profit of all. When we evaluate what gifts we have, we must also ask ourselves how we can use those gifts for the church.
It’s a mistake to think that the pastor or elders will always be able to do this for you. Sometimes we might. We certainly look and try see. But a lot of times people, for various reasons, kind of hide their gifts or are reluctant to use them. Please don’t do this. If you have a gift or talent, don’t wait for other people to ask you to use it for the church. Just start doing it. Volunteer! Or if it’s the kind of thing that doesn’t need any kind of official permission or oversight, then can just do, then do it! We’ll talk about the necessity of order in another sermon. So don’t misunderstand me. Proper communication is important. But acts of mercy and service don’t require any red-tape. You can always do that. You can always befriend people, pray for people, cook them food, offer them a ride, or invite them to your home.
Leadership comes to those who lead. Fellowship comes to those who are friendly, to those who invite people to their homes. Love comes to those who love. You often realize your gifts as you put them to use. So give your gifts back. Give them to the body.
And so we have some basic guidelines for spiritual gifts. They must indeed be from God, and so we should test them by the truth of one’s profession and the quality of their life. We should also not limit our understanding of “spiritual gifts” to miracles. We should see all of the gifts and talents in the church as gifts from the Holy Spirit. Finally, once we identify the spiritual gifts, we must use them. We must use them for the whole body of Christ, playing our part together with the whole.
Spiritual gifts are means of grace from God for us. They help us grow in grace. They help us bless others. And they should help us see God at work in us. They should lead us to give thanks and worship Him.
Let us pray.