JohnSWilson3 Blog

Thoughts on Spiritual Giftings
August 7, 2010, 1:20 pm
Filed under: J First Letter to the Corinthians

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration (literally ‘guidance’), and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But eagerly desire the greater gifts.”

I tend to think that Paul uses the list that he does to turn upside down the Corinthian’s misplacement over use of tongues to the detriment of the body of Christ, given the context. Additionally, it is not a comprehensive list so it seems to imply that he is just trying to have the Corinthians rethink their strong opinions about the supposed importance of some gifts, over others versus making a form of church hierarchy. All members have a function(s) in the church, a portion of Jesus Christ to share, when it meets together in its face-to-face community life. To help it stay on course in following Jesus’ lordship, apostles or church planters are key in building that foundation. How important were Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, who were once assisting Paul and who were at the time of writing letters acting as church planters.

The rest of the gifts are part of God’s building materials when functioning in love by grace in faith to strengthen it and build the body of Christ into the fullness of His Son. I have found in face-to-face community with other believers and learning to have Jesus as Lord and Head over that group, the working out and the building up of the body with the gifts given to it, is probably the greatest way a church body truly grows and builds itself up in love. But it is not for the faint of heart! There is tension, there is the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit! When things get out in the open in that kind of life issues of the flesh are revealed and the need for spiritual warfare becomes heightened.

The problem with the Corinthians was they were focusing on self appointed leaders, or the works of others and judging one another by what they did instead of focusing on Jesus Christ who is the giver of the fruit. As a result “jealousy and quarreling” was occurring, and they were “acting like mere men.”

It is interesting that Paul has in this specific list of functions or gifts, which probably the ones that this church focused on also includes gifts of apostles, prophets, and teachers. David E. Garland seems to think the reason is that “Paul seems deliberately to mix into an amalgam a diverse sampling of ministries, supernatural grace-gifts, and services. The point would be to illustrate briefly the broad spectrum of spiritual manifestations in the church.” (1) Apostles and prophets (including evangelists such as Phillip and listed in Ephesians) from what I’ve seen in scripture were generally itinerant persons who focused on preaching Christ, forming Christian communities for those who believe, and encouraging the church as they traveled from city to city; while those later in the life of the church who were more mature (elder) in each church, in living by Christ’s life, helped guide the body to stay on course with Jesus as Head, such as those with the gifts of teaching, caring (shepherding), and guiding (rule/govern/lead which all literally mean guide). (See my other blog on my discussion of an ordination analysis reference laying on of hands). The body of Christ, when meeting together, and often, must function under the Lord Jesus Christ so that all can provide for the building up of the body and keep it focused on just Jesus. It seems to me as the body begins to live by His life, the functions of teaching, caring, and guiding begin to become visible as the church deals with the issues of the flesh and in order for it to move forward together in Christ. But here the church must also be careful that they do not elevate these persons to taking over the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Apostles according to Paul were generally the scum of the earth, so having it as “first” may be his reason for doing the list the way he did, again pointing out how the Corinthians focused on certain gifts over others. Remember what Paul said, sarcastically and rhetorically earlier in 1 Cor. 4:9-13: “For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.”

The Corinthians had an insistence that the miraculous was the most important fruit of a Christian. There opinion was probably – God’s will is that He will always manifest the miraculous gifts if He is present. Thus, elevating certain gifts, and as a result certain people in the church. It was what Paul rebukes them for. They coveted the speaking of “in different kinds of tongues” for self-gratification to the lack of edification of the body. Some in the church today will state that you must speak in tongues to be completely saved! (I am reminded of Acts 15 where the legalists demanded that the Gentile Christians must “be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses” to be completely saved – all are legalism) And hold that as their pet doctrine to the neglect of loving one another. Notice Paul’s rhetorical question: “Do all speak in tongues?” Answer: no. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Paul had much to say in regarding tongues, taking as much space as some of his other letters just to rebuke the Corinthians on coveting only this one gift in the body of Christ to the neglect of the rest of the gifts. God does not hold some gifts more important, if any Paul would say it would be prophesy because of its means of edification, but even then it must be done in love! If I “have not love, I am nothing…I gain nothing.” The Corinthians, when they met together, came with their own expectations of being church instead of the Lord’s. As Paul said at the beginning of his letter: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” The body of Christ needs to gather together under the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ and seek Him, then the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ will be made manifested. Let us be careful that when we meet together brothers and sisters that we do not attempt to force our own opinions, pet doctrines, cause, or some agenda onto the body of Christ. If we do we can be sure we are drifting, we are focused on self, on works, on the flesh instead of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I think the church, when it begins to focus on other things, or someone else, other than Jesus Christ, will invariably begin to drift, like the Corinthians did, causing a tendency to make a hierarchy in the body (using these few verses) or making one person in the church their leader, perhaps creating divisions of more than one leader (1 Cor. 1:12, etc), or like any other organization choose the one who is more dominant in personality or the one who speaks too much in the group, to overly protect the body, normally focused on a pet doctrine, to the detriment of the function of the body. This doesn’t have to be just an institutional church. We need to remember that all the churches of the New Testament were organic in nature. All the “gore and glory” (as Frank Viola would say) found in the different churches we see in the New Testament were organic churches. Let us not so point the finger at the institutional church as organic churches can turn into an institutional church in a home if we are not careful. The gore and the glory make up organic churches. How will we respond to the crisis that WILL occur? Will we respond in faith, in love, and with grace work out the problems, the opinions, the issues under the Lordship of Jesus Christ? Will we bring the matters to Him? Will we seek Him? Or will we get angry, complain, become divisive and focus on self? Is the unity of the body of Christ important to us in resolving the problems? “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” When we leave our gatherings are we leaving in unity, love, and peace? Did we see and receive life? Jesus is the Life!

Brothers and sisters let us “eagerly desire the greater gifts…Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy…But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort…What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church…For God is not a God of disorder but of peace…Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.” In this description Paul gives us a possible typical organic church meeting, he emphasizes a couple things, one is “or.” Not all the gifts will be demonstrated in one gathering. That is not the purpose of the gathering. The purpose is to know Christ, whichever and whomever God uses to function to show their portion of Christ to the body. The fruit of the Spirit is demonstrated where the life of Christ is manifested: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Love is not something we do, it is a “way.” Jesus is the Way! It is living by the indwelling Lord along the way of the shared life we live together and the world. Let us follow the way of the Lord, “the most excellent way” – love.

(1) Garland, David E., 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003, 599.


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