In our study of 1 Corinthians chapter twelve, we look at spiritual gifts and their purpose in the church. There are those that say that these gifts were only for the early church but, as we will see, they are just as necessary for the church of today.
"Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant." NIV translation
The word "gifts" is not in the original transcripts and it is unfortunate that it is included. It was put in to clarify but has instead been used to create confusion. The original text uses the word "spiritualities" and Paul is simply shifting the focus of his letter from physical things to spiritual matters.
"You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I tell you 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." NIV translation
Paul reminds them and us that, before we came to Christ, we chased after physical things but they had no power. He says they were "mute idols" meaning they could not do anything for us. In contrast to that, he says that only the power of the Spirit in us can cause us to acknowledge Jesus as Lord of our lives.
"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men." NIV translation
In this simple passage, we see the Holy Trinity at work. We see that we are all given gifts through the Holy Spirit to serve our Lord Jesus as we carry out our part in God's plan. We also see in this that we should be united through these spiritual gifts because they are all from God and for His purpose. A gift (in this sense) is a capacity to perform a certain function that is necessary for the church as a whole. It is God using a believer to do a specific service for His people. Every believer has at least one gift and so is important to the church as a whole.
"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." NIV translation
These gifts are simply a result of the Holy Spirit being present in the life of a believer. The gifts are to be used for the good of the church but, in many cases, they are used like some sort of circus sideshow. In using these gifts for the common good, the church is unified as each believer is of value to the church as a whole.
"To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit," NIV translation
Now, Paul begins to list different ways that the Holy Spirit is displayed in the lives of Christians. We see both wisdom and knowledge and they are both only available through the Spirit. Knowledge is understanding the things of God while wisdom is being able to apply them to practical living.
"to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit," NIV translation
Paul continues his list and we may ask about faith being on the list. While all Christians must have a measure of faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, have you ever seen someone who it seems is stronger in their faith? There are some who have been given this measure where they simply just know what they know and will not be shaken or moved from it. There also those that can heal with a physical touch or through prayer. Once again, we see that they are both from the Holy Spirit.
"to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues." NIV translation
In this part of the list we see prophecy and tongues and sometimes they are confused. Prophecy is simply a person sharing a message from God with a person or persons. The message may be about things that are happening or going to happen. Speaking in tongues has become one of the most misunderstood methods of displaying the Holy Spirit. There are those that go so far as to tell others that they are not Christians if they do not speak in tongues. To clear this up we must understand what we are talking about. Speaking in tongues is where a person speaks to God (prays) in what seems to be their own language. As we see in the list, the ability to understand these languages is another way that the Spirit is displayed.
"All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines." NIV translation
Once again, Paul makes the point that all of these methods are from the Holy Spirit. We also see that they are given to whoever God desires to have them. This should silence those who would condemn other believers for not displaying the same method (such as the speaking in tongues). We must remember that their purpose is to draw the church together and not separate believers.
"The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body - whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." NIV translation
Now, Paul continues to teach on unity as he compares the church (spiritual body of Christ on the earth) with the physical body of a man. As with the human body, the parts of the church must work together to complete its task. There is only one body of Christ on the earth and we all became a part of that body in the same way.
"Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if an ear should say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body." NIV translation
Paul uses the human body as an example to show how ridiculous it is for Christians to be jealous of each other and not work together. In the extreme examples that he gives, the body would not be able to get much accomplished and it is the same way with the church. The body of Christ is to be united by the Spirit and then each part can fulfill its function. In this case the church would be healthy and get things done. Paul also makes an effort to make us see that every part is significant and that goes for people in the church as well. Every Christian has been given at least one gift that is to be used to build up the church.
"The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don't need you!' On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment." NIV translation
Paul uses the examples of the hand and the feet to demonstrate the fact that the parts must work together. He goes on to say that the parts that do their job without being seen are just as necessary as the parts that are seen in public. It is the same in the church as some are called to be out front teaching and preaching while others are feeding the hungry and doing other such things.
"But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it." NIV translation
God has a way of using the things or people that the world sees as lowly. He elevates them and uses them often in a mighty way so that it is easier for others to see that it is a work of God. Like the human body, the church should rejoice at all of the successes and mourn with the trials of all of the members. It is easier to do this if we picture the local body of believers as an athlete. For instance, take a soccer player; when a player scores a game winning goal, they don't cut off the player's leg and give it an award. Instead, the whole body is given an award and the body celebrates the victory. Likewise, when the chance at the goal is missed, the leg is not cut off and discarded.
"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, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues." NIV translation
Now, Paul goes back to the fact that a group of believers is, in fact, the body of Christ. Just like a human body, there are different parts with different functions and he lists some of them.
"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." NIV translation
We all have different functions or combinations of functions in the body of Christ. We are called to each use our gifts and talents for the good of the body. It is not wrong to desire the "greater gifts" as Paul even encourages it but the mature Christian accepts the fact that God gives the abilities to people as He sees fit.