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« Sunday Inspiration from The High Calling | Home | Defining “Spiritual Gifts” »

The Ministry of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12-14

By Mark D. Roberts | Monday, November 10, 2008

Part 3 of series: Spiritual Gifts in the Body of Christ
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So far in this series on Spiritual Gifts in the Body of Christ, I’ve explained that the Holy Spirit is like a bodybuilder who seeks to build up the body of Christ. The Spirit does this, in part, by empowering members of the body with what we call spiritual gifts. In 1 Corinthians 12-14 we find substantial teaching about these gifts.

When we seek to understand the bodybuilding ministry of the Spirit by studying these chapters, we confront a couple of knotty problems. First of all, Paul’s discussion was not intended as a systematic theology of the Spirit’s ministry, but rather as a specific response to a troublesome situation in Corinth. Many essential points about the Spirit were not mentioned by Paul because they were not immediately relevant to the problem at hand. Plus, some of what Paul said is very difficult for us to interpret because we don’t know exactly what behavior he was addressing (for example, the passage about women in 14:34-35). As we attempt to derive instruction on the Spirit for ourselves from 1 Corinthians, we must keep in mind the original purpose and focus of Paul’s counsel. (Photo: A picture of the remains of ancient Corinth.)

Second, because Paul’s discussion of spiritual empowerment is situational and not systematic, those who attempt to construct more general teaching on spiritual gifts do not agree on many of the details. Wise, well-educated, Christ-centered, Bible-believing, Spirit-filled Christians have come up with different interpretations of 1 Corinthians 12-14. There is no widespread consensus on many of the particulars in this passage and its application to the church today.

Nevertheless, I do believe that we can derive a solid understanding of spiritual gifts from 1 Corinthians 12-14. In my interpretation of these chapters, I will try to be faithful to the text of Scripture. As I explain this passage, I will also note some of the differences of opinion among Christians so that you can weigh my interpretation carefully in light of other options. You will find that the rest of this blog series will stick closely to the content and order of the biblical text.

Though scholars and pastors differ on some of the details concerning spiritual gifts, most are agreed on the main points, and these are what really matter for our purposes here. Putting secondary concerns aside, this passage teaches that the Holy Spirit empowers all members of the church for the purpose of building up the church, the body of Christ. Your assignment as an individual Christian, therefore, is to contribute to this bodybuilding process through faithfully exercising the gifts that the Spirit gives you.

What are Spiritual Gifts?

What are spiritual gifts? Paul includes “gifts” among the empowerments provided by the Holy Spirit:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of serving, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of energizing, but the same God who energizes everything in everyone. The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the common good (1 Cor 12:4-7, my translation).

Among that which God provides, Paul includes “gifts” from the Spirit, that which we call “spiritual gifts.”

The Greek word translated as “gift” is, literally, charisma. It does not carry our connotation of “charisma,” however, as when we say, “That political candidate has lots of charisma.” Rather, charisma refers to something that has been freely given. A charisma is not the Christmas present you have to give because it’s expected of you, but something you give freely and joyously because you want to. In fact the Greek word charisma comes from the Greek word charis, or “grace.” A charisma, therefore, is a little bit of grace. When we become Christians, we receive a giant, once-never-to-be-repeated gift of grace in our salvation (Eph 2:8). Yet that does not exhaust God’s giving to us. Throughout the rest of our lives as believers, the Spirit keeps on giving still more grace, tidbits of grace, instances of charisma – what we call “spiritual gifts.”

Unfortunately for our purposes, Paul never gives a definition of these bits of grace. In 1 Corinthians 12 he does provide a list of examples, and from this list we can more-or-less figure out a definition of spiritual gifts. To this list I’ll turn in my next post in this series.

Topics: Spiritual Gifts |

2 Responses to “The Ministry of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12-14”

  1. Mark D. Roberts on spiritual gifts | The Daily Scroll Says:
    November 10th, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    […] 11/10) Part 3: “The Ministry of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12-14“ Related posts:“Women’s Ministry: Why Ethics Matters” Sarah Flashing […]

  2. L.L. Barkat Says:
    November 11th, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Just stopping in to say that I extended an invitation to you…


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