Have you ever had the opportunity to listen to a symphony orchestra? It is an amazing experience to watch and listen to 25, 50, or even 100 musicians all playing their own individual instruments, but producing sounds that compliment one another and blend together into one harmonious whole. When all of the members of an orchestra are playing from the same sheet of music the entire collection of people playing together can stir something within an audience that no single one of the members could ever accomplish.
Last year my grandson Kellen was playing the violin in the orchestra at Crossings Christian School. Connie and I went to hear the Christmas concert. While the kids were warming up, before the concert began, each of the kids were doing their own thing. I don’t know what they were playing, but it was noisy, there was no harmony or melody whatsoever, and I thought, “This is not going to go well.” Then, all of a sudden, a lady walked out and stood before all of the kids. She, the conductor, tapped her baton on the music stand in front of her and began to motion towards each section of the orchestra. She pointed to the violins and all of a sudden they were playing the same note. The cellos were next and the exact same thing happened. With each section of instruments the same thing occurred and it was amazing to watch. The concert was beautiful, each of the kids felt so proud of their performance, and I learned that night that there is a great parallel between what I had just witnessed and the church, the Body of Christ.
All of the members of the Body of Christ have been given an instrument to play in God’s great orchestra. We call these instruments spiritual gifts. What a wide variety of instruments are represented here this morning. What a beautiful diversity of instruments we’ve all been given. The instrument, the gifts you’ve been given, can be used to play your own song. You can play your instrument louder than anyone else so that you draw attention to yourself. Others can simply refuse to play their instrument at all. They might say, “I’m not going to play until I get some respect.” Someone else might refuse to play because they don’t feel they are good enough, they don’t feel like they have anything to offer. Neither playing to draw attention to yourself or refusing to pick up your instrument and play will produce the beautiful melodic music that God desires to emanate from His Church. But if, if you and I will fix our eyes on the Conductor and play from the same sheet of music then we cannot even begin to imagine the glorious music that will rise up from the Body of Christ and touch the hearts of people all across this city.
This has been true throughout the history of the Church and yet, as we travel back to Corinth this morning, we’ll see that they had made a mess of things. Some of the people in the church valued the gift they had been given more than any of the other gifts that were present in the church. Others in the church looked at those who had gifts that were different from their own, gifts that maybe they didn’t understand or value, and they let their skepticism be known. Let’s read our Scripture for this morning and then we’ll take a closer look. Turn with me to 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 and let’s read together.
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:1-11 ESV)
In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth he spends three chapters, 1 Corinthians 12-14, on the topic of spiritual gifts. In chapter 12, Paul discusses spiritual gifts and their function within the Body of Christ. In chapter 13, Paul stresses the nature and first priority of love above all. The only proper use of any gift given to any follower of Jesus is to use the gift from a heart of love. In chapter 14, Paul focuses on the gifts of speaking in tongues and prophecy. Here, in chapter 14, Paul lets everyone know that he is more grateful than anyone for the ability to speak in tongues, but then he adds…
19 But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. (1 Corinthians 14:19 NIV)
Paul goes on to emphasize the superiority of prophecy over speaking in tongues in church, among the brothers and sisters in Christ, because of its ability to edify and build up the church.
Spiritual gifts, or the use of spiritual gifts, was a big problem, a divisive problem in Corinth. When you look at the structure of these three chapters you have to notice that Paul placed at the heart of his teaching on spiritual gifts, 1 Corinthians 13. There was tension and division in the church over gifts. Paul is going to teach them about the proper use of spiritual gifts, but right in the middle of his teaching he chose to remind them about love. Not some cultural, societal, touchy-feely kind of love, but the kind of love modeled by Jesus and commanded of His followers. Let’s just read the first 8 verses.
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. (1 Corinthians 13:1-8 ESV)
The people in Corinth were not being “patient and kind.” The people in Corinth were envying, boasting, being arrogant, and rude. They were a noisy orchestra if you will and Paul wanted to help them get on the same sheet of music.
We are only going to cover the first three verses of our Scripture for today because I want to lay the groundwork for the rest of our study over the next several weeks. Understanding these three verses is essential to understanding the rest of 1 Corinthians 12-14. Take a look at verse 1 with me.
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. (1 Corinthians 12:1 ESV)
It is important for you and me to know that Paul didn’t simply think to himself one day, “I think I’ll write to the people of Corinth about spiritual gifts.” The people of Corinth had written a letter to Paul and Paul was answering their questions. See that little phrase, “Now concerning…” It is the Greek phrase “peri de” and it is translated as “Now concerning” or “Now regarding.” The Greek phrase is found six times in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. In the very first instance, found in 1 Corinthians 7:1, we read,
1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” (1 Corinthians 7:1 ESV)
This was not Paul’s belief. In the letter they had written to Paul, they asked him to address the belief held by some in the church and Paul did that in 1 Corinthians 7. As I mentioned, this phrase, “Now concerning…” is found six times in 1 Corinthians and most Bible teachers believe that each time it is used Paul is addressing a topic or issue raised by the folks in Corinth in their letter to him. Here, in 1 Corinthians 12-14, Paul is going to address their questions about spiritual gifts.
The second phrase in verse 1, “I do not want you to be uninformed…” is a popular phrase used by Paul. He used it again in 1 Thessalonians 4:13. Read that verse with me.
13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. (1 Thessalonians 4:13 ESV)
Paul didn’t want the brothers and sisters in Thessalonica to be uninformed about their loved ones, who were in Christ, and who had died. That’s an important topic that is so relevant for you and me isn’t it? We just had the memorial service for Jim Steele yesterday. I spoke at another funeral just three weeks ago. It is vitally important for family members to have the assurance that their loved ones who were in Christ are now in the Lord’s presence in heaven. There are many questions that are asked when a loved one dies, but there should be no question about what happens to our loved ones who are in Christ when they die.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul tells the people in Corinth that he doesn’t want them to be uninformed about the topic of spiritual gifts. There is something that I need to point out to you about the word that is translated “spiritual gifts” in verse 1. It is the Greek word “pneumaticon.” The word literally means, “spiritual people” or “spiritual things.” Most Bible translators think this is the word some of the people of Corinth preferred. Paul does use the word in some of his letters, but he doesn’t use it in the same way a certain segment of the church in Corinth were using it. Turn back to 1 Corinthians 3:1-2 and let me show you how Paul used this same word, “pneumaticon,” in his letter.
1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready… (1 Corinthians 3:1-2 ESV)
Paul said he couldn’t address them as “spiritual people” because they were infants in Christ. Here, in 1 Corinthians 12-14, there was a group of people in the church who were elevating themselves because of their spiritual gifts while there was another group who questioned the validity of that same group’s gifts.
Paul’s preferred word when it comes to talking about spiritual gifts is “charisma.” Paul uses this word 16 times in his letters and five times in 1 Corinthians 12 alone. The root word of “charisma” is “charis” which means “grace.” There is no misunderstanding or misinterpreting grace. Grace is bestowed, it is freely given, not earned. The grace God gives, or bestows on His own people, broadens our understanding of all of God’s wonderful gifts, not just the specific spiritual gifts of those in Corinth. Let me give you just a sampling of how this word “charisma” is used. In Romans 6:23, Paul reminds us that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In Romans 12:6-8, Paul lists some of the gifts that God gives to His people. In Romans 12:6 such a beautiful truth is shared with the people in Rome and with you and me. Paul writes, “We have different gifts (charismata), according to the grace (charis) given to each of us.”
In 2 Corinthians 1:10-11, Paul shared with the people in Corinth about some deadly peril he had faced and how God had delivered him. Paul writes,
10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. (2 Corinthians 1:10-11 NIV)
Paul had absolute confidence that when God delivered him and his traveling partners that many would give thanks for “the gracious favor” (charisma), granted to him in the answering of the prayers of God’s people.
I want us to recognize that this word, “charisma,” is not a technical, precise term used to identify a narrow list of abilities or supernatural gifts like the ability to speak in tongues or gifts that Paul goes into great detail about in 1 Corinthians 14. The giftings of God range from the supernatural to those that nobody might recognize as a special ability given by God. For example, in 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul lists “helps” as a gift given by God’s Spirit. When was the last time that someone helped you and you recognized their help as a special enabling by the Holy Spirit? And the greatest gift of all that God gives to His people is the gift of eternal life.
I wanted to take the time to point this out for us because for the past few decades there have been a group of people in our society who have either given themselves the label or were labeled by others as charismatics. Some, not all, but some who identify themselves as charismatics wear that badge with great pride. Others, some of whom label someone else as a charismatic, use that term in a derogatory way. I wanted to show you the meaning and broad use of the word “charisma” so that you might know that if you have graciously had your eyes opened by the Holy Spirit so that you recognized your great need for God’s grace, if you were graciously drawn by the Holy Spirit to become a follower of Jesus and you received that gracious gift, then you are the recipient of God’s charisma, God’s gifts. Therefore, you my friend are a charismatic, a person who has received God’s manifold gifts. Every follower of Jesus who is here with us this morning is the recipient of God’s charisma, His gracious gifts.
Now, back to Corinth. We’ve seen during our study how the people in Corinth were puffed up with pride, how they had no problem choosing sides, and neglecting others in their fellowship. There’s no question that these same problems plagued them when it came to the topic of spiritual gifts. Let’s move on to verse 2 where Paul writes,
2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. (1 Corinthians 12:2 ESV)
Paul reminds the brothers and sisters in the church at Corinth of their past so as to teach them that their pagan past didn’t prepare them to transition right into the worship and service of God. Pride and arrogance are huge problems and Paul wants them to be humble and not prideful.
Before they received the grace of God they were led astray into idolatry. Paul calls them “mute idols.” In the Old Testament, God, through His prophets constantly pointed out the inability of the people’s idols to do them any good. In Habakkuk 2 we read,
18 “Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman? Or an image that teaches lies? For the one who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. 19 Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Come to life!’ Or to lifeless stone, ‘Wake up!’ Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it.” 20 The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him. (Habakkuk 2:18-20 NIV)
Over and over again God’s people were led away into idolatry. They chose to worship that which had no power and could provide no help instead of the One True and Living God.
If you have been a part of this study then you know that Corinth was filled with temples, temples to pagan gods who in actuality were no gods at all. Many of those to whom Paul was writing in the church had come out of this background. Paul wanted them to know that their religious background had not prepared them to understand the things of the Holy Spirit.
…the Corinthians’ experience of idolatry was not one that prepared them to discern the true nature of spiritual experiences. Since they had participated in the worship of mute idols, they were not equipped to know what one might properly expect to be announced in the name of the one true God of Israel. Clearly they were previously led about in a state of spiritual ignorance, and Paul recognizes the urgency of having that ignorance replaced by a proper understanding of how the Holy Spirit works in the lives of God’s people. (Ciampi and Rosner. The First Letter to the Corinthians. pg. 564.)
I am convinced that we are very much in the same place as those in Corinth in the first century. Today, we hear so many people talk about how they are “spiritual” but not religious. I’m not real sure how you can define what “spiritual-but-not-religious” means because I’ve heard so many varieties. Some believe in God, but really are turned off by Jesus-is-the-way-to-God idea. Some don’t believe in the God of the Bible at all, but look to a higher power for comfort and support. Some feel at home in nature and feel God reverberating through the pine trees and babbling brooks of the mountains. Some spiritually minded people combine parts of Buddhism with a dab of Jewish mysticism and also like to stay up on their horoscope…religiously.
I would like to tell you that growing up in church has definitely better prepared you to understand spiritual matters from a biblical point of view, but I’m not so sure of that after I read the study that came out this week from George Barna at the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University. The study, “What Does It Mean When People Say They Are Christians?” is filled with eye openers, but the finding I found most interesting, or maybe I should say disturbing, is what Christians believe about the Holy Spirit. Let me read you just one paragraph.
Of self-identified Christians, 58 percent contend that the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being but is merely a symbol of God’s power, presence, or purity. Surprisingly, those who identify as born-again Christians are even more likely to hold that view (62 percent), and half of “theological born-again Christians” also deny the Spirit is a being. Even among those with the most biblical worldview—the “integrated disciples”—40 percent hold an unbiblical view of the Holy Spirit. (Joe Carter. Majority of Self-Identified Christians Do Not Believe the Holy Spirit is Real. https://bit.ly/2XRt4la)
Just because you grew up in church doesn’t mean you were taught the Scriptures and learned biblical truth. Whether you are coming from a I-grew-up-in-church background, an I’m spiritual but not religious background, or some other background–it is so important that we not assume anything and for the next few weeks simply gather around God’s Word and allow the Spirit of God to teach us the Word of God. God’s got some incredible lessons awaiting us if we will only have ears to hear and a willing desire to learn and apply.
One final thing before we go. Let’s take a look at verse 3 where Paul writes,
3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3 ESV)
Before Paul gets into the details about the gifts of the Spirit he first wants the divided parties in the church to be able to recognize the value and validity of one another’s gifting. Some have said that the phrases “Jesus is accursed” and “Jesus is Lord” are tests to be used to determine if the gifting is from God or not, but that just can’t be what Paul was attempting to accomplish. Paul, as a Jewish convert would have been well familiar with the phrase “Jesus is accursed” because of what is written in Deuteronomy 21:23. Paul even cited that passage when he wrote to the people in Galatia. Read Galatians 3:13 with me.
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us– for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”– (Galatians 3:13 ESV)
Jesus died in our place, He took the punishment that was due you and me, in order to pay the price for our reconciliation with the Father. By laying out the two phrases “Jesus is accursed” and “Jesus is Lord,” Paul isn’t giving them a test to determine if a gift is from God or not, but he is showing them who has the Spirit and who doesn’t. They may have been divided over gifts, but if those on either side of the divide confessed Jesus as their Lord then they were brothers and sisters in Jesus.
The divide continues to this day and we need to hear Paul’s teaching. If you are a follower of Jesus then you are a recipient of His grace, His charisma, and He has gifted you in order to build up the Body of Christ and bring glory and honor to God the Father. If you are not a follower of Jesus then here’s some good news–God wants to gift you with the greatest gift ever given this very morning–the gift of eternal life, abundant life that is only found in relationship with His Son, Jesus, our Savior. Won’t you receive His gift?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
September 26, 2021
1 Corinthians 12:1-3