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Doctrine of the Holy Spirit - The Work of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Part 1) Print E-mail
Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

I.  Introduction:

 Tonight we begin a four part study through 1 Corinthians 12-14.  Lord willing, my outline will run as follows: 12:1-30 tonight, 14:1-19 next week, 12:31-13:13 on the day of our picnic, and 14:20-40 on the last Sunday of May.  Since Glenna and I will be out of town on Memorial Day, we are thinking about having a ‘singing’ that night, but more on that later.  I am following the break-up that Carson uses in his book Showing the Spirit.  I have mentioned before how much this book has helped me and I want to look at it more specifically over the next few weeks.

Let me begin tonight with some thoughts on the background of these chapters. First, we know that Paul is addressing some serious divisions in the Church at Corinth in this letter. The Church has apparently posed some questions to him that he is answering throughout the letter. Second, chapters 12-14 are answering a question about spiritual gifts (12:1). It seems that the Church could be divided into at least two groups. The first group was emphasizing the gift of tongues and its importance in corporate worship. The second group did not agree with this approach and possibly saw tongues as connected too closely to their former experiences with pagan worship (see 12:2-3). Paul is addressing both groups in these chapters and is correcting errors from both sides. Carson notes: “Both parties must expand their horizons: the charismatics (first group above) should not feel they have some exclusive claim on the Spirit, and the noncharismatics (second group above) should not be writing them off.”1 We want to keep these ideas in our minds as we work through the text over the next few weeks.


II. Passage:

A. 12:1-3 Let me just say a word about these verses. As noted above, Paul introduces what he will be talking about in the next three chapters in verse 1. Some were possibly struggling with their former pagan practices and so Paul addresses this first by stating that the Spirit would never lead us to say Jesus is accursed. Rather, He leads us to say Jesus is Lord. This is not the only criteria required in judging spirits, but it is central to the whole issue. Thus, it can be a good starting point. I should also note that in verse 1 Paul uses a different word (pneumatikon) to introduce the subject than he uses later (charisma). The probable explanation for this is that ‘pnuematikon’ would have been the word that the Corinthians used and Paul wanted to stress the fact that all gifts were grace gifts from God, or ‘charisma.’ Thus, he changes words to refer to the same idea, while emphasizing grace.


B. 12:4-11 I want to spend the majority of our time tonight dealing with these verses and particularly attempting to define the gifts that Paul mentions in verses 8-10. Before we go there, let me just note the fact that Paul is already emphasizing the unity that we have as believers. Yes, there is diversity (through the varieties of gifts…service…and activities), but these are given by the same Spirit…Lord…and God. In the midst of this diversity, we are to maintain unity, an argument that he will continue to make in verses 12-30. Also, verse 7 tells us two important things. First, each believer has a gift, or the manifestation of the Spirit. All believers are given gift(s) of the Spirit. Second, these gifts are given for the common good. These gifts are given to encourage and edify the Body, another point to which Paul will later return (see 14:1ff). The gifts are given to encourage us and build us up and not to tear us apart. We would do well to consistently remind ourselves of such truth.

Let’s now turn to the individual gifts that Paul mentions here:

1. the utterance of wisdom, the utterance of knowledge (v. 8)- I put these two together not because I think that they are exactly the same, but simply because I am not sure how to completely distinguish them. Both involve an ‘utterance’ or ‘message.’ These messages are given from the Spirit to the individual who then delivers them to the Church. Some see these as being revelations that could not be acquired in any other way but direct revelation, while Carson is not sure that the text demands such.2 Either way, they are simultaneous messages given to encourage or build up the Body.

2. faith (v. 9)- This ‘faith’ would be distinguished from the saving faith that all believers possess and have been given by God. Rather, it refers to faith for “some extraordinary work” that is not explicitly stated in the text.3 An example of this might be when my former pastor (Lee) was praying for one of the children in the Church who had been taken to the emergency room and received a distinct affirmation that the child would be alright, which was later confirmed. When telling me the story, he referred to this as a possible example of this gift. At that point in his life it was the only time that he had experienced such distinct assurance.

3. gifts of healing (v. 9)- A literal translation of this phrase would be ‘gifts of healings.’ The fact that both words are plural in the original is noteworthy. The idea of someone having a ‘gift of healing’ and being able to heal any and all is not really supported in the text. Rather, someone may be given a gift of a healing at a particular time. Carson leaves open the possibility of someone having a gift to heal a certain sickness or disease, while stating that individuals need to avoid the idea of starting a “healing ministry.”4 Thus, we should pray and long for the Lord to give us gifts of healings.

4. working of miracles (v. 10)- Once again both of the words are plural and should be translated ‘workings of miracles.’ This gift probably refers to miracles outside of just physical healings such as “exorcisms, nature miracles, and other displays of diving energy.”5

5. prophecy (v. 10)- Paul will discuss the gift of prophecy at length in chapter 14, but let me just offer a simple definition at this point: “Prophecy is the reception and subsequent transmission of spontaneous, divinely originating revelation.”6 As we have already said, prophecy can refer to different things in the Bible and across the Old and New Testaments. It can, and probably does more often than we recognize, take place during preaching. Yet, Paul does seem to distinguish it from just simply preaching. Paul commands us to especially desire this gift (14:1) and so, we will continue to consider it as we work through these chapters.

6. distinguish between spirits (v. 10)- Paul believes and teaches the truth that there is another world beyond the one that our senses can behold. The New Testament writers tell us that our enemies are real and determined to deceive us. Thus, at times we will need this gift to discern between the forces of our enemy and the Holy Spirit.

7. various kinds of tongues (v. 10)- Along with prophecy, Paul will examine this gift more closely in chapter 14. Of course, many questions immediately come to mind. Is this the same thing as what we see in Acts 2? Are these human languages or something else? What about the use of tongues in private? These and other questions need to be considered. Let me begin with a definition that I am basing on Carson’s conclusions: The gift of tongues is speaking a message with cognitive, or intelligible, content in a language unknown to the speaker.7 As I argued earlier in this series, I see the ‘tongues of fire’ in Acts 2 as referring to human languages that were unknown to those speaking them. Our definition would fit this interpretation. Yet, it also allows for more than just the experience in Acts 2, which chapter 14 seems to necessitate. Thus, they can be human languages but are not necessarily. Whatever form they take, they will contain a cognitive, or intelligible, message. This is necessitated by the fact that they can be interpreted. If they are mere gibberish, then what is the point of interpretation (see below)? As for the issue of their private use, I will address this in my comments on chapter 14.

8. interpretation of tongues (v. 10)- If the above definition is correct, then in order for the message of tongues to be understood, then an interpreter is needed. The interpreter will be able to understand the cognitive message and relay it to the listeners. At times, this gift is either largely ignored in contemporary settings, or unhelpfully practiced. Carson mentions the example of a friend quoting from John 1 in Greek and receiving an interpretation that had nothing to do with that passage. Yet, he goes on to note that such an example does not deny the existence of tongues but merely serves to caution us against accepting all contemporary practices.8 Paul will teach the necessary connection between public tongues and the gift of interpretation in chapter 14.

Paul goes on to note in verse 11 that the Spirit is sovereign over the giving of the gifts. Yet, this does not negate his command (and our responsibility) to seek the gifts (see 12:31 and 14:1). He is sovereign and we are still responsible.

C. 12:12-30 Let me just note a couple of things from these verses. First, I have already explained my understanding of the ‘baptism of the Spirit’ in verses 12-13. Second, the over-all point in these verses is that even though a body may have many members, it is still one body. In the same way, even though the Church may have people with various gifts, the body is still unified and in need of each and every person. Thus, there should be no division based on gifts (see in particular verses 24b-25). Finally, Paul points out that we will not all have the same gifts in verses 27-30. Look at those verses with me. The rhetorical questions that he asks in verse 30 are all meant to be answered in the negative. This is important because it seemingly denies the teaching of a second baptism of the Spirit evidenced by tongues. Paul flat out tells us that not all will speak in tongues and we should avoid using this gift as evidence for a second blessing of the Spirit. Carson is emphatic on this point and notes: “If the charismatic movement would firmly renounce, on biblical grounds, not the gift of tongues but the idea that tongues constitute a special sign of second blessing, a very substantial part of the wall between charismatics and noncharismatics would come crashing down. Does 1 Corinthians 12 demand any less?”9 It is hard to argue with such a conclusion without simply ignoring Paul’s question in verse 30.

III. Conclusion:

Even though there is much more to consider in these chapters, is it not obvious from the outset that Paul is giving us direction for use of the gifts without denouncing them altogether. Thus, wherever we may be on the particular issue of gifts, we need to hear what he is saying. We need not be polarized by either extreme (the necessary practice of certain gifts or the complete denial of the continual existence of certain gifts). Rather, as always, we need to labor to hold fast to what Paul is teaching us in both our beliefs and practices. May God grant us grace, wisdom, and courage to do just that. Amen.

1 D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987), p. 27.

2 Ibid., 38.

3 Ibid., 38-39.

4 Ibid., 39-40.

5 Ibid., 40.

6 Ibid., 93-94, Carson gives credit to Wayne Grudem for the content of this definition.

7 Ibid., p. 77-88.

8 Ibid., p. 87-88.

9 Ibid., p. 50.

Last Updated ( Sunday, 17 May 2009 )

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