In the Spirit
In the absence of the completed word of God, spiritual gifts were necessary for the early church to carry out its mission. Today, if a question comes up, all that has to be done is to find the appropriate scriptures which provide the answer. But in New Testament times, it was not so easy because the sacred writings were still in the process of being lived out and then being written. The panoply of spiritual gifts were available in the local congregations so that the local church could then function in accordance with the dictates of King Jesus, and the brethren could learn to observe all that Jesus commanded. As Paul began this letter to the Corinthian congregation, he noted, "You are not lacking any gift" (I Corinthians 1:7). But because the gift was under the control of the user, there was some abuse and misuse of those manifestations of the Spirit, and the apostle Paul was compelled to write giving directions for the correction of such improper usage. He introduces his topic thusly: "Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware" (I Corinthians 12:1).
- Demon priests - The pagans have always had their demon priests, their shamans, their mediums, their sages, their medicine men. God, in driving such paganism out of Israel in preparation for the coming of Christianity, had to turn His people away from listening to those voices of the darkness. As Moses prepared to make his departure, he instructed the children of Israel before they crossed the Jordan to take the promised land from the Canaanites. "There shall not be found among you," he animadverted, "anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or on who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead" (Deuteronomy 18:10,11). Centuries later, the Lord would speak through the prophet Isaiah to the people, commenting, "And when they say to you, ‘Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?" (Isaiah 8:19). These "oracles" would often go into a trance in order to receive their information from demonic forces.
- Visions from the Lord - The New Testament apostles and prophets themselves would often go into a trance when receiving information from the Lord. The apostle Peter, for example, in receiving the vision of the blanket with unclean animals on it — which was preparing him for the acceptance of the Gentiles into the church — is described as falling "into a trance" (Acts 10:10). When the apostle John received his apocalyptic visions which are entitled "the book of Revelation," his words were, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day" (Revelation 1:10), meaning that he also went into a trance-like state.
- Clarification - Many of these Corinthian brethren had come out of paganism. The apostle notes this, stating, "You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols, however you were led" (I Corinthians 12:2). How, then, were these brethren to tell the difference between the pagan oracles and those who spoke the truths of God. "Therefore I make known to you," Paul clarifies, "that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed’; and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit" (I Corinthians 12:3). When a medium is in a trance-like state, the demonic forces are going to curse Jesus rather than call Him Lord. And those who would call Him Lord in that state would be those who were receiving revelation from the Holy Spirit and were to be listened to by those first century Christians.
Even today there are those who pay "attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (I Timothy 4:1), whether it results in Catholicism or the New Age movement. But for us who believe and know the truth, we will consult the "living oracles," the completed written word of God!
Manifestations of the Spirit
Forgiveness of sins and the indwelling Holy Spirit cannot be seen. The devil, of course, can take advantage of that fact and offer falsities pretending to offer forgiveness and the Spirit. Because these are in the realm of the unseen, many are duped into believing that they are saved when they are in fact just as lost as ever. But how can a sincere individual know that he is forgiven? In our time we can consult the written, living, and abiding word of God in order to know what to believe and do to be saved. But in the first century AD, the sacred pages constituting what we call the New Testament had not yet been composed, so the early church was dependent upon external, visible signs and prophecies to guide them in the paths of righteousness. Hence it was that God gave what He called gifts of the Spirit or manifestations of the Spirit to confirm the testimony concerning Jesus, to confirm the doctrines and practices implemented by the apostles, and to enable the early church to function in the absence of the written word of God.
- General listing - Paul wants to talk about the abuses that existed in the church at Corinth concerning the spiritual gifts. "Now there are varieties of gifts," he says, "but the same Spirit" (I Corinthians 12:4). This is what the apostle will be discussing over the next several chapters. "And there are varieties of ministries," he adds, "and the same Lord" (I Corinthians 12:5). This is the listing mentioned in the Ephesian epistle: As Paul talks about Christ’s ascension to glory, where as the newly crowned King He gives gifts. "And He [the Lord] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers …" (Ephesians 4:11). These gifts of Jesus to the church are "the varieties of ministries" of the Lord in Paul’s comments to the Corinthian brethren. "And there are varieties of effects," he also notes, "but the same God who works all things in all persons" (I Corinthians 12:6). These are the gifts of grace given to members of the early church and continuing on until Jesus comes. Paul puts it in these words: "And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly; if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness" (Romans 12:6-8). Here, the gift of prophecy has to do with simply speaking forth the words of God, not an inspired utterance as in the case of the listing of prophets in Ephesians 4 or in the I Corinthians 12 listing. Romans 12 parallels the listing in I Peter 4: "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; whoever serves, let him do so by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ …" (I Peter 4:10,11). Today, as well as in the first century, those who speak are to prophesy [uninspired], or speak, the utterances of God, and not their own rogue ideas.
- Manifestations - When Paul introduces his topic, he speaks of gifts of the Spirit. When he returns to his direct comments, he states, "But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (I Corinthians 12:7). These, then, are going to be very visible, or manifest, exhibitions from the Holy Spirit working through each who possesses one or more of such gifts.
While not specified in I Corinthians, these gifts were given only through the laying on of hands of the apostles. These manifestations of the Spirit were critical in laying out the direction the early church was to follow, and in enabling the apostles to establish congregations relatively quickly so that they could move the gospel on to the next location.
The Working of the Spirit
One of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to orchestrate the plan of God on earth. The book of Acts, for example, opens by expressing that even Jesus, after His resurrection, "had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen" (Acts 1:2). The church had to be brought into existence by the action of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Acts chapter two, and it had to continue to be guided in its direction and outreach by that same Spirit. Hence, in accordance with the will of Jesus, the Holy Spirit established the kingdom of heaven first in Jerusalem, then extended it to Judea and Samaria, and finally to the remotest parts of the earth. Over and over the same cycle was repeated, as the writer of the book of Hebrews noted, concerning the exceedingly great salvation that had been ushered in, and in which all could participate: "After it was at the first spoken through the Lord," the writer commented, "it was confirmed to us by those who heard [the apostles], God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will" (Hebrews 2:3,4). These gifts of the Holy Spirit are generally listed in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthian brethren.
- Manifestations of the Spirit - It is important to re-emphasize that these gifts of the Spirit are also called manifestations of the Spirit; they had to be so distinctly different from the normal course of human actions and conversations that they served to confirm the word spoken by the apostles. "For to one," says the apostle Paul, "is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit …" (I Corinthians 12:8,9). If these were standard wisdom, knowledge, or faith, they would not be manifestations. This gift of knowledge, therefore, would be a gift that brought the special knowledge of the instruction and revelation of the Lord as contrasted to knowledge which could be garnered at a library. If the congregation needed to know about "elders" in the church, for example, someone with the gift of knowledge could communicate the Lord’s will in that area. The gift of wisdom would be a gift that especially brought out the wisdom from above in contrast to the wisdom of this world; the wisdom of God again has to come through some process of revelation. The gift of faith would be exhibited in Christians who could expound on the principles of the faith of Christ in contradistinction to the regulations of the law of Moses, and be able to live the types of lives to demonstrate how those principles played out on the stage of action for the glory of King Jesus.
- Strikingly obvious manifestations - Other gifts were designed to be very visible to confirm the testimony concerning Jesus, or to verify the doctrines and practices of the early church. "To another," adds the apostle, was given "gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues" (I Corinthians 12:9,10). The healings Philip performed in first taking the gospel to Samaria confirmed that Jesus was indeed risen from the dead, and set the stage for the acceptance of the Samaritans as equal heirs of the gospel of Christ. These other gifts, likewise, were used in all aspects of the life and growth of the first century church, and were critical in laying the foundation of the church upon the apostles and new covenant prophets.
"To each one," the apostle Paul had emphasized, was given a manifestation of the Spirit "for the common good." Thus the early church was able to spread very rapidly to all the world, to be able to go through the tremendous persecution and suffering it endured, and to be established as a historical fact as part of the basis the people of the twenty-first century have for believing in the teachings of the New Testament. Praise God for His infinite and long-reaching wisdom!
Gifts Resulting in Unity
"There is one body and one Spirit," the apostle Paul had stated. In the language of an earlier generation in America, the church is constitutionally and intentionally one. The Spirit produced that unity, and the brethren were to be "diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3,4). In the first century churches, there was no completed, written set of scriptures called The New Testament. Hence the local congregations were dependent upon individuals having gifts of manifestations of the Spirit in order to effectively disseminate the gospel and to function as a unit for that purpose. The apostle thus emphasizes that gifts were given through the same Spirit, ministries were mobilized by the same Lord, and the effects of grace were given by the same God. Furthermore, the manifestations of the Spirit were given for the common good. The goal was for the church at Corinth, for example, to work together in their usage of their gifts rather than being split into factions.
- Spiritual gifts distributed – The church belongs to Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit is responsible for orchestrating and directing the affairs of the church in accordance with the will of Christ. Because men and Christians possess free will, the Spirit has to accomplish His purposes without violating that basic parameter. The spiritual gifts, then, were under the control of the possessor of the gifts, and the Spirit would gauge the individuals to whom He was contemplating giving those gifts. "But one and the same Spirit," Paul again emphasizes, "works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills" (I Corinthians 12:11). The Spirit wanted to maintain the unity of the congregation in Corinth, the variety of gifts was distributed throughout the congregation through the laying on the apostles’ hands. Some received no gift, some received one gift, some received multiple gifts, and some received latent gifts which would surface later in the saint’s life. The user of the gifts was receiving these instructions in this section of Paul’s letter to correct abuses in the exercise of these gifts.
- One body – As there is one Spirit, so also is there one body. As there is one body of Christ – the church – on a large scale, so also is there the body of Christ on a local scale. As the body of Christ on a large scale has one head and is to be united, so the local congregation is to have one Head and to be united. "For as the body is one," Paul avers, "and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ" (I Corinthians 12:12). The local congregation is to function as a team, with the differing members of the team playing their parts and yet accomplishing the purpose of the whole. This requires unity and cooperation, as contrasted to self-interest and fracturing.
- Immersed into one body – "For in one spirit," is the Wilson rendition of the first portion of the verse, "we were all immersed into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slave or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit" (I Corinthians 12:13). The tenor and thrust of the new covenant would parallel this with Acts 2:38. "In one spirit," parallels the repentant attitude which a person must have in following Christ. "All immersed into one body" contains the same basic thought as immersion in Jesus’ name and into Christ. "All made to drink of one Spirit" is exactly in line with receiving the indwelling Spirit at the believer’s immersion.
Oneness, or unity, is the major driving force of the apostle in this section of the epistle. The backgrounds of the saints, whether Jew or Greek, whether slave or free, was irrelevant. The point was that now they were in the body of Christ, and were to lay aside the self-serving spirit which plagues the world, and subject themselves to the will of Christ. "For the body," says the apostle, "is not one member, but many" (I Corinthians 12:14).
God Places the Members
The one true church really belongs to Christ. It also belongs to God the Father, because there is not any super distinction or competition between them. Hence the church at Corinth is referred to by the apostle as "the church of God which is at Corinth." And this church of God at Corinth was riddled by infighting and division. The apostle Paul, then, is laboring in this epistle to get rid of the factions and contentions inside the congregation. One of the avenues of his approach has been to stress the importance of the Lord’s Supper, and the concomitant concepts of their being in fellowship with the Lord Jesus through His body and blood, and therefore being in fellowship with one another. "Since there is one bread," he had written, "we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread" (I Corinthians 10:17). "The members of the body," he had also noted, "though they are many, are one body." "In one spirit," was another of his points, "we were all immersed into one body … and all made to drink of one Spirit" (I Corinthians 12:12,13).
- Part of the body - One of the great challenges of church leadership is bringing people into the body of Christ, and getting them to understand and feel like they are key parts of the local congregation. Where the flesh has not been totally put to death, there will be those who in some way try to elevate themselves above others in the congregation, and engage in subtle or not-so-subtle put-downs of other members of the local body of Christ. "For since there is jealousy and strife among you," was the apostle’s earlier comment, "are you not fleshly" (I Corinthians 3:3). Therefore, Paul continues with his instruction and exhortation. "For the body is not one member," he again stresses, "but many" (I Corinthians 12:14). The Father designed the body of Christ before the foundation of the world, and intended it from the beginning to consist of variegated members, performing different functions. To counteract the feelings of not being welcome, or the put-downs that some Christians experience, the apostle and the Holy Spirit communicate: "If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body" (I Corinthians 12:15,16). The value of each member is the value Christ places on him, regardless of whether he places any value on himself or feels like other members do not value him.
- God’s placement - Those who put teams together look for different characteristics in the individuals whom they recruit for the various positions on the team. They do not expect that all the team members should be identical, nor do they want them to be. So it is with the body of Christ. "If the whole body were an eye," queries the apostle, "where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing," he adds, "where would the sense of smell be?" (I Corinthians 12:17). Obviously it takes each different organ to constitute the physical body, and the application to the spiritual body of Christ is pretty clear. And just as the physical body was designed by God, so also the body of Christ. "But now God has placed the members," Paul points out, "each one of them, in the body, just as He desired" (I Corinthians 12:18). Each has been specifically placed; each is very important in God’s overall plan.
The true church is not of human origin. Man does not set the terms of membership; man does not determine the purpose nor the organization. Hence the church’s job is to function in accordance with the heavenly directives, recognizing that each individual in the congregation is here at this specific time because of the will and design of God. The members of the local body are therefore to appreciate what each brings to the functioning of the congregation, and each member is to recognize how important he is to Christ and the long-term plan of God!
Spreading the Honor
The Father, out of His abundance, gives to us who lack. From "the riches of His glory" comes the mystery — "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). "God, being rich in mercy," asseverates Paul, and "because of His great love with which He loved us," love demonstrated even in the desperateness of our lost and darkened condition, "made us alive together with Christ" (Ephesians 2:4,5). His character is such that He willingly gives His glory, His honor, His grace, His Holy Spirit, and His mercy! Inasmuch as He expects His children to "become partakers of the divine nature," it is not surprising if He should constitute the church in such a way as part of its inner workings require the development of His character in each disciple of Christ. Honor, along with grace and mercy, would be distributed from stronger members, out of their abundance, to those who lack and who are weaker.
- God is in charge - The Father put all things in subjection under Christ’s feet, "and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body" (Ephesians 1:22,23). Since Christ is the head, then the issue of who is in charge is settled; the directives which emanate from heaven are thus to be implemented by local leaders. "God has placed the members," Paul had noted, "just as He desired." The goal of God is for the individual saints to learn teamwork through their interactions in functioning as the local congregation. No one, therefore, is in a position to elevate himself or his personal strengths above the others. "And if they were all one member," is part of Paul’s reasoning process here, "where would the body be?" (I Corinthians 12:19). A body, by definition, consists of a head, hands, feet, eyes, and ears, as well as many other organs and appendages. Different members of Christ’s body, by that same definition, are not going to be identical in function. The point: "But now there are many members, but one body" (I Corinthians 12:20). Now to the application: "And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ " (I Corinthians 12:21). God is in charge, and He placed each saint where He wants in the body. So no one in Christ has the authority to say that they do not need the other members of the local congregation.
- Need for one another - God is the One who designed the church to carry out His mission. Consequently, He is the One who knows where each part of the body is supposed to fit, and what they are to accomplish. The different parts of the body, therefore, are not capable of knowing the value of the other members because their picture of what God is trying specifically to accomplish through that other member is too small. No member, then, can say that he doesn’t need the next member. "On the contrary," avers the apostle Paul, "it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness, whereas our seemly members have no need of it" (I Corinthians 12:22-24). Those members, which have more visible strength, more visible honor, and more visible attractiveness, can give out of their abundance to those who lack. This in part is how the character of Christ is developed in each member, and so that the body will function with maximum effectiveness.
"But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another" (I Corinthians 12:24,25). This is how the Head wants to spread the honor and care around; so let’s participate!
Rejoicing and Suffering Together
The physical body of man is very much a unit. Whether the hurt or the irritation is from a torn toenail or from a throbbing headache, the parts of the body feel the pain together. Likewise those special moments of joy are experienced together as the warmth of the event floods through. God, then, in constituting the church, termed it "the body of Christ" in order for the saints to have a touchstone on which to base their interactions with one another. Each part of the body therefore has honor as part of the body; the hair follicle is of no less value than the heart; it simply has a different function. "God has so composed the body" are the words of the apostle. Just as the physical body of a human being is "fearfully and wonderfully made," even more so is the spiritual body of Christ. As the physical body is a marvel of engineering, even more so the local congregation is a marvel of spiritual engineering.
- From the top down - All things flow from the Head of the body, Christ Himself. Hence it is that He should be the leader in all areas for His body of disciples. "Therefore," says the scripture, "He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in what He suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted" (Hebrews 2:17,18). This High Priest, then, having experienced the suffering and the of joy of having lived in the flesh, is able "to sympathize with our weaknesses." When the saints rejoice, He rejoices; when the saints suffer, He suffers with them.
- In Christ - In writing to the congregation at Philippi, the apostle Paul also was appealing to the brethren to function in unity. To do this, he referenced certain foundational qualities, each prefaced with the word if for emphasis. "If therefore," he says, "there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion …" (Philippians 2:1). It is clear, then, that in the body of Christ there is to be plenty of sympathy (of the right kind), empathy, and compassion in imitation of the kind and compassionate Savior.
- Being there for one another - Words like love and care get thrown around enough so that to some degree they lose their impact. But the concepts are real, powerful, and of the things that last. The apostle notes that the church of God in Corinth was so constituted by the Father that "there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another." It is thusly manifest that in the first place, they should care for one another, and secondly, that they should care equally strongly about one another. "Rejoice with those who rejoice," the apostle had encouraged the congregation at Rome, "and weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15). In Corinth, then, and thus throughout all the congregations of Christ, "if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it" (I Corinthians 12:26). Whether in suffering or sorrow, whether in honor or exhilaration, the brethren are to be there for each other, with no animosity or envy over the other brother’s circumstances.
As important as the body of Christ is, the Lord Himself never forgets that it consists of individuals. The Good Shepherd indicated that He would leave the safe sheep for the one sheep that was lost. He focuses on strengthening the individual so that the whole body then is strengthened and can function as He intends it. "Now you are Christ’s body," is the way the apostle Paul states it, "and individually members of it" (I Corinthians 12:27).
God Has Appointed
The true church of Christ is being built by Jesus Christ. While there are many man-made organizations claiming to be Christ’s church, and there is obviously much twisting of the word and intent of the Great King, the fact remains that there is a church that Jesus is building. He has had, and currently has, the offices He desires in the church, and the specific disciples in place to fill those offices. "But now God has placed the members," Paul had reminded the brethren in Corinth, "each one of them, in the body, just as He desires" (I Corinthians 12:18). As an example of God’s placement, the apostle Paul had stated of King David approvingly in his remarks to the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia, that "he had served the purpose of God in his own generation," (Acts 13:36). How much more, then, those "upon whom the ends of the ages have come."
- God’s placement - God has known from before the foundation of the world what He would need to accomplish His purposes, and who He would need to carry out His will. The apostle Paul, then, in speaking to the church at Corinth, emphasizes what God had done to establish the church in the first century, and touched on the roles that were being played out on that stage. "And God has appointed in the church," he notes, "first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues" (I Corinthians 12:28). The apostles were first, the doctrines and practices of the new covenant coming through them. The New Testament prophets were second to the apostles, and were critical in the continuing expansion of the church as the apostles had to continue to move on to new ground; while they could prophesy, they could not offer new doctrines. The church, in the words of the apostle, was "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone" (Ephesians 2:20). Then in importance would come the teachers of the truths of God, those who could expound upon the principles of the foundation already laid and thus edify the brethren. The visible and miraculous then followed in importance, primarily being used to confirm the doctrines and teachings expounded by the three previously mentioned offices. It is worth re-emphasizing, that God appointed these offices and placed the appropriate members in them.
- The Spirit distributes - The apostle had made the point that God placed each member in the body just as He desired. He had clearly outlined that each member was important, and that where necessary more abundant honor was bestowed on less "seemly" or "presentable" members. If one suffered, they all suffered; if one was honored, they all shared in the honor. But in terms of function, he is making the point that some have to come first in standing because of what their function in the body of Christ was. "But one and the same Spirit works all these things," he had asseverated, "distributing to each one individually just as He wills" (I Corinthians 12:11). Hence, to put certain members in their places, who had apparently lost a bit of perspective on the roles to be played in the congregation, Paul asks a series of questions to make his point: "All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healing, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?" (I Corinthians 12:29,30).
The question might be posed: Can a person be a Christian without having one of these gifts? The obvious answer is in the affirmative. That being the case, those who were gifted had no reason to think they could look down on those who filled the place of the ungifted. "But earnestly desire the greater gifts," he encourages, bringing up the point that other gifts might be latent in some of the gifted brethren. To help the brethren keep the proper perspective, he is going to go back to the foundational character trait of God, and discuss love. "And I show you a still more excellent way," is his introduction (I Corinthians 12:31).