There has been, and probably always will be, a great debate over spiritual gifts and their role in the Church. Richard L. Pratt (and editor Max Anders) walk Christians through this 1 Corinthians controversy in the Holman Commentary. We’ve included an excerpt of this part of the commentary, but we did cut quite a bit out because it comes with SO much information.
Every section has a meaningful quote, real-life stories, plenty of summaries, verse-by-verse commentary, introductions, application points, teaching tips, and lots of direction for further discovery. We couldn’t ask for more in a commentary!
So, here are just a few parts of the Holman Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:1-30.
“Let us all then, considering these things, imitate the love of these members; let us not in any wise do the contrary, trampling on the miseries of our neighbor and envying his good things. For this is the part of madmen and persons beside themselves. Just as he that digs out his own eye hath displayed a very great proof of senselessness; and he that devours his own hand exhibits a clear evidence of downright madness.” — John Chrysostom
IN A NUTSHELL
In this chapter the apostle Paul turned to the issue of spiritual gifts in the church. He touched on a number of matters but especially on the value of all spiritual gifts.
INTRODUCTION: THAT LITTLE PIECE IS WORTH THAT MUCH?
We have seen many changes in technology during the last fifty years. One of the most important changes is the shift from “bigger is better” to “smaller is better.” It used to be that the biggest computer in the school was the best computer. Now the smallest computer in a briefcase is the best computer.
I once had a computer crash in the worst way. It was not something big that broke. It was one of the smallest pieces. I remember the technician explaining it to me. He drew a picture of the defective part, then commented: “You understand that this part is only this big…” He then drew a circle smaller than a dime.
Then I asked the big question. “How much is it going to cost me?” When he told me, I laughed. “That’s more than I paid for the entire computer. That little piece is worth that much?”
“Yup,” he replied. “This piece may be small, but what it does is vital to the computer. The computer just can’t work without it.”
Paul pointed out in this chapter that every gift God gives to his church is valuable. The Corinthians looked at appearances to determine which gifts were more important than others. But Paul declared that the smallest and least spectacular gifts are essential to the work of the church.
COMMENTARY: SPIRITUAL GIFTS IN WORSHIP
MAIN IDEA: Paul explained the role of the gifts of the Spirit in worship, beginning with the value of diverse gifts in the worship of God. He discussed the issue in three main sections: identifying the Spirit, the unity and diversity of the Spirit’s manifestations, and the unity and diversity of members in the body.
Much controversy exists over whether the supernatural manifestations of the Holy Spirit listed in this passage continue today. The controversy generally centers around the issue of special revelation. Some interpreters believe that special revelation continues today, while others deny the giving of new special revelation. Evangelicals take many different positions on this subject, but for the sake of convenience evangelical positions can be categorized under three basic headings.
Some traditions affirm that the infallible transmission of special revelation ceased with the closure of Scripture. Even so, God continues to speak to his church through apostles and prophets and through other supernatural means such as tongues, word of knowledge, word of wisdom, etc. These groups apply Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts such as tongues, interpretation of tongues, and prophecy directly to their situations because they believe these manifestations of the Spirit continue in modern times.
Other traditions hold that significant changes have taken place between the days of Paul and our day. First, the offices of apostle and prophet were foundational offices of the church (Eph. 2:20), designed specifically to transmit special revelation to the church in its early stages. In this view, these offices have ceased.
Second, manifestations such as tongues, prophecy, and messages of knowledge and wisdom have gone through modifications with the cessation of the apostles and prophets. In this view, none of these gifts provides direct infallible special revelation. Through fallible pastors, teachers, and the like, God leads the church into proper application of his Word in Scripture through preaching, intuitions, advice, and evaluations of circumstances. Nevertheless, at every point the teachings of these officers must be evaluated carefully by the Scriptures.
These groups apply these passages only indirectly to their churches, adjusting the meanings of the passages to account for the current circumstances wherein infallible special revelation no longer occurs. Paul’s words still give the church guidance for managing current manifestations of the Spirit analogous to those in Corinth.
Some branches of the church assert that all supernatural special revelation has ceased and that God communicates with his church today only through the Scriptures. These people usually hold that the miraculous gifts seen in the New Testament have ceased, believing that miracles existed to demonstrate the authority of God’s infallible spokespersons. When God stopped sending infallible spokespersons, the Spirit stopped bestowing miraculous gifts. For the most part, Paul’s comments on the supernatural gifts are largely irrelevant because these gifts no longer exist. Preachers and teachers of the word today have the responsibility of reasoning carefully through the logical implications of Scripture.
To meet the needs of each position, this commentary will focus primarily on Paul’s original meaning to the Corinthians in this passage. Different readers must apply these matters to their situations according to their orientations toward Continuation, Modification, and Cessation.
A. IDENTIFYING THE SPIRIT (12:1-3)
SUPPORTING IDEA: The Corinthians’ pagan background made them susceptible to being misled by supernatural manifestations Paul told them how to identify those who spoke by the Spirit.
12:1 – Paul began with the expression now about spiritual gifts. The terminology now about (peri de) indicates that Paul responded to questions or issues raised by the Corinthians themselves. He did not reveal their precise concerns, but stated emphatically that he did not want them to be ignorant or unaware of this topic. Once again, Paul created a familial mood by addressing the Corinthians as brothers.
12:2-3 – Paul provided a central criterion for distinguishing the Holy Spirit’s work from the experiences of pagan religion. He did this by setting up a contrast between the times when the Corinthians were pagans. . . and led astray to mute idols, and their Christian experience of speaking by the Spirit of God.
The precise nature of this contrast is debated. Some interpreters argue that Paul contrasted the fact that pagans were led by idols, and Christians by the Holy Spirit. Others have argued that Paul specifically contrasted the extraordinary supernatural experiences of ecstatic speech in pagan religion with the supernatural work (esp. tongues and prophecy) of the Holy Spirit in the church.
Although the former outlook may not be ruled out entirely, several considerations support the latter view:
- Mystery religions popular in the Mediterranean world at that time practiced ecstatic speech.
- In this passage, Paul did not focus on Jews, but on Gentiles who were likely to have been involved in such idolatrous religions.
- Paul said that the Gentile believers were formerly influenced and led astray by someone or something.
- He described the idols as mute, which in this interpretation would be a great irony.
- The general context of this verse focuses on the nature and restrictions that apply to speaking in tongues, a Christian experience similar to the ecstasy of pagan religions. It would appear, therefore, that Paul reminded the Corinthians about their past extraordinary religious experiences of idol worship.
Paul drew attention to these past experiences to deduce general instructions on distinguishing the Holy Spirit’s gifts from pagan religious experiences. First, the Holy Spirit never leads anyone to say, Jesus be cursed. If someone in the church at Corinth spoke such words (even under supernatural influence), he was not speaking by the Spirit of God. Second, the Holy Spirit empowers those who proclaim that Jesus is Lord.
If a religious experience does not honor Christ as Lord, then it is not from the Spirit. If it does, then the Holy Spirit may be behind the experience.
B. DIVERSE SPIRITUAL GIFTS (12:4-11)
SUPPORTING IDEA: Paul warned against identifying the Spirit with only one manifestation in the church. The gifts of the Spirit are manifold, and each is important in the worship of God and the ministry of the church.
For more verse-by-verse commentary, purchase the Holman Commentary here.
C. UNITY & DIVERSITY OF MEMBERS IN THE BODY (12:12-30)
SUPPORTING IDEA: Paul pointed out the importance of each spiritual gift in the church by means of an extensive analogy. He likened the church, the body of Christ to the physical human body.
For more verse-by-verse commentary, purchase the Holman Commentary here.
EVERY GIFT IS A BLESSING: Paul went to great lengths in this passage to establish proper attitudes toward every gift of the Spirit. The Corinthians tended to exalt some gifts over others, but Paul urged them to recognize all gifts as the blessings of the Spirit of God.
- Every Christian is a necessary, beneficial member of the church.
- Spiritual gifts are primarily for the purpose of building up the church.
- Because we are members of one another, the spiritual states of our fellow believers affect us personally.
- We do not receive spiritual gifts according to merit or ability, but as God sees fit according to his grace.
- We must look for ways to use our gifts in the service of the church and encourage others to do so as well.
- We must not take pride in our spiritual gifts.
- We must not feel inferior if our spiritual gifts are not as impressive as the gifts of others.
- We should actively pursue spiritual gifts.
GO FURTHER: QUESTION FOR DISCUSSION
1. Why do some people have certain gifts of the Spirit, while other people have different gifts? Is this a good thing? What is the purpose of gifts of the Spirit?
2. Why did Paul include this chapter in his letter? Do you think it was to correct a particular problem? If so, what was the problem? If not, why does the argument appear here?
3. What is the point of the “body” metaphor? Did Paul emphasize diversity or unity, or did he treat both equally? Can you defend your answer with explicit examples from the text?
4. Are there any people in your church who do not belong there? Is it always bad when people leave a church? Why or why not?
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