Devotional Guide: 1 Cor #5: 1 Cor 12-14

Devotional Guide: 1 Cor #5: 1 Cor 12-14 September 16, 2022

Monday: Read 1 Cor 12:1-11

1 Cor 12:1 begins with, “now concerning spiritual gifts,” (“people”?)[2] which indicates that Paul is addressing the next item in the letter they wrote to him (see 7:1; 8:1). Paul now begins to address the issues of spiritual people and the exercise of spiritual gifts. It is important to recognize that the discussion on spiritual gifts continues through 1 Cor 14. In the middle of 1 Cor 12 and 14 is the “love chapter” of 1 Cor 13. The entire discussion on spiritual gifts centers on love. The love chapter is placed very intentionally in the midst of Paul’s discussion on spiritual gifts.

The background for these chapters appears to be those who claimed to be more spiritual than others—perhaps some of the powerful men in Corinth who were causing trouble with regard to women. Whoever they were, they were claiming to be more honorable and more important than others.

Paul begins his discussion on spiritual gifts by asserting that the primary criterion for discerning spiritual gifts is the exaltation of Jesus as Lord (3). Paul then explains that the basis for the diversity and unity of spiritual gifts is found in the very character of God. God, Himself, is three persons and yet one God.

For Paul, God is the giver of gifts. The gifts are given: “through the Spirit” (8), “by the Spirit” (9), and, it is the “one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (11).

A key to understanding Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts is his statement, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (7). Paul affirms that everyone has at least one spiritual gift. And the purpose of the gifts is for the edification of the body of Christ.

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • An important question that we can use to discern if we are using our gifts in accord with the Spirit is: “Does our use of the gifts cause us to focus more on God Himself?” In a sense, this is the fundamental question of the Bible. I noted earlier in our studies that the Gospel can be defined as “Jesus is Lord.” This means that He is Lord and nothing or no one else is. Confessing Jesus as Lord means a wholesale turning away from self—self-desire, self-interest, etc—and a wholesale turning towards Him. I have also noted that the two great commandments begin with “love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself.” We should not be surprised then to learn that our use of spiritual gifts must be done with the same focus of Jesus as Lord and loving God and neighbor.

Tuesday: Read 1 Cor 12:12-31

Among the problems in Corinth were those who claimed to be more spiritual than others. They apparently justified their importance by their use of the gift of tongues.

NB: the gift of tongues is the spirit empowered ability to speak in a heavenly language known only to God (or the angels? See 13:1).

That the abuse of the gift of tongues was one of the leading problems is evident as we will see for a number of reasons. In the present passage, we note that when Paul lists the spiritual gifts he places tongues at the end of the list. This, of course, could simply be because the gift of tongues was the least of the gifts (28), but it may also be Paul’s way of calling out those who justified their superiority by their use of tongues.

Paul develops the metaphor of the body of Christ to explain the way in which spiritual gifts relate to the Church (12-27). Paul stresses that although the body is one it consists of many members (12).

According to Paul, all of the members of the body serve important functions within the body, regardless of their gift (15-20). He adds that those parts which seem lesser are equally important in the overall function of the body (21-22). Therefore, the nature of the gift of each individual is irrelevant to the importance of that member (22-23). As a result, we must recognize those “less honorable” as worthy of “more abundant honor” (23).

The result is that there should not be divisions within the body (25). In fact, “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it” (26).

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • We all have spiritual gifts. Always bear in mind that our gifts are to be used for the glory of God and the edification of the body. One of the dangers of spiritual gifts is that we might come to believe ourselves to be more important than others (this is even more so a problem for those whose gifts are more prominent—teaching, leading. Narcissism is a danger for all; especially pastors).
  • Paul is clear in this passage: everyone has a gift and they are all necessary to the well-being of the body of Christ. Many wonder how they are to discern what their gift is. There are indeed many ways a person can discern their spiritual gift. I think that one of the primary ways is to consider what it is that gives you a sense of fulfillment. For example, some people have the gift of prayer. For them, it doesn’t matter if it is a spiritual gift or not. They simply enjoy praying and are fulfilled with they do so.
  • Of course, there are some gifts that are obvious and you might even use them without realizing that it is a spiritual gift: e.g, gifts of serving, gift of teaching. Just bear in mind that a church cannot function well unless all the members are using their gifts (the preacher may get all the credit but the preacher alone cannot lead a healthy church)

Wednesday: Read 1 Cor 13:1-13

For many, 1 Cor 13 is an island unto itself. It is perhaps the most famous chapter in the Bible. Paul’s discussion on love, however, cannot be separated from its immediate context. That Paul’s description of biblical love is intimately related to the current discussion on spiritual gifts is evident from the opening verses of this chapter, where he says, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels” (1) and “If I have the gift of prophecy” (2).

This chapter may be summarized simply by noting that the distinguishing feature of biblical love is that it seeks the interests of others (5: NAS, “it does not seek its own”). Every other feature of love comes back to this point.

Of course, we should already have known that this is the essential characteristic of love because Jesus said that if we want to be His disciples we must deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow Him (Mark 8:34).

That this chapter resides in the midst of a prolonged discussion of spiritual gifts is evident from the fact that the purpose of the gifts is to edify one another (12:7). This means that if our gifts are not used in love, they are worthless (13:1-3).

This is why Paul says in 14:1, “pursue love.”

 Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • Note that love is central to Paul’s teaching in many of his letters: (see Rom 12:9-10; 13:8-10; 14:15; Gal 5:13-14; Eph 1:15; 4:2, 16; 5:2)
  • Reread 13:4-8 and substitute ‘Jesus’ for ‘love’. Then reread 13:4-8 and substitute ‘your name’ for ‘love.’
  • I suspect that most of the issues plaguing the church today and throughout history would be resolved if we simply practiced a self-denying love—a love that seeks the interests of others. What are some reasons why we fail to do this?

Thursday: Read 1 Cor 14:1-19

We noted that the abuse of the gift of tongues was one of the leading problems in the church at Corinth. As we read this chapter, we see that Paul is contending against those who elevated tongues above the other gifts. This is supported by the fact that all of Paul’s correctives are aimed at the abuse of tongues (12-13, 23).

Paul has already listed prophecy at the top of the list of spiritual gifts and tongues at the bottom (12:28). Now, Paul affirms that they are to seek the greater gifts (1). Although Paul lists “apostle” first in 12:28, he tells the Corinthians to seek “prophesy” (and not apostle) likely because the gift of apostleship was not available any longer.

Throughout this passage, Paul contends that prophecy is superior to tongues because prophecy is understood by all and all are edified (3-4). Speaking in tongues, however, without an interpreter only edifies oneself (4, 17). This is why Paul would rather speak five words of prophecy than 10,000 words in a tongue (19).

NB: We should note that “to prophesy” here refers to one who speaks the Word of God with authority. That it does not refer to predicting the future is evident from the fact that Paul’s entire argument here is that prophesy edifies everyone and tongues, without an interpreter, only edifies oneself. If prophecy were restricted to predicting things that will happen in the future, then no one would be edified until the prophecy came to pass (after all, there is no way of knowing if they are a true or false prophet until the fulfillment occurs—or doesn’t occur).

Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • Based on what Paul says about spiritual gifts, why is that we are to desire greater gifts like prophesy (1)?
  • This passage provides another instance in which we learn that the Word of God is to be central to the Christian life.

Friday: Read 1 Cor 14:20-40

In 14:20-25, Paul concludes his argument by noting the effect of these gifts on unbelievers. Paul’s statement in 14:22 may be confusing. His point is that other religions use tongues as a sign[3], but we use prophesy.

Paul, then, explains that if an unbeliever walks into a service and all are speaking in tongues, they will conclude that we are crazy (23). If, however, an unbeliever walks into a service and all are prophesying, they will be convinced and worship God (24-25; see Isa 45:14).

NB: this also supports the conclusion that “prophesy” relates to the Word of God and not something future.

Paul concludes the discussion on spiritual gifts with a set of principles for the use of spiritual gifts in a service (26-40). The overriding principles are orderliness and peace (40, 33).

In 14:34-35, we are again confronted with a troublesome text: “women are to keep silent in the church” (34). This is a complicated issue and there are a number of possible explanations. Space will only permit me to note a few things here.

First, these may not be the words of Paul, but of his opponents in Corinth. After all, Paul could not be requiring total silence since he has already affirmed their ability to pray and prophesy in church (the issue in 11:2-16 was not whether a woman could pray and prophesy in church, but whether she had to have her head covered when she did).

Second, why would Paul issue a command of silence instead of just asking them to cease? A command to silence those who were disorderly is better than a command to silence all women. What about those who were not disruptive?

Third, are we to believe that none of the men were saying and doing things that were problematic? Shouldn’t Paul have silenced them also?

 Questions to ponder/discuss:

  • What are your spiritual gifts and are you using them for the edification of the body of Christ? If not, why not?
  • If you struggle with knowing the answers to these questions, then find a mentor who can help you discern your gifts and how they may best be utilized for the glory of God and the edifying of the body.


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[1] This guide is meant to be done either as a group study over the course of 2 or 4 meetings (Day 1-5; 6-10; 11-15; 16-20), or as a private devotion over the course of 4 weeks (or a calendar month—5 lessons per week).

[2] The Greek here could be translated as “spiritual gifts” or “spiritual people.” It is translated as “spiritual men” in 1 Cor 3:1; and as “he who is spiritual” in 2:15.

[3] Speaking in tongues is found in many religions. Paul’s point here is that they use it as proof of their spirituality and superiority.

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