1 CORINTHIANS 12:27-31
Imagine the Master Carpenter’s tools holding a conference: Brother Hammer presides, but several suggest he leaves the meeting because he is too noisy. Brother Hammer replies, “If I have to leave this shop, Brother Screw must go also. You have to turn him around again and again to get him accomplish anything.” Brother Screw then speaks up. “If you wish, I‘ll leave. But brother Plane must leave too. All his work is on the surface. His efforts have no depth.” To this Brother Plane responds, “Brother Rule will also have to withdraw, for he is always measuring folks as though he were the only one who is right.”
Brother Rule then complains about Brother Sandpaper: “He ought to leave too, because he is so rough and always rubbing people the wrong way.” And so goes the discord. In the midst of all this discussion, in walks the carpenter of Nazareth. He has arrived to start His day’s work. Putting on His apron, He goes to the bench to make a pulpit from which to proclaim the gospel. He uses Brothers Hammer, Screw, Plane, Rule, Sandpaper, and all the other tools. After the day’s work, when the pulpit is finished Brother Saw arises and says, “Brethren, I observe that all of us are workers together with the Lord.” The spiritual gifts are not meant to divide Christians but to unite us in the service of the Lord.
After spending much time with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul compares the functions of these spiritual gifts to the parts of the human body. The human body is made up of various parts which work in harmony with each other. If a part of the human body suffers it affects the rest of the body. However, if a part of the body is honored all the rest of the body rejoice with it. That is the way spiritual gifts are to operate in the local church.
THE FACT OF DIVERSITY VV. 27-31
In verse 27, Paul brings his teaching home to the Corinthians. In verse 27, he states emphatically that the church of Corinth is the body of Christ. The pronoun you is emphatic. This means that collectively, in their common relationship to Christ through the Holy Spirit they are His one body (vv. 12-13). The last thing that the Triune God expected was that the spiritual gifts, which He has sovereignly bestowed upon His children, would create disharmony and division in His church. In my study of spiritual warfare, one of the things I have discovered is that since Satan cannot take away our salvation, and since he cannot destroy our relationship with God through Christ, he uses disunity and strife to stifle the power and effectiveness of the church. And always he uses people who call themselves Christians to do his work for him. This was exactly what he had going on in the church of Corinth until Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit stepped in. The Apostle Paul states that the body, with its diversity in unity, is like Jesus Christ.
In verse 28, Paul says that God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second, prophets, and third, teachers. These are given in the order of rank. One thing I wouldn’t want you to forget is this: Paul says that God is the One who is responsible for the diversity that makes the one body. Paul begins with a list of persons whom he ranks first, second, and third. These persons, apostles, prophets, and teachers occupied established positions in the New Testament church. I have shared with you the roles apostle, prophets, and teachers played in the NT church. We have already dealt with miracles two weeks ago. Let me say this. The gift of miracles and healings are not permanent spiritual gifts given to some people in the church. No Christian can say, “I have the gift of miracles or healings. Miracles and healings are the sovereign work of God. God can choose to perform a miracle at a time that is conducive to His purpose. God can also choose to heal a person when all the odds are against the person. In other words, God can step in and heal a person when medical doctors have declared the person dead. God does this to bring glory to Christ and to draw the person and his immediate family to Himself. Miracles and healings are not ends in themselves. They are meant to authenticate the gospel, but unfortunately not everyone who experiences them come to faith in Christ.
The fact of the matter is that God continues to perform miracles today. There is also the gift of helps. I suppose the gift of helps was not one of the favorite gifts of the Corinthians. Why am I saying this? Because helps is not one of the spectacular and sensational gifts that would put them in the limelight. But the spiritual gift of helps is one of the most important gifts of the Holy Spirit to the church (The parable of the Good Samaritan). The use of the gift of helps makes it possible for thousands of lay people to engage in helping to promote the kingdom of God in such ways as counseling, prayer, handling the business affairs of the church, and witnessing. The gift of helps also covers assistance to the oppressed that suffer from social injustice. Believers who have the gift of helps reach out to orphans and widows in their afflictions. It could mean preparing a meal for a sick person or neighbor, or writing a letter of encouragement to one who needs to be encouraged. Helps also involves sharing what you have with others who are in desperate need. Helps is the gift of showing mercy. I have seen Christians who took time to clean and mowed the grass of their church without being told. Some of these people could not preach nor teach. They had difficulty praying in public worship, but they had the gift of helps and utilized it to God’s glory. God uses and blesses such people.
I believe that in heaven among those who will receive greater rewards and crowns will include those who used their gift of helps. The gift of administration is very important to the local church. The word administration means a “steer man” or a “pilot.” It carries the idea of guidance. A believer who has the gift of administration gives guidance and direction to the church like a captain of a ship or a pilot of an aircraft. Administrators give counsel to the body of Christ to prevent the church from being pulled in all directions.
After administration Paul once again deals with tongues. Some have concluded that since the gift of tongues is the last on the list, Paul considered it less significant. I don’t think that is the reason. He mentions it last because it is the gift that has created the controversy in the church of Corinth and continues to create controversy in churches today. What is unusual about its inclusion in the list is that it stands out as the gift of utterance. It seems out of place after the four other charismata.
In verses 29-30, Paul now concludes the argument of this chapter with a crescendo of rhetorical questions. Paul’s concern throughout the teaching on the spiritual gifts has been the need for diversity, which of course must function in unity. What answer do you think the Apostle Paul expected from the Corinthians and us? Of course, he expects unanimous “no” as an answer.
If the Corinthians and Christians today answer Paul’s rhetorical questions with a no, then implicitly he would ask, “Why don’t you apply this to yourselves and your singular zeal for tongues?” Sometimes I am surprised that Christians still make a fuss about the universality of tongues today. These rhetorical questions that the Apostle Paul poses are as clear as crystal. I wonder whether some people have a problem in understanding the plain teaching of the Bible. In chapter 14, Paul says that tongues are fine, provided they are interpreted. He goes on to say that if there are no interpreters, keep the gift of tongues to yourself. This is as simple as ABC, but why do some Christians continue to distort and contradict the teaching of the NT on spiritual gifts, especially tongues?
Paul says it unequivocally, that not everyone should speak in tongues when the church meets together for worship. Every spiritual gift that God gives to His church is important and should be used for the edification of the church.
A story is told about an organist who was playing one of those old organs, which required bellows to supply the air. A young boy pushed the bellows as the organist performed. After the first hymn was finished, the little fellow working the bellows looked up at the player and said, “We did a good job on that one, didn’t we?” The organist said, “What did you have to do with it?” On the next hymn the organ player put her hands to the keys, but nothing happened. In desperation she looked over at the young boy. The young boy said, “Shall it be we?”
To attempt to use spiritual gifts in spiritual ministries without the Holy Spirit is like trying to play an organ without any power. Although you are certainly a part of the process, you don’t supply the power. Therefore, instead of allowing your spiritual gift to become divisive in the church, the word of God appeals to you to desire the greater gifts. Every spiritual gift that you and I have received from Christ our Lord should be exercised in the context of love.
Before I conclude this series on spiritual gifts, let me offer you some guidelines that can help you discover your spiritual gifts. 1. Open yourself to God as a channel for His use. There are some Christians who say that they don’t know their spiritual gifts. The question is, “are you available to God?” The gifts of the Spirit are not like a cassette which God shoves into you. Rather, they result from the operation of the Holy Spirit who dwells within you. You begin to discover your spiritual gifts as you consecrate yourself daily to Christ for His use. 2. Examine your aspirations for Christian service and ministry. Serving others is after all, the whole purpose of spiritual gifts. Peter exhorts, “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). One important way in which God reveals His will to us is by giving us inner desires (Phil. 2:13).
- Identify the needs that you believe to be most crucial in the life of the
church. Another aspect of discovering the spiritual gifts God has for you is the examination of your concerns. God often guides you by creating within you a sense of burden for a task that needs to be done or some needs that remain unmet. For example, a Christian who is more troubled about false doctrines in the church may have the calling to teach. One who is burdened when others are hurting emotionally or physically may have the gift of compassion. 4. Follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit as He leads you to obedience to Christ (John 14:21). Obedience to Jesus Christ remains crucial to experiencing the fullness of His life. Spiritual gifts are dependent on grace. Why then do I emphasize obedience? Obedience to the light you have will lead you into light you do not yet possess. A sure way to know God more clearly is to follow Him closely/intimately. Obedience to present light will lead you into greater light in the future. 5. Remain alert to the responses of other Christians. The NT discussions of spiritual gifts always occur within the context of the church. You need constantly to maintain a harmonious relationship with other Christians because others often see your spiritual gifts before you do. The affirmation and support of Christian friends will prove of great help to you in discovering and manifesting your spiritual gifts. Therefore, discover and use your spiritual gifts to glorify Christ and promote the unity of His church in the world.