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Lowell Brueckner

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1 Corinthians 12


Chapter 12

Basic truth involved with spiritual gifts

1.      Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant:
2.      You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led.
3.      Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
4.      There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
5.      There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.
6.      And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.
7.      But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.

In verse 1, the word gifts is not in the original Greek, but simply spirituals. It is helpful in understanding our subject, to think about some synonyms for this word. I copy these from the Strong's Greek Dictionary: non-carnal, supernatural, regenerate. Our subject is not about anything human, it is supernatural, belonging to the regenerate or spiritual new nature. In verse 4, we do have the word gifts in the Greek, so it is proper to think and speak of these as gifts. They are not part of our physical make-up, which we have obtained by birth. Oswald Chambers comments in My Utmost for His Highest that spiritual gifts are not the accident of genes, derived from our parents. In other words, they are not natural talents or abilities. They are given directly by God to the regenerate person.

Paul leads us into the study of spiritual gifts by emphasizing a basic truth in verse 3. As early as in Genesis 4:26, we have people calling on the name of the Lord: “Then men began to call on the name of the Lord” and in 12:8, Abram specifically, “built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.” This is very significant, now that we begin to study Paul’s teaching, to know that no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. Natural man cannot honestly say it, because of his fallen nature. A true declaration of the lordship of Christ is the work of the Holy Spirit in a human being.

We want to bathe our mind on this theme with New Testament Scripture. John writes the identical truth that Paul gives us here, in his first epistle: “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God” (1 Jn.4:2,3). We need to judge spirits that come to our lives or our church by this spiritual principle. In dealing with people, possessed by evil spirits, this is a test, as to whether one is talking to a human being or a spirit speaking through him. A demon will not honestly confess that God became man. He knows it to be true, but he will not confess, or say amen to it.

Confessing that Jesus is Lord is basic to salvation. Paul says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus… you will be saved… Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Ro.10:9,13). The Holy Spirit indwells every Christian and leads him: “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His… As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Ro.8:9,14). The gifts of the Spirit involve this fundamental truth of Christian salvation, they exalt Jesus as Lord, and are only provided to the regenerate.

Spiritual gifts involve the trinity, according to verses 4-6. As is always the case, the Holy Spirit is the Person of the Godhead, who actively moves upon the people, who receive the gifts (4). The Lord Jesus directs the various ministries (5, see Eph.4:8-12) and the Father God oversees the entire work (6). Besides specifying the work of the trinity, the main idea of these three verses is to show that the gifts are diverse and different. They teach us to keep our mind open to a variety of manifestations. God is the God of infinite variety.

The Spirit gives these manifestations; they are not learned. Every manifestation of the Spirit is practical and profitable. He does not work to simply satisfy curiosity or a quest for the sensational. Every church member should be a recipient of spiritual gifts for the profit of the body. We can ask ourselves this question: Did the need for profit, which is brought to the church through the manifestation of the Spirit, end with the time of the apostles? (7) If this profitable need did end, then there is really no practical reason for continuing this study. It would only be a history lesson, but remind yourself: This is Scripture, it is New Testament and it is given to Christ’s church for practical use.

Nine specific gifts in this chapter

8.      for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit,
9.      to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit,
10.  to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

We have a list of nine spiritual gifts from verse 8 through verse 10 and so, keeping in mind that they are diverse in their functions, we simply want to briefly get an idea of how each one works. We will not, in fact cannot, give a comprehensive study of them, because we have already determined that God is the God of infinite variety. As we look at the first two, the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge, we notice that they are somewhat restricted to a word or an utterance. We are not looking at wisdom or knowledge in general. I remind you that we are not speaking of genes or acquired assets. We are speaking of demonstrations of the Holy Spirit upon human beings, as when the Spirit came upon David or Samson and gave them supernatural abilities. Therefore, I emphasize that these are spiritual, supernatural, and non-human endowments that are divinely imparted.

We might say that wisdom is knowledge profitably put to work. The word of wisdom speaks wisely to a people or a situation. It gives heavenly light to them. Many times, when referring to this gift, I tell a story with a smile that my friend, Herman Williams, a Navajo native, used to relate. He and his native congregation, because of an influx of people, decided that they had to build a new building for meetings, although none of them had experience in construction.

There was no problem in the simple work of digging a basement. They dug it to a practical size and depth. Once done, they were next faced with a slight dilemma: How were they to pour the cement to make a level floor? One night there was a huge downpour and the next morning, the church gathered around the basement, noticing that the whole bottom was covered with water. Someone received a word of wisdom and expressed it. Why not mark a line all around to where the water reached and pour the cement to that level? That word gave them a perfectly level basement floor. Examples of words of wisdom are numerous throughout the Bible. How about the means used to bring down the walls of Jericho? That came from a word of wisdom. Study the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, just to give two other sources, where you can frequently find the prophets using a word of wisdom. (I think, it would be a great exercise in meditation to bring to mind instances in the Bible, when all of these various gifts were evident.)

I need to give credit to a book I read many years ago by a missionary author. I am no longer sure of his name or the title of the book, but its subject was about spiritual gifts. He thought that each gift was given for specific ministry and attributed the gift of the word of knowledge to a teaching ministry. As you can see, I forgot his name and the name of the book, but I didn’t forget that opinion; in fact, I adopted it. The reason that I favor this viewpoint is because I notice often, while I am teaching publicly that suddenly light will shine on a particular subject or verse that never occurred to me before, even after I had studied for hours. Later, upon further investigation, I found the idea to be biblically solid. I consider that a word of knowledge (8). Once again, it can be observed that words given for teaching individuals or groups are common throughout Scripture. I think that Hebrews 7 is a perfect example. Certainly all the apostles, giving us the basic doctrine of Christianity, were endowed with a special gift.  

The third gift of the Spirit is faith. This is apart from basic, general faith, which is required in order to be saved, and also apart from the walk of faith experienced by every Christian. This is an extraordinary endowment of faith required to carry out a particular God-given task. Can there be a better example than that of the ministry of George Mueller? I think of the faith of David Wilkerson, driving into New York City to reach out to gang members in court for murder. By the way, I recall Wilkerson saying that he saw gifts of the Spirit working in him more commonly on the street, intermingling with the lost, than in church meetings. However, we certainly need this gift in the church today. Think of the multiplied times in Scripture that God gave faith for specific needs in s moment of time.

The life of the Lord Jesus was an example of continuous gifts of healing. Using plural for gifts, perhaps refers to the different means of healing or the various kinds of sicknesses involved. There is healing of the mind, inner healing, as well as physical healing. I will just give one example from my dad’s life. We were at a missionary conference together in Ohio and the choir was practicing in the basement of the church. While preparing coffee on the stove, one of the ladies from the choir accidently spilled boiling water over her hand. My dad was standing beside her and immediately took her hand and prayed. Afterwards, there was no burn or redness to mark the skin. There is much need for healing in the body of Christ and God has diverse ways of administering it.

Next we have the working of miracles and, of course, miraculous healing could be included. I suppose that the apostle is speaking of other kinds of miracles, since he has already specifically singled out healing. The turning of water into wine and the money in the fish’s mouth would be two examples from the Gospels. Of course, there are many, many more throughout the Bible. Divine protection and also financial supply can be miraculous. Rees Howells, the intercessor, comes to mind. I seldom recommend his biography, especially to some, who might have a tendency to use strange tactics. Rees Howells certainly did, however he had the results to show the leading of the Holy Spirit in his unusual ministry. Winston Churchill wrote Howells after World War II, thanking him for prayer, because nothing less than an unseen hand turned the Nazis away from an invasion of England.

I think I will not comment on prophecy, tongues or interpretation of tongues until we get to chapter 14. That will only leave one more gift for this section and that would be the discerning of spirits. Paul is not writing of discernment in general, but specifically discernment of spirits, which serves to distinguish that, which is a legitimate spiritual manifestation, from that which is not. The absence of this gift in the church is the cause for much confusion and error. Let’s think about something else, which can quench the work of the Spirit, as a result of a lack of spiritual discernment. I am thinking of applying unnecessary restrictions and rules to avoid disorder that could come from evil spirits, but at the same time destroy the liberty that is needed in order for God’s Spirit to work freely.  This gift could also define exactly the devices that the kingdom of darkness might be using against the church.

We must come to a place, in which we expect the distinct moving of God among us. Christ is the head of the church and, through the Spirit, from Him must come direction for the function of the church, in general, and specifically in every gathering of believers. Usually, there is little room for Him, due to a pre-arranged program or a traditional pattern, held to over the years. Somehow, we have learned to excuse ritualism among a living body of believers.

The body of Christ
11.  But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.
12.  For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many are one body, so also is Christ.
13.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
14.  For in fact the body is not one member but many.
15.  If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body?
16.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body?
17.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?
18.  But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.
19.  And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
20.  But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.
21.  And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
22.  No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.
23.  And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty,
24.  but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it,
25.  that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.
26.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
27.  Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.
28.  And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.
29.  Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?
30.  Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?
31.  But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

What is stated in verse 11 was normal in the early church: “One and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.” Is that verse being fulfilled among us? I believe, we would see more of the reality of God, if more time was given to prayer, pleading for His direction, instead of the plans of men. 
I will try to be as brief as possible, in order to finish this chapter in one lesson.  Paul compares the church to a human body… one body with many members. He shows two things that we need to keep in mind: 1) The body is diverse with many different members and yet, 2) all share certain things alike. Each part is individual and has its particular roll to play (12). The church is diverse racially and socially, but the Holy Spirit has baptized every member into this body and everyone drinks of one Spirit (13). Paul is once again mentioning this, in order to deal with the divisions in Corinth and he is giving them many reasons why they are harmful.

I suppose the greater part of the evangelical church refers to verse 13 as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. I believe that it is an error to think that what Paul teaches in verse 13 happened on the day of Pentecost. In this verse, it is the Holy Spirit, who administers this baptism, whereas on Pentecost, Christ fulfilled the prophecy of John the Baptist. Notice the element into which the baptism occurs, according to John's declaration: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit”, but in Paul's teaching here, “we are all baptized in one body.” These are two baptisms, not one. The element into which we are baptized in the first case is the Holy Spirit, and in the second it is a body. By the context you will see clearly that Paul is speaking of the mystical body of Jesus Christ, the church (vs.12-27). To summarize: On believing in Christ, the Holy Spirit enters into every believer and he is born again. At the same time, the Holy Spirit baptizes him into the element of the body of Christ, and he becomes a member of the church.

In the human body, we see the great diversity, which we should also see in the church (14, 19-20). Paul illustrates, mentioning the hand, the ear, the eye, and the nose (15-17). If the natural body requires so many functions, can we expect less, concerning the church? However, the church is not natural, in fact, it is other-worldly, and cannot be compared to anything on earth. It is heavenly and supernatural, and therefore it requires gifts, bestowed by the Holy Spirit, in order to perform God’s purposes. God has chosen and placed the members in Christ’s body, as He pleased (18). The church is totally a work of God. None are to be excluded or despised. All are needed and, in fact, we must learn to think, “I need my brother or sister. I cannot get along without him or her.” They are all God’s choice for His purposes (21).  
Are there any members of the body more delicate than the inner organs? Paul writes of the hidden members of the human body; there are those in the church, as well, and they need the concern and protection of the entire body. There are strong ones, who need much less care, but who can expend their strength in helping the weaker ones (24). If Paul was thinking of the hidden ones as prayer warriors, it is not hard for me to see the special need to take care of them (22-23). In the Pune revival in India, there was a group of 700, who spent many hours a day in prayer. The mission, to which they belonged, excused the younger ones from the school curriculum and the older ones from the work schedule (at great sacrifice, because the mission was self-supporting), in order that they could give their time and energy before the throne of God. It is most important that the body work together, honoring and helping one another (25).

Here is another reason, which Paul uses to lend to a “body mentality”. The whole body reacts to the pain felt in one area. Ninety-nine percent of the body may be in good working order, but if there is a toothache, for example, the pain can become unbearable and effect everything that a person does. On the other hand, when a member is honored, may God keep us all from envy and other bad attitudes. Give us, Lord, the grace and humility to rejoice with them (26).

We are individual members of a body and God emphasizes both the united efforts, as well as the importance of the individual (27). Personally, I feel that we especially must emphasize the personal relationship with God in these times. The church will only be as strong, as the individual member.

Here is the divine order of rank in Holy Spirit ministries (28): First come the apostles, who bring the church into being in the first place. Keep in mind always that this all is a supernatural work. The prophets are those, who speak in the name of the Lord, bringing the word from heaven onto earth. Then, the teachers establish doctrine in the church and in the minds and hearts of each believer. Next come miracles, of which the church is continually in need, followed by healings… the work of restauration, restitution, and reconciliation, as well as the emotional, mental and physical needs of the saints.

Helps are enabled through the gift of faith, because the spiritual needs of the church are beyond human help. The governmental part of the church is especially in need of the gift of discernment of spirits to ward off the entrance of demonic influences. The Kingdom of God is a government and its representation on earth is the church, which administers to one another and is a light to the world, concerning those things that are not to be found anywhere else on earth. Finally the ministry of tongues is necessary, along with its interpretation, for the edification of the church. We will see much more of this in chapter 14.

When Paul lists all these essential ministries to the church, I think it becomes obvious that no one man can do all these things. Don’t expect to pay one pastor to do nine different ministries. The assumed answer to all the following questions in verse 29 and 30 is no! There is no man, regardless of his anointing and close walk with God, who can. We need today a revival from God upon individual Christians, so that they can fill all the gaps that are missing in the body. They need to be compassionate people with burning hearts, full of the Holy Spirit.

The last verse obviously leads us into the next chapter. Notice, the gifts of the Spirit are not to be tolerated or permitted, they are to be coveted! That’s the proper attitude towards them, which stems from proper teaching. How is the church expected to covet the gifts, if people are taught that they ceased after the time of the apostles? Then, Paul is going to tell us about a more excellent way. He will not point us to a more excellent gift, but a way. This will be God’s way, in which the spiritual gifts should operate. The way is as important as the gift.


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