Week of Nov. 15

The Sweetness of Spirit-led Giftedness

Read: Job 37-38; 1 Corinthians 12

“All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”
1 Corinthians 12:11, ESV


Sometimes things are so broken that they need a miraculous blessing in order to restore them to wholeness. The Holy Spirit takes that which is fractured and renders it whole, whether it is a broken life or a divided church. Consider our biological lives. The health of the human body, as complex as it is, hinges upon having a heart that is able to pump oxygenated blood throughout the body. No heart, no life. Now, contemplate the heartbeat of our theology. The Holy Spirit breathes life into the body of Christ which enables it to be healthy. The air that healthy churches breathe is summed up in one Spirit-inspired theological statement: “Jesus is Lord” (12:3). So, our devotional today provides us with a critical awareness of what gives a church its health.

A Biblical Lens

Corinth had become a deeply divided church that was in desperate need of unity. Paul knows that the church had several issues that stemmed from their own hubris, so he provides for them a clear understanding of how each of the various gifted members fit into the one Body of Christ. He even took the point a step further by emphasizing that the gift assignments to each member came by the sovereign will of the Holy Spirit. Hmm. Consider the length of 1 Corinthians (16 chapters). If we include the powerful call to love in chapter 13, then Paul devotes 3 chapters to the topic of spiritual gifts and worship. Something is going on here! Let’s examine it in closer detail.

Chapter 12 opens an extended section of the letter that continues through chapter 14, verse 40. Our focal section teaches us the source of the gifts, the Holy Spirit (12:1-11). The second subdivision outlines the diversity of the gifts in their unity (12:12-31a). Paul writes of the necessary ingredient of love in the exercise of the gifts (12:31b-13:13). He continues in chapter 14 with a lengthy discussion on the priority of prophecy over tongues with rules for how the members were to exercise the gifts (14:1-25). He concludes the wider section with instructions on conducting worship in a decent and an orderly fashion (14:26-40) [EBC].

Paul has opened several teaching sections with the same phrase—“now concerning” (see 7:1; 8:1; 16:1). It appears that they had sent him some questions, and he was taking them up in some orderly fashion. He had reached the all-important question on worship. His reply was rooted in the fact that the church evidently was proud of their spiritual giftedness (cf. 1:5-8; 4:8). They were guilty of the “egocentric exploitation” of those within the brotherhood (cf. Barrett). As one of my church members would say, “I don’t know what you just said, but it must be bad!” Well, the church’s fellowship was divided over pridefulness. Paul removes all possibility that the Corinthians had merited the gifts they possessed by referring to their source, the Holy Spirit, several times (12:12:3,4, 7, 8,9, and 11). This same problem surfaces in the church in every generation.

Spiritual persons, obviously, are those who have spiritual gifts. There would be no gifts were it not for the new birth and gifting by the Spirit (12:3). Heathen religion actually had moments of ecstasy where a human being was believed to be possessed by the supernatural (Barrett; HNTC). The idols they worshiped were silent, but the noisy outcry of their worshipers was not. He does not question ecstatic speech, but he makes sure they know how to judge that which is authentic. The valid ecstatic speech is subject to the Lordship of Christ. We all do well to insure that our worship is guided by the rudder of Christ’s Lordship and not carried along by cultural currents.

Secondly, the Spirit distributes the various gifts for the benefit of the church. All Christians do not receive the same gift, so there is no room for “rivalry, discontent, or the feeling of superiority.” Spiritual gifts are not given to call attention to oneself, but opportunities to give of oneself in service to others (12:4-6). The divine power is applied in various ways, as well, but God is in charge of it all.

Finally, Paul has gone through a listing of various gifts, not so that we can comprise a flow chart of them but to show that the Spirit is the source of the bounty that the church receives (cf. vv. 7-10). Christians have no business telling the Spirit how the gifts should be distributed and empowered. We simply receive them as a gift and use them for God’s glory in order to benefit the church (12:11). C.K. Barrett writes, “As his work, the gifts are a sign of the free grace of God by which the church exists, and of the place the church occupies at the dawn of the new age.”

A Moral Pathway

It may come as a surprise, but we too often place an improper amount of emphasis on the preaching and teaching gifts. Those two gifts are critical, but I contend that love-guided service is the glue that holds a fellowship together (cf. Acts 6). The name of Leroy Minchew came to my mind when I began to read our focal passage. We knew Leroy, affectionately, as “the Candy Man.”

He was not well-educated, and short in stature, which made him the ideal person to bless the children in our church. He met them at the church doorway on Sundays, gave them a warm greeting, and handed the children a piece of candy before they made their way to their classes. I cannot tell you how significant that his ministry was to those little ones. His example, in fact, set a standard for our entire church. He was the model of 1 Corinthians 13.

There is not a better word to describe his entire being than a man who was filled with the love of Christ. The children flocked to him (Matthew 19:14). We certainly could use a “candy man” in each church, not because of the simple gift of a sweet, but because of the sweetness of that person’s gift of “service” (Romans 12:7). The life yielded to Christ yields the unifying fruit of the Spirit that is love. It has been said, “Giftedness with character is important, but giftedness without character is lethal!”

For Your Journaling

1. How is it with your spiritual gift(s)? Is the love of Christ enabling you to apply the gift in a way that unifies the church? If not, then follow the steps outlined above to be useful to the Spirit in the application of your gift.

2. The broader consideration raised in all of 1 Corinthians is, “Who guides your church?” Are similar questions to those in Corinth surfacing in your fellowship (e.g. See 7:1; 8:1; 16:1)? If so, then call the church to humble submission to the Lordship of Christ and submit yourselves to the Spirit’s guidance.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock