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1 Corinthians 12

September 16th, 2012 by Vic

1 Corinthians 12

September 16, 2012

“Unity in Diversity”


Last week Paul told us the Trinity is a model for human relationships.  Each person complements and completes the other without competing with each other.  There should be no division in the home, in church dinners, or in worship times.  Like ours, the Corinthian culture was driven by competition rather than curiosity and contentment.  Paul reminds the church that God has a better plan than our culture offers.  There is a more excellent way.


12:1  Paul calls them brothers 37 times in this letter.  He knows them.  He complemented them for being enriched in all speech and knowledge (1:5).  He said he heard reports that they were arrogant and proud (4:8‑13).  They did not lack any ‘charisma’ (1:7).  However, Paul did not want them ignorant (without knowledge) of ‘pneumatikon’ (12:1).  The NIV translates the 2 different Greek words with the same English words ‘spiritual gifts’.  They were arrogant and proud about their ‘charisma’ and ignorant about their ‘pneumatikon’.  The word pneumatikon suggests spirit-breathed with the emphasis on invisibility.  This word occurs next in 14:1.

The Greek word charisma occurs in 12:4, 9, 28, 30, 31.  It literally means ‘the result of grace’.  The word grace in the Greek culture had to do with outward beauty.  It seems Paul is saying some gifts are showier than others.  The gifts they were having trouble with were the more ‘charismatic’ (outwardly attractive) and they were neglecting or were ignorant of the ‘pneumatikon’ (spirituals).


12:2-3 Paul says stop and think.  You used to be under the irrational influence of dumb idols.  Now you are free in Christ to direct your life, your desires and praise.  You no longer worship by meditating, shifting your mind in neutral and going with the flow.  That is the way you used to worship.  When your life is controlled by the Holy Spirit you will not be swept away by sudden seizures (Matt 16:17; 1 John 4:2,3,15).  Christians will bring every experience into conformity with the Word of God.


Paul means more here in verse 3 than the literal speaking of words.  Satan can say, “Jesus is Lord”.  A drunken man can say, “Jesus is Lord”.  The words are not the emphasis here, but the heart attitude behind the words.


12:4-6 There are differences in charisma, ministries, and energies.  The word for differences (distinctions, distributions, portions) only occurs here in the NT.  Paul is using this unusual word to emphasize our unique creativity in the Spirit.  The Corinthian factions were trying to make everyone fit their particular experience.  But God’s grace for ministry is many‑colored (1 Pet 4:10).


The Spirit gives every new believer a tailored package of unique, many-colored abilities which are the results of God’s grace.  The Lord Jesus provides a tailored ministry.  God provides the energy (inworkings or outworkings) needed for the ministry.  We cannot beg or plead for the gifts, neither can we manipulate or scheme for an area of service.  And only God gives us strength and works all things together for good.  There is no room here for boasting.


The Trinity is One, but they are different.  The words ‘differences’ and ‘one’ are parallel in these 3 verses.  There is unity in diversity.


12:7  Verses 4‑6 introduced the theme of unity in diversity.  Verse 7 adds the dimension of harmony.  Harmony is the plan of God that made us so we need each other.  While to each one is given a manifestation of the Spirit, it is not for the individual’s good, but the common good.  It may not even be seen by the one receiving it, but it is a clear manifestation to others.


12:8-11  Now Paul is going to illustrate what he means.  Here are some typical gifts.  All these gifts are sovereignly given.  We do not earn them, buy them, deserve them, or pray for them.


Paul is not saying that someone in your church will have these gifts.  You do not have to make a box labeled wisdom and another labeled knowledge and put someone in it.  Paul’s purpose here is to illustrate unity, diversity, and harmony.  The gifts he is mentioning were those that were common in the mystery religions and they were misusing them in the Corinthian church.  These were the gifts most visible to the public and the ones they were having the most trouble with.


It is not necessary for us to know what a word of wisdom is or what a word of knowledge is.  That is not the point of Paul’s argument.


The agency of all ‘gifts’ is the same Spirit.  All these things are distributed as the Spirit desires.  The determining factor is according to the standard of the Spirit’s own deliberate decision.  Each believer receives a grace package made just for him as indicated by the grammatical form of the word ‘individual’.  It is not the recipient who decides which of these things he receives. It is not the product of group dynamics or group prayer.  It is determined by the Spirit (as He wills).


Verses 7,11,18,24,28 emphasize the sovereignty of God.  There is not the slightest hint that the believer is to do anything except receive with thanksgiving.  It is important that you understand Paul’s argument.  If you understand what Paul is saying here, then you will easily see how verse 31 has been mistranslated since the time of King James.


12:12  Now Paul introduces two illustrations of the truth he has presented in the preceding verses.  Both our physical body and the Body of Christ (the Church) should illustrate and demonstrate unity, diversity, and harmony.


Just as the physical body is one, so Christ is one.  Just as the physical body has many members, so has Christ.  The many parts have many parts.  The physical body is united in a common life and purpose.  The body of Christ is united in Jesus.  We celebrated our unity during Communion.


12:13  The life we received when we were born again made us part of the body of Christ.  The Spirit gives life to Christians.  Christians have spiritual life flowing in them as life flows in the physical body.  We eat the same bread and drink from the same Spirit.


12:14  Why do we need the Spirit flowing through us?  Because reality is not like the Hindus believe it is.  Hindus lose their identity and all become part of some great sea.  Christians do not believe that all believers are blended together so that we lose our individual identity.  Christians are blended to preserve our individual identity.


When we become Christians we are uniquely beautiful individuals.  We are not robots.  We are not clones.  We are not expected to look alike.  We are not expected to think alike.  We are not expected to act alike.  The body is not one member, but many.  We are united to others with Life.


12:15  There is a danger on the opposite extreme.  Freedom in Christ is the ability to function as we were designed to function.  When we jealously try to function like someone else or outside the Spirit’s manifestation, we destroy ourselves and our position in the body.


Like the butterfly who thinks he has the freedom to fly in the flames of the fire, so is the man who seeks absolute freedom to defy God’s laws.  He has that ability, but God did not design him for that flight pattern.  Once he flies outside of God’s plan, he ceases to be free to fly.


Now Paul illustrates the absurdity of an independent spirit in verses 15 and 16.  Then in verse 17 he mentions the absurdity of clones.


If the foot gets jealous of the hand and decides to drop off, who gets hurt?  If the foot is feeling sorry for himself because he always gets stepped on, who gets hurt by his attitude?  The visibility of our grace or ministry has no relation to our value.  The function of our grace has no relation to our value.  All parts of the body are necessary.  None is less important than another nor is any more important than another.


12:16  If by some absurd chance the ear could say I don’t belong to the body, the fact that he is attached makes him part of the body.  Thinking or saying something does not change the facts.  No matter how important I think I am, God’s working in my life is what determines my importance.  God’s law and God’s plan is not altered by my saying so.  When the atheist says there is no God he does not cancel the existence of God.  He does not change reality.


12:17  Paul illustrates the absurdity of clones.  Think of how amazing the eye is.  It provides us with instant 3‑D, color video, very high resolution and an automatic inverse converter.  But as great as the eye is it even sounds foolish to think of a person as a big bouncy eyeball.  How attractive would a six foot eyeball be?


We are neither all random running robots ricocheting off the events of the universe nor are we melted, merged, and molded together into oblivion and the nothingness of some spiritual ocean.


12:18  We have been arranged by God, not by a committee vote.  We are the way we are because God wanted us this way (just as He desired).  God made me something special.  I’m the only one of my kind.  (Compare with verse 11.)  There is no room for a door mat philosophy that says, “poor little insignificant me”.  Neither is there room for a fat head that says, “Where would you be without me?”


12:19-20  Paul adds to his argument.  Look at the facts.  Do you have one or many members?  Nature itself will show you that some attitudes you have toward others in the church is just not right.  You are really important to each other.  Nature itself lays down some guidelines for the proper use of spirituals in the church.


12:21 The fact of the many is established; now the function of the many is going to be established.  God has given each a function or ministry.  My ministry cannot be nullified by your declaration.  The face does not decide when the foot no longer has value.  The individual members are in no position to assess the value of the other members.


12:22-23 In fact our judgment would probably be exactly the opposite of God’s.  God gave us functions so that the more necessary parts are the weaker.  The less honorable parts we surround with more honor.  Think about the kidneys, the inner ear, or the taste buds.  You are not usually attracted to someone because of their inner ear.  Have you ever gone up to someone and said, “my you have pretty kidneys.”


We focus on the visible parts of the body just as the Corinthians were focusing on the visible ‘gifts’.  And Paul reminds us that the visible are the least necessary.  They were ignorant of the spirituals.


12:24  In God’s sight the kidneys of the church may be more indispensible than the pretty face.  Why does everybody want to be a pretty face?  God chose the un-noble things of this world so that man would bring more praise to God.  God gives greater honor to the unseen in life.


12:25  The reason for this is that there would be no division in the body, and that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  God’s plan was to create a caring fellowship.


12:26  The result of a caring fellowship is that we will naturally weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice.  When I get a sliver, my whole body suffers.  When my hands do good and are honored, my whole attitude improves.  When my finger is free of the sliver, all of me rejoices.  That is why we share testimonies and concerns.


In the healthy body there is no place for division, discontentment, envy, pride, or arrogance.


12:27  Because if you claim to be a Christian, you all as a Church are Christ’s body and as individuals you are members of it.  The owner of the body is Christ.  As we abide in Him we have His life flowing in us.  We are members of His body.  The world should see Christ in us collectively.


12:28  Paul is not intending to list all the different parts of the body.  In fact the grammar suggests that the primary idea is the fact that God gives gifted men to the church.  The focus is on the fact that God has appointed individual members to function as apostles, prophets, and teachers.


Then secondarily the thought is that there are abilities given to individuals.  What you label these abilities is not as important as the fact that God has given them and the fact that they must function as God designed them to function.


Man can appoint men to an office, but God gives them ability for service.  God does not give gifts to fill man‑made offices.  Christ provides the place in the body to serve where we are designed to serve.  An office should be because of a gift, not vice versa.


12:29‑30  The obvious emphasis is on ‘not all’ which is repeated 7 times in these two verses.


Pagan worship was monotonous.  We were created different.  Our abilities are different.  If there is no diversity, there is no body of Christ.  If there is no variety in the church there is no unity.


12:31 Paul makes an obvious statement that has been historically translated as a command.  In my opinion there are 3 reasons why the traditional translation is not accurate.


1. There is no need to seek or desire charismatics if God has already gifted us.  If it is true what Paul has repeated several times in chapter 12, that God has arranged the gifts, if it is true that each person has received exactly what God has wanted him to have, then it is a contradiction for Paul to now tell us to seek for ourselves the charismatics.


2. The second contradiction is that the body analogy reminds us that no gift is greater than any other gift.  The word ‘greater’ should be translated ‘more’, greater in quantity rather than quality.


3. The first verb in this verse (to desire) can be translated as an indicative or an imperative, a simple statement or a command.  The imperative form is obviously the less usual in any language, so unless there is some good reason for the imperative it should be translated in the indicative, as a simple statement of fact.


The Greek literally reads, “But you are desiring the charismatics, the more.”


The verb desire means to have a strong affection towards, be ardently devoted to.  It is used in a good sense to mean desire, strive, and seek and in the negative sense it means to be filled with jealousy, and selfish envy toward someone.  It can be either negative or positive.


The same Greek word is used in 1 Corinthians 3:3, 13:4, and 14:12.  13:4 says love does not do it!

If love does not desire, then why would Paul command us to do it in 12:31?  I do not think he did.


Therefore, because the grammar encourages the indicative, because the word itself is usually used in the negative sense, and because the context demands it, I would translate this phrase to read, “You all are selfishly striving after the more outward and showy gifts…”


“…Now let me show you a more excellent way.”


Chapter 13 describes this better way.  Then 14:1 commands us to desire the ‘pneumatikons’ which they had been ignorant of.  Paul is not happy with the immaturity in the Corinthian church.  He could have given them a list of do’s and don’ts.  He could have belittled them about their arrogance and ignorance.  He does not take sides.  Instead several times he says, “Stop and think.”  Now he says, “Let me show you a more excellent way.”


The Holy Spirit is working in your life and in our church today to bless us and make us a blessing to many.  Don’t be ignorant of the spiritual dimension of your life.  God is working in your life and trying to direct your ways.


Your heavenly Father gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him (Lk 11:13).  The Holy Spirit is with you when you are convicted of your sin.  The Holy Spirit is in you when you become a Christian.  The Holy Spirit comes upon you when you ask.  You are a spiritual being.  The things that are seen are temporal.  The things that are not seen are eternal.

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