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the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 12

Hampton's Commentary on Selected BooksHampton's Commentary

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Verses 1-3

Recognizing God's Spirit

It must be remembered that the people of Corinth were primarily Gentiles who had served idols all their lives. They were ignorant of God's will. Spiritual gifts were given by God to alleviate the problems produced by such a background. Lipscomb says these gifts "carried with them ability to know and to make known the will of God, and to confirm it by signs and wonders." In idolatrous worship, the Corinthian brethren would have been accustomed to giving their mind, emotion and will up to an experience. They would have practiced many irrational things. This they did in worshiping an unspeaking idol. If ecstatic, or unintelligible, utterances are mentioned, it was in conjunction with such idolatrous worship ( 1Co_12:1-2 ).

Teachers can be tested 1) by reason, 2) by scripture, and 3) by fruits. Paul began his explanation by showing, through reason, how to determine if a spirit, or spiritual gift, was from God. Such a spirit would not say Jesus was "devoted to destruction," but would say he was Lord. One would have to have known what a person was saying to use this test. The utterances could not have been ecstatic ( 1Co_12:3 ).

Verses 4-7

The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts

Different gifts allowed their possesser to accomplish different tasks, but one Spirit gave all gifts. Further, the apostle said different services were rendered by Christians in behalf of their Lord. For instance, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit gave the apostles the ability to speak in languages they had never studied. Each listener was able to hear in the tongue, or language, in which he was born. They thereby knew God was speaking through the men standing before them. The Almighty was witnessing that their words were true ( Act_2:1-21 ; Heb_2:3-4 ).

God, through the various workings of Christ and the Holy Spirit, showed his support for the church. Each member of the Godhead had his part or role to play. Christ came to speak the words the Father had given him. The Holy Spirit was sent by Jesus to reveal all truth ( Joh_7:16 ; Joh_12:44 ; Joh_12:49 ; Joh_16:12-13 ; Act_2:32-33 ). Similarly, gifts were given for the benefit of the whole church and should not have been a source of false pride ( 1Co_12:4-7 ).

Verses 8-11

The Miraculous Gifts

Paul next went on to list the various ways in which the Spirit miraculously empowered those first century Christians. Wisdom was the gospel, which was given completely to the apostles and partially to the prophets. Knowledge was the inspiration necessary to teach that revealed gospel. Both gifts were from the Holy Spirit. Next, Paul mentions faith, which was one of the special gifts given through the laying on of the apostles' hands. It was a faith that enabled one to work miracles. The healings which Paul listed after faith involved curing the sick miraculously ( 1Co_12:8-9 ).

The miracles some were enabled to work would include healing and punishing ( Act_13:9-11 ). Prophecy was the ability to speak, by inspiration, with God's words. One could discern spirits if he could tell the difference between inspired and uninspired messages. Tongues was the gift that allowed one to speak in a foreign language he had never studied or learned, as the apostles did in Act_2:1-47 . Interpretation was the ability to tell what had been said in that foreign language. It seems significant that Paul mentioned tongues and the interpretation of them last. All of the gifts were given by the same Spirit. No one had a right to be boastful. The Spirit bestowed these gifts upon people by the laying on of the apostles' hands ( 1Co_12:10-11 ; Act_8:18 ; Act_19:6 ).

Verses 12-17

The Unity of the Body

There is but one body. That body is the church. Paul told the Ephesian brethren, "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling." Earlier in the same letter, he had said, "And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all" ( Eph_4:4 ; Eph_1:22-23 ).

There are many different offices in the body, but only one body. The Spirit, working through earthly ministers, had caused people to be baptized into the one body. After baptism, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit ( Act_2:38 ). If the baptism into the one body is the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which would be a filling or overwhelming, then why would Paul go on to say they were "made to drink into one Spirit?" In other words, why would a person already filled with the Spirit have to drink of it ( 1Co_12:12-13 )?

The human body and the church have many members, each with a role to play. Apparently some thought their possession of less showy gifts made them nonessential to the body (church). By referring to the human body, Paul showed each member fulfills an important function. No matter what their function, Paul said each was a part of the body and must perform his duty to the best of his ability. The need for differing gifts was thus made very plain. Different functions were to be performed by different members of the body to have a body working as a harmonious whole ( 1Co_12:14-17 ).

Verses 18-24

The Need For Different Members

God put different members in the body to perform specific functions. If all were the same part, even the most important, they would not have made up a body. Different members are needed to make a body. McGarvey suggests the higher the animal was in God's creative order the more members it had with varying functions. No body would be complete if it lacked even one member. Every member depends on the others ( 1Co_12:18-21 ).

Paul went on to observe that the more essential members of the body (heart, lung, etc.) are also those members requiring the most protection and care. Also, parts that lacked physical beauty are covered with apparel, thus making them more pleasant to look upon. Some parts have no need to be adorned but add beauty to the body. Yet, those parts depend for their existence upon the less beautiful parts ( 1Co_12:22-24 ).

Verses 25-31

Division Is Undesirable

Clearly, the facts Paul presented proved God created the body in such a way that division is undesirable. Every member of the physical body feels for the other members. If one member suffers, the whole body feels pain. Anyone who has ever smashed his thumb or stubbed his toe knows what Paul is saying. He can feel the hurt and a sickness in his stomach, though it was his thumb that was smashed! What is good for one member of the body sends blessings to all. Most of us have heard an athlete say winning the big game made him, or her, forget all about the aching muscles ( 1Co_12:25-26 ).

Paul said the church at Corinth was Christ's body. Each member had a job to be done. He then repeated the spiritual gifts list giving the order of recipients. The apostles were inspired messengers of God. Prophets were inspired to reveal God's will in a more limited way. Teachers took the revealed word and explained it to other Christians. Miracles and healings were used to show the messenger was from God and to punish the wicked. "Helps" describes those who saw others' needs and sought to provide for them. "Administrations" was a description for church leaders and those able to counsel the weak. Note that tongues and the ability to interpret them rank last in both lists ( 1Co_12:27-28 ).

Paul had demonstrated that positions and duties in the body of Christ are as varied as in the physical body. All positions are needed. If the Corinthian brethren wanted greater gifts, the apostle said they would have to desire them and strive to be worthy of them. Yet, he said there was a way that was even greater than gifts. That was the way of love which he wrote about next ( 1Co_12:29-31 ).

Bibliographical Information
Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghc/1-corinthians-12.html. 2014.
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