DIFFERENT AND THE SAME

1 CORINTHIANS 12:1-11

When you trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, believing the work that He accomplished on the cross and accepting His perfect sacrifice on your behalf, you received a new identity. You have become a new person. You are not the old person you used to be. You have a new identity. This new identity is rooted in the person of Jesus Christ.

Because He is the Son of God, you are also a child of God. Because He has eternal life, you also have eternal life. Because He is righteous, you have also been declared to be righteous. Because He was crucified, you are considered to have been crucified with Christ in the eyes of the law. Because He rose from the dead, you will also rise from the dead and are even today considered to be risen with Christ. Because He is the Heir to the kingdom, you are also a co-heir with Christ.

That is not all. Christ has also given you a spiritual gift. This is a special supernatural ability that is designed for service to the Lord.

Most Christians today believe that spiritual gifts exist, but do not act as though they exist. We do not usually act as though God has equipped us with something special. If anything, we tend to act as though we were completely unequipped for any kind of service.

Paul sets out to teach the Christians at Corinth about spiritual gifts. He does this, not as an end in itself, but to show how there is to be unity within the church, even when we are gifted in different sorts of ways.

 

THE BASIS FOR OUR UNITY

1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols, however you were led.

3 Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:1-3).

People often get the idea that the Bible is supposed to be deep and mysterious and that no one can really understand what it is talking about. Notice what Paul says. He does not want you to be unaware. He does not want to keep you in the dark about spiritual matters.

The purpose of the Bible is to reveal truth, not to hide truth. But there is a modifier here. The Bible only reveals truth to those to whom it is written. It only reveals truth to those who are "brethren."

  1. The Problem of a Past Ignorance: You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb idols, however you were led (12:2).
  2. This verse introduces a contrast. Paul is going to contrast the Corinthian pagans of yesterday with the Corinthians Christians of today. He contrasts what they used to be with what they have become.

    What You Were

    What You Are

    Pagans ("nations")

    Believers

    Led astray to dumb idols

    Brought to Jesus

    You used to say, "Jesus is accursed."

    Now you say, "Jesus is Lord."

    This is the same contrast that was seen in the early chapters of this epistle. It was a contrast between the people of the world and the people of God. It was a contrast between those who are of the flesh and those who are of the Spirit. It is a contrast between those who try to come to know God by their own wisdom and those who come to know God through the preaching of the cross.

  3. The Partnership in a Present Declaration: Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is accursed"; and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit. (12:3).

There is no middle ground between these two positions. You are in one of these two camps. You are saying one of these two things. The entire human race fits into one of these two categories.

At this point, I can hear you objecting, "Wait just a minute! I may not have accepted Jesus as Lord, but I am not cursing Him, either." I have news for you. You cannot be neutral when it comes to Jesus. He will not allow neutrality. You are either on His side or else you are against Him.

"He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters" (Luke 11:23).

If someone is not a Christian, then he is an enemy of Christ. He is ultimately against Christ. He is, in effect, an antichrist.

At this point, there is a temptation to become very exclusive. You may be thinking, "This means that anyone who doesnít belong to my particular denomination can be used for target practice." And so, I want to point out the rest of the story.

And John answered and said, "Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to hinder him because he does not follow along with us." 50 But Jesus said to him, "Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you." (Luke 9:49-50).

One day, the apostle John comes to Jesus with some disturbing news. He and the other disciples had seen a man who was casting out demons in the name of Jesus. To make matters worse, this man was not one of the twelve apostles. Who gave him the right to go around casting out demons in the name of Jesus? He hadnít been to seminary. He didnít even have a Bible college education. He didnít have the approval of the Twelve. He didnít belong to their denomination.

John concludes, "Donít you worry, Jesus. We fixed his wagon. Yes sir, we told him to cut that out."

What is the response of Jesus? He says not to stop the man. Why not? Because he who is not against you is for you. If someone is not fighting you, then it is because he is really on your side.

This is an important lesson. Just because someone does not talk like you and walk like you and dress like you and part his hair the way you do does not necessarily mean that he is a pagan. Just because someone does not hold to your prophetic views or does not belong to your particular denomination or worship in your preferred style does not mean that he is not a Christian.

Christians come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. They come from all sorts of customs and social backgrounds.

If that is true, then how can you tell whether or not a man is a Christian? Look at what he says about Jesus. Is he for Jesus or is he against Jesus? Does he try to obey Jesus or is he interested only in doing his own thing? Does he talk like Jesus is his Lord or does he talk as though Jesus is just another man?

This is the basis for our unity. It is that we say the same thing about Jesus Christ. We may do everything else differently. We may come from different cultures and different times; we may have different political ideologies and different philosophical beliefs, but we agree that Jesus is Lord.

THE PRINCIPLE OF UNITY

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).

Paul now proceeds to mention three areas in which Christians are different. He does this to show that there is unity even with variety.

Some of my closest Christian friends are people who are completely different from one another. Some are people with whom I would have absolutely nothing in common if it were not for Christ. But when we are bound together in Christ, it is enough.

  1. Unity in the Midst of Different Gifts: Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit (12:4).
  2. When I was a lot younger, I came under the ministry of a man who had the gift of evangelism. This man had a special gift for explaining the gospel and for drawing people to Christ. He personally led thousands to belief in Jesus and he taught others to do the same.

    There was only one problem. He did not seem to recognize that there are varieties of gifts. He believe that, since he led thousands to Christ, that everyone else ought also to lead thousands to Christ. He taught that if a day went by and you didnít lead someone to Christ, then you were in sin.

    Do you see what he was doing? He was demanding that everyone have the same gift that he had. He did not seem to realize that there are varieties of gifts.

  3. Unity in the Midst of Different Ministries: And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord (12:5).

Just as all gifts are not the same, so also all ministries are not the same and all churches are not the same.

Even when two believers have the same gift, it is often manifested in a variety of different ministries. In spite of all these differences, we still have a point of unity. It is that we have the same Lord.

  1. Unity in the Midst of Different Effects: And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. (12:6).

Even when there are two different ministries that are similar in style and content, they still can experience different effects.

One ministry may explode like wildfire, bringing in thousands of people. Another ministry may see a very gradual growth of only a few people a year.

Is one ministry of God and the other not? Is bigger better? Is smaller better? No. They are both Godís ministry.

 

THE PRINCIPLE OF VARIETY

7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

We usually think of this passage as one that describes some of the spiritual gifts. After all, nice specific gifts are listed. Iíve read countless books that cite this passage and then go on to do a thorough study of each of the gifts that are listed. One can even take a test that will tell you in which of these areas you might be gifted. While there can certainly be some value in such exercises, we ought to note that this passage does not describe these gifts at all. It does not tell us any identifying features of any of the gifts that are listed. It isnít meant to.

Donít miss this! Paulís purpose is not to tell us all there is to know about spiritual gifts. His purpose is to tell us that there is variety within the unity of Godís people.

I think there is a reason for this. If Paul had given us a detailed description of these various gifts, then we would tend to be very restrictive in their manifestation. We might come up with a regulative principle of spiritual gifts that said we can only use the gifts in the way in which the Bible specifically tells us we can use them.

For example, let us imagine that Paul had related a vivid description of the gift of wisdom. We would then have a tendency to take anyone who did not match up to our expectation of that description and say to that person, "If you want to exercise the gift of wisdom, then you have to look like this and talk like that and dress a certain way and move your hands in a certain way."

Instead, he makes the point that the gifts are manifested in many different ways. I happen to have a gift for teaching. But I have met others who also have a gift of teaching who are completely different than me and who utilize a completely different style in teaching. The manifestation of that gift in their lives and ministries are completely different from the way that gift has been manifested in my life. Is that bad? No, that is good because God has made us to be different.

  1. Variety is Given by the Spirit: But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit (12:7).
  2. Here is one definition of a spiritual gift. A spiritual gift is a manifestation of the Spirit. When you see a spiritual gift in action, you are seeing the Holy Spirit at work.

    The Holy Spirit is invisible. You cannot see Him. You can only see where He is at work. Jesus likened the Holy Spirit to the wind. You can see the effects of the wind. You can see leaves and clouds and sand being blown along. You can see flags flapping and you can see tree branches bending, but you are not actually seeing the wind. You are only seeing the effects of the wind.

    By the same token, when you see someone using a spiritual gift in a spiritual manner, you are seeing the physical effects of the working of the Holy Spirit.

  3. Variety is Given for the Common Good: But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (12:7).
  4. The word "for" introduces a purpose clause. Here is the reason that spiritual gifts are given. This is the purpose for spiritual gifts. They are for the common good. They are for the good of those who are a part of the body of Christ.

    This means that the way you use your spiritual gift is very important to me. Your spiritual gift has been given to you for my benefit and my spiritual gift has been given to me for your benefit.

    To use a spiritual gift for your own benefit and for your own self-interest is contrary to the very purpose and nature of spiritual gifts. They are not designed to be pointed inward. They are designed to be directed outward. They are designed to benefit others.

    I personally believe that a lot of the confusion that is evidenced in the modern Charismatic and Pentecostal community could be cleared up by an understanding of this basic purpose of spiritual gifts.

    This brings us to a principle. It is that Christianity is a team effort. Have you ever watched a football team? I am not a sports fan, but I have watched a few games in my time and I have observed the various members of a football team are different. Not everyone is a quarterback. If everyone tried to be exactly like the quarterback, the entire team would lose. Neither are they all tackles. You canít win a football game if everyone on the team is a tackle.

    Everyone on the team has his own position and each position is important. If the left guard suddenly decides that he is going to take a nap, how is the rest of the team going to function? They will all lose because of the lack of one of the members.

    The same is true within the church. When one of the members is letting a spiritual gift lie dormant, the entire body is going to suffer.

  5. Variety is Given in the ways in which the Gifts are Described: For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues (12:8-10).
  6. There are nine gifts mentioned here. They are all different. Some of these are dramatic and some are quiet. I believe that some of them may have been present only in the days of the early church and some are still with us today.

    What is interesting is that there are several other places in the New Testament where spiritual gifts are listed and those lists are different from the list that is found here. To be sure, there are some overlaps, but there is no passage to which we can turn that gives an exhaustive list of all of the spiritual gifts.

    From that observation, I believe that we can deduce that all such lists in the New Testament are merely representative. Each is only a partial listing of the spiritual gifts and even if we took all of the lists and combined them, we would still have only a partial listing of the different ways in which God has gifted His church.

  7. Variety is Given according to Godís Will: But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills

The spiritual gifts are given according to the will of God, not according to your will or my will. That means you cannot choose which spiritual gift you will have. You cannot say, "Iíll have one of those and one of these and a little bit of that one over there." You donít get to decide which spiritual gift you have. That is Godís decision and He distributes them as He wills.

God has made each of us differently. No two believers are totally alike. That does not mean we cannot have unity. Even though God has given many different types of gifts, we are the same because our gifts have come from the same source and for the same purpose. Even though we are different, we are one.

_____________________________

About the Author

Return to the John Stevenson Bible Study Page

Have a Comment?