The Twenty-Second in a Series of Sermons on 1 Corinthians
The church in Corinth was struggling with a number of issues. When they asked Paul a question about spiritual gifts and speaking in tongues, Paul answers their question by taking up a discussion of spiritual things (pneumotikon). Paul informs them that in order to understand spiritual things, a Christian must first confess that Jesus is Lord through the enabling of the Holy Spirit. A Christian must believe that Jesus is the Lord of all things and the very Son of God, whose death saves us from the guilt and power of sin, and whose righteousness is imputed to us through the means of faith. For Paul, knowing and confessing that Jesus is Lord, is the starting point when it comes to understanding spiritual things (the pneumotikon). We must understand spiritual things so that we understand spiritual gifts (the so-called charismata), including the role of speaking in tongues.
As we continue our series on 1 Corinthians, we have reached chapter 12 where Paul seeks to answer a question the Corinthians had put to him in a letter which reached the Apostle while he was in Ephesus. Although Paul doesn’t tell us what their question was, it must of had something to do with speaking in tongues, since this is the subject of a lengthy discussion in chapter 14. In chapters 12-13, Paul is laying the ground work for dealing with that subject by addressing how we as Christians are to understand “spiritual things.” Understanding spiritual things enables us to speak properly about spiritual gifts and to realize that the greatest of the Spirit’s gifts is not the ability to speak in tongues, but the ability to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, the subject of chapter 13.
Having affirmed the Lordship of Christ as the foundation for the discussion of spiritual things in verses 1-3 of chapter 12 (our subject last time), Paul continues to deal with the specific question asked by the Corinthians. At this point, Paul takes up a discussion of spiritual gifts. While there is one Lord (Jesus) and one Holy Spirit, there are many spiritual gifts given to those within the church. Each of these individual Christians who is given a particular spiritual gift plays a vital role in the building up of the body of Christ because these gifts are given for the common good, as Paul puts it.
In verses 4-11 of chapter 12, Paul describes how genuine Christian unity is based upon the fact that there is one God, one Lord, one Spirit, and one common divine purpose for spiritual gifts. Therefore, the only way to make sense of spiritual gifts, is to understand the unity of Christ’s body, and how these gifts serve the purpose of building up that one body. This flies in the face of the pagan understanding of spiritual things which saw such so-called “spirituality” as centering in someone’s religious experiences, or in the ability to predict the future, speak to the dead, or pronounce or remove blessings and curses. Paul is reminding the Corinthians that spiritual gifts are not about Christians as individuals, but about the well-being of Christ’s church as a whole.
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