1 Corinthians, Lesson 21: The “Spirituals”

Cross and Dove (610x351)Although 1 Corinthians is a joint letter from the Apostle Paul and Pr. Sosthenes (1 Corinthians 1:1), the letter continues, for now, being from the Apostle Paul. Paul now switches to a different topic: Spiritual gifts. Paul begins this section with, “Now concerning,” to address specific questions he had received in a letter from the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7:25, 8:1, 12:1, and 16:1). 

Paul will deal with spiritual gifts for three chapters! The structure he uses for these three chapters is a familiar one using a chiasm:


Lesson 21, Chiasm of 1 Corinthians, Chapters 12-14


The overall point that Paul make is that love is THE greatest Spiritual gift, dedicating an entire chapter in the center of the chiasm (the central point!) on love.


The “Spirituals”

Paul begins chapter 12, focusing on the Holy Spirit and what comes from Him. He starts out, “Now concerning the Spirituals,” that is, that which comes from the Spirit. Notice that Paul doesn’t use the word “gift,” not yet. He’ll do that starting in verse 4.  

For now, Paul wants us to focus on the Holy Spirit, the one who bestows “Spiritual” things and gifts to the Church. At the close of the chapter, Paul will list some of the “Spirituals,” the Spiritual things in the Church, which will include people and gifts.

Read 1 Corinthians 12:1

The Corinthians were not “uninformed” about spiritual gifts. They were, however, uninformed in their understanding of them and how those gifts were to be used in the Church.

Read 1 Corinthians 12:2-3

  • Contrasting Christianity with false religions, what does Christianity confess?


  • Paul sets the stage for tearing down what some in the Corinthian congregation had considered to be their “spiritual gifts”? What area of false spirituality will Paul confront, shown by the two verbs he uses in verses 3-4?


  • If one has a Spiritual gift from the Spirit, where does that gift ultimately point when that gift is expressed (vs 3)?


The “Graces”

Read 1 Corinthians 12:4-7

Paul now switches His focus from the Spirit to what the Spirit gives: gifts. Paul does this by switching words: he moves from using “the Spirituals” to using “gifts” (charismata), which have their source from the Holy Spirit.

  • What does Paul reveal in passing about the Trinitarian nature of God?


“Varieties”: Greek, diairesis: has the idea of apportioning. God gives an allotment to one person and a different allotment to another. No one receives all the spiritual gifts of God; instead, God distributes His bounty of Spiritual gifts as He chooses within the Church.

“Gifts”: Greek, charismata: A favor bestowed, from charis, which means “grace.” Thus, it is an expression of the grace of God given to a person for the benefit of the Church. These gifts are not the natural abilities that someone has inherited from his parents, although someone’s natural abilities and talents do intersect with these graces, as one uses these Spirit-given gifts.

“Service”: Greek, diakonia: forms of service, ways to serve. The focus is on serving others.

“Activities”: Greek, energama: tasks, activities, work. This is similar to diakonia, but the focus in on the power, “energy,” to perform this service, which comes from God. 


Lesson 21, God at Work through His People in the Church, Pt 1


Lesson 21, God at Work through His People in the Church, Pt 2


The Holy Spirit in the Church

Read 1 Corinthians 12:8-11

  • Paul lists a number of “graces” from the Holy Spirit. Discuss: Are these “graces” or gifts exhaustive?


  • Who apportions what “graces” people have in the Church? (vs 11)


  • What governs what graces the Holy Spirit apportions to those in the Church? (vs 7)


  • Paul began chapter 12 so the Corinthian congregation would not be “uninformed” about the Spirit’s “graces.” Based on what Paul mentions most, in what area were the Corinthian Christians using their Spiritual gifts (if they were really from the Spirit) in an uniformed way? (vs 8-10)


  • Beyond what is for the “common good,” based on how one speaks and what he says, what should be the result of such speaking? (vs 3)


Lesson 21, The Churchs Focus on Jesus


The Church (as the Body of Christ) has Many Members

Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-13

  • What makes up the Church, just like what makes up a person’s body?


  • When properly functioning, does a person’s body have parts that “do its own thing”?


  • What does this mean for the Church?


In this section, Paul takes his readers back to an earlier example he used for God’s Old-Covenant people. They were baptized in the sea and ate and drank the same spiritual food and drink, Christ. Those were Old-Covenant metaphors for New-Covenant baptism and the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 10:1-4).

“Baptized into one body”: Paul goes back to 1 Corinthians 10:1-2: “I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.”

  • What brings someone into the “one body,” the New-Covenant Church?


“Drink of the one Spirit”: Paul goes back to 1 Corinthians 10:3-4: “They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.”

  • How does one drink of the one Spirit?


  • Who in the Church is to drink of “the one Spirit”?


Read 1 Corinthians 12:14-21

  • That Paul is being repetitive shows us what about the point he is trying to make?


  • Earlier, which class of people did Paul chastise when it came to the Lord’s Supper? (1 Cor 11:22)


  • Thus, at Corinth, which class of people devalued what other class of people in the Church?


  • Do those whom others devalue in the Church have a role? (vs. 18)


Read 1 Corinthians 21:22-24

Here, Paul may have paraphrased and adapted Cicero (106 BC – 43 BC) to make his point. Cicero was a Roman philosopher, politician, and orator. His renown was not only in his time, but also in Paul’s day (at least to Gentiles in the Roman Empire). Cicero influenced the use and understanding of prose, not only Latin, but other European languages up to the 19th century!

In his De officiis, Cicero wrote:

Nature seems to have had a great design in our bodies. Our face and figure generally, insofar as it is good-looking, she places in full view; while the parts . . . that serve the needs of nature and have an ugly and unpleasant appearance, she has covered and hidden from view.

Where Cicero spoke of “nature” making this arrangement, Paul points to the Creator of nature: God. Even more, God didn’t just arrange life in the Church to keep the ugly parts out of sight. On the contrary, He arranged the body, giving greater honor to the inferior part (1 Cor 12:24b).

  • Paul moved from the body parts that everyone can see (feet, hands, ears, eyes, ears, and nose) to the “unpresentable parts [that] are treated with greater modesty” (1 Cor 12:24). Although these parts “seem to be weaker” (1 Cor 12:22), what happens when they aren’t functioning?


  • If God gives greater honor to the parts of “the body” that some consider as inferior (1 Cor 12:24b), what does this mean for those in the Church?


Read 1 Corinthians 12:26-27

  • Why does God honor those whom we consider less valuable? (vs. 25)


  • How is the unity that we have in Christ lived out in the Church? (vs. 26)


The Proper Understanding of Gifts in the Church

Read 1 Corinthians 12:27-30

In this section, Paul lists the “Spirituals,” including both people and gifts. Paul moves from the greater to the lesser. We must understand Paul’s arrangement, knowing the misunderstanding of “the Spirituals” at Corinth. In other words, what was Paul trying to achieve by ordering Spiritual things in such a way?

  • We find two broad categories in Paul’s arrangement. What are they?


  • The first category has to do with what in the Church?


  • Why is that category more important than the one that follows?


  • In the book of Acts, whom did God, in particular, give the ability to perform miracles and healings? (Acts 5:12)


  • God used the Apostles to do “many signs and wonders” (Acts 5:12). Yet, Paul listed being an Apostle (1 Cor 12:28) as more important than “miracles and gifts of healing” (1 Cor 12:28). What does that mean about what is most important in the Church?


  • What was Paul doing when he put speaking in tongues and interpreting, which also required speaking, last on the list?


Lesson 21, Spiritual Things from Greater to Lesser


Read 1 Corinthians 12:31

Paul finishes here, pointing to what he will cover in chapter 13.


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  1. I praise God for our confessional faith and doctrine.We need to do more in the area of the gift of Holy Spirit.
    Our Ethiopian Lutheran church grows from few hundred in 1959 to 7 000 000 because of using the gift of God for those who seek spiritual healing where the church is considered as place of divine healing.I have been in problem when I was explaining using these gifts from our church body.Once Professor at our seminary who was pastoring a congregation in Clayton was asking us African students our experience when he was confronted by one young lady possessed by demon.Recently a missionary to Madagascar was amazed by the same gifts applied at a local church over there and asked my same questions.We pastors have responsibilities to discern the fake healers and teach the true healing ministry by the name of Jesus Christ.Let us discuss on the gifts of Holy Spirit 1 Corinthians 1 12.

    • Pr Adefris Mekasha,

      Hope all is well with you. Paul only touches, in passing, on healing in 1 Corinthians 12. His main focus was on correcting the Corinthian congregation in their abuse of their understanding of Spiritual gifts, manifested primarily in the area of speech.

      Paul then directs them to the greatest spiritual gift: Love. But that’s next week’s lesson.

      So stay tuned.

      PR RF