20 May 2016

1 Corinthians 12:3b-13

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (vv. 4-7)

Psalm: Psalm 100


In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul focuses on the work of the Spirit as a gift-bearer to the Christian community. It is likely that Paul's emphasis on the various charismata, or spiritual gifts, is an effort to dispel the idea that the Spirit is known only through speaking in tongues (the term 'glossolalia'). Scholars generally agree that the Corinthians likely practiced ecstatic utterances in their worship. Perhaps this practice was carried over from worship tradition in the pagan temples.

Today's passage begins with Paul clarifying that the Spirit of God would not lead someone to utter a curse against Christ. On the contrary, it is only through the work of the Spirit that a person can make a statement of absolute loyalty - that 'Jesus is Lord'. It was a proclamation that separated Christians from those who rejected the lordship of Christ, whether because of their absolute monotheism or because of the political implications of calling anyone but Caesar 'Lord'.

In verses 4-6 Paul uses a trinitarian formula to connect the work of gifts, service, and activity. The diversity of the community and of different abilities has its foundation in the triune God. Each member of the community receives some manifestation of the Spirit, some gift to use for the common good. The list Paul provides is not meant to be exhaustive, but directs the Corinthians attention away from concentrating too much on just one or two gifts.

Just as each part of the body is important to the proper functioning of the whole, these differing spiritual gifts find their proper expression in relationship with one another. They all share the same source in the Spirit that unites, enlivens, and sustains the whole Body of Christ.

To Ponder

  • What are your spiritual gifts? How are you contributing to the common good through development of those gifts?
  • How might Christian communities encourage people to identify and develop their gifts?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Cindy Wesley

Cindy Wesley is the director of studies at Wesley House in Cambridge. She is responsible for the life of the chapel and for advising students about their courses and modules.