29 March 2017

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord.” (v. 5)

Psalm: Psalm 128


Paul treads a fine line in helping the congregation in Corinth to grow in Christ. On the one hand, he rejoices that they have left behind paganism with all its empty attraction (verse 2). But on the other, he doesn't want them to become obsessed with classifying the gifts of the Spirit.

He begins his teaching about spiritual gifts by emphasising that they have a fundamental unity and a single source. All the gifts of the Spirit flow from the simple statement "Jesus is Lord" (v. 3). In Greek, it's just two words - 'Iesous kurios'- but they carry great weight as a marker of allegiance. Those living in the Roman empire declared their loyalty to Caesar by affirming 'Kaisar kurios'- 'Caesar is Lord'. It was a massive claim, and potentially dangerous, to declare allegiance to an alternative Lord. Only the Spirit gives Christians the strength to proclaim their faith in this way, and all the Spirit's gifts flow from this central affirmation.

So Christians who declare that Jesus is Lord receive the gifts of the Spirit, and are called to serve the one Lord. Paul expects that every Christian will receive a gift, not just an elite few. And all these gifts are necessary to the flourishing of the whole Church, the "common good" (v. 7), because each is a revelation of the Spirit. Archaeological excavations have revealed some stunning mosaics in Corinth, each cube of glowing stone vital to the overall impact. Perhaps Paul's words about the Spirit evoked such images for his Corinthian readers, giving them a vibrant picture of the Church as a whole and of their essential place within it as bearers of one of the glowing gifts of the Spirit. In the previous chapter, Paul rebuked the congregation for its socially divisive manner of celebrating the Lord's Supper, which privileged rich over poor (1 Corinthians 11:22). Here, he reminds them that all Christians are marked as special through the gifts of the Spirit.

Paul goes on to list a range of the Spirit's gifts, in no particular order. All are valuable to the common life and mission of the Church, and all depend on the same Spirit for their effectiveness. The ego of the individual is swallowed up in the identity of the whole.

To Ponder

  • What gifts of the Spirit do you recognise in yourself and in others? What gifts do others recognise in you?
  • What does it mean for the Church today to proclaim "Jesus is Lord"? Is this still a challenge to existing power structures? If so, in what ways? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Wickens

Caroline is a Methodist presbyter, currently serving as superintendent of the Dudley and Netherton Circuit just outside Wolverhampton. She is married to Andrew, an Anglican priest, and has two teenage children.