These notes are based on the NASB text.
12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.
Paul now turns his attention to the matter of spiritual gifts. The Corinthians had probably asked him some questions about spiritual gifts in their letter to him [see 7:1]. Paul did not want for the Corinthians to be misinformed or uninformed about the purpose and exercise of spiritual gifts in the church. It is likely that their questions were precipitated by problems and abuses of spiritual gifts in the Corinthian church.
12:2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb [voiceless or without sound] idols, however you were led.
Many of the Corinthian believers came out of a background of idol worship. Many of them participated in frenzied worship of idols in which they spoke to the idols but the idols did not speak to them. In this context many of them experienced ecstatic utterances.
12:3 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.
It seems that some uttered “Jesus is accursed” while in an ecstatic state of idol worship. “The reference is to demonic powers and the control of these powers over the lives of the Corinthians before they became Christians. It is possible that the demons used the gift of ecstatic speech to curse Jesus” [Rienecker/Rogers]. In contrast, only a true believer can say “Jesus is Lord.”
12:4 Now there are various gifts [charismaton or grace-gifts from God], but the same Spirit.
Paul pointed out that there were a variety of grace-gifts that had been bestowed upon the church by God through His Holy Spirit. Paul did not want for the Corinthians to misunderstand or be misinformed about the source or giver of spiritual gifts.
12:5 And there are varieties of ministries [diakonion], and the same Lord.
In the same way that God has given different gifts to believers, he has given different ministries to them. Believers are to use their spiritual gifts in ministry or service. These spiritual gifts cannot be earned by service but are given for service.
12:6 And there are varieties of effects [performance], but the same God who works [energizes] all things in all persons.
When believers use their various spiritual gifts in various ministries there are a variety of effects or things that are accomplished. Lest there be further misunderstanding about the matter, Paul reminded the Corinthians that “the same God…works all things in all persons.” Watchman Nee stated, “Divine work can only be done in dependence upon divine power.” It is God who gives us spiritual gifts through His Holy Spirit and energizes us to use those gifts in service.
12:7 But to each [every believer has at least one spiritual gift] one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
God bestows spiritual gifts upon each/every believer “for the common good.” They are not given that believers might use them for selfish ends, but for the good of the church. Warren Wiersbe notes, “They are not for individual enjoyment, but for corporate employment.”
12:8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit;
In verses 8-10, Paul lists some spiritual gifts, This is not an exhaustive list. [See Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:28-30; Ephesians 4:11]. Note the nine gifts discussed in these verses:
[A] “word of wisdom” refers to speech filled with God’s wisdom [Hobbs].
It refers to “insight into the truth of the Word of God” [McGee].
[B] “word of knowledge” refers to logical insight [Hobbs].
It means to investigate or dig into the truth of God’s Word [McGee].
This is “a special ability to teach believers the principles and methods for making practical application of gospel truths in their own individual lives” [M.J. Berquist].
12:9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts [“The plural relates to the different classes of sicknesses to be healed” -Rienecker/Rogers] of healing by the one Spirit,
[C] “faith” refers to working faith [as in 1 Corinthians 13:2]. “Here faith means the capacity to do great things for God” [Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 10].
See also Matthew 17:20 and 21:21.
[D] “gifts of healing” refers to miraculous healing as opposed to healing by treatment [Hobbs].
It “means that the sick were healed by the laying on of hands. I believe this was a gift given to the apostles and to men in the early church” [McGee].
12:10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues [glossa], and to another the interpretation of tongues.
[E] “miracles” refers to God’s power expressed through another [Hobbs].
It means “to do supernatural things” [McGee].
[F] “prophecy” is telling forth the gospel message to others. It denotes “the gift of powerful preaching ability” [Hobbs].
[G] distinguishing of spirits” refers to the ability to “[judge] between gifts or spirits to see if they are of the Holy Spirit or some natural or diabolical force [see 1 John 4:1-2]” [Hobbs].
It “means the ability to distinguish between the false and the true” [McGee].
See also 1 Corinthians 14:29.
[H] “various kinds of tongues” according to Hobbs refers to the ability to speak a language other than one’s own without having studied it, as at Pentecost [see Acts 2:4-11].
“Are these unknown tongues? No, you do not find unknown tongues in Scripture. These are known languages” [McGee].
[I] “interpretation of tongues” refers to the ability to interpret what was spoken for those who did not understand the language [Hobbs].
12:11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
It is the Holy Spirit who distributes spiritual gifts to believers. Therefore it is wrong for believers to be dissatisfied with their gift[s] or to put one gift above another. To do so is to find fault with the work of the Holy Spirit. It is also wrong for believers to brag about their gift[s]. Believers should use whatever gift the Holy Spirit bestows upon them “for the common good” [12:7] and the glory of God.
12:12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.
Beginning in this verse, Paul employs the image of the body to teach the Corinthians some important truths about the church.
As the human body is made up of many members, so the church, the body of Christ, is made up of many members.
12:13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
Every member of the body of Christ became a part of the body in the same way, by believing in Christ. This “baptism of the Spirit” occurs at conversion when the Spirit enters the believing sinner, gives him new life, and makes his body the temple of God. All believers have experienced this once-for-all baptism [12:13]. Nowhere does the Scripture command us to seek this baptism, because we have already experienced it and it need not be repeated” [Wiersbe]. Every man who believes, regardless of rank, race, or riches, becomes a member of the body of Christ.
12:14 For the body is not one member, but many.
Just as the human body is not one member [all tongue or all big toe!], the body of Christ is not one member. The Holy Spirit has bestowed a variety of gifts to be used in service. He has not bestowed the same gift on every member. The human body would not function properly if it consisted of only one member. Neither would the body of Christ function properly if every member were bestowed with the same spiritual gift.
12:15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.
12:16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.
12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?
[A] Each member of the body is important. To be sure, some parts of the body are more prominent and visible than others, but this does not make them of greater importance than the unseen parts.
[B] Each member of the body is unique. While there is a difference in function among parts of the body, an indispensable interdependence must be exercised in order for the body to function properly. A hand would be useless it if were not attached to an arm, etcetera.
[C] Each member of the body must recognize the importance and uniqueness of other members of the body. No one part should become inflated with a sense of its own importance.
[D] No member of the body has a right to criticize or minimize the importance of another member’s gift[s].
[D] No member of the body should feel that they are less than because they are not as prominent as other parts.
[E] No member of the body should complain or brag about their spiritual gift and role in the body. Paul stated in verse 11 that the Holy Spirit has gifted each person according to His will. Each member has a contribution to make in order for the body to function properly.
12:18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.
[F] God is responsible for the diversity of gifts given to the members of the body. The members of the body are responsible for exercising their gifts in such a way that the body functions and moves and ministers in a united way.
12:19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
12:20 But now there are many members, but one body.
12:21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
[G] We need each other.
12:22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary;
12:23 and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness,
12:24 whereas our seemly members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked,
12:25 that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.
[H] In the body of Christ, prominence and visibility do not necessarily equal importance or greater importance. Some of the most important members of the body are those that are never seen, those that work quietly and faithfully in the background.
12:26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
[I] Because of the interrelatedness of the members of the body, when one suffers all suffer and when one rejoices all rejoice. When you stub your unseen and unseemly big toe, your whole body suffers! When your lips receive a cool glass of iced tea on a hot summer day, your whole body rejoices!
12:27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.
12:28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.
[A] “apostles” – those sent forth to sow the gospel seed in new areas.
[B] “prophets” – those who preach the gospel with great power. “Corresponding to what we call evangelists today, they followed in the paths blazed by apostles, going from church to church. Apollos might be classified as such [see Acts 18:24-28]” [Hobbs].
[C] “teachers” – pastors of local churches [see also Ephesians 4:11]. “Perhaps teachers parallels those who have the word of wisdom and word of knowledge [v. 8]” [Brian Harbour, Bible Book Study Commentary, page 94].
[D] “miracles” – powerful works.
[E] “gifts of healing” – miraculous healings.
[F] “helps” – refers to those who assist [like deacons].
[G] “administrations” – those who exercise leadership. “It refers to the steering of a ship. The plural indicates proofs of ability to hold a leading position in the church” [Rienecker/Rogers].
[H] “various kinds of tongues” – known tongues.
12:29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they?
12:30 All do not have gifts of healing, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?
The answer to each of these questions is “No!” Wiersbe notes, “Diversity in the body is an evidence of the wisdom of God.”
12:31 But earnestly desire [continue to cultivate] the greater gifts [the gift(s) that are beneficial to others]. And I show you a still more excellent [greater] way [to exercise your spiritual gifts].
God bestows spiritual gifts to every believer.
The Holy Spirit distributes gifts to believers as He wills. Every believer has at least one spiritual gift. No one has a right to either complain or brag about their spiritual gift.
Spiritual gifts are to be used “for the common good.”
Believers are to exercise their spiritual gifts “for the common good” [12:7] rather than for selfish ends. Gifts are to be used in ministry and service to others and to the end that God might be glorified.
Every member of the body is important.
Every member of the body of Christ, the church, is important. The body functions properly only when each member contributes his or her gifts to the work of ministry. We must cooperate with each other and compensate for each other. We need each other.
No member of the body has a right to look down upon other members of the body.
We must guard against becoming inflated with a sense of our own importance and thinking that we can function without the assistance and aid of other members of the body. We must guard against thinking that we are more important than others because we exercise our gift in a more prominent light than others or because we think our gift is more important/spiritual than another’s. “The ministry of the church does not rest on status but service. No gift that serves others is little. God uses both stars and candles to light the world” [Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 10].