I have heard it said that the age of spiritual gifts has long since faded away. Before we address that sentiment, let’s first look at the context of 1 Corinthians. This book was written by the Apostle Paul (1 Cor 1:1), to the church of Corinth (1 Cor 1:2), nearly 2,000 years ago. We understand the literary genre of this book is that of an epistle, which is essentially a formal letter. Do we then merely extrapolate principles from the text and see how they can apply to the church today? After all, this is a pastoral letter from Paul to a church at a specific point in history, apparently addressing problems and concerns within that particular ministry context. Let’s see if that is the full extent of what we are able to do with Paul’s instructions, given his intended audience.
He writes further in the opening portion, “to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours” (1 Cor 1:2, NIV). Are we, believers in today’s culture, sanctified in Christ Jesus? Yes. Are we, believers in today’s culture, people who call on the name of the Lord Jesus? Yes. So, is there a strong argument that we could carefully examine Paul’s words and directly apply them to our lives today? I believe so.
Moving back to Chapter 12, Paul writes, concerning spiritual gifts, “I do not want you to be uninformed” (1 Cor 12:1b). What a great impetus for one to be in the Word. We are supposed to be students of the Bible. The 66 books of inspired Scripture we have access to are God’s love story for all humanity. Why would we neglect the opportunity to fully understand His plan and redemptive story for us? Why would we intentionally be ignorant – or “uninformed?” In many settings, especially in today’s culture, we have a constant stream of misinformation. When some people chase after overly-sensationalized forms of Christianity, we have an opportunity to understand the truth and not to be uninformed. When we follow rabbit trails of bad intel, we have a greater chance of being “led astray” (1 Cor 12:2). Similarly, the church Paul writes to had some kind of problem with this same temptation.
Have you ever wondered what the power of the Holy Spirit looks like today? Paul gives a pragmatic example, “no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 12:3b). He is not referring to mere lip-service. Those who believe and speak with conviction, confessing Jesus as Lord, do so by the power of the Holy Spirit. Do you believe Jesus is truly Lord? Say it out loud right now – JESUS IS LORD! You just witnessed the power and movement of the Holy Spirit.
The description of spiritual gifts in our text today underlines the message of unity in the Body of Christ. We see through the array of differing kinds of gifts, they are all given by the same Spirit – the Holy Spirt (1 Cor 12:4). The same Spirit – Lord – God – gives gifts, service and working, unified within the same body of believers. I sometimes explain it this way; Our family at home has several members. Each of us has a unique skillset. If my wife were to become ill or travel somewhere, I would go to my 15-year-old son. He is amazing (next to my wife) in the kitchen. If we were to lose power and water, I would go to my 16-year-old son. He has impressive survivalist skills. This does not mean we are a house divided. Rather, we are a house blessed with different skills, gifts and abilities to serve. We celebrate our unity and ability to cope with many different situations because of the diversity of gifts and skills we have been given.
We see this same concept in the church. God has given different believers different kinds of gifts and skills (1 Cor 12:4). They all come from God. They are all beneficial and beautiful. Each and every gift has been given in the manner that He Himself has determined, according to His own will (1 Cor 12:11). God chooses how, when and why spiritual gifts are given. This distribution of gifts is not for personal enrichment or self-glory. The purpose is for the “common good” (1 Cor 12:7b). The common good implies an edification of the church and a pointing to Christ as seen in outreach or evangelism. I realize the text does not specifically say, ‘edification’ or ‘outreach,’ however, the idea of the common good in not an individualistic concept. Looking at Scripture as a whole, we, the Body of Christ, have a job to do. We are to live exemplary lives of servant leadership in order to reflect Jesus to the world, drawing people to Him.
In terms of spiritual gifts, there is nothing in Scripture that would indicate they have ceased. Our approach to them might need to be more closely examined. What is the purpose? What is our reason for chasing after them? Rather, we should chase after Christ Jesus, and in so doing, make ourselves ready and available when He determines an appropriate time and place for the distribution of a particular spiritual gift. It reminds me of a phrase I heard once, “Pursue the Healer rather than the healing. Pursue the Gift Giver rather than the gift.”