But, brothers, I do not want you to go on being ignorant about the things of the Spirit. 1Co 12:1
When God tells us a story or reveals a principle, he often does that by way of examples. Why am I telling you this? You might have read above verse a hundred times, but usually read it in translations that spoke it like this: ignorant about the gifts of the Spirit.
Actually, in the Greek it says:
But, brothers, I do not want you to go ignorant about the spiritual.
And this is where God’s strategy to talk through examples kicks in.
But first, I want to explain this strategy.
God in the old testament asked wheat farmers not to reap the edges of their fields and not to pick up what fell to the ground, but leave it for the poor people. Needy people could then go and reap it. (So much for state distributed money for non-working people – but this is not a political blog.)
I can see the vintner rejoice – he was just left of the hook. Poor people have to be fed by the wheat guy, not him.
Whereas we know that God just gave us a picture, an example to use our creativity to find out ways to apply the principle to our field of profession. Deep inside you knew, didn’t you?
This is just one example of God using examples to trigger our imagination, creativity, and action. And now you can see why this principle is so vital: it allows the application of godly principles on use cases the bible did not apply them to. Maybe to preserve space. Maybe because God sees us as mature partners, big enough to apply his word respectfully and accordingly. Or maybe because there today are use cases that have not been around back then?
Back to our verse.
We usually translate the verse narrowing it down to “gifts of the Spirit” because Paul afterwards talks about the gifts of the Spirit. And we see the following verses, until he comes to talk about the gifts, as one of his many rabbit trails, an interlude. But if we apply this principle of examples, we come to a different conclusion.
Paul talks about the spiritual here. And his first thought:
You used to believe in idols. And you made idols for everything spiritual you encountered. One for wisdom, one for victory, one for fertility, one for healing, and so on.
Remind you, Paul is talking to ancient Greeks here.
And then he continues: But I, Paul, tell you, there is only one Spirit. There is only one God. What you experience is different facets of one and the same God. Let me give you an example.
And this is where he starts to talk about the gifts of the Spirit.
He shows that the Spirit is working through people in different ways, depending on the person that is ministering, the person or people that are receiving, the situation, and the Spirits sovereign will.
One and the same Spirit is at work in all these things, distributing to each person as he chooses. 1Co 12:11
A word of wisdom – it is not Apollo. A word of prophecy – not Hermes. Healing – not Aesculap. Wonders – not Zeus. One Spirit, one God, different expressions.
He gives another illustration point.
Look at your own body. Your hand does not express yourself the same way as your feet do. Nor does your eye work the same as your ear. Yet they are all expressions of you.
Thus are we expressions of Christ, he the head and we the body. We express him differently, and he works through us differently. Yet one God.
So the gifts of the Spirit are manyfold – maybe, just maybe, there are even more than the nine Paul uses exemplary. Under the inspiration of the Spirit, to align with the nine ornaments on the lamp stand.
But there are other gifts as well, given by the same God in yet different expressions, so we can more fully understand his multi-facetted self.
And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administration, divers kinds of tongues. 1Co 12:28
In Ephesians 4, we learn that Jesus, when ascending, gave gifts too. Three of them are exemplified here: apostles, prophets, teachers. There we find evangelists and pastors in addition. We already saw that the Spirit gave gifts, three of which Paul repeats in this list: miracles, gifts of healing, divers kinds of tongues. And of God the Father, who is not a God of chaos, but of peace, he gives the examples of helps and administrations.
What differentiates the gifts of Jesus from the gifts of the Spirit?
The Spirit gave us tools. Ways to work. They are things we do. We prophecy. We speak words of knowledge. We heal. Better: the Spirit does things through us. Working together with us.
But Jesus gave something entirely different. He gave people to the church. An apostle is a gift. A teacher is a gift. And it is not what they do, but who they are. A prophet does not prophecy – well, I hope he does, but he does so through the gift of the Spirit. But in his office as a prophet he opens up the possibility and teaches the people to hear God’s voice and prophecy. A teacher does much more than teach. He teaches people to both learn and teach themselves. Both by giving them information and revelation, as well as the tools to get information and revelation themselves.
God gives all his gifts at his will. I can desire to prophecy, and Paul later shows us that we all should. And if we ask, we will be given.
The same with the gifts of Jesus. No, not as you think. I cannot ask to become an apostle, and will be one. But the gift is not being an apostle, the gift is the apostle. Therefore, I can ask to find an apostle that will invest himself into my life and I can submit to to become all that God wants me to be. And a prophet. And a teacher. You get the drift.
And there is another gift, a gift of God the Father, that makes all this worthwhile, effective, and life giving. God is love, and he gives us love. And without love, all other gifts will not bring life. God does not take back his gifts, but prophecy spoken without love hurts. An apostle without love manipulates and lords over his people.
But all these gifts have been given for the benefit of ourselves, the church, and even unbelievers. Therefore, they should be executed in orderly fashion, understandable for the people, to their edification and comfort, for their maturity and growth – and most of all, in love.
One God, expressing himself in many ways through and to people to build us up in love.
Or how do you see it?