1 Corinthians 12
We’re all in this together
Don’t be clueless1 Dear family, when it comes to spiritual gifts, I don’t want you clueless. 2 You know that when you are outside the faith you let yourself get seduced—pulled off into worshiping idols that couldn’t even talk.
3 So let me give you some basic facts about God’s Spirit. No one speaking under the Spirit’s influence is going to say, “Jesus is cursed of God.” On the other hand, only under the Spirit’s influence can anyone say, “Jesus is Lord.”
Spiritual gifts, the short course4 People have different gifts. Every gift comes from the same Spirit. 5 People have different ways of helping others. Every ministry comes from the same Lord. 6 People make different good things happen. Every accomplishment comes from the same God.
7 Gifts we get from the Spirit are for the good of everyone. 8 The Spirit gives the gift of insight to one person and the gift of knowledge to another. 9 The Spirit gives enhanced faith to one, and an ability to heal people to another.
10 Another gets the ability to perform miracles, someone else gets to prophesy, another can tell if something is of God’s Spirit, another can speak in different languages, and another can translate those languages. 11 All of this comes from the same Spirit, who gives each person whatever gift he wants them to have.
We’re each part of something big12 There are a lot of working parts that make up one physical body. Yet together, those parts work as one. That’s how it is with the body of Christ, which is the church.  13 The Spirit baptized all of us into this one body, the church. We’re an assortment of Jews, non-Jews, slaves, and free folks. But without exception, we each draw our spiritual nourishment and power from the same Spirit. 14 Without a doubt, the body isn’t a single part. It’s built from many parts.
15 Imagine the foot saying, “Hey guys, it’s pretty obvious I’m not a hand. Of course, that means I’m not part of the body.” Well, no it doesn’t. The foot is still part of the body. 16 Imagine the ear saying, “I’m not an eye, so I’m not part of the body.” It doesn’t mean that at all. The ear is still part of the body. 17 What if the whole body were an eyeball? Wouldn’t that make it kinda tough to hear? And if the whole body were an ear, how could we smell anything?
18 Fact is, God wove together all the parts of the body in just the way he wanted. 19 What would life be like if our body was just one body part? 20 But our body is made up of many parts.
21 The eye can’t say to the hand, “You’re fired. I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “Take a hike. I don’t need you anymore.” 22 The opposite is true. In fact, the body parts that seem weakest and nonessential are the most important of all.
23 Consider this. The private body parts we consider unpresentable are the ones we treat with the most respect. We honor them by treating them with the greatest modesty. 24 Presentable parts of our body don’t get this special treatment because they don’t need it. Think of what God did when he created the body. He built it in such a way that we end up showing the most respect to the least respectable parts of the body.
25 This shows that there’s a camaraderie—a unity of purpose—among the body parts. They take care of each other. 26 If one part of the body suffers, all of the body suffers. If one body part has a reason to celebrate, the entire body celebrates, too. 27 You are the body of Christ in this world—the church. Each one of you is a single part of that body. 28 God has appointed leaders in the church.
- Apostles are the top leaders.
- Prophets come next.
- Teachers next.
- Miracle workers.
- People who heal the sick.
- People who help others.
- People who can speak in spiritual languages.
Bible experts debate what kind of languages Paul is talking about. He may be talking about the kind of gift that shows up in Acts 2, when the followers of Jesus were miraculously able to speak in languages they had not learned. “The Holy Spirit filled every person there. And the people started to speak in different languages, as the Spirit gave them the ability” (Acts 2:4). Or Paul may have been talking about an “unknown language” (1 Corinthians 14:6 New Living Translation), which some Christians today call “tongues.” Some scholars argue for both. They say Paul uses a Greek term, genos, that can mean a family of languages or species of languages. Under that category they would include all languages in heaven and on earth, including the “the heavenly language of angels” (1 Corinthians 13:1).
“Which is the church” is added to explain what Paul means by “the body of Christ.”
Paul uses the Greek word glossa, often translated as “tongues.” It can mean other human languages. But it can also mean a spiritual language that can sound to others like gibberish. Many early Christians, including Paul and Christians in Corinth, seemed to believe that the Holy Spirit allowed some people to speak in a language that Paul once described as the “tongues of angels” (1 Corinthians 13:1). Some Bible experts say that Paul put this gift last on this list because it was causing problems at the church in Corinth. It disrupted worship services when someone would stand up and start talking in a language that made no sense to most people in the room. Paul addresses the problem in 1 Corinthians 14.
Spoiler alert. The gift is love. See 1 Corinthians 13.
Paul seems to use the first three verses in this chapter as an introduction. But for many readers, it’s hard to see the connection between these verses and Paul’s short course on spiritual gifts that takes up the rest of the chapter. What point do you think Paul is trying to make with these verses? Here are a few contenders suggested by Bible experts.
- All Christians are spiritual as well as physical.
- All Christians are directed by the Holy Spirit.
- Because the same Spirit influences everyone, no one spiritual gift is more important than another.
Paul says that when God created the human body “He built it in such a way that we end up showing the most respect to the least respectable parts of the body” (12:24). If he is comparing the human body to the church, what do you think he’s trying to say—because it certainly doesn’t seem to work out the way he’s describing it? In the church, we tend to give the greatest respect to the most respectable people.
If Paul is trying to make the point that all spiritual gifts are equally important, why does he put himself, as an apostle, at the top of the hierarchy list? “Apostles are the top leaders” (12:28).
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul uses the parts of the human body to make the point that every Christian is an important part of “the body of Christ in this world—the church. Each one of you is a single part of that body” (12:27). Sometimes we don’t feel like we’re much of a part of the church. Sometimes we feel like a lowly toenail, a hanging booger, a pain in the butt. What can make people feel that unimportant or disconnected from the church?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul says “the body parts that seem weakest and nonessential are the most important of all” (12:22). Really? Do you know of any people in the church who might be considered weak compared to leaders of the church, but who are more important to the well-being of the church than many others?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul says, “If one part of the body suffers, all of the body suffers. If one body part has a reason to celebrate, the entire body celebrates, too” (12:26). How have you seen that play out in churches you or people you know have attended?