Giftedness, Part 4: 1 Corinthians 12 on Giftedness and Authority

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dove_fire1 Cor 12 and giftedness

Now that we have a better understanding of 1 Tim 2:11-14 and 1 Cor 14:33b-35, we can consider the significance of giftedness without feeling like we’re pitting one scripture against another. How does Paul say giftedness should be lived out in the church? The obvious place to look is 1 Cor 12 —

(1 Cor. 12:4-7 ESV) 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;  6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.  7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

We immediately learn that the Spirit gives a variety of gifts to Christians. Each Christian is given “the manifestation of the Spirit.” BDAG (the premier biblical Greek lexicon published) states, in defining phanerosis, the word translated “manifestation,” that clearly Paul is referring to the charismata, that is, gifts of the Spirit. That is, the gifts the Spirit gives us manifest to others the presence of the Spirit in us.

Now, in v. 7, these gifts — each one — is given “for the common good.” Now, “common good” does not mean “just the women in a ladies class.” But perhaps we’ll find more guidance as we go.

(1 Cor. 12:8-11 ESV)  8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,  9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,  10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.  11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

Verses 8-10 is not a complete list of gifts given by the Spirit. Other gifts are listed elsewhere in 1 Cor and in other NT books. Some of these gifts would meet anyone’s definition of “miraculous,” such as healing (v. 9). Others are much more mundane. For example,

(1 Cor. 12:28 ESV)  28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.

(Rom. 12:6-8 ESV)  6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;  7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;  8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

Consider the gifts of helping others, administrating, serving, teaching, exhorting, contributing, leading, and doing acts of mercy. Most congregations have members with all these gifts, and yet we don’t necessarily credit the Spirit for providing them. However, the text says, the Spirit “apportions to each one individually as he wills”; “God has appointed …”; and “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.”.

The body of Christ

(1 Cor. 12:12-14 ESV)  12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit.  14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

Next, Paul emphasizes, yet again, that all Christians are baptized “in one Spirit … into one body … to drink of one Spirit.” Again, the receipt of the Spirit is for all Christians.

(1 Cor. 12:15-20 ESV)  15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.  17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?  18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.  19 If all were a single member, where would the body be?  20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

Notice Paul’s use of the “body” metaphor. Most importantly for our present discussion, consider v. 18: “God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” If someone has the gift of leadership or the gift of exhortation, it’s because that’s how God, through the Spirit, wants it to be. It’s God’s choice.

(1 Cor. 12:21 ESV)  21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

Why can’t the eye say such a thing? First, because it’s untrue. Second, because God puts each congregation — each body — together as he pleases, granting the gifts he pleases to the individual members as he pleases. To say “I have no need of you” is to claim to be wiser than God.

But, of course, it is argued that gifted women are needed, just not to speak to worship assemblies that include men. They may use their gifts in ladies Bible class, at a ladies retreat, in private teaching, and perhaps even in a class outside the worship assembly. But just not during worship — based on 1 Cor 14:33b-35. But we should be careful when tempted to overrule one part of God’s word with another.

Weaker body parts

(1 Cor. 12:22-25 ESV)  22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,  23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty,  24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it,  25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

Paul’s point, which is plainly true, is that most of us look better with clothes on. Most of us have weaker, unpresentable body parts that look better clothed. And I’ll leave it at that.

In the congregation, God sometimes gives the greatest gifts to the weakest members, to make up what is lacking. Who is weak? It’s likely that Paul would have included women among the “weaker” because they were in a culture in which women were treated with much less respect than men. How would God lift women up in a discriminatory culture? By gifting them. What evidence do I have? Well, so many women were prophesying in chapter 11 that Paul had to deal with how they should dress when so doing. That means many female prophets were in the Corinthian congregation.

And Paul says that God gave gifts in a way to give “greater honor to the part that lacked it.” Women in the Corinth lacked honor. That was the nature of the local culture.

V. 25 emphasizes the mutuality of the care and absence of division that should be prompted by the Spirit’s gifts — which would hardly be the case if some people could use their gifts in worship and others could not use the identical God-given gift in worship — especially if one of God’s goals was to bring honor to those who lacked honor.


If it were not for the traditional reading of 1 Cor 14:33b-35, isn’t it obvious that a Spirit-filled church should consider the granting of a gift authority to use that gift in God’s service? That’s what the gift was given for! God himself chose who should receive the gift — for the benefit of the entire church. If that’s not authority, what is?

Paul says it’s wrong to tell someone with a gift from God, “We don’t need you.” Gifts should be used for the “common good” — for the good of the entire congregation. And God sometimes gives the greater gifts to those perceived to be weaker. He even gave the gift of prophecy in abundant measure to the women of the Corinthian congregation. And now, notice this —

(1 Cor. 12:28 ESV) 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.

In chapter 11, he describes the women in that congregation as prophesying. In the very next chapter, also dealing with spiritual gifts, he ranks prophets as being second only to apostles — even higher than “administrating,” literally a reference to the gift of piloting a ship and often associated by commentaries of all denominations with the eldership.

Now, this doesn’t fit our preconceptions — and is impossible to reconcile with the traditional interpretations of 1 Cor 14:33b-35. But this language is just as inspired as the other. We don’t get to decide which overrides the other based on traditions or church culture (or how other Churches of Christ in town might perceive us). Rather, we have to wrestle with the scriptures until they all make sense together.

This proposed interpretation makes chapters 11, 12, and 14 entirely consistent. The traditional argument ignores the inconsistencies.

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