A Reflection on 1 Corinthians 12:1-14 for Sunday, May 24, 2020 at Mosaic Baptist Church
Now about the spiritual, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were unbelievers you were led astray to speechless idols – however you were led. Therefore, understand that no one speaking by God’s Spirit says, “Jesus is cursed”, and no one is able to say, “Jesus is Lord”, except by the Holy Spirit.
Now there is a diversity of gifts, but the same Spirit, and a diversity of services, and the same Spirit, and a diversity of workings, but the same God working all in all. Now to each he gives the Spirit’s revelation for everyone’s good. For to one is given, through the Spirit, a wise word, but to another knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith in the same Spirit, but to another gifts of healing in the one Spirit, but to another powerful workings, to another prophecies, to another the ability to distinguish spirits, to another ethnic languages, to another translation of languages. And all these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who distributes to each as he desires.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body. Whether Jew or Greek or slave or free, all drink of the same Spirit. For the body is not one member but many.
1 Corinthians 12:1-14 (Own translation)
In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul addresses a number issues raised by the community. It would seem these include worship, communion, and the ‘spiritual’. There are others, but Paul states that they can wait (See 11:34).
The spiritual cannot.
So our passage begins with Paul’s express desire for an informed community on this topic. Yes, the spiritual world is one we are able to understand and discern. Good news indeed!
Paul opens with a simple reminder of the ways his readers have been deceived in this area in the past: ‘…you were led astray to speechless idols…’ He is not being critical – more like realistic. It is something of a gentle reminder of the possibility of being deceived and the importance of finding a way to discern.
What strikes me here is the description idols as ‘speechless’ or mute. If there is anything Paul celebrates here it is a communicating, speaking, God. The myriad of ways God communicates to and through the community stands so starkly alongside these ‘speechless’ idols. If there is anything clear here – that will help us discern – it is that God’s Spirit speaks!
And so do we. So much so that it is our speech that enables us to discern spiritual sources. For Paul, this is fairly clear-cut. Those who listen to the divine voice will affirm Jesus’ Lordship. Those in tune with mute idols will not – in fact they will curse such an affirmation. Clearly, Paul’s is a bigger conversation than a list of gifts offered by Holy Spirit: this is all about who we are listening to.
A good Spirit-listener will be tuned to the Spirit – but also to the Spirit-listening community.
You see, there is something of the good parent in Paul’s description of the Spirit. The Spirit works in each believer: “Now to each he gives the Spirit’s revelation for everyone’s good.” It is a great argument for being a good listener. If the Spirit is speaking in such variety of ways and through every believer – not only to and through me – it makes a whole lot of sense to listen carefully to others.
The list of gifts reveals a radical diversity in the way God speaks. There is a myriad of ways God communicates grace to and through us: a wise word, knowledge, faith, healing, powerful works, prophecies, distinguishing spirits, speaking and understanding languages. Given that there are other gift lists in the New Testament that are similar – but not the same – it seems fair to assume that this is not even an exhaustive list!
There is, however, one consistent aspect to all these: ‘the Spirit’. Over and over Paul repeats the singular source of all this communication. One Spirit. One body. Many members manifesting any gifts from one source.
I suspect Paul’s is a call – before anything else – to a life of humble listening to the Spirit and the Spirit speaks through.
How do you respond to the speechlessness of idols? In what way do you agree with this? In what way do you disagree?
What spiritual gifts have you identified in yourself? What gifts have you seen in others?
Are you prone to try to listen to the Spirit without listening to the community?