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I Corinthians 10-13    Listen Podcast

A warning to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 10:1-14)

1 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea,
2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,
3 all ate the same spiritual food,
4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.
5 But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
6 ¶ Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted.
7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.”
8 Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell;
9 nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents;
10 nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer.
11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
12 ¶ Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
13 No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
14 ¶ Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

Before Paul gets back to his discussion regarding eating meat offered to idols which he began back in I Corinthians 8:1 (see notes), he makes it clear to the Corinthians in these 14 verses that God does not ignore rebellion against himself. He does so by making reference to God's covenanted people of the Old Testament, the Jews. Even though he had a special protective relationship with the nation of Israel, he punished them, individually and corporately for their disobedient acts. He identifies that special relationship between God and Israel in verses 1-4 as he indicates that all the Hebrews were under the cloud of God's direction (The Shekinah Glory, see notes), miraculously crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 13, see notes), ate the "same spiritual food" (the manna, Exodus 16, see notes) and drank the same water miraculously provided from the Rock where he refers to it as the "Rock that followed them." Paul is speaking of two Old Testament instances, Exodus 17:1-9 (see notes) and Numbers 20:1-13 (see notes). In the "Ryrie Study Bible" Charles Ryrie has the following entry: "Since the rock is mentioned twice, and is in different settings, a rabbinic legend held that a material rock actually followed the Israelites. Paul, however, says that it was Christ who was with Israel all the way."

Despite the fact that all of these Hebrews were chosen by God, Paul says in verse 5, "But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness." Paul then makes reference to 4 separate examples of Israel's disobedience (verse 6, "lust after evil things") and resulting action from God.

So why did Paul recount these four instances of Israel's disobedience? Look at verse 11, "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come." Here's a principle of God with which many Believers seem to have a problem. God has always used physical chastisement to correct his people when they disobey. There are a host of teachers today who insist that Satan is the source of all sickness in Believers - that God never inflicts sickness on his children. That teaching has no foundation in scripture whatsoever. In the next chapter we'll see that Paul attributes sickness and death among the Corinthians to God's chastising hand (11:29-32, see below) just as he did in these four Old Testament instances. It is a well-established principle of God's dealing with his people. Hebrews 12:6-8 (see notes) says, "For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons." To express it simply: God deals with us just as a good father deals with his son; he corrects him when he disobeys.

Verse 13 ties this section together for the Believer; it's a great promise verse that says, "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." Now let's understand the context in which this was written; it follows four instances where God's people (Israel) succumbed to the tempting circumstances around them and forsook the leadership of God. Then in verse 14 we see the segue from Israel's struggle with idolatry back to the discussion of the meat offered to idols which Paul began in I Corinthians 8:1 (see notes). In verse 14 Paul says simply, "Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry."

I suppose in speaking of idolatry, we should also point out Paul's reference to it in Colossians 3:5 (see notes), "Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." The Greek word used there is "pleonexia" and typically equates with "greediness." However, only used 10 times in the New Testament, context seems to indicate some dishonesty or problems with integrity in the process of exercising that greed. Since Paul equates "covetousness" with "idolatry," and God destroyed Israel and Judah for idolatry, Believers' interests are best served by steering away from any covetous activity in their lives. Although, in the context of this passage of scripture from I Corinthians 8 down through I Corinthians 10, Paul is obviously speaking of literal idolatry as practiced in the pagan temples.

So what about that meat offered to idols (I Corinthians 10:15-22)

15 I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say.
16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
18 ¶ Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?
19 What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything?
20 Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons.
21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.
22 Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?

Here, Paul makes a distinction regarding knowledge of the origin of the meat eaten. He seems to be saying that the Corinthians should not seek meat offered to pagan gods. Actively seeking it would imply participation in the pagan ritual. Paul implies this differentiation: The meat is not actually contaminated in any way, but to seek it out might be taken as an endorsement of pagan practices.

Paul uses two examples to demonstrate that a substance only has greater meaning within the context of the ritual itself:

Just so, this meat offered to idols only has a pagan spiritual significance within the context of the pagan ritual itself. Therefore, within the context of the ritual, eating that meat is wrong for a Believer (verses 19-22). In very strong words, Paul discourages participation in any way with anything that would endorse or encourage the practice of offering meats to pagan idols.

But what about the meat...I mean really! (I Corinthians 10:23-33)

23 ¶ All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.
24 Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.
25 ¶ Eat whatever is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake;
26 for “the earth is the LORD’S, and all its fullness.”
27 ¶ If any of those who do not believe invites you to dinner, and you desire to go, eat whatever is set before you, asking no question for conscience’ sake.
28 But if anyone says to you, “This was offered to idols,” do not eat it for the sake of the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake; for “the earth is the LORD’S, and all its fullness.”
29 “Conscience,” I say, not your own, but that of the other. For why is my liberty judged by another man’s conscience?
30 But if I partake with thanks, why am I evil spoken of for the food over which I give thanks?
31 ¶ Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
32 Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God,
33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.

You've often heard the old saying, "What you don't know can't hurt you." By the way, that saying isn't true in every context, but here, perhaps it is. So...is the meat itself really ritually unclean, per se, to Believers if it has been offered in sacrifice to idols? Nope! The anchor verse for this position is verse 23, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify." Two words should be noted here, "helpful" and "edify." The word "helpful" comes from the Greek verb "sumphero" and means "to bring together" or "to profit." The Greek verb for "edify" is "oikodomeo" and means "to build up." Here's the question for all Christian activity, "Does it profit and build up others?" Then Paul elaborates by sharing a practice which some might consider hypocritical: Sometimes it's okay to eat the meat and sometimes it is not okay. There are a lot of people who like absolutes; the "sometimes" and "sometimes not" kinda throws 'em. This discussion is really a principled discussion about any number of practices - not just about meat offered to idols. The real issue is whether or not something one allows in his lifestyle becomes a stumblingblock to others - like eating meat offered to idols. Mature Believers don't practice offensive habits around people who are offended by them.

Verse 25 is clear, "Don't ask!" Verse 26 explains why - wherever it comes from, it all belongs to God. Paul expands on this lesson in verses 27-29. If you go to a feast where you suspect the meat has been offered to idols, go ahead and eat it. However, if someone says, "Hey! That meat has been offered to idols!" Then, don't eat. That's really simple; don't you agree? Verse 32 says, "Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God." That verse covers everybody - Jews, Gentiles and Believers. Paul's talking about projecting a testimony here. Mature Christians are willing to limit their liberty in Christ to project a positive testimony. I guess that's the original "Don't ask; don't tell" policy.

How far do you carry this testimony thing? Let's see what Paul's personal practice was in verse 33, "just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved." When he was around those who might take offense to certain aspects of the liberty he experienced in Christ, he limited his liberty for their sakes; that's just what spiritually-mature Christians do. If you're looking for a memory verse that accurately encapsulates Paul's position here, there it is in verse 31, "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Paul completes this discussion in 11:1 when he says, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ." In other words, Paul recommends that others adopt his practice regarding this meat offered to idols which he has just outlined in these preceding verses.

For more perspective on this issue, Paul also deals with it in Romans 14 (see notes). In that passage, Paul expands the discussion beyond that of eating meat offered to idols; he covers all aspects of a Christian's personal testimony before the world.

Paul presents himself as an example (I Corinthians 11:1-16)

1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.
2 ¶ Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.
3 But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
4 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head.
5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.
6 For if a woman is not covered, let her also be shorn. But if it is shameful for a woman to be shorn or shaved, let her be covered.
7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man.
8 For man is not from woman, but woman from man.
9 Nor was man created for the woman, but woman for the man.
10 For this reason the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels.
11 Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord.
12 For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.
13 ¶ Judge among yourselves. Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?
14 Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?
15 But if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her; for her hair is given to her for a covering.
16 But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.

Verse 1 is really a completion of the previous chapter. Incidentally, chapter divisions in the Bible were added in 1205 by Stephen Langton, a professor in Paris (he later became Archbishop of Canterbury), who put these into a Vulgate edition of the Bible. It was Robert Stephanus, a Parisian book printer, who took over the verse divisions already indicated in the Hebrew Bible and assigned numbers to them within the chapter divisions already assigned by Stephan Langton. While riding on horseback from Paris to Lyons he affixed his own verse divisions to the New Testament and numbered them within Langton's chapter divisions. Prior to that time when folks looked at Old and New Testament manuscripts, there were no divisions - just one continuous long epistle from beginning to end.

In this new topic beginning with verse 2, Paul outlines the relationship that exists among God, husbands and wives. I should point out that there is no distinction in the Greek between "husband" and "man" ("aner" is translated both ways), nor is there a distinction between "wife" and "woman" ("gune" is translated both ways). Context alone dictates how these Greek words are appropriately rendered in English. The relationship of God to a wife through her husband is an important concept stated in verse 3 and reinforced throughout the Old and New Testaments. The discussion here is a symbol of this authority. Some have taken these verses to mean that a woman should wear some sort of a head covering when going to church. Since there is no scriptural evidence of this practice outside of this passage, it is difficult to say what their practice really was. In first-century Hebrew culture, it is very likely that women did wear some sort of a head covering. However, such was not the case in the first century in Roman and Greek culture.

It does appear from this passage that the hair plays an important part in the discussion of a covering. In relationship to a woman, Paul seems to be making a point that long hair for a man is not appropriate; it indicates submission and not authority. Verse 15, conversely, would indicate that the whole issue of a woman's covering is solved with her long hair; her hair is her covering. Whatever the historic context of this passage, I am convinced that if it were important for a woman to wear a covering on her head in addition to her hair, it would have been a subject receiving attention elsewhere in scripture. Therefore, I am relatively certain that Paul's solution to the hair-covering issue is for a woman to be covered with hair, distinguishable in style from that of a man. That's the main point of his discussion here concluded in verses 14 and 15.

How long is long and how short is short? Search me. I believe to get caught up in that argument is to minimize the point; this text is about relationships and authority; style is incidental to the emphasis of the passage. For a discussion of personal preference in one's lifestyle, I always defer to I Corinthians 8 (see notes) and 10 (see above) along with Romans 14 (see notes). Romans 14:21 has always served as my guide on such issues, "It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak." A Believer committed to Christ simply does not want to cause others to stumble; that Believer will live accordingly. He won't let a hairstyle preference hamper his personal testimony.

In the process of this discussion, Paul is very specific and emphatic about the relationship between husbands and wives, invoking their order in creation to make his point in verses 7-12. He first refers back to the order of creation in Genesis 1:26-2:25 (see notes), the creation of man in God's image and the woman from the man.

From the record of creation, Paul concludes three things:

However, after making those three distinctions, Paul concludes in verse 11-12, "Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God." In other words, husbands and wives complete each other, and they have separate and distinct roles within the marriage relationship. However, can it be denied from this passage that Paul is asserting that the husband should serve in the dominant role within the family structure? That concept doesn't diminish the concept of equality between husbands and wives, but rather designates roles within the marriage relationship. Hey! In an army, somebody's gotta be in charge!

Incidentally, it occurs to me that the practice of removing one's hat in church or during prayer must have been originally derived from verse 4. It's not completely clear the meaning of Paul's reference to angels in verse 10. It would appear that angels have certain expectations of order within the family and church; we wouldn't want to disappoint them, would we?

Finally, in I Corinthians 11:16 says, "But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God." Well...that settles that issue - NO CONTENTION WITHIN THE LOCAL ASSEMBLY OF BELIEVERS! This verse is obviously intended as a follow up to the discussion of verses 1-15. Therefore, with regard to the relationship of men and women within the family and the church, follow the guidelines prescribed in order to avoid contention within the assembly. Within the church, this passage implies that men are to take the leadership role.

When the Lord's Supper is not really the Lord's Supper (I Corinthians 11:17-22)

17 ¶ Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse.
18 For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it.
19 For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you.
20 Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper.
21 For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk.
22 What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you.

Well...they called what they were doing the Lord's Supper, but their abuse made it irreverent and just plain ol' wrong. Paul says in verse 20, "Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord’s Supper." It was a strange custom they observed - perhaps more akin to the pagan love feasts so popular in their city than to any semblance of a scriptural observance of communion. Paul tells them to do their eating and drinking at home. Here's the problem: To these carnal Christians, their rendition of the Lord's Supper was just more akin to hedonistic pleasure than legitimate observance. They just couldn't seem to bring themselves to quit their disgusting practice. So...in verse 17 Paul characterizes their coming together for communion as improper ("for the worse"). This has caused "divisions" (Verse 18). There's heresy associated with the practice (verse 19), but there are some who are honorable ("that those who are approved"). Don't do your eatin' at church while calling it the observance of communion!

A brief explanation of the ordinance (I Corinthians 11:23-26)

23¶ For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread;
24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
25 In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
26 ¶ For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.

Paul explains the purpose and simplicity of the ordinance that brings into focus the sacrifice Christ made for each of us on the cross. The institution of this ordinance is found in Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-26; Luke 22:17-20 (see notes).

Following are the essentials of communion from this passage:

What about those unexplained illnesses and deaths in the Corinth church? (I Corinthians 11:27-34)

27 ¶ Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.
28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.
30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.
31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.
32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
33 ¶ Therefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
34 But if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment. And the rest I will set in order when I come.

Now we come to a portion of scripture that gives a lot of Believers trouble. Let me introduce it by asking this question, "Is God ever directly responsible for making a Believer sick or causing him to die?" This passage answers that question. There are many Bible preachers and teachers who teach that ALL sickness comes from Satan and ALL wellness and prosperity comes from God. Along with that teaching it is said that (1) since all sickness comes from Satan; (2) God wants everyone to be healthy; (3) God has power over Satan; (4) all we must do is claim health and rebuke Satan in order to be healed...all the time; (5) and if we are not healed, it's because of a lack of our faith in God's power to heal. It's a handsome doctrine that I, too, once embraced for a short time in my early years. Only one problem...a BIG problem: it's not a scriptural doctrine, and there is no local assembly where one may see this principle in action. Those churches all have the same proportion of illnesses as any other church. As a matter of fact, Paul deals with this very notion back in I Corinthians 10:1-14 (see above).

Here's the reality of the issue. In fact, this passage clearly states that God himself had caused illness to come on some of the Corinthian Believers. Some would argue, however, that God only permitted Satan to make them ill. NOT SO! Look at our passage, I Corinthians 11:30-32, "For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world." Hebrews 12:6-8 (see notes) clearly says, "For whom the LORD loves He chastens..." So, who made them weak, sick and dead? Indisputably...it was God who did so. Should that surprise those of us who have studied the Old Testament? In fact, review I Corinthians 10:1-14 (see above) again to see the four examples of physical chastisement Paul cites for Israel's disobedience.

Meanwhile...back at the Corinthian church, what was so sinful that God had taken the lives of some there while afflicting others with sickness? It was rebellion! You say, "There must have been more to it than that!" Well...not really. I mean the circumstances were probably a little bit unique by today's standards, but ultimately they were afflicted for rebellion. Their actual act of rebellion was their refusal to observe the Lord's Supper with proper intent. Many have misunderstood what the phrase "in an unworthy manner" means in verses 27 and 29. Actually, the definition is given in verse 29, "For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body." "In an unworthy manner" here has been misunderstood to mean "has each sin you ever committed in your life been remembered and confessed before God prior to taking communion." That's not what the Greek word "anaxios" means here, nor is that concept supported in context. The definition is given in verse 29 when it says, "not discerning the Lord's body." It means that they were not observing the Lord's Supper in a worthy fashion - making it instead akin to the pagan love feasts. Their observance was not at all a reflection on Christ's sacrifice...an unworthy observance, you see. If confused on this issue, go back to verses 23-26 (see above) to review the essentials of the practice of communion.

There's a principle here. Rebellion against God is rebellion against God - Old and New Testament. When a Believer refuses to do what God directs him to do, then he should expect a nudge from God. Chastisement is God's loving way of correcting his children; it's just the way that a good father corrects his children. There's one more point that is important to mention here: CONFESSION. I Corinthians 11:31 says, "For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged." I John 1:9 (see notes) says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Listen...it's just plain ol' easier, in the midst of our own rebellion, to just confess it before God and get God's forgiveness.

There's some implied eternal security doctrine in verse 32, "But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world." Chastisement is God's method of dealing with disobedient Believers - NOT to "be condemned with the world." A clear distinction is made here between the way that God deals with disobedient Believers as opposed to the way God deals with those who have rejected Christ for salvation.

I Corinthians 12
What about spiritual gifts?
For those who may be embracing the practice of speaking in tongues, I respectfully ask that you read these notes on the next three chapters with an open mind. All three chapters (12-14) should be taken together for a full overview. Click here to see the notes on I Corinthians 14.

In chapters 12-14 Paul deals with a problem at the Corinthian church which he felt no need to deal with in any of the other churches - at least by letter. That problem was the abuse of the manifestation of spiritual gifts. More particularly, the problem at the church seemed to be an unbridled manifestation of the vocal, showy gifts in the church services - tongues and prophesying. I think it is important to note that there are no passages in the scripture promoting speaking in tongues in church services. New Believers in Acts 2 (see notes), Acts 10 (see notes) and Acts 19 (see notes) spoke in tongues at salvation as a sign to the Jews (I Corinthians 1:22, see notes). The practice is mentioned nowhere else except in these three chapters to the Corinthians.

If you read the 11 chapters leading up to chapter 12, you'll have to admit that the people at Corinth were, as a whole, pretty...well...spiritually challenged. Let's review for a moment; they were called carnal and not spiritual in chapter 3; they were divided and contentious. He rebukes them for their haughty attitudes in chapter 4, for their embracing immorality in chapter 5 and their disregard for personal testimony before the secular court system in chapter 6. They lacked the spiritual insight to honor Paul as God's messenger in chapter 9 to the point that he chose not to even allow them to add to his financial support. In chapter 11 we find them emulating the pagan love feasts in the name of the Lord's Supper. So, let me ask you this question. Why is it that so many churches today are comfortable emulating the practices of the most carnal, immoral, contentious, rebellious, ordinance-abusive church in the New Testament? I could go ahead and tell you why right now, but I think it will be more meaningful to you if we just systematically formulate the answer over these next three chapters.

The Holy Spirit speaks spiritual things (I Corinthians 12:1-3)

1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant:
2 You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led.
3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

The Corinthians were unregenerate pagans, for the most part, prior to salvation. Paul makes a distinction between the kinds of statements that will be made by demonic-inspired individuals as opposed to Holy-Spirit-led individuals i.e. the Spirit of God, who would never curse Jesus but rather acknowledge him as Lord.

The Holy Spirit gives different people different gifts (I Corinthians 12:4-11)

4 ¶ There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
5 There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.
6 And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.
7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all:
8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit,
9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit,
10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.

Paul explains that there are differing, complementary gifts manifested in Believers when they are controlled by the Holy Spirit.

Paul lists 9 spiritual gifts as follows:

  1. "the word of wisdom"
  2. "the word of knowledge"
  3. "faith"
  4. "the gifts of healing"
  5. "the working of miracles"
  6. "prophecy"
  7. "discerning of spirits"
  8. "different kinds of tongues"
  9. "the interpretation of tongues"

The scripture gives us very little insight regarding the exact form of practice for "the word of wisdom, "the word of knowledge," and the "discerning of spirits." It would appear that the very vocal gifts in operation in the church were "the word of knowledge," "prophecy" and "different kinds of tongues" as seen in Paul's discussion of I Corinthians 13:8-10 (see below) and all of I Corinthians 14 (see notes). Based upon the discussions of those two chapters, it appears that these three manifestation gifts were prophecy related. In other words, they were used for the purpose of sharing direct revelation from God to the people. Of course, "the interpretation of tongues" goes along with "different kinds of tongues."

The less-popular gifts of these eight verses are faith, the gifts of healing, the working of miracles and the discerning of spirits. We assume from this passage that "faith" refers to one's ability to trust God amidst unfavorable circumstances. The plural form of "gifts" of healing is curious. Some have taken this to mean that there were those who had the power to heal others, while many see it as manifestations of individual healings. However, the next gift mentioned is that of "the working of miracles." That would seem to indicate that there were those around whom healings and miracles seemed to take place in the course of their exercise of spiritual giftedness. The "discerning of spirits" in verse 10 is definitely the ability to determine that which is of God and that which is not.

The problem seemed to be (made evident in I Corinthians 14, see notes) that there was more personal recognition and glory heaped upon those who seemingly served as God's voice in the services (specifically, speaking in tongues and prophesying). There apparently was jealousy from those who could not muster up tongues or a prophecy in the services, and a great sense of personal pride for those who could. Paul's goal in these verses is to show that the Holy Spirit manifests himself in Believers in quiet activities as well; it's not all about being the center of attention in a worship service.

How about an analogy? (I Corinthians 12:12-26)

12 ¶ For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.
13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.
15 ¶ If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body?
16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body?
17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?
18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.
19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
20 ¶ But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.
21 And 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.”
22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.
23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty,
24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it,
25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another.
26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

In these next few verses Paul uses an illustration of a human body. In his analogy, everybody wanting to speak in tongues in a church service is like every part of the human body wanting to be another, more visible part instead. Paul is personifying and imagining a foot being jealous of a hand, and an ear being jealous of an eye. In verse 23 Paul speaks of the parts we keep covered up and out of sight as the most important parts of the body. In other words, it's a good thing our hearts or kidneys don't give up their functions to become hands. It is obvious from this illustration that Paul is minimizing the importance of those showy manifestations taking place in the church services at Corinth.

I Corinthians 12:13 is worth a special note here, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit." The term "baptism of the Holy Spirit" is used incorrectly in some circles, but here is the exact definition by Paul; it is the process whereby we are saved. That's right. All Believers become Believers by being "baptized" by the "Spirit" into the "body" of Christ. In other words, if you haven't been "baptized by the Holy Spirit," you haven't been saved. This doctrine is further confirmed by Paul in Romans 8:9 (see notes), "But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His." So, to simply restate it, all Believers are baptized by the Holy Spirit.

It should be pointed out that the "baptism" of the Holy Spirit is a separate process from the "filling" of the Holy Spirit. That is best seen in the discussion of Ephesians 5:18 (see notes), "And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit." To sum it up, the "baptism" of the Holy Spirit takes place at salvation for every Believer, while the "filling" of the Holy Spirit is a continuing process according to the discussion of Ephesians 5:1-21 (see notes).

How about a priority list (I Corinthians 12:27-31)

27 ¶ Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.
28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.
29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?
30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?
31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

Now, just in case they misunderstood which gifts were most vital to the local assembly, Paul orders them according to their value in the church. Yes, he does order them!

Take a look at the order of these gifts:

Hey! Why is this list different than the one found in verses 4-11? Don't miss the point of the list here; the items in the list are included to highlight one important reality: What's last in the order? Tongues! He concludes this chapter with the statement, "But covet earnestly the best gifts:" In other words, "You Corinthians get your priorities in order!"

The qualities of love (I Corinthians 13)
Now we come to an oft-used passage in weddings - the love chapter. Here's a question. Why, when Paul is in the midst of discussing the manifestation of spiritual gifts in the church service, does he seemingly pause that discussion to talk about love? In fact, he is still talking about the manifestation of spiritual gifts. Here's the deal. It is obvious that these Corinthians had developed a skewed system of determining whether or not a person was led by the Holy Spirit. Remember, they were carnal - not spiritual; he says so in I Corinthians 3:1-2 (see notes). Despite this fact, when they showed up for church on Sundays, it would appear (only appear) that everyone of them was under Holy Spirit leadership. Why? Because they carried on with the manifestation of spiritual gifts with a passion. Looking ahead to chapter 14 (see notes), we see this fact verified in 14:26, "How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." So, you see, even though Paul called them carnal, they were wild with their carrying on in the church services. Chapter 13 is sandwiched here between 12 and 14 to demonstrate what the authentic indicator of leadership of the Holy Spirit really is - not showboating in the service, but a continual demonstration of love. He's not talking about love on Sundays only, but continually - all the time.

The spiritual gifts are nothing without love (I Corinthians 13:1-3)

1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.
2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Paul is making a big point here. Speaking in tongues does not indicate Spirit leadership. Prophesying does not indicate Spirit leadership. The gift of knowledge does not indicate Spirit leadership. The gift of faith does not indicate spirit leadership. The working of miracles through faith does not indicate spirit leadership. All of these are contained in the list of spiritual gifts he mentioned in 12:8-10. It's interesting that he is not challenging them directly on the authenticity of the quality of their claim to possess these gifts, but he is saying that the real indicator of Spirit leadership is love, not the practicing of the manifestation of the gifts. He uses some pretty blunt language to describe their uselessness at the end of verses 1, 2 and 3 - "...I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal," "...I am nothing" and "...it profits me nothing."

How can you tell if a person is led by the Holy Spirit? (I Corinthians 13:4-7)

4 ¶ Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;
5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;
6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;
7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Here's the real indicator of a Spirit-controlled Believer - love. The familiar Greek word here is "agape." It literally means sacrifice as you can see from these four verses. These four verses complement Galatians 5:22-23 (see notes), "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law." Let's be clear about this. These are the authentic indicators for which to look when determining whether or not a person is controlled by the Holy Spirit. Many misguided people, like the Corinthians, think that the indicator is how much a person carries on in the service with the spiritual gifts of 12:8-10 (see above). No, no, no! It's all about love demonstrated all day, seven days a week. Let's draw a painful conclusion here. If Paul proclaims in chapter 3 that they were, in fact, not spiritual - not led by the spirit (and he did), then how is it that in I Corinthians 14:26 (see notes) we see that they manifested a seemingly unbridled passion of the demonstration of the spiritual gifts? Answer: (please forgive me for saying) they were faking! Let's be honest here; what other conclusion can one draw? Isn't that, in essence, exactly what Paul is saying about these Corinthians? Of course he is.

Now, notice these specific qualities that are manifested when authentic love is in control:

Verse 4: "Love suffers long" - One gladly endures the burden that another places on him.
Verse 4: "is kind" - One is kind to another, even though he might be inconvenienced by him.
Verse 4: "does not envy" - One is not motivated by ego or pride.
Verse 5: "does not behave itself rudely" - Greek: "aschemoneo" is used in the context of not embarrassing the ones you love with inappropriate conduct.
Verse 5: "does not seek its own" - Pursues the interests of others over their own.
Verse 5: "is not provoked" - One remains tolerant of others even in the face of provocation.
Verse 5: "thinks no evil" - One does not desire to see harm (Greek: kakos) come on another.
Verse 6: "does not rejoice in iniquity" - One does not enjoy seeing another stumble in sin.
Verse 6: "rejoices in the truth" - One celebrates (Greek: sugchairo) another's obedience to the truth i.e. God's will.
Verse 7: "bears all things" - Greek: stego - to put up with annoyance or difficulty
Verse 7: "believes all things" - Gives the benefit of the doubt i.e. assumes the best and not the worst.
Verse 7: "hopes all things" - Greek: elpizo - anticipates with favor rather than disdain
Verse 7: "endures all things" - Greek: hupomeno - Without reciprocation, remains favorably disposed toward

So, here's the deal: When your love is authentic toward someone else, the characteristics seen in verses 4-7 will be realized. Consider the demands of an infant. Though there is no reciprocation or apparent thankfulness on the part of the baby, a mother unselfishly meets all of the child's needs without resentment or expected payback. That's a demonstration of love. Real love towards another works that way no matter what the age.

Let's take a look at a real-life application...marriage: Verses 4-7 are perhaps the key verses to understanding the difference between a dating couple and a married couple. Before two people marry, the attributes of verses 4-7 generally come quite naturally. It is not atypical to see quite the opposite at some point after the marriage ceremony. Since "agapao" means "to sacrifice for," if two people attempt to exercise the qualities of love found in these verses, a marriage relationship can be restored. In other words, when two people are mutually considerate of one another, a natural love relationship grows; when two people are mutually inconsiderate of one another, the love relationship diminishes. Proverbs 10:12 (see notes) sums it up nicely: "Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all sins."

These gifts are temporary (I Corinthians 13:8-13)

8 ¶ Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.
9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.
11 ¶ When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.
13 ¶ And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Verse 8 says that love is a permanent quality of Spirit leadership; the gifts of prophecy, tongues and knowledge are only temporary. "How temporary?" you might ask. All three of these manifestations of the Holy Spirit were for the purpose of providing direct revelation from God to Believers - the equivalent of what we have today in the Word of God, our Bible. Verse 9 emphasizes that each time someone manifested one of these gifts, it was just a partial manifestation of God's revelation - never the whole thing. The Bible is the whole thing; it is not partial. He says that when the whole thing is manifested, partial revelation of God's word will no longer be necessary.

Then he gives two analogies to make his point.

So, when do we get this clarity, this fullness of God's revelation. Paul didn't know when the New Testament canon would be closed, but I'm convinced he knew it would. He knew that a time was coming when people would not be subject to just a partial revelation of scripture provided by bits and pieces of prophecies, tongues and words of knowledge.

So, is this talking about the rapture of the church when it says in verse 10, "But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away." There are a three primary reasons why I'm convinced Paul is not talking about the rapture.

In fact, we do proclaim that our Bible is the complete Word of God. So, here's the deal. Do you hold in your hands the completed revelation from God in your Bible? If you believe "yes," then you must admit that a partial revelation (i.e. tongues, prophecy or word of knowledge) is just plain ol' inferior to your Bible. One more question: Is it likely that Paul felt that the canon of the New Testament would one day be established as complete (Greek: telion ie. "perfect") just as the Old Testament canon had been completed prior to his day? Absolutely!

So, with that established, why speak in tongues and prophesy today at all? That's a good question. We'll answer that question in our summary of I Corinthians 14 (see notes).