This article is part of the Key Bible Verses series.
All commentary notes adapted from the ESV Study Bible.
1. 1 Corinthians 12:4–6
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. Read More
Spirit . . . Lord . . . God. A Trinitarian reference to the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus, and God the Father (cf. 2 Cor. 13:14). The most common pattern in the NT Epistles is to refer to God the Father with the word “God” (Gk. Theos, which is the normal Septuagint translation for the OT Hb. ’Elohim, “God”) and to refer to God the Son with the word “Lord” (Gk. Kyrios, which is used in the Septuagint over 6,000 times to translate the OT Hb. name YHWH, “Yahweh” or “LORD”). Therefore both names are evidence of deity. The diversity of divine persons within the unity of the Trinity should be reflected in the diversity of gifts within the unity of the body of Christ in Corinth. (See also Eph. 4:3–16.) Therefore Paul wants the Corinthian church to understand how their unity can be enhanced by appreciating the variety of gifts God has given to them.
2. 1 Corinthians 12:7–11
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 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. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. Read More
utterance of wisdom . . . utterance of knowledge. Some understand these to be miraculous gifts (“word of wisdom” and “word of knowledge”) by which a speaker is given supernatural “wisdom” or “knowledge” from God to impart to a situation. Others take these to be more “natural” gifts: the ability to speak wisely or with knowledge into a situation. The Greek expressions (logos sōphias and logos gnōseōs) occur nowhere else in the Bible, and Paul does not give any further explanation, so it is difficult to be certain. But since Paul already has a different, broader term that he uses to refer to speech based on something that God suddenly brings to mind, the second view seems preferable.
faith. This is not the faith that all Christians have in Christ, since Paul implies that some Christians have it and others do not. It is probably a special endowment of faith for accomplishing some task (see 13:2; cf. Acts 14:9; James 5:15). gifts of healing. Both terms are plural (lit., “gifts of healings”), suggesting that different people may be gifted regarding different kinds of healing.
miracles. Probably the ability to work various kinds of miracles, including but not limited to healing (see Acts 8:13; Acts 14:8–10; Acts 19:11–12; Rom. 15:19; Gal. 3:5; Heb. 2:4). prophecy. The word “prophecy” (Gk. prophēteia) as used by Paul in 1 Corinthians refers generally to speech that reports something that God spontaneously brings to mind or “reveals” to the speaker but which is spoken in merely human words, not words of God. Therefore it can have mistakes and must be tested or evaluated (see 1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Thess. 5:19–21). An alternative view of this gift, held by some, is that it involves speaking the very words of God, with authority equal to the OT prophets and equal to the word of Scripture. A third view is that it is very similar to the gifts of preaching or teaching. This gift is widely indicated throughout the NT churches (see 1 Cor. 11:2–5; 1 Cor. 12:28–29; 1 Cor. 13:2, 8–9; 1 Cor. 14:1–40; Acts 2:17–18; Acts 11:27–28; Acts 19:6; Acts 21:9–11; Rom. 12:6; 1 Thess. 5:19–21; 1 Tim. 1:18; 4:14; 1 John 4:1). Prophecy is used to build up, encourage, and comfort the gathered community (1 Cor. 14:3). Prophecy is also used evangelistically to disclose the secrets of the hearts of unbelievers and lead them to worship God (1 Cor.14:24–25). Because God used this gift to build up the Christian community, Paul urged the Corinthians to value it highly (1 Cor.14:4–5, 39). distinguish between spirits. A special ability to distinguish between the influence of the Holy Spirit and the influence of demonic spirits in a person’s life. Those who claim to speak under the Spirit’s prompting could be mistaken, and so God also gives gifts of discernment to the Christian community (1 Cor.14:29; 1 Thess. 5:20–21; 1 John 4:1–3). tongues. Speech in a language the speaker does not know, and that sometimes does not follow the patterns of any known human language (1 Cor. 13:1). Paul sees this gift as a means of expressing prayer or praise to God (1 Cor.14:2, 1 Cor. 14:14–17, 28; cf. Acts 10:46) in which the speaker’s human spirit is praying even though the speaker does not understand the meaning (see 1 Cor. 14:2, 11, 13–19, 23). The normally unintelligible nature of tongues makes their interpretation necessary if the gathered community is to be edified by them (1 Cor. 14:1–25). Paul probably placed the last two gifts at the end of the list because an overemphasis on tongues in Corinth had led to the neglect of those with other gifts (1 Cor.12:14–26). See also 1 Cor.12:28 and 1 Cor. 12:30. Bible-believing Christians disagree as to whether the gift of tongues ceased after the apostolic age of the early church, or whether tongues is a spiritual gift that should continue to be practiced today. In either case, there is no indication that speaking in tongues is a normative requirement that all Christians must experience.
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3. Romans 12:4–8
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 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. Read More
The diversity and unity of the church is illustrated by comparison to the human body. Just as the human body is one with many members (lit., body parts, limbs), so the church is united though it is composed of many members. On the theme of the church as the body of Christ, see also 1 Corinthians 12 and Eph. 4:4, 12–16.
The variety of the body is evident from the various gifts God has given the church. On the gift of prophecy, see notes on Acts 21:4; 21:10–11; 1 Cor. 12:10; Eph. 2:20; 1 Thess. 5:20–21. in proportion to our faith. Paul instructs prophets to speak only when they have faith or confidence that the Holy Spirit is truly revealing something to them, and not to exceed the faith that God has given them by trying to impress others.
Christians should concentrate upon and give their energies to the gifts God has given them, whether in serving others, teaching God’s Word patiently, or in exhortation and encouragement in the things of God. Thus Paul spotlights three attitudes necessary in exercising particular gifts: (1) those who have a special gift of helping others financially should never give grudgingly but always generously; (2) those who lead often have no one to whom they are accountable, and hence they must beware of laziness; (3) those who show mercy to the hurting must not grow weary but continue to minister with gladness.
4. 1 Corinthians 12:26–31a
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 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. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. Read More
The purpose of the gifts is to build one another up and to care for one another, not to flaunt one’s own spirituality.
First . . . second . . . third . . . then seems to be a ranking of importance or benefit to the church, with apostles being primary and then prophecy and teaching also contributing greatly to building others up. Teachers, helping, and administrating do not appear in the list in 1 Cor.12:8–10, and helping and administrating do not show up in the rhetorical questions in 1 Cor.12:29–30, indicating that the different lists are representative rather than exhaustive.
5. Ephesians 4:11–16
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Read More
Christ gives specific spiritual gifts to people in the church whose primary mission is to minister the Word of God (Eph.4:12). Regarding prophets, different views on the nature of the gift of prophecy in the NT affect one’s understanding of this verse. Since the Greek construction here is different from Eph. 2:20 and Eph.3:5, some see this verse as a broader reference to the gift of prophecy generally in the NT church, rather than a reference to the “foundational” prophets mentioned in Eph.2:20 and Eph.3:5. From the Greek word for the “gospel” (euangelion), evangelists denotes people like Philip and Timothy who proclaimed the gospel (Acts 21:8; 2 Tim. 4:5). shepherds (or “pastors” [ESV footnote]). In the OT these are kings and judges (2 Sam. 5:2; 7:7). In the NT, elders “shepherd” by watching over and nurturing the church (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1–2). There is some uncertainty as to whether “shepherds and teachers” refers here to two different ministry roles or functions, or whether the reference is to a single “shepherd-teacher” ministry role, since Paul uses a different Greek conjunction at the end of the list, joining the two nouns more closely together than the other nouns in the list. If “teachers” are a separate group, they can be understood as a special branch of shepherds (overseers, elders) responsible for instruction in God’s Word (cf. 1 Tim. 5:17).
Those church leaders with various gifts (Eph.4:11) are to equip the saints (all Christians) so that they can do the work of ministry. All Christians have spiritual gifts that should be used in ministering to one another (1 Cor. 12:7, 11; 1 Pet. 4:10).
The diversity of gifts serves to bring about the unity of Christ’s people. Mature manhood extends the body metaphor used earlier for the church and contrasts with “children” in the next verse (see Heb. 5:11–14). Some people think that the learning of doctrine is inherently divisive, but it is people who divide the church, whereas the knowledge of the Son of God (both knowing Christ personally and understanding all that he did and taught) is edifying and brings about “mature manhood” when set forth in love (Phil. 3:10). The work of the gifted ministers (Eph. 4:11) was to proclaim and teach the word centered on Christ rather than on speculative or eccentric teachings of their own (cf. 1 Cor. 2:2). measure. Christ Jesus is the standard of the maturity to which the church must aspire. Christ’s fullness is the full expression of his divine and human perfection (see Eph. 1:23; 3:19; Col. 1:19; 2:9).
joint. Paul continues the body metaphor to describe the church’s maturity. Every member (i.e., every believer, viewed as a limb, or unit, in Christ’s body) plays a crucial role in this growth. in love. There is no Christian maturity or true Christian ministry without love (1 Corinthians 13), and every act of love in the name of Christ is valued and remembered by him, as each part is working properly (illustrated in Eph. 4:25–32; cf. Matt. 25:31–43; 26:6–13).
6. 1 Corinthians 1:4–8
I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Read More
Paul is thankful that God has richly blessed the Corinthians with speech, knowledge, and spiritual gifts. Despite some problems with these blessings (1 Cor.8:1–3, 10; 1 Cor.12:12–31; 1 Cor. 14:1–40), he considers them gifts from God.
enriched in him. In 1 Cor.4:8 Paul will say that the Corinthians’ spiritual riches have led to an inappropriate pride. Paul’s thankfulness here shows that the problem lay not with the gifts God had given them but with the way the Corinthians used those gifts. The cure is found in a healthy dose of gratitude (1 Cor.4:7). The Corinthians valued especially the gifts of speech and knowledge (see 1 Cor.8:1–3, 10; 1 Cor.12:8; 1 Cor.13:2; 1 Cor.14:1–40), but because they had used these gifts in wrong and improper ways, the exercise of the gifts led to disunity (1 Cor.8:1–3; 1 Cor.12:29–30; 1 Cor.14:4)
When Paul tells them, “you were enriched” in Christ “in all speech and all knowledge” (1 Cor.1:5) so that you are not lacking in any gift, he implies that many spiritual gifts are “enrichments” of speaking abilities, knowledge, or skills that people had before they became Christians. As you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ implies that spiritual gifts are given as temporary provisions until Christ returns (see 1 Cor.13:10).
7. 1 Peter 4:10–11
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Read More
All believers have received at least one spiritual gift from God, and they are not to hoard these gifts but use them faithfully as stewards of God’s grace (cf. 1 Corinthians 12–14).
whoever speaks . . . whoever serves. Peter divides spiritual gifts generally into speaking and serving gifts (for more detailed lists, see Rom. 12:6–8; 1 Cor. 12:8–10, 28–30; and Eph. 4:11). Those who speak must not propound their own ideas but faithfully declare God’s words (oracles). Similarly, those who serve must not depend on their own strength but draw their strength from God, so that God alone may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
8. 2 Timothy 1:6–7
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Read More
fan into flame the gift of God. Paul does not explain what this gift is, which allows the principle here to be seen as applicable to all kinds of spiritual gifts. Such gifts tend to fade in strength when they are not used and encouraged. The laying on of my hands may refer to Timothy’s ordination. This passage focuses on Paul’s part in that event, whereas 1 Tim. 4:14 mentions the involvement of “the council of elders.”
spirit. Probably the Holy Spirit. fear. The Greek (deilia) in extrabiblical literature refers to one who flees from battle, and has a strong pejorative sense referring to cowardice. Boldness, not cowardice, is a mark of the Spirit (see Prov. 28:1; Acts 4:31).
9. 1 Corinthians 14:1–5
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. Read More
earnestly desire. Even in the midst of some misuse of spiritual gifts, Paul does not say to discontinue their use but to seek after them all the more, reflecting his conviction that these are given by God for the good of the church (cf. 1 Cor.12; 1 Cor.12:31).
Speaks not to men but to God indicates that Paul views tongues as a form of prayer and praise, but in a language that the speaker does not understand. No one understands him implies that Paul expected tongues in Corinth in most cases to be unknown languages, unlike the evangelistic situation in Acts 2:1–13.
The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself because his spirit is praying to God even though he does not understand what is being said (see 1 Cor.14: 2, 14, 28).
I want you all to speak in tongues. Paul’s desire to set boundaries on speaking in tongues does not mean that he thinks the Corinthians should abandon this gift. It builds up the individual who has it (v. 4), and, if interpreted, builds up the church. (See also 1 Cor.14:13, 18, 27, 39.) Still, prophecy is greater because, as intelligible speech that needs no interpretation, it is more directly useful to the church. Unless someone interprets implies that if there is an interpreter, then prophecy and tongues have equal value, since then they would both be understandable. But equal value does not imply that the gifts have the same function, for prophecy is based on something that God suddenly brings to the mind of the speaker, and thus is communication from God to man (1 Cor.14:25, 30; cf. Acts 11:28; 21:4, 10–11), while tongues is ordinarily prayer or praise from man to God (1 Cor. 14:2, 14–17, 28; cf. Acts 10:46).
10. 1 Corinthians 13:1–3
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Read More
tongues . . . angels. Tongues is probably the first gift mentioned because the Corinthians have used and emphasized it without love (1 Cor. 12:21).
deliver up my body to be burned. As Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did (Dan. 3:19–23; Heb. 11:34). Love cannot be measured by actions alone; motives must be assessed to determine what is loving (see 1 Cor. 4:4–5)
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