Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).
1. What characterized the Corinthians’ past religious life when they were still spiritual “Gentiles” steeped in paganism? See 1 Corinthians 12:2 (printed below)
You know that when you were Gentiles, as you were led by means of those dumb idols, you were being led astray. (1 Corinthians 12:2)
In verse 2 Paul reminds these Corinthian Christians of what characterized their past religious life, when they were still spiritual “Gentiles” (i.e.; as they were in their unconverted state, still steeped in paganism). At that time they were under the influence of a demonic spiritual power (note Ephesians 2:2). This demonic power was leading them astray; that is to say, it was leading them away from the Lord and leading down the course that ultimately leads to damnation. Furthermore, this demonic power was inspiring them to worship “dumb (mute, silent, lifeless) idols.” The Corinthians were being led astray “as they were led by means of those dumb idols.” Paul seems to be indicating that there was a capriciousness about that demonic operation, it was like being blown about by the wind or tossed to and fro on the high seas. The Corinthians’ former religious experience under spiritually demonic forces was intensely emotional, irrational, and unpredictable.
2. In contrast to the capricious demonic activity, what does the apostle Paul tell us about the working of the Holy Spirit? See 1 Corinthians 12:3 (printed below)
For this reason, I am informing you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God can say, “Jesus be cursed;” and no one is able to say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3)
In verse 3 Paul contrasts that capricious demonic operation with the working of the Holy Spirit. He tells us, “No one speaking by the Spirit of God can say, ‘Jesus be cursed.’” The Holy Spirit will never inspire or influence a man to blaspheme the name of Jesus; such blasphemy is uttered under the influence of the devil, not that of the Holy Spirit. Likewise, “no one is able to say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Only by the inspiration and the operation of the Holy Spirit can a man truly recognize and confess that Jesus is the Lord of glory (note Matthew 16:16-17).
3. What two things does Paul emphasize in verses 4-6 (printed below?)
Now there is a variety of gifts, but it is the same Spirit who gives all of them. (5) And there is a variety of ministries, but it is the same Lord who appoints all of them. (6) And there is a variety of works, but it is the same God who performs all things in all ways. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)
In verses 4-6 the apostle Paul emphasizes both the oneness of God as well as the diversity of His operations within the church. There is a wide diversity of spiritual gifts (verses 8-10), but they all are given by the same Holy Spirit (verse 4). Viewed from another perspective, there is a wide variety of ministries, but they are all provided by the same Lord Jesus Christ (verse 5). Viewed from yet another perspective, there is a wide variety of ways in which God works within the church, but they are all the works of the one and only God (verse 6).
4. What does Paul tell us about the Holy Spirit’s distribution of spiritual gifts (i.e.; “the manifestation of the Spirit”) and what is the purpose of those gifts? See 1 Corinthians 12:7 (printed below)
Now the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7)
In verse 7 Paul emphasizes that the Holy Spirit dispenses a wide variety of spiritual gifts, He distributes these gifts among the various members of the church, and He bestows His gifts for the benefit of the individual Christian and especially for the benefit of the church as a whole. Spiritual gifts enable each individual Christian to become useful and productive in the church and for the kingdom of God.
5. In verses 8-10 (printed below) the apostle provides us with a list of some of the gifts that the Holy Spirit dispenses to the church. Do you think we should expect to find all of these gifts present in the church at all times throughout church history?
…to one there is given by the Spirit a word of wisdom, and to another there is given a word of knowledge through the same Spirit; (9) to yet another there is given the gift of faith by the same Spirit, to another there is given gifts of healing by the one Spirit, (10) to another there is given the ability to perform works of power, to another there is given the gift of prophecy, to another there is given the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another there is given the ability to speak in different languages, to another there is given the ability to interpret languages. (1 Corinthians 12:8-10)
The question may be asked, Should we expect to find all of these gifts present in the church at all times throughout church history? The miraculous and prophetic gifts were especially significant during the time when the church was being established. Such gifts served to authenticate and verify the truth of the gospel (note Hebrews 2:3b-4). Those gifts also served to support, guide and instruct the church during the time prior to the completion of the New Testament canon. When the church possesses the complete Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments, and where the church has become established in a particular society and part of the world, the miraculous and prophetic gifts recede and become extinct or non-operative. However, in those parts of the world where the gospel is advancing for the first time and where the church is confronted with the powers of darkness in a direct and intense way, some of the more miraculous gifts may, perhaps, be dispensed by the Holy Spirit.