Bible Study with Jairus – 1 Corinthians 12
Spiritual Gifts: the loving gift of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
Spiritual gifts express the unified, loving work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. First Corinthians 12 is the only chapter in the Bible that gives this many details about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Paul’s mention of the gift supports and expounds on the theme of 1 Corinthians: love and unity.
In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul has been addressing many reasons for division, dealing with each of these problems one by one. Paul wants to address the lack of unity and bring love and oneness back to the church. Neither factions, differences in belief, or differences in gifts should keep believers from unity and love. Paul tries to make it clear that love and unity are the only solutions to strife.
As he does so, Paul demonstrates that spiritual gifts are the joint work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Trinity works together in love and unity, setting an example for the believers. We should balance our pursuit of gifts with our desire for unity.
The theme of 1 Corinthians is love and unity
How does the theme of spiritual gifts fit into the context? Why is it positioned directly between the passage on head coverings and the Lord’s Supper and the passage about Christ’s body in Chapter 12? The discussion of spiritual gifts and the metaphor of Christ’s body all relate to the theme of unity.
Let’s remember that the theme of 1 Corinthians is love and unity. Paul knows that many topics threaten the unity of the church: whether or not to eat meat, how to understand sexual morality, how to avoid classism at the Lord’s supper, factions, and attitudes towards spiritual gifts. Each of these issues has caused disagreement among the believers. Paul tackles these problems one at a time.
Paul wants believers to bear with one another and be united in love—whether they eat meat or not, whether married or not, whether they eat the Lord’s Supper together or not. His top priority was to keep others from stumbling. In the same way, this chapter continues Paul’s train of thought. No matter how different our gifts are, it shouldn’t be an excuse for a disagreement. Although our gifts are different, we are still members of the same body, and we need to live in unity.
The book of Romans contains Paul’s systematic thinking on theology, demonstrating his theologian side. Meanwhile, 1 Corinthians is Paul’s pastoral letter to the church, showing his pastoral heart. Although Paul talks about different issues in 1 Corinthians, they are not random.
- Paul appeals to the believers, asking them not to be puffed up in favor of one against another (1 Corinthians 4:6). He wants them to remember that every gift we have is from God, so we have nothing to boast about (1 Corinthians 4:7).
- Chapter 5 deals with sexual immorality. Even sexual immorality can lead to division. Some believe in sexual license and others want to completely abstain (Chapter 7). The Corinthian believers were having disagreements about this issue.
- Chapter 6 deals with lawsuits among brothers, the day-to-day disagreements that fester among Christians. Paul calls the believers to settle their disputes (1 Corinthians 6:5).
- Food sacrificed to idols. In chapter 8, Paul talks about eating foods sacrificed to idols. He says, “We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.” (1 Corinthians 8:8). If food makes others stumble, Paul said he would never again eat meat (1 Corinthians 8:13). Food should not be a cause of division. Instead, we should consider the feelings of others and try to live in love and unity.
- Head coverings. In 1 Corinthians 11, the discussion of head coverings and the Lord’s Supper shows that we should consider the feelings of others and not humiliate them if they are poor. Instead of honoring the Lord at Communion, “one goes hungry, another gets drunk.” (1 Corinthians 11:21). This not only dishonors the Lord, but also destroys the spirit of unity and love.
Chapter 12’s discussion of spiritual gifts follows logically in the same pattern. It continues the discussion of love and unity. Since different attitudes towards spiritual gifts have led to divisions within the church, Paul needed to expound the truth about spiritual gifts to bring believers into oneness.
This theme continues in the following chapters. Chapter 13’s beautiful description of love forms a centerpiece between many topics of disunity. In Chapter 14, Paul continues to deal with the disunity caused by the practice of speaking in tongues and prophecy. He shows the believers how to embody love and unity in these situations. Paul was not against eating meat, but in order to keep others from stumbling, he did not eat meat. Paul was also not against speaking in tongues, but in order not to keep others from stumbling, he would rather not speak in tongues in church meetings (1 Corinthians 14:19).
As a side note, many people have misunderstood Paul’s intention in this passage. They think he is against speaking in tongues. Actually, he is not. He is temporarily giving up speaking in tongues in meetings for the sake of unity. But in private, he speaks in tongues more than everyone else (1 Corinthians 14:18).
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul talks about the resurrected Christ, and in 1 Corinthians 16, he gives some final exhortations to the Corinthian church. From beginning to end, Paul was helping the Corinthian believers break free from division and embrace a spirit of love and unity.
When we fail to notice Paul’s themes of love and unity in 1 Corinthians, this discussion of spiritual gifts may seem unexpected. However, it’s not at all unexpected for him to talk about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. The entire book follows a consistent theme: he is dealing with each specific problem that leads to disunity among believers.
In order for the Corinthian believers to bear with each other and maintain unity in love, Paul needs to deal with every problem that is causing disunity. After talking about spiritual gifts, Paul appeals to the metaphor of the body. He uses the example of the human body to show that although we have different gifts, we are still important members of the body of Christ. Just as the body has many parts but is one body, the church has many gifts but must live in unity.
No spiritual gift has caused as much division in the church as the gift of tongues and the word of knowledge. Let’s look at these two topics as we learn about divisions, love, and unity. Then let’s examine the ways that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together in love and in unity in the area of spiritual gifts. As believers, let’s imitate the example of the Triune God, living in love and unity as we exercise our unique spiritual gifts.
The Gift of Tongues
Some Charismatic teachers teach that the gift of speaking and interpreting in tongues is different than praying in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:10). What’s the difference between the two? One is the prayer language received from God which allows you to utter mysteries to God after being baptized by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:2). But 1 Corinthians 12:10 says that to one person is given “various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” In addition, 1 Corinthians 12:30 says, “Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” The gift of tongues and interpretation of tongues is considered a miraculous gift or a special office in the church.
For example, I was baptized by the Holy Spirit in 2015 and started speaking in tongues. Since praying in tongues can build up believers (1 Corinthians 14:4) in their faith (Jude 1:20), I continue to pray in tongues every day. But I have never had the gift or office of speaking in tongues and interpreting tongues in church.
A few years ago, when I attended a prophetic meeting, an American lady prophesied to me that one day, I would be able to see angels and understand people who are speaking in tongues. If God led me to minister in churches where people were speaking in tongues, I would be able to understand the messages that were spoken in tongues and use this knowledge to understand what the Holy Spirit had to say about these churches. As expected, not long after, I began to see angels in prophetic dreams. But so far, I have never understood what others were saying when they were speaking in tongues. If I can actually understand them one day, it will be a miraculous gift. I am still waiting for God to activate this spiritual gift in me.
Brother Witness Lee of the Local Church Movement once learned to speak in tongues for two years. But later, Watchman Nee sent him a telegram quoting the verse that says, “Do all speak in tongues?” The purpose of the message was to oppose Brother Witness Lee’s continued pursuit of spiritual gifts. Later, Brother Witness Lee gave up spiritual gifts and became opposed to them.
Based on my explanation above, Watchman Nee may have confused “the prayer language of believers praying in tongues” with “the gift and office of speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues.” Not everyone has the “gift and office of speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues.” But every believer can have “the prayer language of speaking in tongues.” Many Christians, misunderstanding Paul’s words, are opposed to the practice of building oneself up through praying in tongues. This is wrong. Brother Witness Lee may not have been able to enter into the real experience of praying in tongues when he was learning about spiritual gifts and speaking in tongues. Thus, he later became opposed to both. This is a real pity.
A Different Understanding of the Word of Knowledge
In the Pentecostal Movement, the miraculous information a believer receives is called the “word of knowledge.” For example, the Lord Jesus knew that the Samaritan woman had five husbands (John 4:18) and that Nathanael was under the fig tree (John 1:50). He also knew Zacchaeus’ name without anyone telling Him (Luke 19:5). Some say this is because He is the Lord, so He knows everything. This explanation is untenable. Many people in the Pentecostal Movement also have this gift. They call it the “word of knowledge.”
The “word of knowledge” is often used in conjunction with prophecy and healing. For example, I was prophesying in a meeting while I was studying prophecy. A man came to me to receive prayer. Suddenly, I saw a picture in my head. In the vision, he was beating a drum. I asked him if he had a career in music. He said yes, and I asked him again if he was a drummer. He said yes. I boldly prophesied to him that God would bless his music ministry.
A woman who was traveling with him immediately fell to the ground and cried. The man said, “You really can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit.” Later, I found out that their worship team had encountered some difficulties while serving in their church. This was why they came to receive prayer. My words encouraged them.
Such knowledge is often referred to as the “word of knowledge” in the Pentecostal Movement. Brother Witness Lee also described a similar experience in his writings. He unknowingly said in a meeting, “Someone stole a chalk and use it to draw circles on the ground.” The brother who had done this immediately repented and received salvation. These examples are often referred to as the “word of knowledge” in the Pentecostal Movement.
What is the “word of wisdom”? Usually it refers to the word of wisdom received from God under very difficult circumstances to resolve specific problems. For example, when two prostitutes were fighting over a child, King Solomon received the word of wisdom to divide the child in two, so that each woman would receive half. As a result, the real mother was distinguished from the fake (1 Kings 3).
Many similar examples happened to the Lord Jesus. For example, a woman who was caught in adultery by the scribes and Pharisees was brought to Jesus. They wanted to test Jesus and look for a reason to accuse Him. If Jesus said not to stone her, he would violate the Law of Moses; if Jesus said to stone her, it would mean He would kill and show no mercy. Jesus received a word of wisdom. He said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7). At this point, the accusers left. This word of wisdom resolved the crisis.
Brother Witness Lee had a similar experience. When he was caught by the Japanese military police, they knew that he often mentioned the word “revival” in meetings. For this reason, they thought he was related to the revolutionary party and hoped to get some information from him. Brother Witness Lee prayed that God would give him wisdom. During the interrogation, he told the Japanese that the “revival” he was talking about was the spiritual revival of the church and had nothing to do with politics. The Japanese military police picked up a Bible that Witness Lee had given him and said, “Show me the word ‘revival’ in the Bible.” Witness Lee opened the Bible to a random page. And the page he opened happened to be Habakkuk 3:2, which says, “O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years.” The Japanese military police were surprised and released him. According to the beliefs of the Pentecostal Movement, God gave him a word of wisdom at that moment.[i]
Let’s look again at the footnotes of the Recovery Version. “The word of wisdom is the word concerning Christ as the deeper things of God, predestined by God to be our portion. The word of knowledge is the word that imparts a general knowledge of things concerning God and the Lord. The word of wisdom is mainly out of our spirit through revelation; the word of knowledge is mainly out of our understanding through teachings.”
I personally think this footnote’s interpretation of the “word of wisdom” and the “word of knowledge” is wrong, or at least biased. The reason for this comes from a lack of knowledge and experience of the gift of the Holy Spirit. This footnote attempts to explain these concepts within the scope of preaching and mental understanding, neglecting the fact that these words of wisdom and knowledge are miraculous gifts. When we lack knowledge and experience of a miraculous gift, we limit our understanding of this biblical knowledge or gift, leading us to wrong conclusions and interpretations.
Many people, including Pastor Stephen Tang, are against treating the “word of knowledge” as a miraculous message, especially when it involves healing from a certain disease. He also believes that “when a person preaches the word of God with great power, the knowledge and wisdom they are filled with are the words of wisdom and knowledge.” But I personally think that Pastor Stephen Tang also lacks the experiential knowledge of spiritual gifts, so he explains these concepts mentally and rationally. I have personally observed many times that God has used the word of knowledge to heal the sick, make prophecies, etc. For this reason, I lean more towards accepting the explanation that this is a miraculous gift that releases a miraculous message from God.
The two examples I gave, speaking in tongues and the word of knowledge, illustrate a common source of division. There are different understandings of spiritual gifts in the modern church which lead to divisions in the church. The Corinthian believers must have also struggled with different understandings or even disagreements over spiritual gifts. Each of them had different gifts, and they were struggling with unity. This is why Paul clarifies the topic of spiritual gifts. He wants the believers to transcend their differences. Even though they each had different spiritual gifts and different understandings of the concept of spiritual gifts, they should work to achieve oneness in love.
Spiritual gifts are a picture of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit working in unity
Verse 1 of this chapter mentions that Paul does not want the believers in Corinth to be uninformed about spiritual gifts. In verse four, he mentions spiritual gifts. Between these verses, he inserts two verses about the Holy Spirit and idolatry. What do these verses mean? Let’s read them: “When you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore, I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” (vs. 2-3)
Why are these two verses inserted here? My guess is that some magical powers come from evil spirits. For example, the Bible records that people were amazed by Simon, who practiced magic (Acts 8:9). Perhaps some Corinthian believers were against spiritual gifts because they reminded them of magic. For example, many traditional American churches today are against meditation prayers and the gift of prophecy because the New Age movement contains meditation, fortune-telling, and divination. Similarly, this may have been one of the arguments Paul was dealing with among the believers. Paul made it clear that the gifts he was talking about were from the Holy Spirit and of the Lord Jesus Christ.
He further clarifies in verse 4 that although gifts come from the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus and the Heavenly Father also share in the process of bestowing gifts. Verses 4-6 say, “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.” The Holy Spirit has given us different gifts; the Lord has given us different kinds of service; the Father has given us different activities. The three operate in unity to finish God’s work. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together in love.
How can we understand this? I’ll give an example. My ministry, “Jairus Bible World Ministries,” is a call from God. The Lord appeared to me and called me to take part in this ministry. My calling was mainly to preach God’s word and make His words come alive. When the Lord appeared to me, He Himself told me that He would use me greatly.
The Holy Spirit also gave me gifts in the form of dreams. One day, I dreamed that I got a Bible from heaven that was as sweet as bread. While I am teaching His word, I have found that the Holy Spirit often gives me the gift of understanding God’s words and being an eloquent speaker. When I use this gift and release the illumination of God’s word, I am empowered by God the Father. The result of using these gifts is to glorify God the Father, because all things are of Him.
This gift is not just bestowed on me by the Holy Spirit. Jesus and the Father are also taking part in it at the same time. The Holy Spirit bestows a gift on me, and the Lord Jesus perfects it. The gift of the Holy Spirit helps me accomplish the ministry Jesus called me to. And the good work in my heart and in the ministry, all come from the Father. As Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work in unity.
The modern church has differing views of gifts. These differences of opinion can lead to church divisions. Some people think that spiritual gifts are not from God, or that they are small things that He does not care about. Paul corrects this wrong view in verses 2-3. He says that spiritual gifts come from the Holy Spirit. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are involved in giving us gifts and ministries, as well as empowering our activities.
In addition, the Corinthian believers may have thought that their gifts were superior or inferior to those of others, resulting in competition. Paul explains that we have different gifts, but they are all given to us by the same Spirit. We have different types of service, but we all serve the same Lord. Our activities are different but it is the same God who empowers them all.
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are working together in unity to empower these activities, services, and gifts. In the same way, we must respect each other’s gifts which are given by the Holy Spirit, ministries given by the Lord Jesus, and activities given by the Father. We must learn from the example of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who are working together in love and in unity. Paul takes this opportunity to make it clear that although our gifts are different, they should not bring division. Rather, they should bring unity.
Inspirations for achieving oneness in today’s church
Today’s church not only has differing opinions about spiritual gifts, but it also disagrees about politics and Covid-19 vaccines. The division in the church today is even more serious than that of the Corinthian church. Is there a way out of these divisions?
Paul points the way in 1 Corinthians: unity and love. There are different kinds of disagreements in the church, and unity and love are the only way out. Paul’s words of wisdom are as applicable today as when they were first written. No matter how many disagreements the church faces, there is only one answer. And that is to bear with each other in unity and love. This approach worked in the Corinthian church, and it should work in the church today. Are our spiritual eyes open to see the way Paul has laid out? Will we choose to live according to the flesh, or will we imitate Paul as he followed Christ’s example of unity and love?
 Margaret Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation: An Exegetical Investigation of the Language and Composition of 1 Corinthians (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 1–2.
 Mark Allan Powell, Introducing the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 291.
 All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
 Witness Lee, The Fullness of God, chap.6, sec.4 (1985) in Living Stream Ministry, https://www.ministrybooks.org/books.cfm?n.
 Witness Lee, The History and Revelation of the Lord’s Recovery, in Living Stream Ministry, Chinese version page 129, https://www.ministrybooks.org.
Quoted from Chinese, http://www.pcchong.com/mydictionary/special/pneumatology3_5.htm.