• The Explore the Bible lesson for April 15 focuses on 1 Corinthians 12:4-12, 21-26.
Paul’s intentional plea for unity continues as we turn our attention to gifts of the Spirit. After speaking on the Lord’s Supper, which focused on how Jesus unifies, attention is now on the work of the Holy Spirit.
When a person shows natural skill or ability, we oftentimes will say that person has a “gift.” Ask your group: How does this idea prepare us for understanding how the Holy Spirit empowers believers with certain gifts?
The point of these gifts is not to show some people as more “special to God” than others. Rather, these various gifts through various people should come together to make the body more full and able to serve. It is vital that we do not fall into the trap of comparing gifts; rather, we should be driven to share gifts with one another.
Diverse (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)
In verses 1-3, Paul makes it clear this information is to help avoid ignorance on the subject of spiritual gifts. Before we made a commitment to Christ, our lives were influenced by “pagan” ways, and these are more divisive than unifying. So, Paul points to diversity by saying there are different gifts supplied by the same Spirit.
Begin by asking your group: Do you think we have a choice in what gifts we are given? It may be interesting to see how personal desire will point to “yes” answers. But we must be clear that God equips us. As our Maker, he knows us best, and he knows his will for us individually and collectively. It is the Spirit who decides, not us.
How does diversity make us more useful? How will diversity make us more appealing to the unchurched? We live in a culture where diversity is touted and celebrated when it is done well, yet we also see tension in this area. Diversity takes many forms worth considering, but when it comes specifically to these gifts, a diversity of gifts in one body makes the church most effective.
Specific (1 Corinthians 12:7-10)
This section satisfies our need for a “laundry list” of gifts we see and consider. Keep in mind Paul tends to expound on others in this chapter as well as other letters. The point is not to see these as the only spiritual gifts. As God is eternal, there may certainly be other gifts. Paul is offering a basic starting point.
Knowing about these and seeing how the Spirit is equipping us removes our ignorance of spiritual gifts. Preben Vang points out this portion of Scripture is leading us to a “basis of communal maturity” (Preben Vang, 1 Corinthians, 167). Why might these verses lead us to be more mature believers?
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It may be good to inform your group about the resources of spiritual gifts assessments offered by religious groups. These assessments take a person’s answers and point them to likely spiritual gifts. Remind your group that results are not God’s divine words, but are intended to be a helpful guide. Only the Spirit can clarify one’s gifts.
Intentional (1 Corinthians 12:11-12, 21-26)
Verse 11 especially proves the final sentence of above: All gifts point to the same Spirit, and the Spirit makes the decisions. While this may cause us to feel powerless, we should instead celebrate how intent God is on our equipping. Consider the age-old statement: “God does not call the equipped, he equips the called.” Our vulnerability is an opportunity to celebrate God’s intentionality.
Personally, these next verses are some of my favorites in the entire Bible. So, I would recommend you not skip verses 13-20. These are the most pro-body and pro-unity texts you will find, and they come within Paul’s urging the Corinthians to be unified as a whole body, not separated as dissected pieces.
We easily can assess our quality of unity by considering verse 26: If we are unified, we can feel one another’s pains and joys. This, after all, is what a body does. How does this imagery of the physical body show us a better picture of the church?
Consider the negative effects of refusing these teachings. We are left ignorant and alone. We cannot say we do not need each other, because we are useless when we are apart from one another. Ignorance and loneliness are two terrible experiences, and it seems the unified church is an antidote to these.
Of the closing verses of this chapter, verse 27 is the grand summary: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”. The unified church was made real by Christ, and the unified work of the church is made possible by the Spirit. No human can say with authority that someone is not a part of the body.
Have your group discuss the difference between inclusion and exclusion. How are we guilty of these? Lady Gaga, the popular and controversial vocal artist once said, “I believe in a passion for inclusion.” Her songs prove her passion. Although many of her stances counter biblical teaching, we are left to wonder why her passion seems stronger than some churches when it comes to unifying and including.
As believers and followers of the Way, there is no time to be distracted by disunity. We must urge ourselves forward to show a passion for including one another in the work of Christ to the world.
Heath A. Kirkwood is lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Lorena.