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For years, I have been puzzled and saddened over scriptures in the New Testament that are ignored in contemporary church practice. Let’s begin with Paul’s teaching about how all Christians are members of one body. It is a lengthy passage, but these two verses sum up how the evangelical church deals with this chapter today:

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).1

“For the body does not consist of one member but of many” (1 Corinthians 12:14).

It is these passages in Corinthians that pastors draw from when they preach their annual messages that their church is one body, everybody has a gift, and we all need each other to participate in the life of the church. However, they willingly ignore the rest of the chapter. It is clear that Paul is instructing the Corinthians about spiritual gifts in the body, but the gifts Paul lists are not at all on the radar of pastors who teach the we-all-have-a-gift-participate-in-church-life message. Why? Because most of the gifts listed in First Corinthians are either designated to the dustbin of church history or just plain ignored.

Here is the list of gifts that Paul says in this twelfth chapter that “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good”:

The utterance of wisdom

The utterance of knowledge

Faith

Healing

The working of miracles

Prophecy

The ability to distinguish between spirits

Various kinds of tongues

Interpretation of tongues

So, let’s have a moment of candor. How many of these gifts are manifestations “of the Spirit for the common good” in your church? If you cannot find more than a few, you should ask yourself why. Let me know what you discover. Here is my answer: The only one who is using “the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” is the speaker/leader/pastor on the platform and a handful of Sunday School teachers, if we dump faith and the utterances of wisdom and knowledge into the speaker basket, which is a bit dubious, to be frank.

One person, or perhaps a handful. The majority sit silent in the meeting. Is that “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit” or “the body does not consist of one member but of many”?

It stuns me that leaders/pastors have the courage to even use First Corinthians as their pitch to get their folks involved in the ministry of the church. They are the worst offenders of this teaching!

Later in the chapter, Paul, by the Holy Spirit, brings out another list of ministries.

“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” (1 Corinthians 12:27–28).

Here is the list:

Apostle

Prophet

Teachers

Miracles

Gifts of healing

Helping

Administrating

Various kinds of tongues

This list may be a little more to the liking of pastors and leaders. Teachers—they—are in the list, as well as “helping” and “administrating.” Churches badly need helpers and administrators to keep the wheels rolling.

So, what about the rest of the list? It is problematic. Concerning the first one mentioned, apostle, very few want to take that title upon themselves, and rightly so. In my opinion, I look suspiciously upon those who do, primarily for this verse: “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works” (2 Corinthians 12:12).

And the rest? Sure, pray for healing, they will say. Prophets? Well, that’s the same as a teacher, they may maintain, but they do not explain how the two are different. Why would Paul give two titles for the same ministry?

And tongues? Please.

So, what shall we do in light of the vast ignorance of this twelfth chapter of First Corinthians? It saddens me greatly that this is our current state. It saddens me that we ignore the obvious truth of God’s Word here. It saddens me because the gifts are given by God Himself for the common good, and almost no one is using them. It saddens me that the folks in the pews are thus reduced to listeners rather than participants and are therefore spiritually weak.

What shall we do? What we shall do is pray. “Father, please cause the Church to be obedient to Your word.”

 

1All Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

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