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1 Corinthians chapter 12

English Standard Version

New International Version

New American Standard Bible

Christian Standard Bible

New Living Translation

King James Version

12For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 13For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. 14For the body is not one member, but many. 15If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 16And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 17If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? 18But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. 19And if they were all one member, where were the body? 20But now are they many members, yet but one body. 21And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. 22Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: 23And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. 24For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked: 25That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. 26And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.
New King James Version

What does 1 Corinthians chapter 12 mean?

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes how and why God gives spiritual gifts to Christians. He seems to continue answering issues raised in a previous letter from the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7:1). From the context, believers in Corinth seem to have been asking why some Christians were given spiritual gifts while others seemed not to be "spiritual ones." It's possible that some in Corinth had been demonstrating obvious supernatural power through speaking in tongues, for instance, while others lacked this ability.

Paul's teaching on spiritual gifts in this chapter shows how off-base this thinking is. He begins by saying he doesn't want them to be uninformed. Every Christian is spiritual, or one of the "spiritual ones," because every Christian has the Holy Spirit. Only those with the Holy Spirit can truthfully and sincerely say "Jesus is Lord," and every believer can say that (1 Corinthians 12:1–3).

Spiritual gifts, acts of service, and other godly activities come in a wide variety. What they have in common is that each one comes from the same Holy Spirit. Each one is given to be used in service to the same Lord Jesus. Each one is possible only through the power of the same God the Father. In other words, these spiritual gifts are not about the people who use them; they are ultimately about God and His purposes.

In addition, spiritual gifts are given to every Christian, and they are given for the purpose of serving other Christians. They are given for the common good and not to bring status and respect to one believer and not another. A spiritual gift is the supernatural ability to serve the church in a way that someone could not do in mere human strength (1 Corinthians 12:4–7).

Paul begins by listing nine of them, emphasizing that one is given to one believer while another is given to a different person. Nobody receives every single gift, but everyone receives at least one of them. These first nine gifts are often called the sign gifts or confirmation gifts. Many Christian groups and teachers believe these gifts were commonly given by the spirit during the time of the apostles and before the New Testament was established. Their purpose was to confirm that God's power was behind the message of the gospel. Other Christian groups and teachers understand these gifts to continue to be given to Christians by the Spirit in large numbers even today.

These gifts include the word of wisdom and word of knowledge, along with faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning between spirits, speaking in tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. These gifts were likely on display in Corinth. Paul emphasizes that the Spirit decides who to give each gift to. This means the gifts are not earned or acquired by the effort of those who receive them (1 Corinthians 12:8–11).

That means, of course, that having one spiritual gift or another should not cause anyone to be thought of as more spiritual or important than another. Instead, Paul urged the Corinthians to think of their church, and the worldwide church in general, as a kind of body. A human body is just one thing, one organism, but it is made up of many different parts, all with different functions. In the same way, the church is made up of many believers, all connected by the Holy Spirit in them, and it is just one thing: Christ's body on earth (1 Corinthians 12:12–13).

It would be ridiculous for body parts to declare they were quitting the body because they can't be another part. It would be equally silly for any body part to say it doesn't need the other parts. Christians, too, should discover how essential their role in Christ's body really is, as well as learning to value how needed every other function is. Even those parts thought of as "less honorable" are given special care and honor, because we instinctively know how important they are! The same ought to apply to how Christians treat each other as we use and encourage spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:14–27).

Paul concludes, though, by saying that, at least in Corinth, the first, second, and third most essential gifted positions were apostle, prophet, and teacher. This seems to suggest that those are the roles most impactful, or at least the most potent, in fulfilling the church's role. As Paul has stated in this chapter, however, those gifts cannot be effective unless the other members of the body are being honored, and being active (1 Corinthians 12:28–31).

Paul ends this section with an intent to show "a more excellent way." This leads into one of the most famous passages in all of Scripture, a depiction of Christian love as God intended it to be.
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