“Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.” (1 Cor 12: 27-31)
Paul writes these verses at the end of the chapter in which he introduces the list of what are commonly known as the “gifts of the Spirit.” Although Paul writes in verse four “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit,” he goes on to refer to them (verse 7) as “the manifestation of the Spirit.” I think if we were to use Paul’s phrase “the manifestation of the Spirit” we might have more of a sense of the dynamic working of God in our midst, manifesting His presence, than the term “gifts,” which somehow leaves Him a bit more remote in the process – like a postman who has handed over a parcel and moved on. The gifts of the Spirit reveal the Spirit of Christ manifesting Himself in our midst and expressing His love through His supernatural power: they are not parcels left under the Christmas tree of one person’s, or one church’s, ministry. It is the question of supernatural power that I want to address here.
Paul’s message to the Corinthians in these verses begs a couple of questions that I think we prefer to gloss over if we want to feel comfortable about the level of manifestation of the Spirit that we expect in our churches. “Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healing?” he asks. I think in many cases we would have to make a slight change to his questions if we applied them to our churches today, where it would probably be more accurate to ask: “Are any workers of miracles? Do any have gifts of healing?”
We can avoid the implications of this question by saying, “Ah, yes; but Paul is talking about the church universal here, not local gatherings.” However, although we can receive the message to the Corinthians 2000 years after it was written, and in many times more than 2,000 places apart from Corinth, it remains true that Paul was writing to a local body – a church that he had founded himself on his missionary travels – and he was exhorting the individual members of that church to “earnestly desire the best gifts.” If he was clarifying to them what the different ministries and manifestations of the Spirit were that God had appointed to the church, it was because the teaching was relevant to that specific group of believers. He wasn’t just giving the Corinthians some theoretical information that had no application in their specific context.
Paul says: “God has appointed these in the church.” The word translated “appointed” is tithemi. It means placed; set down; established. They are not just incidentals. Even if we do take the view that Paul’s list in these verses – itself a summary of what he wrote earlier in the letter – does not have to be applied in its entirety to every local church, the fact remains that we are exhorted to “earnestly desire the best gifts.” What is true from Scripture is 1) that God has appointed them, and 2) that we are to earnestly seek them. Maybe we don’t see them in operation because we don’t earnestly seek what God has appointed. Instead of walking by faith in what God says He has set in place, we walk by the sight of the few supernatural ministries that we know of. But if, like Mary, we believed what He has said, we might see His word made flesh and these ministries emerging among us.
Which gifts he had in mind isn’t specified, but the first four are listed in order (first, second, third, after that), whereas “gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” all follow on grammatically from a single “then.” A little later in the same letter, he writes “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” (1 Cor 14:1) Whatever principal of ordination we choose to apply, miracles and healings are an integral part of the package of gifts established by the Lord when His Spirit put in place the foundations of the Church that He would build. The Church is a supernatural edifice, a work of the Spirit, the Rock not hewn by human hands. (Dan 2:34) And however much the gates of hell – the seat of worldly, carnal thinking – would strive against this church, they will not prevail. Worldly thinking would dilute apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healings, helps, administrations, and varieties of tongues down to intellectual teachers, human helps and practical administrations, and throw away all the rest; and in many cases it has. Mega churches and whole denominations are built on sand. But when the storm comes on the world and the only place of safety is seated with Christ in heavenly places, under the supernatural wings of our supernatural Father, they will all be swept away if they do not repent.
If you want to buy groceries, you go to the store to fill your basket. If you want a drink of water, you go to the tap to fill your glass. To earnestly seek the best gifts, we have to earnestly seek the giver. If we earnestly seek first to know the fellowship of the Spirit, we are then in a position to ask the Spirit for those gifts. The Lord is the Spirit: (2 Cor 3:17) we can’t divide Him up into His different manifestations. If we aren’t seeking all of Him, His fullness, we aren’t seeking Him at all. Just as the body is not just a foot or an eye, (1 Cor 12: 14-18) nor is the One who fills it. For “He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the pre-eminence.” (Colossians 1:18)
Revival is coming. Revival isn’t a new development; it’s the manifestation today of that which was established at the beginning. God is pouring out the same Spirit that was poured out at first, because He wants to do again which He did then. To be part of what He is doing, we need to receive who He is. To his friend Philemon, Paul writes: “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgement of every good thing which is in you by Christ Jesus.” (verse 4) “Effective” in the New Testament, as we saw in “Pressing the Reset Button,” means supernaturally powerful. The Greek word translated as “acknowledgement” is epignosis, meaning precise and correct knowledge, especially of that which pertains to spiritual realities. We need precise and correct knowledge of all the good things which are ours in Him, and which He has placed in us by His Spirit.
Over the years we have become like a pool of water which has been steadily evaporating away in the heat, and now, in the limitations of his wisdom, the devil has thought that by locking down the activity of the church he would lock down its life and fruitfulness and drain away the water even more. But the wisdom of heaven has declared that the end of activity is the beginning of stillness, and in stillness is the knowledge of God in whom is all life and all fruitfulness. And in the stillness, God is refilling the pool. The water level is starting to rise, even now. It will rise much higher still. Will we drink of its depths, or will we just continue to sip in the shallows?
God has dealt to each of us a measure of faith. (Rom 12:3) But He also gives the Spirit without measure. (John 3:34) So the measure that He’s given us is not a measure of limitation, but a measure of fullness which is dealt to each one of us so that we can operate in our giftings in His strength, and not our own, as Paul writes to the Colossians: “To this end I also labour, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.“ (Colossians 1:29) To your church and to mine, God has appointed workers of miracles and gifts of healings, as well as apostles, prophets, teachers, tongues, administrations and helps. We receive from God according to our faith. The opposite of faith is unbelief; and unbelief is the result of a hard heart that is resisting the Holy Spirit. (Hebrews 3: 12-13, Acts 7:51) Let us therefore turn to the Lord, and say in our desperation: “Lord I believe, help my unbelief,“ so that the measure of our faith can match the measure of who the Spirit is within us.
“For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” (Colossians 2:9)
It’s time we took God at His word. Otherwise we will still be standing in a puddle when others around us are diving in the lake.