Second Reading:  1 Corinthians 12:4-11


Communicating “Church”


Literal Translation


4 There are different types of grace-filled gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different types of ministry, but the same Lord. 6 There are different ways of working, but the same God, the (One) working all (types) in all (followers). 7 But to each (follower) is given a manifestation of the Spirit to the advantage (of all followers). 8 For, on the one hand, through the Spirit, to one is given the word of (spiritual) wisdom, but, on the other hand, to another the word of (spiritual) knowledge by the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another the graced-filled gift of healing in the one Spirit, 10 but to another working of power, [but[ to another prophecies, [but] to another a (clear) sensing of spirits, to another types of (spiritual) tongues (uttered), to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 The one and the same Spirit work all these (gifts), separating each (gift) to (each) individual just as it wills.


12:4, 9 “graced-filled gifts” is literally “charismaton,” the Greek word that gives us “charismatic.”


12:6-7 The word “follower” was added in parentheses, because, in context, Paul was speaking to the community at Corinth. His comments were aimed at Christians.


How do people know we are “Church?”


This is not a question of individual effort (How do people know we are Christians?), but one of community. Two millennia ago, a Jewish apostle wrote to a Christian community in a Greek culture to answer the question. In doing so, Paul tried to “re-evangelized” the believers at the Greek seaport of Corinth.


A few observations need to be made before we look at the text. First, as the previous paragraph indicated, a person from one culture wrote to people in another culture. So, there might be cultural accommodation (to the Corinthians) amidst cultural assumption (by Paul). Second, Paul wrote in an atmosphere of expectation; he and his audience assumed the end times were immanent, if not present. Both of these observations impact how Paul would define “Church.”


The discussion of the spiritual gifts took place in the context of scandal among the Corinthian faithful. This was a “charismatic” community, defined by the exercise of various gifts: speaking in tongues, healing, prophecy, etc. The Corinthians took pride in their gifts to the point of braggadocio and one-upmanship. The leadership of the community must have felt threatened, for the Corinthians were splintering into groups with their own rivaling leaders.


Paul argued against notion of their narrow notion of “grassroots” leadership. Instead, he argued for the big picture. He began with the leadership of the Spirit. For Paul, God was in charge. And Paul saw the leadership of the Spirit in the context of God’s plan. This was Paul’s cultural presumption. The Jewish notion of creation (and prayer) could be simply stated that all things came from God, so they would return to God. Therefore, in the end times, all things would return to God. In his Christian view, all things would return through Christ.


Paul’s emphasis on Trinity began with the situation at present (the gifts of the Spirit) and then proceeded to the end times (return of Christ, then to God). But he also used the Trinity to explain the notion of Church. The Church had various types of spiritual gifts, but there was only one Spirit. It had various types of ministries, but there was only one Lord Jesus upon whom the ministries were modeled and rooted. And these gifts and ministries worked together in the way God the Father willed them to work together. Beneath his argument that the Trinity defined the Church was the notion that Church should be based on harmony, just as the Father, Son, and Spirit worked harmoniously.


There were various gifts given to various people, that was true. But what were those gifts? And why were they given? Paul answered the last question first. The Spirit gave its “charisms” for the good of the community, not for the glory of its members. So, to envision these various gifts as the means to achieve the common good, there had to be a “hierarchy” of gifts. Here, Paul tried to make a cultural accommodation to the Greek community. The highest virtue in the Greek world was wisdom, the ability to make clear and correct judgments. Such a virtue was higher than knowledge, for it guided the person to seek the right knowledge. Both wisdom and knowledge led to firm faith. The rest of the gifts were based upon spiritual power and the needs within the community.


There were some parallels between the gifts and the hierarchy of leadership Paul listed later in 12:28. But, in the context of the letter, Paul emphasized the unity of the Church with the image of “the Body of Christ.”


How do people know we are “Church?” We communicate the sense of the Church when we work in harmony with others and use our Spirit-given gifts to serve others. Church is not a place for egos. It is a place for charity.


What are your gifts? How have you used your gifts within your community?