The Church’s One Foundation: Spiritual Gifts and the Universal Church (1 Corinthians 12:1
The Church’s One Foundation: Spiritual Gifts and the Universal Church (Sermon Audio)
This week’s sermon looked more closely at the spiritual gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10. I argued that the sign gifts were given to the apostles and prophets to “lay the foundation” of the universal church, which is described as Christ’s body in 1 Corinthians 12:13.
Just as Paul described himself as a wise master builder (1 Corinthians 3:10), the first generation of Christians understood the apostles, prophets, and evangelists to have a unique calling to preach the gospel and the lay the foundation of the universal church. Accordingly, God confirmed their ministries with signs, wonders, and mighty works of power (see Romans 15:13–21 and 2 Corinthians 12:12). This view is called cessationism, and it argues that the miraculous gifts do not continue today.
In this sermon, however, I do not make a strong argument for the “cessation” of the gifts. Rather, I argue for the divine intention for these gifts to establish the infant church. In so many ways, the cessationist position does not, should not, revel in the cessation of spiritual gifts. Rather, we celebrate the way these supernatural gifts confirmed the message of the apostle and prophets. The gospel we find in the New Testament was confirmed by these workings of power.
Hence, today the sign gifts (listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10) still bear fruit by pointing us to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. We celebrate the way these gifts recorded in Acts and the rest of the New Testament secure the foundation of the church, and remind us that no additions are needed to bolster the church’s firm foundation. This does not, in any way, diminish the power of God. Instead, it understand the power of God to be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ (see Romans 1:16–17 and 1 Corinthians 2:1–5).
1 Corinthians 12:1–-13
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. 12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
- The argument was made that the power and gifts necessary to start the church was and is not the same as the power and gifts needed to maintain the church. What does this mean? How do we see this? What does this have to do with the spiritual gifts?
- The argument was made that each of these gifts are miraculous in nature and temporary (needed only for the founding of the church). How do these gifts differ from later spiritual gifts? Why would God give these gifts at the beginning of the church, but not continue them?
- Consider the way God confirmed the Law in Moses, the Prophets in Elijah and Elisha, and the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. Each of these periods of revelation were confirmed by signs and wonders. According to this pattern, what should we expect in the New Testament?
Read 2 Corinthians 12:12 and Hebrews 2:3–4. Why were the gifts given?
- Paul lists nine spiritual gifts. Why should we read them as five pairs (minus one)? What does arrangement of the list tell us? Why does Paul put tongues last, and a word of wisdom and knowledge first?
- What is the difference between (1) praying for healing and believing God to work miracles of healing and (2) believing that individuals are gifted with the power to heal. See the way in which Acts portrays Peter and Paul, as Spirit-empowered healers (Acts 5:12–16 and Acts 19:11ff.).
- What do “workings of power” mean? Look at the way “power” is spoken of in 1 Corinthians (1:18, 24; 2:1–5; 5:4–5; 6:14) or in other books (Romans 1:16–17; 15:13–21; Colossians 1:28–29; 1 Thessalonians 1:4–5). For more, see ‘Power’ in Paul’s Letters.
- What is the good news of restricting the sign gifts to the apostles and prophets and evangelists? (Hint: (1) firm foundation, (2) sufficiency of Scripture, (3) certainty of Scripture . . . others?) What dangers are introduced when we open the door to the continuation of tongues, prophecy, and words of knowledge?
- How should we respond to those who have a Pentecostal background or are open to the continuation of the gifts? At the level of the church, where do we draw the line? Are the level of personal counsel and fellowship, how do we hold our doctrine?
For Further Study
- Richard Gaffin, “Basic Perspectives [on Pentecost]” — a look at how the Spirit’s work relates to redemptive-history; see also his book, Perspectives on Pentecost
- David Schrock, ‘Power’ in Paul’s Letters: How Apostolic Miracles Magnify the Gospel Message — an exegetical look at “the working of miracles” in 1 Corinthians 12:10
- David Schrock, “In Praise of Old Books, Like Ebenezer Henderson’s Work on Divine Inspiration and the Spiritual Gifts” — Ebenezer Henderson gives exegetical commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:8–10
- David Schrock, “Why the Founding of the Church is Different from the Founded Church: James Bannerman on the Uniqueness of the Early Church” — a needed look at the uniqueness of God’s work in the early church and why the sign gifts were needed then, but not now
- John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, Biblical Doctrine, pp. 800–20 — a succinct defense of cessationism
- Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, ch. 52–53 — the leading evangelical proponent of the miraculous gifts continuing
- Ebenezer Henderson (1784–1858), Divine Inspiration; or, The supernatural influence exerted in the communication of divine truth and is special bearing on the composition of the sacred Scriptures : with notes and illustrations, pp. 148–200 — a 19th C. defense of the miraculous gifts ceasing with the apostles; and yes, that is the whole title :-)
Soli Deo Gloria, ds