Second Sunday after the Epiphany – Epistle

by Crossings

Breaking The Silence
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Analysis by Timothy J. Hoyer

1 Corinthians 12:1Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. 3Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.

4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

DIAGNOSIS: We Speak of Things We Do Not Know

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – Not Knowing What to Say
“I don’t know how to use this gift. Nobody ever told me.” The new Christians in Corinth had gifts from the Spirit. But they were uninformed about what the Spirit intended them to do with the gifts they had been given (v. 1). So they relied on their past experiences with idols to interpret their present experience with the Holy Spirit. But their former idols could not speak (v. 2); those idols could not inform them about how to appropriately respond to the Spirit’s gifts. Consequently, the Corinthians’ se lf-concern guided them (“self-concern” being the opposite of the “common good” in v. 7) and eventually it, like their idols, enticed and led them astray (v. 2)

Self-concern misguided the Corinthians about the Holy Spirit. So they used the Spirit’s gifts to compete-to determine who was better, more loved and approved by God. (Their competitiveness was a signal that they were following the law, since the law compels one to measure and judge.) Just like their idols, they competed for rank, to establish who was most important, powerful, and influential. Don’t we do the same? No wonder we can’t imagine the God of Jesus operating any differently?

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Saying the Wrong Thing
As the Corinthians struggled to demonstrate that they were better than each other (law action), they used their gifts as proof of their superiority. But, as Paul points out, it was really only proof of their petty jealousy of one another (3:3). The struggle even pressed some to say that Jesus was not needed (“Let Jesus be cursed!” v. 3). The law does not leave room for Christ to be the center of our life with God. If Christ is at the center, then the law is unnecessary, it has reached its limits-and we, who prefer to operate according to the law, do not like that. The Corinthians could not trust Jesus to be the foundation of their new life with God.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – Not Able to Speak
When we let the law guide our understanding of Jesus-when we think Jesus is only a “model for the godly life” (“do what he would do and you will be right with God”) — we make Jesus another Moses and, consequently, we are left to wrangle with each other in jealousy, divisions, and the flesh (3:3). These are all results of the law. We are also left without God’s saving mercy. And while we wrangle over who is better, God exposes our pride as the foolishness it truly is (1:28). Finally, no matter how long and impressive our newspaper obituaries may be, in death we cannot speak before God.


Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – God Knows What to Say
But when we are unable to speak before God, God speaks a new Word to us. That new Word is Jesus who, by his death on the cross and resurrection, became for us wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption from God (1:30). In Jesus we now have God’s mercy. Knowing “nothing … except Jesus Christ, and him crucified,” we are raised up to new life.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) – The Good Thing to Say
The Spirit’s first and best spiritual gift is to open our ears to hear the Good Word God speaks to us in Jesus; this gift-to hear God speak-is called “faith.” (“No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit,” v. 3). By faith all that Jesus possesses (God as Father, heaven, sinlessness, eternal life) and all that he has done (dying and rising) becomes ours. We can have no greater status before God. We can boast to God about nothing better than Jesus. Because Christ died and rose again for us, God’s favor and approval are ours. No spiritual gift has accomplished such great things. In Christ we boast only that ‘Jesus is Lord” — not that ‘Some spiritual gift is lord.’

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) – Having Something Good To Say
When Paul reminded the Corinthians of the power of Christ crucified and risen in their lives, they realized they no longer needed to vie for status by comparing spiritual gifts. Instead, they were freed to use their gifts for the common good (12.7). The same is true for us. Because our faith in Christ establishes our status before God, we can acknowledge that our individual spiritual gifts aren’t necessary to gain divine favor, nor are they a sign of who has more favor (12.11). We are freed to use our gifts to serve each other. How wonderful that when we need healing, someone has that gift; and that, when we need knowledge, someone can share it with us. When we need faith, there is someone near us who can give us faith by speaking Christ to us. All these gifts are from the same Spirit who speaks Christ to us, so that we might have a good Word to speak to the world!


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