1 Corinthians 12:1-3
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 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.
The word used in 1 Corinthians 12 for “gifts” is the same word used throughout the New Testament for “grace.” The gifts God gives are His gracious deposits into individuals and the church for the purpose of bringing Him glory. Paul’s concern for the church at Corinth was that they would separate themselves from their former pagan spiritual fallacies, particularly the ecstatic demonic spiritual practices that accompanied their idol worship. As we look at the entire context of his letter, the excess they were given to in their pagan worship was being reflected in their attempt to worship the true God. Though the object of their worship had shifted, they retained the same misguided tendencies. In verse 2 Paul reminds them that the object of their worship used to be “mute idols.” By worshipping the true God, the object of their worship is now “the God who speaks.”
It’s at this point that you would think the Corinthians would be pretty excited. “Yes, we used to worship mute idols, but now we worship the God who speaks…and He speaks through us all the time!” [Cue simultaneous ecstatic tongues and prophecies as self-aggrandizing Corinthians fight for fleshly….errrrr….spiritual supremacy] Those who put the Holy Spirit in a box small enough to fit in their pockets fall into the same error. The Corinthians obsessed over the “graces” that God freely poured on them, and as a result they missed the point. They fell into the error of focusing on the gift instead of the Giver. They made the Giver synonymous with certain gifts, so that if these gifts were active in the ways they felt appropriate, then the Giver was truly working. [Cue the clay coming to life, looking arrogantly up at the Potter and with a smirk on it’s half-formed face saying “Do you really know what you’re doing?”]
How does Paul begin his correction of the Corinthian error? What is Paul’s first lesson for them in regards to spiritual gifts?
“No one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!”
Commentators aren’t in agreement as to exactly what was happening in Corinth in regard to this phrase. Could it be that these Corinthians were so “focused” on the Holy Spirit, that they were pitting Him against Jesus? We know from early in this letter that there were factions within this church. They would align around certain personalities or teachers in cliques that make 7th grade girls look like Deacons. They would pit Paul or Peter or Jesus against one another, completely missing the point of it all. Paul’s instructions in verse 3 may reveal that there were some among them who were even claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit, and the heart of their message was “Jesus is accursed!” Were these fake Christians projecting onto the Trinity the rivalries of their own flesh?
Paul then clarifies for them what the Holy Spirit is all about. “No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit points to Jesus. And if someone is a Christian (see Romans 10:9-10: confessing Jesus as Lord), then they have the Holy Spirit.
My Pentecostal brothers and sisters:
We don’t own the Holy Spirit. And if we actually have the Holy Spirit our lives will be marked by His fruit before His gifts, a focus on Jesus, and a passionate engagement of His mission. If you have fallen into the fallacious belief that your type of Christian has the Holy Spirit, but other types of Christians don’t, look in the mirror and you’ll see a Corinthian staring back at you. Stop keeping score of gifts and start keeping score of souls. The first soul to make sure of is your own.