The Work of the Holy Spirit
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware” (1 Corinthians 12:1. NASB unless otherwise noted).
By Ernie Kuenzli
One vital topic discussed by the Apostle Paul in First Corinthians was the work of the holy Spirit in the church. This work was crucial to establish the church in the beginning of the Gospel Age, both individually and collectively. “By one Spirit we were all baptized into one body … Jews or Greeks … slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
First Work — Spiritual Begettal
God’s holy Spirit helped the church in two important ways. First, through the begetting of the holy Spirit, the embryo New Creature was begun in each believer whose consecration was accepted by the heavenly Father. The apostle explains, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a New Creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul adds in Ephesians 1:13, “In him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation — having also believed, you were sealed in him with the holy Spirit of promise.” Receiving God=s holy Spirit indicated that individual was a spiritual son of God. “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6). “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16 KJV). The Apostle John confirmed this in 1 John 3:1, 2: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. … (2) Beloved, now we are children of God … We know that when he appears, we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is.”
Possessing God’s holy Spirit as a New Creature is a pledge of, or down payment for the future, spiritual reward promised by God (Romans 2:7, 1 Peter 1:3, 4, 2 Peter 1:4). The holy Spirit “is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession” (Ephesians 1:14).
The Body of Christ
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul identifies the followers of Jesus using another illustration: the body of Christ. “As the [human] body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. (13) For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one [Christ’s] body… and we were all made to drink of one [God’s] Spirit. (14) For the body is not one member, but many” (1 Corinthians 12:12-14). Begettal by God’s holy Spirit makes one a member of Christ=s body. Paul continues, “God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. (19) If they were all one member, where would the body be? (20) But now there are many members, but one body” (1 Corinthians 12:18-20).
This body arrangement was God’s idea. “God has so composed the body … (25) so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (26) And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (27) Now you are Christ’s body, and individually
members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:24-27).
Members of Christ’s Body
Begettal by the holy Spirit has gathered the followers of Jesus into one organization — Christ’s body. Since the human body has different parts with different roles, Paul explained this is true with the followers of Christ. The Corinthian brethren had developed schisms and divisions over their preference of teachers (1 Corinthians 1:11-13, 3:1-7). Paul implies that there were also divisions among the brethren based on their position in the body of Christ. “If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. (16) And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. (17) If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (1 Corinthians 12:15-17).
Paul’s wording suggests that some brethren — perhaps Greeks, slaves, and women — might have felt their position in the body was so small or inconsequential that they were not equal members. That was the wrong conclusion. “God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired” (1 Corinthians 12:18). Each member was placed in Christ’s body just where God wanted them, for both their individual growth as well as the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7).
Then, in 1 Corinthians 12:21-24, Paul looks at the situation from the other side. Perhaps the more prominent of the brethren — Jews, free, and men — were taking a dismissive view of others. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” God had organized the body to make the best use of the talents, experiences, and position of each one for their benefit and that of the overall body.
Paul continues, “It is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; (23) and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor … (24) But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked … (25) so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another” (1 Corinthians 12:22-25). We are to have the same care for fellow body members regardless of their position or ours in the body. Then, the apostle identifies these different roles and positions more specifically. “God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. (29) All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? (30) All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?” (1 Corinthians 12:28-30).
Second Work — Gifts of the Spirit
While explaining the different positions God’s Spirit had put brethren into, Paul describes the second work of the holy Spirit in the early church, the gifts of the Spirit. “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (8) For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; (9) to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, (10) and to another the effecting of miracles … to another prophecy … to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:7-10).
Bro. Russell explains in Reprint 5224: “Those gifts were widely distributed in the early Church, and were miraculous. Some who had received the gift of the Spirit spoke one language and some another, of which they had previously no knowledge; some had the gift of interpreting the foreign languages which the others spoke; some received the gift of healing; and some had power to work other miracles.
“These gifts served a three-fold purpose: (1) They proved God’s favor, and that it had come through Christ, and therefore proved that he had ascended, and that his entire work of redemption had been satisfactory to the Father. (2) They were proofs to the public that God was with these people. This would lead lovers of God to investigate the message they bore. (3) They were an assurance to the disciples themselves that they were following in the right way, and that God was blessing them and leading them.
“All these experiences, indispensable for the establishment of the early Church, came at a time when such manifestation was most necessary. The early Church could not walk by faith as we do. They needed the assistance of sight, to the extent that was there granted; for they had no New Testaments. They had no instruction from God except such as came through these channels.
“When they came together, one would speak in an unknown tongue. Another would arise in another part of the audience, and with a power not his own give an interpretation of the foreign language used by the speaker with ‘tongues.’ This drew the brethren together every day, especially on the first day of the week. They wanted to have fellowship and instruction; and in this way they obtained it, God guiding in respect to the messages delivered in unknown tongues and to the interpretations.”
These gifts1 helped provide the brethren with the Gospel message while the New Testament was being written down. It gave the early church the understanding it needed to be developed into Christ’s image and walk in God’s will (Romans 8:29). These gifts ended within a short time after the death of the Apostles because they were imparted to believers only through the laying on of the hands of the apostles (Reprint 2742, Acts 8:12-20).
(1) Editor=s Note: Alternatively, the gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 may not be miraculous gifts. They may be as we say a child is gifted, i.e., able to learn languages or physical skills.
The Greek word is charisma (from which comes the English word “grace”). Earlier the word is used in 7:7, “each man hath his own gift from God,” which is consistent with “ability.” Three times the word is used of healing in this chapter, 12:9, 28, 30. In verse 4, “there are diversities of gifts” (KJV). Verse 31 says there are “greater gifts” than these. In 14:18, Paul says, “I speak in tongues more than you all.” Why? Because he has learned more languages (even if not “barbarian”). So if a foreign Christian comes, then there is a need for “interpretation of tongues” (14:10).
Desire the Best Gifts
However, there seemed to be a problem among the Corinthian brethren regarding the gift of speaking in different languages [tongues]. 1 Corinthians 14:1-33 suggests the brethren with this gift were not always using it to edify the body. They would speak in tongues when no one was present to interpret, leading to confusion and not edification of the body (verses 2, 4, 6-9, 11-14, 16, 17, 22-23, 33). They were “speaking into the air” (verse 9) and perhaps trying to draw attention to themselves and their gift. Paul exhorted the brethren, “since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church” (verse 12). “Greater is one who prophesies [speaks under inspiration of the Spirit] than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying” (verse 5). While the gift of tongues has passed away, the principle Paul emphasized still remains. “Let all things be done for edification” (verse 26). As the apostle Paul wrote, the work of the holy Spirit was vital to the establishment of the early church. It is just as essential to the completion of the church at the end of Gospel Age. While the gifts of the Spirit have ended, God’s holy Spirit has begotten us as New Creatures in Christ, identified us as sons of God, placed us in Christ’s body, enlightened us to spiritual truths and leads us according to God’s will. “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit [which] is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). May God’s Spirit continue to lead us in the paths of truth and righteousness and help us to grow into Christian maturity.