I. Establish the text
A. Select the Pericope: 1 Corinthians 12:1-13
B. Establish translation: Review NIV, NRSV, TEV, BHS/NA26, …
C. Other texts for Year A for Pentecost
- First Reading Acts 2:1-21
- Or alternate First Reading Numbers 11:24-30
- Psalm Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
- Second Reading 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
- Gospel John 20:19-23
D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?
1. Presuming that the Corinthians’ question was how to “test pneumatics for gifts of the Spirit” (Harper’s Commentary), is this significantly different from today’s discussion discerning who should be ordained on the basis of what constitutes repentance from sins.
2 How are we still lead astray by “mute idols”?
4/5/6 Is Paul telling us about the natures of each person of the Trinity: Gifts from Spirit, Service from Christ, Activities from God?
5/6. Does Paul mean to differentiate “service” and “activities” differ? Or is Paul only expanding on the presence of God?
7. The Spirit is distributed universally for the common good, and by which each person might ultimately be saved.
8. Wisdom: The application of knowledge. Knowledge: Awareness of data/facts.
9. faith, healing, miraculous powers [how different from healing?], prophecy,
10. These represent lost gifts in the Main Line denominations: Potent activities, Prophecy, Distinguishing between spirits, Speaking in tongues, and interpretation of tongues.
12/13 Metaphors often used by Paul. But were they used by others also?
E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?
- Preceded by a question on serving the Lord’s Supper.
- Verse 1 starts the discussion on spiritual gifts.
- The preceding chapter is about the right ordering of worship. Here Paul enumerates various gifts for the right ordering of the life of the community of faith.
- In the next chapter Paul moves into the proper use of the gifts of the Spirit by noting their uselessness without love.
- Beginning with verse 14 Paul makes the metaphor of comparing gifts with a human body more specific.
- Paul continues to expound on the variety of gifts of the Spirit in the famous chapter on love then in chapter 14 Paul expounds on speaking in tongues and the right ordering of worship. Chapter 15 seems to move on to a new question, possibly about the veracity of being raised from the dead.
II. Literary Study.
A. What is the history of the text? Who wrote it? When? In what social context? What Historical/Religious/Sociological factors influenced its writing?
- Letter to a conflicted church answering several questions that the church asked. Paul wrote this with Sosthenes (?) in ??.
- The interest of the Corinthians in matters of sex, marriage, conscience, and church order, make this letter very applicable to the Church today.
- Roy Harrisville (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: I Corinthians, 1987) muses if this letter was written to a church that created a structure to deal with glossolalia or if to a church trying to understand Christian glossolalia in the context of pagan rants.
B. What parallel passages exist? How do they differ? How does this author’s intent differ from other authors? Is the text used elsewhere?
- Romans 12:4-8 focuses on coordination of gifts within the Church, while 1 Corinthians focuses on recognition of the variety of gifts and not to expect that everyone has the same gifts while having the same spirit.
C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms
- /Peri de twn pneumatikwn …/ (verse 1) can be translated as either “Now concerning spiritual things …” or as “Now concerning spiritual persons …” The former is favored as the reminder of the paragraph deals with spiritual gifts rather than people. But earlier Paul designated spiritualists as mature Christians. If this was intended, then Paul might have been dealing with an hierarchy of Christians based on the gifts they had been given.
- /diakoniwn/ (v. 5) – NIV & NRSV translate as “services”. Root of “deacon”. Brown and Comfort suggest “ministries”.
- /energhmatwn/ and /energwn/ (v. 6) – variously translated as “activities” and “active”, “operations” and “operating”, or “working” and “at work”.
D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?
- This is a polemic piece. Designed to cast a vision beyond what might be easily achieved.
III. Question the text.
C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?
- Presuming that Paul is responding to a letter from the Corinthians, their question might be: “You kept us in the dark about spiritual gifts. What spiritual gifts should we look for to tell who has been accepted by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?”
D. Look for conflict: stated or implied.
- The letter implies a conflict between Paul and the church at Corinth. Paul is arguing that receiving the Spirit is not noted by a particular set of gifts, but rather that the Spirit endows several with unique gifts for the up building of the entire body.
F. How will this text be heard by individuals in the congregation, including the preacher?
- It may raise the question: “What are my particular gifts?”
IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?
Roy Harrisville (Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: I Corinthians, 1987) notes Paul provided in verse 7 a test for discerning between spirits, namely: “for the common good.” He thoroughly refutes speculation of a hierarchy of gifts, emphasizing vv. 6 & 11: “the same God who inspires them all in everyone” and “all these are inspired by one and the same Spirit.” He analyzes the impact of glossolalia and other charismatic gifts (NB: carismata = spiritual gifts which is etymologically related to caris = grace).
J. Paul Sampley (The New Interpreter’s Bible, “First Letter to the Corinthians”, 2002) notes the confession “Jesus is Lord” had daily implications for early Christians in all matters in contrast to separating sacred and secular matters or presuming self autonomy. None-the-less, confessing and living “Jesus is Lord” is a gift from God. Building on divisiveness noted in other portions of 1 Corinthians, Sampley interprets this section as confronting a heresy of ranking various gifts, especially glossolalia, and those who practice those gifts, above the gifts given to other Christians.
V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?
Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond
A. What is the theological meaning of the verses?
God gives gifts by the Spirit for service to the Lord.
B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.
All divine spiritual gifts contribute to the common good without preference.
C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?
Reconsider a place for prophecy, spiritual acts of power, and speaking in tongues.