1 Corinthians 12:28‚Äč-31

Growing in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit
1 Corinthians 12:27-31
Intro: To recap the main truths we have examined so far in 1 Corinthians 12, we recall that Paul was concerned that this church not be ignorant of spiritual things. Paul was clear that the Holy Spirit does not come to only a few outstanding people in the church. He comes to all believers. “…Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, He is not His” (Rom 8:9) and “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God” (Rom 8:14). So what do we need to possess so that we can avoid ignorance of spiritual things? SPIRITUAL POWER. The real problems, the painful struggles and our diminishing impact in the community will not be solved without a fresh infusion of the power of God’s Spirit. We should be encouraged since the very same Spirit of God who provides spiritual power lives in every believer. We are all baptized into one body by God’s Spirit. We are members of Christ’s body. We have received special endowments from His Spirit that we must employ regularly to build up our church. The NT calls these, charismata, or grace gifts. They are sovereignly bestowed on us from God Himself. Today’s text points us to which of these gifts we should pursue.

1 Cor 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually.

Paul does not mean that Christians mystically become the physical body of Jesus on earth. Jesus has a physical body into which He was resurrected, and that body is in heaven at the right hand of God at this very moment.

He also does not dissolve the individual into the whole. We remain individual believers with specific accountability for our own lives even though we are parts of the whole body of Christ. Every believer plays a role.

Rom 12:5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.

1 Cor 12:28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.

It is the Lord God who sovereignly dispenses the offices and gifts in His church. He gives gifts and He assigns leaders.

Acts 20:28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

People do not choose to be apostles, prophets, teachers and the rest, but God sets them in the church by His sovereign choice.


In this section, there is a twice-repeated ranking of three gifted leaders in the local church: apostles, prophets, and teachers.

They are enumerated as first, second and third.

What do the rankings suggest?

The rankings suggest both levels of impact and availability.

Apostles – rarest and most useful of the gifts – pioneering new works that become churches and providing oversight to leadership of those congregations.

Besides the 12 who walked closely with Jesus (minus Judas plus Matthias), these others are called apostles in the NT: Barnabas, Paul, James, Silas, Timothy, Andronicus, Junia…

Most churches begin with the groundbreaking work done by missionary/church planter types. These are trailblazers who follow the leading of the Spirit, taking on the very real risk of rejection and failure.

This is the gift of the modern apostle to a local church. He sees the vision and casts it to others so they can see it clearly, too. He trains leaders and then he leaves. The apostle is the only gift, as far as I can tell, that is itinerant.

He moves about checking on the churches he has played a role in starting, encouraging their leaders and sometimes intervenes in ongoing conflict to help bring resolution.

Prophets – everyone can prophesy to build up the church – this is speaking human words to report something that God brings to mind; it is a major outlet by which God communicates to local churches and individual believers.

The gift of prophecy is the only gift present in all three NT listings. That repetition alone suggests that God expected the gift of prophecy to be regularly employed in the ministry of local churches to build them up and show specific aspects of His will.

Prophecy is second in rank because it is such a widely available gifting. Men, women and believing children can hear from God and responsibly report what they believe they have heard.

Joel 2:28 “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.
Joel 2:29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”

1 Cor 14:1 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.

1 Cor 14:3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.

Teachers – repeating and explaining the words of Scripture and applying them to the hearers. While the church must have the accurate and forceful teaching of the Word, the Bible cautions against many becoming teachers because the gifting requires greater accountability.

James 3:1 My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.

Consider how important teachers were to the 1st century church since virtually no one could expect to own a copy of the Scriptures.

Only the wealthy could afford such a luxury since commissioning a scribe to copy books was nearly as expensive as commissioning an artist to paint a portrait. It was tedious and time consuming and commanded exorbitant fees.

Since no one could read the Scriptures on their own, the church was utterly dependent on teachers to read and explain God’s truth to them.

2 Tim 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,
2 Tim 3:17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Tim 4:2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.
2 Tim 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;
2 Tim 4:4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
2 Tim 4:5 But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

To tie a bow around this whole ranking idea, God even made two apostles out of men who were prophets and teachers in a local church (Antioch)!

Acts 13:1 Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
Acts 13:2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
Acts 13:3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.

Impact does not equal importance.

“…after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.”

What in life would qualify as miracles? When a parking spot immediately opens for you in an overcrowded shopping center on Black Friday, is that a miracle? Should we refer to the majestic development of a baby human in the womb of her mother as a miracle? Can something that happens with such unbroken regularity qualify as a miracle? Not all providence is miraculous.

Miracles – a less common kind of God’s activity in which He awakens people’s awe and wonder, and bears witness to Himself.

Max Turner uses the term miracle to describe any event that combines the following traits: (1) it is an extraordinary or startling observable event (2) it cannot reasonably be explained in terms of human abilities or other known forces in the world (3) it is perceived as a direct act of God, and (4) it is usually understood to have symbolic or sign value (e.g., pointing to God as redeemer, judge, and Savior)

illus: Dr. Craig Keener’s (PhD, Duke) masterpiece, MIRACLES: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, is widely regarded as the definitive academically researched treatment of miracles. It is 2 vols, totaling 1,172 pages. Far and way the largest portion of these 2 vols is devoted to recording and describing miracles of every sort from all around the world during the present church age, with special attention given to the last approximately 150 years. The cases he cites involve healings of every imaginable sort: cancerous tumors, congenital blindness, deafness, paralysis, heart disease, kidney disease, tuberculosis, and diabetes, just to mention a few. He even documents several cases of people being raised from the dead! People who have argued that miracles ceased when the apostles died, simply have not looked at the evidence. Dr. Keener has, and he describes the evidence in great detail.

Healings – different kinds and different levels; immediate/gradual; recovery for a season/permanent recovery; specific infirmities often specialized (perhaps for a season)

Helps – (helps/ministry/service) outstanding in giving assistance to leaders in the church, with special regard to serving the poor and infirm; always among the first to volunteer to assist in the work of the ministry for Jesus’ sake.

Administrations – (administration/leadership) special ability to guide and manage affairs in the church; term for the person who pilots a ship on the seas

Acts 27:9 Now when much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over, Paul advised them,
Acts 27:10 saying, “Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives.”
Acts 27:11 Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul.

Varieties of tongues – prayer or praise spoken in syllables not understood by the speaker formed by the Spirit that includes human languages, angelic dialects, and heavenly languages that can be manifested in the church, and also privately in prayer.

1 Cor 12:29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?
1 Cor 12:30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?

This series of questions are rhetorical, all expecting the answer, “no.”


Believers must differ from one another in the gifts we have received from God.

It is an error to project or require the same gifting for everyone.

Pentecostal error: every believer should speak in tongues; Cessationist error: no one should speak in tongues anymore (14:39)



1 Cor 12:31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

Eagerly pursue the intelligible gifts that make the church stronger. These gifts are greater simply because they more easily function to build up the congregation.

Paul has ranked some of the gifts in order of foundational impact upon a congregation.

He has also indicated that even the humble parts of the body are necessary since they have been placed there by God Himself.

Therefore, it is not inconsistent to suggest that the Corinthians do well if they earnestly desire the best gifts.

They cannot obtain the greater gifts unless God chooses to the grant them, but presumably their eager desire and their preparation is a prerequisite to receiving, at least in some cases.

The best gifts exercised in the way of love.

There is something higher than the greatest of all these gifts, and it is within the reach of the humblest and most ordinary Christian.

It is the more excellent way – the pathway of love.

It is loving to desire the greater gifts for the benefit of your church, not for your own honor and esteem.

We get the sense that Paul would not want us to spend our time gazing into the mirror asking what gift mix each of us has. He would prefer that we simply get busy using our gifts to the glory of God as we serve our church fellowship.

Paul imagines the church as a community in which the Holy Spirit operates in powerful and palpable ways through gifts of healings, miracles, and revelatory speech.

Unfortunately, in many churches in the historic Protestant traditions such phenomena are unknown and may be perceived as threatening. For such churches, 1 Corinthians 12 will indeed read like someone else’s mail!

Richard B. Hays – Any community committed to taking Paul’s vision for the church as a model for its life will have to ask seriously whether 1 Corinthians 12 does not summon us to open ourselves more radically to the possibility of such manifestations of the Spirit in our midst.