Selfless Gifts (1 Corinthians 12-14)


We have been looking at how we can move from being selfish to selfless. The problems in the Corinthian church arose because of their selfish thinking. They had divisions, jealousy, fighting, and strife all because they were putting themselves first rather than thinking about others. In our first lesson, we overviewed the book of 1 Corinthians and saw that the message is that life is not about me. God has ordered the world and salvation so that no one will boast in themselves. Instead, if anyone will boast, they will boast in the Lord (1:28-29). In our second lesson, we noted that Paul is teaching us to consider ourselves as simply servants. In our third lesson, we learned that our bodies to not belong to us, but to God. God created us and purchased us. In our fourth lesson, we learned that we are not to use our knowledge to hurt the gospel or the faith of others. We learned that we do not use our rights, whether it be our rights as humans, as Christians, or as Americans, if it harms the gospel and does not reflect Jesus. Paul told us to lay down our rights for the good of others. In today’s lesson we are going to look another problem regarding selfish thinking from chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians.

Not Promoting Self (12:1-31)

As you read through 1 Corinthians 12-14 it becomes clear that there were divisions about the miraculous spiritual gifts that they possessed. Some had the ability to speak wisdom through the Holy Spirit (12:8). Some spoke knowledge by the Holy Spirit. Some had gifts of healing by the Spirit. Some were given faith by the Spirit. Some could work miracles while others could prophesy. Some could distinguish between spirits, some could speak in different languages, while others could interpret those languages. We are given a picture of the first century church with a wide diversity of abilities. The summary is in verses 4-6. There are a varieties of gifts, varieties of service, and varieties of activities. But there are two key points that Paul wants to teach.

First, it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. The point is that anything that any Christian is doing is given to that person by God. There is no room for arrogance or pride. The gifts possessed were given by God. This idea reaches back to the beginning of the book where the apostle Paul taught that the way God runs the world is so that no person would be able to boast in his presence (1:29). This is underscored in 1 Corinthians 12:11. All of these gifts, service, and activities are empowered by the Spirit who gives to each person as he wills. So no one can point to themselves regarding their work for the Lord.

Second, the purpose of the gifts is not for self-promotion but for the good of everyone else. You see this point made in verse 7. These gifts are given for the common good. This is an important perspective about our worship and our gatherings. The goal of what happens is for the common good. This is the big point for the rest of chapter 12. We are to see ourselves as an interconnected body, joined together as members of one another (12:12). Look at how Paul describes this in verse 13. When you were baptized, you were put into the body and became interconnected. There is no such thing as a disconnected Christians. We are not pictured as individuals who do our own thing for God and remain separated, but on occasion get together on Sundays. Paul gives the opposite picture that we are a body who are critically connected together and do not separate themselves from one another.

The picture of our need for each other is so strong that Paul says no one should be able to say that I have no need for the other. Here we are as all different parts of the body who are able to carry out different functions. When we take away our worship times and gathering times or choose to not come to our gatherings, what we are declaring is that we have no need for anyone else. We do not need the other parts of the body. I am good enough as just a hand and I do not need a foot or an ear or anything else. You see that Paul is teaching us that none of us are self-sufficient. We need each other and God made us need to be connected together. This is why we gather for worship. Not only to do we gather because we desire to praise our Savior but we also gather because we are incomplete without each other. We only have a gift and others have other gifts. We need each other. Selfish thinking says that I do not need anyone else and can do this myself. Notice that Paul says that God made it this way so that we would seek to be together and give ourselves to each other. Look at verses 24-25.

God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members have the same care for one another.

There are many bad things that came from Covid-19 in 2020. But one terrible thing that happened was communicating to Christians that we no longer needed to come together but could stay home. It was a terrible message because what was communicated was that church was just a place you go to for listening to a sermon, taking the Lord’s Supper, and singing. So we can do all that at home. If the church is simply about sermons, singing, and the supper, then they are correct and we should sell the building, fire all the preachers, and just stay home. But that is not what the church is about and this is what Paul is expressing. The church is about each of us needing each other because we understand that we cannot be complete in the faith in isolation. God composed the body with weaker and greater parts, performing various activities, service, and gifts, for the common good and the building up of each other (12:22-25). Our connection is to be so strong that when one person suffers, we all suffer. When one person is honored, we all rejoice (12:26). We will not have divisions when we realize that we are here, not for ourselves, but for each other. Yet Paul says, by the way, you need everyone else, too. You cannot be the church by yourself. So it is not about us but each of us using our gifts, service, and activities for the common good.

Love Needed (13:1-13)

This is why the apostle Paul transitions into teaching about love. This chapter should not be taken out of its context because its power is found in this context of stopping selfish thinking and divisions. What Paul says about love is not in the context of marriage, though it must certainly be applied in that way. Rather, what Paul says about love is in the context of each other in the church. We are patient and kind. We do not envy or boast. We are not arrogant. We are not rude. We do not insist on our own way. We are not irritable or resentful. We do not rejoice at wrong doing. We bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. This is what it is supposed to look like among us. The greatest gift that God says he has given to us is love. This is a gift that we all have and all must use. We are to pursue love (14:1).

Selfish thinking is not love. Love is the opposite of thinking about ourselves or acting for ourselves. When am I impatient but when I am thinking about myself? When am I unkind expect when I am thinking about myself. When am I boastful or envious but when I am thinking about myself? When am I arrogant or rude expect when I am thinking about myself? All of these characteristics about love are not practiced when we are thinking about ourselves.

How Are You Building? (14:1-40)

Paul then wants to see this love applied in how they worship together. The instructions are about the different gifts that the Corinthian Christians possess. But notice what the overarching goal must be in our gatherings. In verse 12 they are instructed to “strive to excel in building up the church.” In fact, the directions that Paul gives center on the issue of making sure that our worship leads to building each other up. In verses 14-17 he talks about the problem of someone using their gift to speak in different languages as harmful without interpretation if the other person is not being built up. Thus, Paul would rather speak five words with understanding to instruct others than 10,000 words in a different language (14:19). The whole point is that we would be mature in our thinking (14:20). We are loving each other when we are gathering with the goal of encouraging each other and building each other up. You see this stated in verse 26. “Let all things be done for building up.” You see this stated in verse 31. What is done in our worship needs to be done “so that all may learn and all may be encouraged.” It is not about making a show. It is not about you or me. It about excelling in building up the church. It also about those who come in being convicted so that they will worship God and see that God is among us (14:24-25).

This defines what we do when we gather. Faith comes from hearing the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). So we do not make our gatherings about giving our coffee or having meals. We do not make our gatherings about pyrotechnics and rock bands. We are looking to do what will cause people to learn and be encouraged. That is the goal that we look toward. God wants us to learn about him and, through our learning about him, be encouraged. Therefore, everything we do is gospel saturated. Everything we do points to Jesus as we learn about him and what he has done for us.

But now here is the big deal for our consideration. Who is the church? We are the church. How is this building up going to happen and how is the learning going to happen unless all of us come together and exercise our gifts so that all our encouraged? God wants you to look at yourself and see that you have a gift that can be used for the building up of the church. God gave us our minds, our tongues, our hands, our feet, and everything else about us and we are to use those things for giving ourselves to each other. You see that there will not be divisions and there will not be selfish thinking when we see that each of us have something to offer and those gifts are not to terminate on ourselves. We have gifts that other people need. If you do not use your gift, then there is no church here. The church is all of us using our abilities and gifts so that God is glorified and others learn and are encouraged. Friends, this is how we fulfill 1 Corinthians 14:1. This is how we pursue love.

Now do not do what Paul says we so often will think about ourselves. Look at 1 Corinthians 12:15-16. Do not say to yourself because you might be a foot that you are not a hand and do not belong to the body. Or if you are ear, do not say that because you are not an eye that you do not belong to the body. You are so important to this body and you are so important to this work. You have a gift that needs to be used and you are hurting the church when you are not here and you are not here using what God has given to you. We need you. I hope we felt that this last year. All of the work that was going on has been completely unraveled in 2020 because how the world changed with the virus. So now we have more work to do than before in getting back on track in reaching out to the world and working for the glory of God in our gatherings.


So the big message is that we need each other. Selfish thinking says that I do not need you. God intentionally gave each of us some abilities and gifts so that we would come together and share what we can do for the building up of one another. We need each other. We need each other to be different. If you do not know what you can do, pray to God to show you what you can do for him. All of us have something and that work is not small, but critical to the functioning of the body. We need each other. Pursue how you can love each other and build each other up.

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