Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:1-3
As we have seen before, Paul begins a new topic with “now about…”. This is the beginning of a section that he wrote to clear up misunderstandings about spiritual gifts, that begins at 12:1 and runs through chapter 14. In my experience, sad to say, it isn’t easy to find people who come to this section hoping to clear up their misunderstandings about spiritual gifts, because most of us either skip the section entirely, or come to it to find ammunition to use in an argument.
Of course, there is one exception to that observation, and that is reading the first part of chapter 13, the great “love chapter”. The only problem is, that if we concern ourselves with trivial things like context, chapter 13 is about spiritual gifts. If we are really looking for a “love chapter”, we might have a look at 1 John 4 instead.
Full disclosure: Yes, yes, I use 1 Corinthians 13 in weddings like everyone else…
I should point out that since this is a study of 1 Corinthians and not one of spiritual gifts per se, I will be following the text of Paul’s letter, and his reply to the question the Corinthians asked him to answer. Thus, this isn’t a complete spiritual gifts study. If you are interested in such a study, please click here.
As Paul opens his discussion of spiritual gifts, he first sets out the idea that there are spiritual forces at work in our lives that we may not be aware of. Notice that he suggests that in their previous lives pagans have been influenced to worship idols that are actually pieces of stone. We might see a cultural component to that; everyone else worshipped the idol, so why not go along with the flow? Yet, unless we stop thinking at that point, we must realize that a rock isn’t even a living thing, much less a god, so how does it make sense to venerate a hunk of rock?
Paul implies there is something else at work.
The Corinthians were moved to leave the worship of rocks to worship an unseen God. Their friends may have told them that they were crazy for doing so; how did such a thing happen?
Paul suggests that there was another force at work in this too: To accept Jesus Christ requires the influence of the Holy Spirit. So, when we reach this point, Paul has really set forth a dilemma: Which spirit will we listen to?