Many of the members of the first-century Corinthian church prized what we might call more obvious or public talents. We saw this in 1 Corinthians 1–3, where Paul corrects the factionalism in Corinth that was based on people’s prizing some leaders over others based on eloquence of speech and other factors. Given this propensity to value more obvious talents, we are not surprised to learn that the church also prized certain spiritual gifts more than others, especially gifts exercised in public and with much acclaim, including the gifts of tongues (see 1 Cor. 14).
Of course, this was a problem because it led to the Corinthians’ determining the worth of individual believers to the church based on their spiritual gifts. Paul addresses this issue in two ways: by pointing out that public giftings are not sure evidence of true spirituality and by stressing the importance of all the gifts. In today’s passage, this second way of confronting the Corinthians’ misuse and misunderstanding of the gifts is evident.
The Apostle notes that although there are varieties of “gifts,” “service,” and “activities,” they come from the “same Spirit,” “same Lord,” and “same God” (12:4–6). Most likely, gifts, service, and activities do not indicate three different ways that the Holy Spirit equips us for ministry. Instead, Paul is highlighting the sheer variety of ways that God grants gifts to His people for ministry. This variety means that the list of gifts in 12:8–11 probably serves as a representative summary of the spiritual gifts in Christ’s church and does not reveal every single gift possible. Yet, it is noteworthy that Paul uses three different designations for the Creator, for it reflects his Trinitarian thought. Typically, he uses “Spirit” for the Holy Spirit, “Lord” for God the Son, and “God” for God the Father (see 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 1:17). Paul assumes that the one God of Israel is three in person. Furthermore, while the spiritual gifts are particularly associated with the Holy Spirit, that these giftings are ascribed to all three persons of the Trinity shows that the Spirit does not act alone in gifting God’s people.
If the one Almighty God is behind all the gifts, we should infer that no single gift is more important or necessary than another for a healthy church. Paul makes this point explicitly in 1 Corinthians 12:12–31. Note also verse 7, which makes it plain that the spiritual gifts are given not for our sake but for the sake of others. They are tools we must use to build up other believers in the faith.