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Paul begins his comments on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:1-3,
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware [ignorant or uninformed]. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the dumb [speechless] idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I make known to you, that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
This seems to indicate that most of the people in the Corinthian church were not converts from Judaism, but from paganism. Many of them used to go to the pagan temples, not only to make a sacrifice, but also to receive an oracle or prophecy. Classical writings are full of such references, for even kings came to seek a word from the gods. Such pagan prophecies are interwoven in the histories of Herodotus, the Father of History. One such prophecy, for example, is given in The Histories, Book 8:
The Oracle was as follows:
When one of foreign speech casts a papyrus yoke upon the sea,
Bethink you to keep the bleating goats far from Euboea.
This warning they ignored; and the result was great suffering, both then and later, in the troubles which were daily expected.
One of the most famous temples where men sought words from their gods was the Delphic Oracle, located just across the Strait northwest of Corinth. Of course, the quality of the answer had much to do with the size of the donation.
Paul contrasts such oracles with the prophetic gift in the Church, whereby the believers might receive a word of prophecy from the Holy Spirit. He first draws a contrast between the “speechless” idols and the God who does indeed speak to us. It appears that some had inquired of the pagan oracles as to whether Jesus was holy or accursed, and that they had received the answer, “Jesus is accursed.”
Paul discredits such prophecies, saying, “no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed’.” Conversely, if such pagan oracles should give the answer: “Jesus is Lord,” then it might be proven to be a genuine word from the Holy Spirit, rather than an unholy spirit. In other words, Paul’s bottom-line proof of authenticity is its loyalty to Christ, which is based upon the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Deuteronomy 5:7).
Just as a person might be filled with the Holy Spirit, so also a man might be possessed by an evil spirit. The essential principle is that spirit seeks a body in order to gain authority in the earth. Ever since man was given authority in Genesis 1:26, this has been the divine order. The goal of the Holy Spirit is to create heaven on earth through mankind; The goal of evil spirits is to create hell on earth, so to speak. Hence, each side has its peculiar spiritual gifts and manifestations.
Paul was not so concerned with pagan prophecies, but with the condition of the church itself. His reason for writing about these things was to correct certain imbalances and to instruct those who did not fully understand the nature and use of spiritual gifts and ministries. The problem itself was fortunate for us, for if such problems had not existed, future generations may have been deprived of such instruction.
Yet the very fact that the Corinthian church was having these problems shows how easy it is even for believers to misuse the gifts or even to allow entrance to an evil spirit. Hence, it is helpful to look at the example of King Saul, the Pentecostal King, who provides us with many warnings in the Old Testament about how NOT to be.
In 1 Samuel 15:23, Saul was said to be in rebellion against God in the matter of King Agag. In 1 Samuel 16, God sent Samuel to the house of Jesse to anoint a future king. He anointed David, and we read in 1 Samuel 16:13, 14,
13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. And Samuel arose and went to Ramah. 14 Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized [ba’ath] him.
This “evil spirit from the Lord” was apparently a spirit of fear, for the word ba’ath means, “to terrify, startle.” The KJV renders this word most often as “afraid.” As the story proceeds, we find that most often Saul was afraid of David. In 1 Samuel 18:10-12, we read,
10 Now it came about on the next day that an evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul, and he raved [naba, “to prophesy”] in the midst of the house, while David was playing the harp with his hand, as usual; and a spear was in Saul’s hand. 11 And Saul hurled the spear, for he thought, “I will pin David to the wall.” But David escaped from his presence twice. 12 Now Saul was afraid of David, for the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul.
Saul was a type of the church under Pentecost, while David was a type of overcomer. This story, then, prophesies how the church would be afraid of the overcomers and would persecute them. Just as Saul was afraid that David sought to overthrow him and take his throne, so also has the church been afraid of the overcomers taking the throne in the end. They consider overcomers to be as disloyal to the church as the church is to Christ. Both Saul and (especially) the Roman church over the centuries believed that they were called to rule forever. Yet their fear and their attempts to kill rivals shows that they knew deep within their hearts that the anointing had passed to another. For this reason, they have resorted to violence, attempting to retain power by whatever fleshly method they felt was necessary.
This suspicion and fear is still with us today, even if the church no longer is able to burn people at the stake. The various “heresy hunters” still accuse unjustly without sincerely studying the issues, and to this day they believe that “heretics” do not deserve to be treated with love or even basic kindness.
It is of interest to note that in the story of Saul, Scripture mentions the evil spirit from God precisely seven times, one for each of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3.
1. 1 Samuel 16:14, “an evil spirit from the Lord terrorized him.”
2. 1 Samuel 16:15, “Behold, now, an evil spirit from the Lord is terrorizing you.”
3. 1 Samuel 16:16, “when the evil spirit from God is on you.”
4, 5. 1 Samuel 16:23 (twice), “whenever the evil spirit from God came to Saul… and the evil spirit would depart from him.”
6. 1 Samuel 18:10, “the evil spirit from God came mightily upon Saul.”
7. 1 Samuel 19:9, “Now there was an evil spirit from the Lord on Saul.”
In each case, this spirit was said to be “from God” or “from the Lord,” except in the second part of 1 Samuel 16:23, where it was not necessary to repeat it within the same verse. It is clear that Samuel attributed this evil spirit to God Himself, much like we see in the story of King Ahab, who called the prophet Micaiah to prophesy the word of the Lord. Ahab wanted to make war on Syria, and his prophets all told him to “go up to Ramoth-gilead and prosper” (1 Kings 22:12).
Micaiah, however, told him that he saw God sending “a deceiving spirit” into the mouths of Ahab’s prophets (1 Kings 22:22, 23). Micaiah’s prophecy proved to be correct. Hence, once again, an evil spirit was said to be sent by God Himself to those prophets whose loyalty was first to the king and only secondarily to God Himself. (This is the denominational problem of loyalty where men are loyal to men first and to God secondarily.)
Paul Himself wrote in 2 Thessalonians 2:11 that men who follow the lawless one will be sent “a deluding influence” (NASB), or “an energy of delusion” (The Emphatic Diaglott), or “strong delusion” (KJV). Perhaps Paul was thinking of the story of Ahab and Micaiah when he wrote this warning to the church.
At any rate, the story of Saul and the evil spirit seems to tell us that Saul thought he was being led by the Holy Spirit from God—and certainly, that was the case at the beginning, when the Spirit of God came upon him and he prophesied (1 Samuel 10:10). But once he became rebellious and lawless, God took away the Holy Spirit from him and replaced it with an evil spirit. This evil spirit resonated with Saul’s lawless heart, so he did not realize that it was now a different spirit that operated in his life. All he cared about was that it was a spirit from God!
That is the delusion of all lawless ones.
Varieties of Gifts and Ministries
Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, saying,
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries [or services], and the same Lord. 6 And there are varieties of effects [or in-workings], but the same God who works all things in all persons.
This is an outline of topics that Paul was about to discuss shortly. The “varieties of gifts” are discussed first in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11. The “varieties of ministries” are discussed next in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31. The “varieties of effects” (i.e., the different ways that God works within people) are discussed last, beginning with the “Love Chapter” in chapter 13 and into chapter 14.