Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 12:1-3 Spiritual Gifts

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, May 4, 2023

12 Now, about spiritual gifts. Brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans, you were deceived and somehow led astray to voiceless idols.

Paul continues with another question the Corinthians asked, and once again a part of the first estate of man, which is the church. However the Corinthians phrased their question, it was about spiritual gifts. In heathen, pagan religions, worshipers are often deceived by the devil and given unusual gifts. One of the most common is superhuman strength (Mark 5:3), or resistance to pain (especially fire). These are tools of Satan to mask his intention to lead people astray and away from Christ. However, some of the Corinthians, like others in the early church, had experienced a variety of gifts or new abilities, including the gift of speaking or understanding unlearned languages. Notice in verse 2 that Paul says that the idols of the pagans are not involved in this, because they are mute (I have translated this word “voiceless”). This was what the Corinthians experienced before they came to faith in Christ. Now some remarkable gifts had been sent along with their faith.

Did they have a strange idea about such gifts? When they were pagans, did they view the gifts Christians had as spectacular? Were there rumors about Christians being “carried off” by their abilities, some sort of ecstatic experiences that the Corinthians were still looking for now that they knew about Jesus? Paul wants them to know that being “carried away” is not necessarily a good thing or a Christian experience. It can often mean being “led astray” by a false idol, or to be led away before one (by means of a demon).

3 So I’m telling you that no one speaking by God’s Spirit says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

If the Corinthians were looking for the truly great work of the Holy Spirit among them, one of the greatest manifestations of his power in anyone is our conversion to faith. Indeed, saying “Jesus is Lord” gives glory to God, and this is the highest purpose of theology and religion.

Were the Corinthians afraid that, in a (perhaps) ecstatic state, speaking in languages they had never learned and might not even understand (1 Corinthians 14:5), that they might be led to speak some blasphemy? And what greater blasphemy could there ever be than to say, “Jesus be cursed”? Therefore Paul tells them: No one speaking by the Spirit of God could ever say that.

This verse carries us into the realm of the Means of Grace, especially the working of the gospel in the word of God. The relationship of God and his holy word to one another are similar to the relationship of a workman and his tool, such as a man using sandpaper. In this case, the man does not sand the wood apart from the sandpaper, and the sandpaper does not sand the wood apart from the man. Without the man wielding it, the sandpaper sits on the workbench and collects dust. So it is with God and his word. The Holy Spirit is the workman, and the tool he uses is the Word of God. Through the word he creates faith and converts unbelievers to faith: “He has begotten us according to his will through the Word of truth” (James 1:18). And through the same word he strengthens faith and deepens our understanding and comfort: “Lord, give me understanding through your word” (Psalm 119:169).

But we must not think that Scripture is the kind of tool in which the power of God is somehow enclosed, as when an electric power tool has a charged battery. “There is no divine power that would be separable from God and would not be God himself. Neither the grace nor the mercy of God can be thought of like that.” For although the prophets will sometimes compare the Word of God with dead objects like a hammer (Jeremiah 23:29), a staff (Psalm 23:4), a scepter (Psalm 45:6) or a sword (Ephesians 6:17; Revelation 1:16), it is always compared with these things in use, not as dead objects, but as a hitting hammer, a shepherding staff, a ruling scepter, and a slashing sword. And the Word is also compared with many other living things, like seed (1 Peter 1:23; fire (Jeremiah 23:29), light (2 Peter 1:19), and living water (Joel 3:18; Zechariah 14:8; John 4:10).

To think that God gives his word to us to use in his service! But he teaches us how and when to use it, just as when my father taught me how to use a sheet of sandpaper or a paintbrush full of paint. There is a right way and a wrong way. The word of God must be correctly handled and rightly divided (2 Timothy 2:15). When this is done, the worker has no need to be timid or ashamed. The word is both law and gospel, “For people,” Luther explains, “are of two kinds. On the one hand are the contrite, who need consolation. On the other hand are the rigid ones, to whom apply the law, threats, examples of wrath, the fire of Elijah, the waters of the flood, and the destruction of Jerusalem. These must be attacked at once and must be made to feel terror” (Table Talk No. 4044; LW 54:313).

What a miracle has been worked in your life! That God would look down on you, a heathen born to sinful parents, and give you new birth into a living hope (1 Peter 1:3), not of anything that withers and dies, but of the imperishable, living, and enduring word of God (1 Peter 1:23). For flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit (John 3:6). Through the work of the great Workman, the Holy Spirit, you have been brought to life, had your sin sanded away, and a fresh new coat of gospel paint applied that will never crack, peel, or fade. You are a forgiven child of God.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


Browse Devotion Archive