“Now concerning spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:1), begins Paul’s discussion of the use and misuse of the gifts. This discussion will continue for three chapters. The Greek translated spiritual gifts is a single plural adjective, pneumatikos (spirituals), which is, in itself, ambiguous. It is if Paul interrupted himself but picks up in verse 4 where he introduces the noun, gifts (see Romans 1:11). Thus, Paul relates spirituals with gifts (charisma). Gifting is God’s grace in operation. The first and greatest gift is salvation (Romans 3:23). His many gifts after salvation are designed to bring His own to full maturity in Christ through their service to Him in establishing the church.
The brief detour that Paul takes in verses 2 and 3 is essential, however, to the whole argument. The Gentile believers to whom he writes must realize what they were when Christ saved them—pagans, led astray to mute idols. They formerly rejected natural revelation about the true God, leading them to devotion to false gods (Romans 1:21–23). They were now being redirected through the work of the Spirit to worship the God who speaks. The grace-gifts enabled and benefited this change.
Note that in verses 4 through 6, each of the persons of the Godhead are referenced—the Spirit, the Son (Lord), and the Father (God). The gifts are administered by the Spirit (v. 4) for the purpose of serving the Lord Christ (v. 5) as authorized and enabled by the almighty Father (v. 6). Paul was emphasizing the essential unity of the Godhead, a unity that must also characterize the body. Note verse 7: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (sumphoros, ‘to bear or bring together”). This is followed by a listing of the gifts as variously distributed among the saints for the purpose of unity. Paul concludes the section: “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (v. 11).
With the past emphasis placed on the primacy of tongues in charismatic teachings concerning one’s relationship to the Holy Spirit, the question must be, how much weight was Paul giving to tongues in light of the Scriptural facts cited above? Observe, first, tongues are most often valued as a personal benefit of the seeker; whereas Paul stresses the gifts’ importance for the unity of the body.
Second, not everyone in the body had all the gifts or even certain ones considered most valuable (see v. 30). For instance, “tongues” had a low ranking of priority. Rather, the listing shows that each particular gift was to be used in concert with other gifts for the mutual benefit of the whole church.
Third, a believer does not choose what gift he will exercise. That choice is left solely to the Spirit (v. 11). The discussion following verse 11 of the church as a body with its various members supports these observations. Apparently, speaking with tongues was an issue in Corinth because Paul concludes by asking, “Do all speak with tongues?” (v. 30). He adds, “And I will show you a still more excellent way” (v. 31).