Even if you don’t know much about classical music, you’re probably familiar with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Portions of it have been used in television coverage of the Olympic Games, several movies, and in the millennial celebrations a few years ago. This dramatic symphony requires more instruments than any other of Beethoven’s works. In addition, the score calls for four vocal solos and a full chorus. Together, all these individuals produce one of the world’s most beloved pieces of music. But can you imagine what this beautiful symphony would sound like if all the parts were played by a trombone or a cello? It just wouldn’t be the same.
The same is true for the body of Christ. If everyone had the same spiritual gift, the magnificent “symphony” that God intends to conduct through believers would never match His glorious plan. Apparently something like this was happening in the Corinthian church. Some members were stressing the importance of certain gifts over others, and the result was definitely off-key. So Paul had to address the question of spiritual gifts.
First Corinthians 12 emphasizes the diversity of gifts manifest by the Spirit in the body. To focus on one gift over others is as ridiculous as one part of the human body claiming superiority over other parts—the very point that Paul makes in the middle of this chapter. At the same time, however, there’s much stress on unity in this passage. Notice that the same Spirit gives this great diversity of gifts. The same Lord provides the various contexts for ministry in which these gifts are expressed. The same God causes the different effects that result from the outworking of these gifts. Finally, notice that the Spirit gives these gifts for the benefit of the common good. In other words, God’s purposes for the body of Christ are achieved when great diversity is functioning in complete unity. Then the world sees that truly we who are many are really one, regardless of our social or ethnic background (v. 13).