In his 2006 book, The Blind Side, Michael Lewis examines the hidden heroes of football. For example, the virtually unknown players at the left tackle position are some of the highest paid players on the team. It’s their job to defend the blind side of the quarterback. The offense depends on their strength and agility. The left tackle doesn’t get the acclaim the quarterback does, but he’s arguably just as important.
To carry the team analogy further, the church is made up of all kinds of players: quarterbacks, running backs, offensive linemen, and kickers. Just as Paul teaches here in the first verses of chapter 12, the community of believers is a wide assortment of people whose gifts and service are equally as diverse. In the Corinthian church, there is clear confusion on the matter of spiritual gifts, and Paul dedicates the next three chapters of his letter to answering questions the Corinthians have posed to him on the subject.
The Corinthians have some fundamental misconceptions about spiritual gifts, which Paul must address. They had elevated certain gifts above others, most notably the gift of tongues (cf. 1 Corinthians 14). And no doubt those with the gift of tongues were boasting of some spiritual privilege and position. Perhaps they had even come to doubt that all members of the community were indwelt by the Spirit and endowed with gifts from Him.
From the beginning, Paul wants to establish why and by whom the gifts are given. Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit, and everyone who confesses the lordship of Christ has the Spirit. Nothing more is required to demonstrate the indwelling of the Spirit—no spectacular or miraculous manifestation. Every believer has a spiritual gift, and the gifts differ in expression. The list, which Paul gives in our reading, is not meant to be exhaustive. Rather, it’s to confirm the point that spiritual gifts are diverse! And the purpose for spiritual gifts is that their exercise would enhance the common good, not simply to feel important or good about ourselves.