We sometimes confuse gifted- ness with godliness. We may look at powerful speakers or strong leaders and assume their success provides proof of their holiness. Leaders can be tempted to think the results of their ministry are evidence that God is pleased with them. The experience of the Corinthian church shows that giftedness is not always a measure of godliness.
The Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts “just as he determines” (1 Cor. 12:11). They are gifts of grace, sovereignly distributed. While every believer receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, not everyone manifests the Spirit in the same way (see 1 Cor. 12:12–18; Rom. 8:9). The Corinthian church was remarkably talented, and people had been granted powerful abilities of speech and knowledge. It was also richly endowed with spiritual gifts. The Corinthians benefited from some of the most powerful teachers of the New Testament era (1 Cor. 1:5–12). Yet despite these advantages, the church was stained with moral corruption and wracked by internal division (1 Cor. 3:3–4; 5:1–2; 11:18). Worship services were chaotic and members were doctrinally confused. The situation was so bad that the apostle Paul criticized the church’s meetings for doing more harm than good (1 Cor. 11:17).
Spiritual gifts have been given by God to build up God’s people (1 Cor. 14:26). They can be misused, however. We abuse our spiritual gifts when we exercise them for personal glory or without regard for others in the church. The possession of a wealth of spiritual gifts will not protect a church from spiritual pride, selfishness, or sinful behavior. The manifestation of spiritual gifts is not reliable proof that God is pleased with a church.
Spiritual gifts are examples of God’s grace, intended for us to use to serve others and to build up the church. The Holy Spirit bestows these gifts on all believers, not only those who are growing in holiness and godliness. The annals of church history are filled with examples of gifted believers who struggled with enormous temptations and succumbed to sin. At the same time, the failure of God’s people does not nullify the work of God. Despite all the failings of Corinthian believers, Paul could still rejoice over this church. They needed to address their sin, but they could do so because they believed the gospel and had the power of the Holy Spirit to help them grow in grace.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
To learn more, read Jonathan Edwards on Revival by Jonathan Edwards (Banner of Truth).