A Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:4-6

(4) Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; (5) and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; (6) and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”[1]

After spending “a year and six months”[2] with the people in Corinth, Paul continued to remain in contact with the church there, as is evident by the two letters to them included in the Bible. First Corinthians, the letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians containing the above passage, is pastoral in nature, written some time after Paul had departed them. The church, it seems, was experiencing problems, so Paul sent Timothy to Corinth as well as this letter in order to set the church straight. The letter covers a wide range of topics; the topic of Chapter 12 is spiritual gifts and the church’s elevation of some over others.

Looking at passages 4-6, two obvious elements surface. The first is that there are gifts, services, and activities. Charisma (gifts) is likely referring to gifts of miraculous power, diakonia (services) might be better translated as ministry or maybe office, and energema (activities) might be thought of as works, effects, or operations. The second obvious element is Paul’s reference to Spirit (pneuma), Lord (kurios) likely referring to Jesus, and God (theos) which is referring to God the Father. Through these two elements, Paul is showing that through the unity of the Trinity, gifts are given (by the Spirit), likely for different ministerial purposes (as ordained by Jesus), but it is only through God (the Father) that the activities of these gifts and ministries happen. Like the Trinity, these three items—gifts for ministry, the office of the ministry itself, and the actions that happen for the ministry do not, and cannot function without the unity of the other two.

The first logical question then, is what is the purpose of these gifts. The answer is found in verse 7, which reads, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”[3] This common good is the body, of which the offices and ministries serve. As Paul continues in verses 8-10, he works to point out that different individuals receive different gifts. And verse 11 tells us that the Spirit gives these individual gifts as he wills. However, looking back to verse 7, we see that although these gifts are granted to individuals, they are for the good of the collective or body. Then Paul drives this point home in verses 12-31 with his famous analogy of the many parts of one body. Significantly, the body of Christ (the church with Jesus as the head) is arranged as God has “so composed.”[4]
In verse 28, Paul expands on verse 5, teaching, “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.”[5] Here he has tangled what we traditionally think of as offices (some, not all) and gifts. Going back to the latter part of verse 24 through 26, Paul demonstrates just how entangled by writing, “But God as so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”[6]

The gifts of the Spirit are given for the purposes of ministry for the good of the body, to individuals by the will of the Spirit. Like the unity of the Trinity, the gifts for ministry should bring unity. And it should always be remembered, “it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.”[7]

Brown, Robert K., Philip Wesley Comfort, and J. D. Douglas. The New Greek-English interlinear New Testament: a new interlinear translation of the Greek New Testament, with the New Revised Standard Version, New Testament. Carol Stream, Illinois: Tyndale House, 1990.

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Baker reference library. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2001.
The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2008.

Hayford, Jack W., Sam Middlebrook, Jerry Horner, and Gary Matsdorf. Spirit Filled Life Bible: New King James Version. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1991.

Perschbacher, Wesley J., and George V. Wigram. The New Analytical Greek Lexicon. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1990.

Strong, James, John R. Kohlenberger, and James A. Swanson. The Strongest Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2001.

[1] 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, ESV.
[2] Acts 18:11, ESV.
[3] ESV.
[4] Verse 24, ESV.
[5] ESV.
[6] ESV.
[7] Verse 6, ESV.
[8] While none of these sources were directly cited, and it is not customary to include sources simply consulted but not directly used, these sources did help direct my thinking on this matter. 

*This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.