As one who spent a year in a charismatic denomination, it’d be safe to say that I spent a fair amount of time studying, reciting, and speaking 1 Corinthians 12 to people. The spiritual gifts were mesmerizing to me. If God is still allowing people and even desiring His children to exercise these gifts, I wanted to be a part of it. I had to be sure though, so as a lover of the Bible, I searched the Scriptures diligently to see if these things were so.
I’m not writing this post to tell everyone what I discovered. Rather, I’d like to share about a chapter I’ve found to be even higher in importance according to God’s desire and a chapter that is often neglected by charismatics (even though it talks about gifts as well!): Romans 12:
And having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or service, let us be faithful in that service; or he who teaches, in that teaching; or he who exhorts, in that exhortation; he who gives, in simplicity; he who leads, in diligence; he who shows mercy, in cheerfulness.
Setting of Paul’s Writing to the Romans
It is interesting to note that Paul wrote his epistles to the Corinthians prior to His epistle to the Romans. In fact, Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans from Corinth (Rm. 15:25-32; Acts 19:21; 20:1-3)! This is important because Corinth was a unique church. They were actually abusing the miraculous gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12, especially the gift of tongues. Chapters 12-14 are given as a correction to the undisciplined and high-minded use of the miraculous gifts.
What was the result of the Corinthians abuse of these miraculous gifts? They were divisive, fleshy, and puffed up:
For I have been informed about you…that there are quarrels and factions among you.
And I, brothers, was not able to speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to fleshy, as to infants in Christ…For you are still fleshy. For there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly and do you not walk according to the manner of men?
Now some have become puffed up as though I were not coming to you.
1 Corinthians 1:11; 3:1, 3; 4:18
The Church in Corinth had a plethora of problems, especially division, as a result of their abuse and focus on miraculous gifts, among other things. The point I’m making is, the miraculous gifts were of no effect to bring in spiritual growth to the believers and bring them into the oneness that God desires. Paul must have had this in mind as he wrote to the Romans while in Corinth.
Structure and Development of the Epistle to the Romans
The way Paul develops his epistle to the Romans is very interesting and strategic. He is laying out what exactly is the gospel of God (1:1). Some people even call Romans the “fifth gospel.” This “gospel” goes even further than the account of Jesus’ earthly ministry in the first four.
Paul begins with the fall and condemnation of mankind (1:18-3:20). He then brings in the matter of justification and God’s approving us according to Christ’s accomplishment of redemption, even working out this justification in us subjectively, making us heirs of God and receivers of the inheritance like Abraham (3:21-5:11). We are then brought on through the process of sanctification, making us a holy people set apart from the world and saturated with the divine life (5:12-8:13). Finally, Paul reveals that we will eventually enter into the stage of glorification, having our mortal bodies saturated with the divine life and receiving the sonship, the redemption of our bodies, as the complete conformation into the image of the Son (8:14-39). Chapters 9-11 can be considered a parentheses in the epistle, laying out God’s selection in His divine economy.
After all of this (sorry for the the length, but the other option was to ask you to read those 11 chapters and I figured some might prefer a synopsis), some may think Paul’s job is over. In presenting the gospel, he explains condemnation, justification, sanctification, and glorification. He even satisfies the Calvinist in explaining God’s work in selection! What more could there be in the gospel?
For just as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we who are many are one Body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
Paul spends about 5 chapters (4-8) discussing the believers’ personal experience of Christ and being sanctified. These chapters show the believer how to be saved much more in the life of Christ (5:10), how to reign in life (5:17), how to be brought into identification with Christ in His death (6:3), how to walk in newness of life (v.4), how to be sanctified (6:19), how to live by the Spirit in contrast to living by the law (7:7-8:6), and how to be conformed to Christ (8:29).
Paul gives everything need to live a life of godliness, spirituality, and holiness. Why is there more to this book?
God is not satisfied with spiritual Christians. God does not want to have individual super-Christians. He wants the Church, the Body of Christ. This entity is what was on God’s heart in eternity past and is what God is trying to produce today (Matt. 16:18).
The reason the gifts in Romans 12 differ from 1 Corinthians 12 (And yes, I am coming back full circle. Please forgive me for that lengthy setting of the background.) is that they are the gifts for the Church and the normal living in the local church.
Prophesying, explained in an earlier post, is to speak something for God. When God gives you direct revelation and you speak it forth, it directly builds up the Church:
He who prophecies builds up the church
-1 Corinthians 14:4b
He Who Teaches
Teaching in this chapter is to teach concerning what has been prophesied. After someone receives a direct revelation (which can happen simply while prayerfully reading the Word), there is a need for other saints to teach concerning the word that was spoken.
He Who Exhorts
After something is taught, there is need for saints to be exhorted according to that teaching.
The service here specifically refers to the deacons and deaconesses i.e. serving-ones in the local church.
He Who Leads
The leading here refers specifically to those functioning as elders in the local churches.
He Who Gives
There is also a huge need in the local churches to supply the practical needs, supporting those who serve full-time and the other saints who are in need.
He Who Shows Mercy
There is also a need for those who can render care to others in sympathizing with the saints who are struggling with something in the local church.
Gifts in Life
All of these gifts require the transformation mentioned at the beginning of this chapter:
Be transformed by the renewing of the mind
After all the growth in life in chapters 4-8, there is a goal. This goal is the Body of Christ, expressed in the various localities or cities on the earth. Paul spends 5 chapters on the individual believers’ growth in life, but he spends another 5 chapters on the Body of Christ and the practical expression of the local churches (12-16). In order to have the churches and to live the church-life (to be further explained in a later post), there must be the growth in life of the believers, the transformation and renewing of the mind, and the exercise of the gifts.
The gifts in chapter 12 require believers to grow in life. The miraculous gifts in 1 Corinthians require no growth. Even a donkey can be used by God to speak in tongues (Numbers 22:28). The miraculous gifts have the tendency to be abused, overused, and causes of division. Simply look at all the divisions that have occurred in the Pentecostal and Charismatic denominations. Paul must have seen the results of the obsession with the miraculous gifts in Corinth, being division, looseness, and lack of growth, causing him to not mention them to the Romans.
Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans as a presentation of the gospel of God. This gospel does not stop with the growth of the individual believers. It includes God’s ultimate desire, the Church. All of the developments in chapters 1-8 are for the producing of the church in 12-16. 9-11 is a parenthetical section.
In order to have this Church, the believers must grow in life, exercise the gifts of life, and heed to guidance given by Paul in the subsequent chapters (ex: receive all brothers (14), obey the authorities (13), pursue hospitality (12), know the saints in the churches (16), etc.). The gifts in Romans 12 are neglected by most Christians either because they are unaware of the living Christ operating on earth today or because they are obsessed with the miraculous gifts in 1 Corinthians 12.
May the Lord allow us to see the importance of these gifts in life for the producing of the Body of Christ in the various local church!