“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant:”
Now we turn to a major new division of 1 Corinthians – spiritual gifts. Chapter 12 categories the gifts, chapter 13 gives the correct use of gifts (love), and chapter 14 is the correction on misuse of gifts.
First Corinthians divides into two major sections: (1) church disorders, 1-6, and (2) answers to inquiries by the Corinthians, 7-16.
Chapter 12 looks like this:
The first three verses give a test of spirituality.
Verses 4-11 show the divine source of spiritual gifts.
Verses 12-31 show the organic unity of the body of Christ.
The first nine verses introduce the subject of spiritual gifts. Just as the Corinthians had problems in worship (chapter 11), they also had problems in how they conducted ministry.
The phrase “now concerning” introduces the subject of spirituality in First Corinthians.
The word “gifts” does not occur in this phrase. The words “spiritual gifts” are literally the spirituals. This term includes gifts but is a wider term. The issue here is spirituality and deals with the whole range of spirituality from the Spirit-filled life to spiritual gifts.
“Brethren” are those who belong to Christ. Paul makes it clear that the distortions they experienced doctrinally did not disqualify them from being Christian. The term “brethren” softens the rebuke.
I do not want you to be ignorant:
The Corinthians did not think that they were ignorant about spiritual issues, but they were. That is a problem of spiritual pride. The Corinthians came from a stark pagan background of mystery cults, which distorted their view of spirituality. A characteristic of mystery cults was ecstasy, and they considered it the highest form of spirituality. Participants of these mystery cults felt one with the gods through frenzied ceremonies. They induced ecstasy through dance and chants, resulting in trance and sexual orgy. It was crucial that the Corinthians not be ignorant of these issues because ignorance is not bliss when it comes to this issue.
Paul will deal with the subject of prophecy, but pagan Corinth had its prophets as well. Their Greek oracular shrines had prophets who prophesied ecstatically, inspired by gods of the pantheon. Thus, ecstatic activity itself is no proof of spirituality.
It is possible to be highly gifted and not spiritual.
The Corinthians were the most gifted church of the early church (1:7, “came behind in no gift”) but at the same time, the most carnal church in the first century. They were a church of divisions, immorality, and distortion in doctrine. A great spiritual gift is no indication of spirituality. It is possible to be gifted and not spiritual.