Some Christians cite 1 Corinthians 12 to support the claim that the gifts of the Spirit (prophecy, healing, tongues, etc.) are not for all believers. Specifically, note the following verses:
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?
1 Corinthians 12:27-29 (NIV)
The answer to these rhetorical questions is naturally, “No.” So, many Christians determine that, therefore, all Christians won’t have every gift that the Spirit offers, and neither should they expect to receive every gift that the Spirit offers. Besides, the Spirit “distributes [the gifts] to each one, just as He determines.” (1 Corinthians 12:11).
But to my understanding, this reasoning misses the point that Paul was trying to make here. Paul is clarifying the way that the members of the body of Christ work together, and so he is attempting to show that each member has a slightly different function, but that each member is important. That isn’t to say that each member can’t or shouldn’t taste of all that the Spirit has to offer – rather, each member specializes in one particular subset unique to that individual.
I’ll now offer a parody passage of Paul’s teaching so as to illustrate why we shouldn’t draw the conclusion that the “gifts” aren’t for all believers in some degree or other.
Concerning God-Given Gifts
12 Now about our God-given gifts, people, I do not want you to be uninformed…
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same God distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one gifts are given for the common good. 8 To one there is given by God a gift of public speaking, to another a gift of repairing cars by means of the same God, 9 to another baking pastries by the same God, to another gifts of visual arts by that one God, 10 to another athletic ability, to another management skills, to another farming, to another writing, and to still another the interpretation of literature.11 All these are the work of one and the same God, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
Unity and Diversity in Society
12 Just as a society, though one, has many individuals, but all its many individuals form one society, so it is with God. 13 For we were all appointed by God so as to form one society—whether white-collar or blue-collar, rich or poor—and we were all given one God to partake of. 14 Even so our society is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the trash collector should say, “Because I am not a professor, I do not belong to society,” he would not for that reason stop being part of society. 16 And if the seamstress should say, “Because I am not a doctor, I do not belong to society,” she would not for that reason stop being part of society. 17 If everyone in society were doctors, who would make clothing? If everyone in society were professors, who would collect the trash? 18 But in fact God has placed individuals in society, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one type of individual, where would the society be? 20 As it is, there are many individuals, but one society.
21 The doctor cannot say to the professor, “I don’t need you!” And the President cannot say to the trash collector, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those jobs in society that seem to be less prestigious are indispensable… 26 If one part of society suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part of society is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are a society created by God, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in that society lawyers, politicians, scientists, athletes, chefs, mechanics, musicians, and construction workers. 29 Are all lawyers? Are all politicians? Are all scientists? Do all run races? 30 Do all prepare banquets? Do all repair cars? Do all sing? 31 Now eagerly desire to acquire the skills and abilities that have the greatest impact on our world.
If you were to read the above passage, would you determine that if someone works as a chef, that person can’t and shouldn’t even attempt to run, to hum a tune, to put a band-aid on his son’s scraped knee, or to write emails? Of course not! Or, would you determine that a person cannot add to his skills set in order to change careers? Surely not! (The opposite sentiment is the basis for the American Dream!) Likewise, it is silly to think that the gifts of God’s Spirit are off limits except by Sovereign appointment. Although some may be more adept in operating under the gift of prophecy, that does not mean that all cannot pursue this gift! Likewise with gifts of healing, tongues, and all the others. If this were not the case, why would Paul tell us to “eagerly desire the greater gifts”?
May we all seek to live out all that Christ has made available to us! “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (1 Corinthians 14:20, NIV). May God bless you as you seek His Kingdom and His righteousness!