When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he was writing to a church that was overloaded with disunity and lack of discipline. It seemed as if Corinth was a body of individuals rather than individuals operating as a united body. It is in this context that Paul starts informing Corinth about the nature and use of spiritual gifts.
It seems that individualism destroys the power of a united body of individuals. While we don’t ever deny that each of us have individual responsibility before the Lord and are individual members of the local church, we cannot divorce this from the fact that each of the individual members contribute to the whole body. This really is the essence of Paul’s analogy of how parts of the human body work together so that the whole body can operate (1 Cor. 12:14-20). The big idea in Paul’s appeal to Corinth is found in verse 7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” This means that God has given gifts, abilities and talents to individual people for the benefit of a common people. But who are the common people?
At the very beginning of this discussion, Paul differentiates the church from the world. He says that it is never in the Spirit of God that someone can say “Jesus is accursed.” It is only in the Spirit of God that someone can say, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor 12:2-30). The common people have a common confession. They are known by their outward confession of the Lordship of Christ. This is something that would also then be displayed in their life as they submit to him as King. This confession controls the unity and purpose of the Family of God.
When we ignore this common confession, individualism distorts the very nature of a spiritual gift and brings division rather than unity. This is because we can become much more concerned about the power and use of our own gift than having a concern for the common good or the common confession. We can lust after that which feeds our individual egos than that which builds up another member of the body. We seek after the power and manifestation of a gift of the spirit and forget about the confession of Christ that underlines its very purpose. Paul said that, “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit” (12:3). The Spirit’s role is to testify of Christ (John 15:26). If we seek the gifts of the Holy Spirit for our own benefit rather than the testimony of Christ for the common good of the body, we are turning our gifts into grief. If we attempt to gain an individualistic, self-absorbed manifestation of the Spirit’s power, the testimony of Christ is not evident and the Spirit himself is not in it.
God has gifted each member of the church to serve each other as one common body, in one Spirit empowered confession of Christ. Our gifts are essentially all about the one confession that brought us all together in the first place, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ. If the center of all that we do in the church is not the confession of Christ, the Spirit is not with us. But if we confess Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, the body functions in united purpose, and God is glorified. When it comes to spiritual gifts, let’s say “no” to individualism and say “yes” to a common confession for the common good.