Chapters twelve through fourteen comprise the longest section in the entire Bible on spiritual gifts. The Corinthians had no lack of these gifts (1 Corinthians 1:5-7), yet they apparently misused them because they were “ignorant” about them, which Paul intended to correct (1 Corinthians 12:1-3).
In 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 Paul set out an initial discussion of the gifts in general, resulting in an initial sample list of gifts and several principles. First, the Trinity works together to produce and make these gifts effective. No matter the differences that we see in their outworking, they are about unified ministry. Second, Paul called them “manifestations of the Spirit.” Third, each believer receives one of these manifestations or gifts. Fourth, they are distributed by the Holy Spirit, as he determines, not all the gifts to the same believer or any individual gift to all believers.
Offering one of his classic analogies, Paul compared the Church to a body (1 Corinthians 12:12-26), demonstrating several similarities. First, just like a body, though unified, is made up of many individual parts, so the Church is Christ’s Body with many individuals. Second, no part of the Body loses its membership because each unique role is necessary. Third, no body part has the authority to tell another body part that he is not necessary. Fourth, in a surprising twist, God highly honors the parts that we tend to consider “less honorable.” Thus, each part is to look out for the others, caring for and honoring each other.
The final verses provide another sample list, but a more specific one. In this list, Paul used ordinal numbers to present a hierarchical ranking of the gifts – “first…second…third…then” (1 Corinthians 12:27-28). He also asked a series of questions, each phrased specifically to assume a negative response. “Not all…do they?” No, of course not (1 Corinthians 12:29-30). He closed with an encouragement for the congregation to desire the greater gifts (again, implying that some gifts are greater than others), and he intended to show them which gifts those were.