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Paul’s instructions to the saints at Corinth covered a variety of topics. These included teachings on the nature of spiritual gifts and the body of Christ, that is, the collective body of members of the Church of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 12 contains Paul’s teachings on these two connected concepts. “Now concerning spiritual gifts,” Paul began in this chapter, “I would not have you ignorant. . . . [T]here are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (vv. 1, 4). Paul explained that even though individual followers of Christ might be blessed with specific spiritual gifts, these gifts ultimately come from “the same Lord” and “the same God which worketh all in all” (vv. 5–6).
The gifts Paul specifically listed as “a manifestation of the Spirit” are (vv. 7–10):
- “the word of wisdom”
- “the word of knowledge ”
- “working of miracles”
- “discerning of spirits”
- “divers kinds of tongues”
- “interpretation of tongues”
This list is paralleled and expanded upon in Doctrine and Covenants 46:8–26 and Moroni 10:8–17, indicating that the proper recognition and exercise of spiritual gifts is crucial in the restored Church of Jesus Christ. In fact, the signature book of scripture of the Restoration, the Book of Mormon, greatly helps followers of Jesus Christ today understand spiritual gifts.
But what are the implications of so many spiritual gifts operating among members of the Church? Is there a risk of spiritual elitism arising among saints who may wrongly assume some sense of entitlement or pride for being gifted differently? Paul addressed this concern in the rest of chapter 12 by presenting an extended metaphor of components or parts of the human body coming together to work as a whole:
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. (1 Corinthians 12:12–26)
Just so, Paul concluded, “Ye [plural] are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (v. 27).
Paul then transitioned to a discussion on charity, or love (Greek: agapē), connecting this crucial teaching with his discourse on spiritual gifts. Referencing some of the very same spiritual gifts he had just discussed, Paul instructed:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 12:1–2)
That might be, but what does this charity look like? Paul elaborated,
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth. (1 Corinthians 12:4–8)
Again, the Book of Mormon provides important wisdom on what it really means to have charity. It reminds us that
once we begin to love others with God’s love, the love we have allowed God to fill us with, we can “become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (Moroni 7:48).
When we are filled with God’s love, and share it with others, we become like God, who also seeks to share His love with mankind. This means that the commandment to have charity is a command to demonstrate love to humanity with a steadfastness and power that can come only through divine means.
All members of Church are needed just like all the parts of human body are needed. Likewise, all spiritual gifts are needed, working together in a fluid symbiosis to advance the work of God throughout the world. To “translate” Paul’s metaphor into a latter-day context, it would be folly for the 28-year-old Young Single Adult Sunday School teacher to tell the 55-year-old Relief Society president that he has no need of her, or that his spiritual gifts are more valuable than hers. It would likewise be folly for that same Relief Society president to tell the 12-year-old Deacon passing the sacrament for the first time that her calling is more important than his because of her experience or access to the Bishop.
All members of Christ’s body should edify each other and employ their respective spiritual gifts for the building up of the Kingdom of God, not for the gratification of individual egos. The only way this can be done is by fostering charity in our hearts and becoming unified in Christ.