1 CORINTHIANS 12 BEGINS A three-chapter unit on tongues, prophecy, and other “grace gifts” (charismata) and their relation to love, which is the supreme “way” (not a gift) for the Christian. We may at least follow the flow of thought.
First, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 affirms that there are diversities of gifts but one source. The implicit Trinitarian reference is striking: different gifts, given by the same Spirit; different kinds of service, but the same Lord [Jesus]; different kinds of working, but the same God. This does not mean Paul is parceling these things up absolutely, as if, for instance, the gifts came from the Spirit but not from Jesus and not from God. Rather, this is a preacher’s device for insisting that however diverse the gifts and graces, there is but one source: the triune God.
Second, Paul enlarges upon this principle of unity tying together diversity (1 Cor. 12:7-12). The various gifts mentioned—the message of wisdom, the message of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, and so forth—are not only manifestations of the one Spirit, but their primary purpose is the common good (1 Cor. 12:7). So both in source and in purpose, they serve unity in their diversity. Moreover, although Paul will shortly say that Christians are to pursue the greater gifts (1 Cor. 12:31), here he insists that in the final analysis the Spirit distributes them as he sees fit—which means there should never be pride in having this or that gift, nor covetousness toward another who has a gift you desire.
Third, the theme of the chapter is driven home in an analogy (1 Cor. 12:12-20). The body is one, but it is made up of many parts that must function together. The analogy is apt, for Christians were all baptized by Christ in one Spirit (the Spirit here is the medium in which Christians are baptized, not the agent doing the baptizing, who is Christ) into one body, the church. Transparently, all the body parts are needed: it would not do for the body to be nothing but one giant eyeball, for instance. So the diversity and distribution of gifts in the church is to be cherished.
Fourth, it follows further that no part of the body has the right to say to any other part of the body that it is neither wanted nor needed (1 Cor. 12:21-27). Indeed, in some ways the least presentable parts of the body should be accorded the highest honor precisely because they otherwise lack it. There ought to be so much empathy among the diverse parts that if one part is honored, all are honored; if one part suffers, all suffer.
Even though the applications to the church are obvious, Paul takes care to spell them out (1 Cor. 12:27-31).