Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were gentiles you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says “Let Jesus be cursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.
Talking about idols seems like a strange starting point for a discussion about spiritual gifts. Why would Paul bother bringing it up? To answer that, it’s important to understand what an idol is. We typically use the word “idol” to mean the same thing as “false god” or something that we value more than God himself, but that’s not entirely what an idol was for the peoples of the Ancient Near East. Very few people would have thought that a wooden carving or rock sculpture actually held any power or was due any reverence on its own accord. An idol is the physical representative of a spiritual presence. The gentiles may have prayed to household idols, but they did not believe the actual gods and goddesses to be resting on their mantles. How else could you talk to a god?
What makes Christianity different is that the Christian “idol” was a living, breathing man. Jesus was the physical representative of Yahweh, a delegate who listened to prayers and answered them! And that is the distinction that Paul is highlighting. An idol cannot tell you how to use your gifts. You can fill an idol’s mouth with your own thoughts and opinions. An idol will not give you spiritual guidance. Jesus can and does! The Spirit of God does not compel us to say or do anything that isn’t aligned with scripture. So when we talk of spiritual gifts, we must look first to the authority of scripture, God’s word, to guide our thinking. Those who claim to speak for Jesus but do not use Jesus’ words are really praying to the wooden idol, not the living man.