1 CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 12.
Of the Use and Purpose of Spiritual Gifts. 1 Cor. 12, 1—31.
All spiritual gifts from God: V. 1. Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. V. 2. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. V. 3. Wherefore I give you to understand that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed, and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost. V. 4. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. V. 5. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. V. 6. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. Other matters might be postponed until the apostle would be able to carry out his plan of visiting Corinth, but the subject broached by him in this section must be attended to at once: But about spiritual things, that is, gifts or powers, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant. He wanted to teach the proper use of spiritual gifts, just as he had given them the right information about the celebration of the Lord's Supper; for there was a certain amount of danger connected with these gifts, since they were, generally speaking, supernatural phenomena proceeding from the Spirit and belonging within His sphere. And in order to put his readers into the right relation to the admonition which he is about to make, and to keep them in the proper state of humiliation as to their absolute lack of merit in the acceptance of these gifts, he reminds them of their former heathen state: You know that Gentiles you once were, being carried away to the voiceless idols, as you were led. Two thoughts are here brought out, namely, that heathenism is an estrangement from the true God, and that it is a slavery of the lowest kind. To be led away to the worship of idols, whom the apostle characterizes as dumb, voiceless, Ps. 115, 5; 135, 16, marks the entire Gentile world. The Gentiles are carried off to this foolish, futile worship; their priests are very well aware of the fact that the claims which they advance are without foundation; but they keep the people in superstitious slavery. At the nod of their priests the ignorant heathen bowed down in worship to their dead idols, whose dumbness was a part of their nothingness, and who never returned an answer, no matter how urgent the supplication. The knowledge of their former state was such as always to make the grace of God stand out the more wonderfully by contrast in their minds.
But the Corinthians did not yet understand just how the Spirit of God did His work in their hearts, how He exerted His power. So Paul proceeds to instruct them. Therefore, in order that they may form a correct judgment of the Spirit's operations and gifts, he informs them that no one speaking in the Spirit of God says: Jesus is accursed; and no one can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit. The spirits of falsehood and of truth were battling together at Corinth, and the battle-cry of either party is here recorded. That which was accursed or anathema, in the sense as used by the Jews, was vowed to God for destruction as under His curse. To say that any one or any thing was anathema was to pronounce the oath of execration upon the person or thing in question. The fanatic Jews made this their cry in their incessant warfare against the Christian religion, and the catchy expression was apt to be taken up by Gentile mobs when any demonstration against the Christians was set in motion. It was certain, then, from the outset that no one using this form of blasphemy could be considered as speaking by the Spirit of God; no matter what his claim in that respect, the fact remained that such a blasphemer was and must remain outside of the pale of Christendom until he changed entirely. The remark of Luther at this point is also well worth considering: "For what he here calls 'cursing Jesus' is not only this, that a man publicly blasphemes and curses the name or person of Christ, as the godless Jews or heathen did, . . . but [this is done also] when any one among the Christians praises the Holy Ghost, and yet does not preach Christ correctly as the Foundation of our salvation, but neglects this and rejects it in favor of something else, with the pretext that it is derived from the Holy Ghost and is much better and more necessary than the common doctrine of the Gospel." 64) On the other hand, the sincere confession, Jesus is Lord, is a product of true faith, and therefore cannot be made out of any man's reason and strength. Cp. 1 John 4, 2 ff. It is an acknowledgment of Christ with the full consciousness of His work of redemption, as wrought by the power of the Holy Ghost. But since this public confession is the chief work of the Christian pastors, it follows that these words of the apostle apply to them with unusual force. "To call Jesus the Lord is to confess oneself His servant and to seek His honor alone, as one sent by Him or having His Word and command. For he speaks here principally of the office which preaches of Christ and brings His command. Where this ministry is in use and directs men to Christ (as to the Lord), that surely is the preaching of the Holy Ghost. . . . Thus also this cannot be done without the Holy Ghost, that every Christian in his work or station with all seriousness call Christ his Lord, that is, conclude with certainty that he is serving Him therein." 65)
This unity of faith and confession now bears rich fruit in "distributions of grace-gifts, services, workings": But there are distributions, diversities, varieties of gifts, yet the same Spirit; and there are varieties of ministries, yet the same Lord; and there are varieties of effects, yet the same God that works, that brings about, all in all. Here the apostle contrasts the dumb idols of the heathen with the almighty, Triune God of the Christians, the former being unable either to speak or to exert any power, the latter revealing Himself with almighty power in the Church and in the congregation of the saints. The Spirit, the Lord, and God the Father are incessantly and graciously active in the edification of the Church by means of the talents imparted to the individual Christians. All the eminent endowments, qualifications, capabilities of Christians, and peculiar to their state as Christians, whether they be those of healing, of miracles, of tongues, of prophesying, of rich Bible exposition, of edifying application of the Word, are bestowed by the Holy Ghost, of the one Spirit. And these wonderful gifts of grace are applied in the Church in the various offices and ministries, in the manifold functions and spheres of labor, Eph. 4, 12, but always under the direction of the one Lord, Jesus Christ, the King of the Church, and rendered to Him. It is in His interest that the Christians should use their gifts, every one without exception as Christ has dealt out to him; for only if the various gifts, in the manifold offices and stations, be used in the service of the one Lord, will the purpose of the Lord in bestowing the gifts be realized. There are thus finally various effects of the Christians' labors, commensurate with their gifts and their position of service; but it is the one God who constantly brings about all that is necessary for the benefit of His Church, and to all true Christians He deals out from His store of gifts without ceasing. Thus the Triune God is the Fountain of all grace and power in the Church, the immediate Dispenser of every good and perfect gift. "The Spirit kindles the fire of the gifts of edification, the Son directs the rays of the ministries of edification, the Father creates the warmth of the powers of edification: in undivided essence the Triune God rules His Church; what an outrage to cause divisions in its midst!" 66)
The actual working of the several gifts: V. 7. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. V. 8. For to one is given by the Spirit the Word of wisdom; to another, the Word of knowledge by the same Spirit; v. 9. to another, faith by the same Spirit; to another, the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; v. 10. to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, discerning of spirits; to another, divers kinds of tongues; to another, the interpretation of tongues. V. 11. But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will. The apostle now shows how the various gifts of the Spirit, in which the congregation at Corinth was so rich, were manifested, and what purpose was to be kept in mind by them: But to each (Christian) there is being given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common profit. He speaks very generally, stating that every Christian possesses some gift of grace, a gift which was not merely bestowed upon him at one time in the dim and distant past, but is being dealt out to him day after day. Its aim and object, therefore, is not to serve for personal aggrandizement and enjoyment, but to be placed at the disposal and to minister to the spiritual profit of the entire congregation and Church. Every Christian should prove himself a good steward of the manifold grace of God, 1 Pet. 4, 10; Matt. 25, 14—30.
Just how the spiritual talents of the individual Christians should serve for the benefit of the whole congregation Paul shows by a number of examples: To the one was given through the Spirit, through His power, the Word of wisdom; he had an exceptionally thorough knowledge of the great truths of Scripture, of the mystery of the Gospel, of the Word of the Cross, and could expound them in their connection in a clear, convincing way. But to another was given the Word of understanding, according to the same Spirit, directed by His power; he had the gift of applying the Word of God to individual cases in life, to throw light upon them in a proper way, to make the right conclusion on the basis of clear understanding. Wisdom is the more theoretical, knowledge the more practical; the qualifications of the teacher and pastor, particularly.
In the second series of gifts, there is given to another faith, in the same Spirit, in His power and bestowment alone; not that faith which accepts salvation in Christ, not justifying faith, but a strong and unwavering confidence in the omnipotence of God or in the power of Christ, as able to reveal itself in extraordinary deeds and to accomplish what seems impossible to men.67) This gift of heroic faith was needed especially in the early days of the Church, but has appeared since in many servants of the Lord that accomplished the apparently supernatural, with the assistance of the Lord. To another were given the gifts of healings in the bestowment of the same Spirit; there were Christians in the early days that were able to cure the sick without medicines and to perform other miraculous things, such as raising the dead, punishing the wicked by some extraordinary manifestations of God's wrath, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, Elymas, etc. Closely connected with these gifts were those of the acts of power, working of miracles in general.
In the third group of gifts St. Paul mentions that to another Christian is given prophecy, which includes not only the ability to see into the future and to declare coming events in advance, but also that of applying the Word of God in teaching and admonishing. "Prophecy is that one can interpret and explain the Scripture correctly, and therefrom, in a powerful manner, prove the doctrine of faith and overthrow false doctrine; also, through it to admonish the people, to threaten or to strengthen and to comfort, indicating, meanwhile, the -wrath to come, the punishment and revenge upon the unbelievers and disobedient, and again, divine help and reward for the believers and pious; as the prophets did from the Word of God, both from the Law and from the promises." 68) To another is given the discerning of spirits, the ability to distinguish between true and false teachers very readily, 2 Thess. 2, 0; 1 John 4, 1. When Satan found that open enmity and persecution did not succeed according to his plan, he employed guile and stealth in raising up false teachers in the very midst of the Christian congregations, whose glib tongues often succeeded in introducing doctrines at variance with the pure Gospel as preached by the apostles. Therefore a person with the ability to discriminate, to uncover the weak and dangerous position of the false teachers at once, was a great asset in a congregation. To still another Christian were given kinds of tongues; he was able to speak the great things of God in strange languages, which he had never studied, Mark 16, 17, or he could praise the Lord in an entirely new, unknown language, virtually the tongue of angels, chap. 13, 1. But since this gift would have been unprofitable in itself, the Lord had also given to another the interpretation of tongues, the ability to translate the unknown language for the benefit of the congregation, for the edification of the hearers.
The apostle distinctly reminds his readers that all these gifts, no matter how great the difference between them, no matter what inclination there was among the holders of the several talents to exalt their own peculiar endowment, were all wrought by one and the selfsame Spirit, in distributing to each individual person just as His will dictated. Two thoughts stand out here: That it is the Spirit alone that deals with each individual, that it is His choice and judgment which determined the gifts, but that also there could be no idea of merit on the part of the receiver; the measure of the Holy Ghost is His free, gracious will and counsel. Note: Of the gifts here mentioned by the apostle, "four have disappeared entirely out of the Christian Church, the other five are still to be found, though in a smaller measure. The gift to heal without the application of medicines, the gift to perform other miracles, the gift to speak strange languages without previous study and use, and finally the gift to interpret such languages as one has never learned, have disappeared entirely. But this is not the case with the other gifts mentioned by the apostles, namely, with the gifts of speaking of wisdom and of knowledge through the Spirit, with the gift of prophesying, that is, of expounding the Scriptures, with the gift of an unusually high, strong, and heroic faith, and finally with the gift to distinguish between the spirits." 69) If these gifts were only employed more often, in all humility, for the benefit of the Church!
The body of Christ and its members: V. 12. 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. V. 13. 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. V. 14. For the body is not one member, but many. V. 15. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body, is it therefore not of the body? V. 16. 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? V. 17. If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? V. 18. But now hath God set the members, every one of them, in the body as it hath pleased Him. The fact that the Spirit of God works in the Church through manifold gifts of grace, in various persons, and yet always to the same end, the edification of the entire body as a unit, is here illustrated by reference to the analogy of a body. The unity of the Church is not that of inorganic nature, where many similar or dissimilar bodies are heaped together without organic connection; it is rather the oneness of a living organism, the exercises of whose members are diversified, but yet all serving the one same end, the health and well-being of the entire body: For just as the body of a man is one and he has many members, but all the members of the body, many as they are, are one body, so also is Christ. The oneness of the human body unfolds in a plurality of members, but with all its great variety of parts it is but one single system; just so Christ includes head and heart and all the members of the body in one system, every part and member being necessary for the integrity or completeness of the whole, but the entire body being governed by the one Head, Christ.
The unity of the one great Church system is effected by means of Baptism: For in one Spirit also we all were baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we all of one Spirit were made to drink. Baptism is the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost; He is the power that influenced our hearts and minds and brought them into the right relation with Christ, added us as members to His body, sealed and attested to us our salvation. The nationality and the social status of the individual person has nothing to do with this process, for the Spirit makes no distinction between Jews and Greeks, between slaves and freemen; they have all received the same identical Spirit, they have all been imbued with the same life of Christ. And, incidentally, we all were made to drink of the same Spirit; He was and is the spiritual refreshment which our souls receive by faith; for the drinking includes all the nourishment of the soul, as it is received for the benefit of the entire body and of all its members.
This idea, that the unity of the bodily organization includes rather than excludes a plurality of membership, is now carried out in detail: For the body also is not one member, but many. To speak of the body as a member is a contradiction in itself: many members, many organs, make up the one body. And yet, no one of these is complete in itself, nor could it exist by itself, just as each one has its own function to exercise, its own work to perform in the body, which could not be accomplished without it. For the foot to argue that it is not a member of the body because it is not the hand would be just as foolish as for the ear to argue that it cannot be a member of the body because it is not the eye. The function of each organ and each member is definitely fixed, and therefore the foot or ear does not sever itself from the body by distinguishing itself from hand or eye; its foolish argument leaves it exactly where it was before. The eye is indeed a nobler member than the ear, just as the hand is a nobler member than the foot, but all the members of the body serve one another mutually. Note: "The obvious duty here inculcated is that of contentment. It is just as unreasonable and absurd for the foot to complain that it is not the hand as for one member of the Church to complain that he is not another; that is, for a teacher to complain that he is not an apostle, or for a deaconess to complain that she is not a presbyter, or for one that had the gift of healing to complain that he had not the gift of tongues." (Hodge.)
That all the members and organs are to serve the entire body, the whole system, each in its own sphere, the apostle brings out very strongly: If the entire body were eye, where would the hearing be? If the entire body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now, as things are by God's will, He has appointed the members, each single one of them, in the body as He willed. Dissatisfaction with the particular gift of grace, with the particular status in the Church that any person has and occupies, is rebellion against the will of God, against the rule of the Lord of the Church; it is disloyalty toward Him and distrust of His wisdom. God has set things so, it is a matter of His determining will, and the obedient Christian will not be found complaining and objecting.
The need of all the members: V. 19. And if they were all one member, where were the body? V. 20. But now are they many members, yet but one body. V. 21. 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. V. 22. Nay, much more those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary; v. 23. and those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor, and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. The apostle develops his argument in every direction, showing here that a number, a variety, of members and organs is necessary for the organism of the body and also of the Church. He that would insist upon having all members the same would destroy the unity and thereby the organism of the body. This Paul affirms with grave seriousness: But now there are indeed many members, yet one body. No member of the body is able to perform all the functions which are within the sphere of the body, they are mutually interdependent; and only in this way does the body realize its object in the world.
That all the variously endowed members are needed by the body as a whole, and consequently are necessary to each other, cannot do their work properly without the assistance of each other, is next brought out. The eye cannot deny that the hand is indispensable to its service, if the entire body should do its work in the right way. And the same holds true of the relation of the feet to the head. The body, indeed, could live without feet, but the organism would be crippled. The more noble members have need of the less noble, if the system of the body is to carry on its functions for which it was designed and destined. Pride, therefore, is just as reprehensible in the Church as discontent.
The apostle has something to say to such superior members as look down with complacent self-conceit upon the supposedly inferior companions : Far rather must this be considered the situation: The weaker members of the body, as they may seem to be, are necessary; and those members of the body which seem to us to be more dishonorable, we put them about with more abundant honor, and our indecorous parts bring with them a more abundant seemliness. Some organs of the body are extremely weak and delicate, such as the heart, the eye, the ear; and yet their needfulness cannot be called into question. Other organs, those, for instance, of the abdomen, are ignoble, though their function is in itself not unclean;. but we provide ample clothing for them. Still other organs, those connected with the procreation of the species, have, on account of sin, been vested with the mantle of sin and indecency, although none could be more sacred in their God-given function; and so we hide them from sight, the purpose of clothes being to serve decorousness. Note: The deliberate suggesting of charms which are associated with the propagation of the species, as it is done in the indecent clothing of our day, is at variance not only with the command of God, but also with the natural decency which the conscience demands.
The application of the figure: V. 24. For our comely parts have no need; but God hath, tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked, v. 25. that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care one for another. V. 26. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it. In the covering and adorning of the dishonorable, indecorous parts of the body we do not include the seemly parts, the head and the face, unless we wish to display barbarous tendencies. Their distinction is so evident that any ornament jars upon the beholder. But God caused to mix together, He compounded the members of the body, having assigned more honor to the part which is in need of it. The Greek word signifies the mixing of ingredients as it is done in the laboratory, and indicates "such a mutual adjustment of the parts in the body as shall counterbalance differences, so that one part shall qualify another." It is not thus that the fine and honorable members are all in one place and the ignoble and indecorous in another, but that there is a complete harmony in appearance and in function of the body, together with an agreeable manifoldness and interchange. And the object is: that there be no schisms, no divisions, in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If the chief organs of the body should refuse to perform their work properly so long as the dishonorable members were still connected with the body, obviously the entire body would suffer. It is the will of the Creator that every part should contribute something to the general proportion, symmetry, and beauty of the body. It will also follow, quite naturally: And if one member should suffer, all the members suffer with it, and if one member is glorified, all the members rejoice with it. Here is an illustration of the unselfish care and solicitude of the members of the body for one another. So closely are they all united in the one organism of the body that the pain of any one organ is normally felt by the whole body as such; and, on the other hand, a special honor shown to any one member, especially to the comely members, causes the whole body to be filled with gladness, the attitude of the mind being reflected in the pose, in the gestures, in every lineament of the body.
The spiritual meaning of the comparison: V. 27. Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular. V. 28. And God hath set some in the Church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers; after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. V. 29. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? V. 30. Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? V. 31. But covet earnestly the best gifts; and yet show I unto you a more excellent way. Beginning with v. 12, Paul had given a detailed account of the interrelation of the members and organs in the human mechanism, indicating, however, even in v. 13, that he wanted the application made in the case of the Church. And here he states that the entire passage is to be applied to the Christian congregation: You are the body of Christ, and members severally; toward Christ you have the relation of a body, toward one another you have the relation of members. Therefore the lessons of the discontent of the less noble members, of the pride of the more seemly members, and of the mutual care and solicitude of the members in general should be heeded in the Church. And Paul openly states that there is indeed a diversity of talents, of ministries, of effects in the Church. It was God that made this distinction; He it was that chose and set up certain officers in the Church, they held office by His will, Acts 20, 28. There were, first, apostles, the teachers of the entire Church till the end of time, originally by the spoken word, afterward by their doctrine transmitted in the form of writing. There were, secondly, prophets, men that had the gift of prophecy, vv. 8. 10. There were, thirdly, teachers, men that were able to teach the transmitted doctrine, to apply it to the individual cases. These three represented the teaching orders. And in the congregation in general, and without distinction due to office, there were found miraculous powers, gifts of healings, vv. 9. 10; helpings, the work which was performed principally by the deacons; governings, the work which was done by executive officers in the organization of the congregation; and finally, species of tongues, v. 10. Note: The apostle is here evidently referring to the visible church organization, to which He has entrusted the administration of the means of grace. If a person calling himself a Christian shows the spirit of independentism, maintaining that he can ignore the work of the ministry, he is not in conformity with this passage of Scriptures.
God has given the offices and distributed the gifts, but He Himself has made the distinction, choosing the vehicles of His grace as He thought best. Discontent with the position assigned to any one in the Church is rebellion against His government: Are all apostles? all prophets? all teachers? all powers? Have all gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? In the Church of Christ all Christians cannot be everything, they cannot hold all offices, they cannot all have the same gifts; the Lord has distributed the gifts, and to Him they all are responsible, whether the talent entrusted to them be large or small in its appearance before men. Let apostle, prophet, teacher, healer, interpreter, deacon, each do his work in his appointed place without jealousy, and without being discontented with his lot. All these positions are necessary and are mutually interdependent; they all are to serve for the glory of the Lord and for the welfare of His people. Self-aggrandizement and jealousy are the death of true church-work.
Instead of fostering pride and conceit, the Christians of all times should rather expend their efforts in another way: But be zealous for the best gifts, strive after those gifts of the Spirit which are of the greatest benefit to the work of the Lord in the Church. If the Christians are really anxious to be of service in the work of the Lord, with altogether unselfish labor, then the Lord will reward this prayerful zeal; such people will be given the opportunity of placing their talents at the disposal of the King of Grace. And to this end Paul does not only want to exhort his readers, but he also wants to show them an excellent way, a way without equal, by which they may attain to the fulfilment of their wish and be placed in a position where they may serve the Church in all its members, to the glory of God.
Summary. The apostle discusses the diversity of the Spirit's gifts as contributing to the life of the Church, all being necessary and all honorable in their proper use, as he shows by a detailed Comparison of the members of the human organism and their functions, but none to be sought in a spirit of emulation.