The Nature and Use of Gifts in the Assembly
1 Corinthians 12 – 14
1 Corinthians 12 – 14
1 Corinthians 12 – 14. In these three chapters of the epistle, Paul takes up the exercise of gift in the assembly, and the principles that ought to regulate it. It is a continuation, in a sense, of ch.11 where the assembly meeting for the Lord’s supper was taken up. Only in ch.11 it has to do more with priesthood, and ch.12-14 have to do with ministry. Not taken up in 1 Corinthians is the sphere of office. It is good to keep these three spheres distinct. The Spirit nicely keeps them distinct by dealing with them in separate sections of the epistles. Also, we can see the Divine wisdom by taking up the Lord’s supper first; lest anyone should get the idea that gift has some part in it. A nice summary of these chapters is the following:
- Ch.12 is the the endowment of gifts, “the spirit of power“
- Ch.13 is the motive of their operation, “the spirit… of love“
- Ch.14 is the exercise of gifts for the profit of all, “the spirit of… a sound mind“ (2 Tim. 1:7).
An illustration would be: the machinery itself (ch.12), the oil that allows the machinery to run smoothly (ch.13), and the operation of the machinery (ch.14). The three chapters also give us a nice “filter” for anyone who would take part in public ministry. If I’m going to open my mouth in the Lord’s name: (1) do I have the Lord’s leading in it by the Spirit? (2) is it motivated by divine love? and (3) is it edifying for the saints? If the answer to any one of those is “no”, I’d better keep quiet.
O U T L I N E
Gifts Given to the Members of the Body of Christ
1 Corinthians 12
1 Corinthians 12
- The Manifestations of the Spirit (12:1-11)
- Introduction (v.1)
- Spirit-led Ministry Will Always be Christ-exalting (vv.2-3)
- Spirit-led Ministry Emanates from a Single, Divine Source (vv.4-6)
- Spirit-led Ministry is for the Profit of the whole Body (v.7)
- Spirit-led Ministry is Worked out through a Diversity of Gifts (vv.8-10)
- Spirit-led Ministry is Sovereignly Orchestrated by the Spirit, not by Man (v.11)
- The Body of Christ: Its Unity and Diversity (12:12-27)
- A Proper View of Gifts and their Role in the Assembly (12:28-31)
The Manifestations of the Spirit (12:1-11)
¶ But concerning spiritual manifestations, brethren, I do not wish you to be ignorant. v.1 The literal translation of v.1 is “concerning spiritual”. The insertion of “gift” limits the thought wrongly to abilities given by the Spirit. The insertion of “manifestations” is better, but the real thought includes the presence of the Spirit Himself. The term broadly comprehends the presence, power, and operation of the Spirit of God. W. Kelly said that the true sense is “the entire range of what pertains to the Spirit”. This is another area of interest that the Corinthians had written to Paul about (1 Cor. 7:1). He answers their question in this epistle, and we need to hear the response if we do not wish to be ignorant either.
Five marks of Spirit-led Ministry (vv.2-11). Genuine, Spirit-led ministry will always:
- Be Christ-exalting (vv.2-3)
- Be evident that it comes from a single, Divine source; i.e. it will be unified, orderly, and cohesive, and it will not have human conventions (vv.4-6)
- Be profitable for the whole body; i.e. it will not merely consist of vain repetitions, nor will it be pure emotional hype. It will not merely benefit an individual, but profit all (v.7)
- Be worked out through a diversity of gifts; i.e. will not be restricted to one or even a few clergymen (vv.8-10)
- Be sovereignly orchestrated by the Spirit, not arranged by man; i.e. it may be unpredictable at times, though always orderly (v.11)
Spirit-led Ministry Will Always be Christ-exalting (vv.2-3)
2 Ye know that when ye were of the nations ye were led away to dumb idols, in whatever way ye might be led. 3 I give you therefore to know, that no one, speaking in the power of the Spirit of God, says, Curse on Jesus; and no one can say, Lord Jesus, unless in the power of the Holy Spirit. vv.2-3 The Corinthians had a dark background in Pagan idolatry. In Paganism, evil spirits were at work (ch.10), and those steeped in idolatry were enslaved to it, “led away” by those very real forces to worship “dumb idols” (Psa. 115:4-8). This is a complete contrast to Christianity, where the believer is led, not in terrible bondage by unholy spirits, but gently to exalt Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit of God. The test in v.3 is not exactly to determine if someone is a believer, but to see what power is behind their ministry. Satan is seeking, even today, to blaspheme (injure through words) the name of Christ (1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Cor. 11:13-15.). The Spirit of God, and any true ministry that is empowered by the Spirit, must be Christ exalting. Speaking of “the Spirit of truth”, Jesus said “He shall glorify me” (John 16:14). It is impossible for the Spirit to lead a believer to say “Curse Jesus”, and it is impossible for someone to confess “Lord Jesus” unless led of the Holy Spirit. Now certainly, someone can say those words as empty words, but they cannot say them with meaning from the heart unless it is of the Spirit. We know of examples such as Matthew 7:21 where false professors said “Lord, Lord” and they were not real. It has to do with ministry. Those whose ministry is not in the power of the Spirit of God will not give Christ the place of lordship in their ministry. After a while it will come out they are exalting themselves instead of exalting Christ.
Two Sources of Power. Not every manifestation of spiritual power is of the Spirit of God. There are two sources of spiritual power in this world; God and Satan. Man has no power in himself, therefore he must look outside of himself. If spiritual activity does not have its power source in God (by the Spirit), then it is from demonic sources. We are exhorted to “try the spirits” (1 John 4:1), to see if they are from a divine source, or a demonic source. In 1 John 4:2 we find that sound doctrine concerning the Person of Christ is a sure test. There is such a thing as human energy that pretends to be spiritual power. I think we see much of this in the charismatic movement today. Many well-meaning believers are attempting to reproduce the power of the Spirit of God that was displayed at Pentecost. Much of this relies on human emotion and excitement. However, there are not a few cases where the symptoms of speaking in tongues strongly resemble the symptoms of demon possession. We are reminded of Jannes and Jambres, the two magicians who “withstood Moses” (2 Tim. 3:8; Ex. 7:10-12). They performed many miracles, even to match those done by Moses, but they were empowered by Satan.
Anecdote. The primary thought in v.3 is that of the character of one’s ministry, not his ability to say the literal words. However, Chuck Hendricks passed on this story, which I found interesting. Robert Grant, brother to F.W. Grant, was in a reading meeting once and a brother came in that seemed to have a lot of gift. Robert had the gift of “discerning of spirits” (v.9), and he discerned that this man was not real. Robert said to him, “You can’t say ‘Lord Jesus’.” The man stuttered, “You, you, you, … you, say that I can’t.” Robert said, “Yes, I say that you can’t.” The man tried and tried to say it, but could not. Robert lived in the days of the recovery, when the Spirit of God was relatively un-grieved among brethren. I’m not sure it would be wise to try the same thing today, but perhaps the Spirit might lead one to.
Spirit-led Ministry Emanates from a Single, Divine Source (vv.4-6)
4 But there are distinctions of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are distinctions of services, and the same Lord; 6 and there are distinctions of operations, but the same God who operates all things in all. vv.4-6 Another contrast to Paganism, where there were many evil spirits leading worshipers off to many false gods (1 Cor. 8:6), is that in Christianity, there is “the same Spirit”, “the same Lord”, and “the same God”. We get it a little in v.2, that in Paganism there was disorderliness in their idol-service; “in whatever way ye might be led”. Not so in Christianity. Our ministry emanates from a single, Divine source, and therefore it is unified, orderly, and cohesive. It is important to see that it comes from God, and not man. There is no mention of theological training in these verses, nor is there ordination. The minister is under the Lordship of Christ, not a seminary, and not the assembly. We get the whole Godhead in this verse, but it is not the Trinity as such presented, because it is Christ’s title as Lord emphasized rather than His personal glory as Son, and it is God’s sovereignty that is emphasized rather than His Fatherhood. Also, we are not getting three classes of gifts here, as some imagine; Spirit-gifts, Lord-gifts, and God-gifts. Instead, every true ministry is: (1) a gift of the Spirit, (2) a service of the Lord, and (3) an operation of God. The Spirit gives the gift or the ability, the Lord directs that one along in service, but God is the one who gives the increase or produces the results. The main point here is that there are many different services, etc., but all flow from a single source, and take their character from that source.
Charismata and domata. Two different Greek words are used for a spiritual gift. The first is charismata, used in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and 1 Peter 4. Charismata means “gracious gift”, and it refers to a special ability given to a Christian to enable their service for the Lord. Once a person has been given a charismata, it can never be taken away. In 1 Tim 4:14 and 2 Tim. 1:6 we have the expression “the charismatos (gracious gift) that is in thee”. Timothy had been given a spiritual gift, and it remained inside him, even if he wasn’t using it. The second word is domata, used in Ephesians 4. Domata means “gift” in a broader sense, and it refers to a person who is given to the universal Church to edify and build her up. The Apostle Paul had a charismata (teaching), but he was a domata (a teacher). We are told that every believer has a charismata, but not every believer is a domata. That being said, there is a slight difference in charismata as used in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12.charismata Read more…
Spirit-led Ministry is for the Profit of the whole Body (v.7)
7 But to each the manifestation of the Spirit is given for profit. v.7 This is the first time we encounter the term “manifestation of the Spirit”. It has the thought of the “expression” or “outworking” of the Spirit. Spiritual gifts are really the outward expression that the Spirit of God is in the Church. Gifts are given “to each”; i.e. to every believer. Every believer has a gift, and we see the diversity of these gifts in vv.8-10. The purpose of the gifts is “for profit”; that is, the profit of the whole assembly. The word “profit” here is the idea of “mutual profit”. The Greek word is sympherō, the prefix ‘sym’ meaning ‘together’. The Spirit will not manifest Himself in a gift for the exaltation of one person or even for a person to profit from their own gift, but for the good of all. No gift is an end in itself. They work together for the good of the whole body.
Spirit-led Ministry is Worked out through a Diversity of Gifts (vv.8-10)
vv.8-10 The great point here is that the Spirit refuses to consolidate all the gifts in one person. Over and over we get that emphasized; “to one… to another… to a different one… to another… etc.”. He distributes his work through a variety of gifts. Yet all the gifts are enabled by “the same Spirit”. When all the various gifts are functioning together in perfect harmony, the oneness of God is displayed.
What are spiritual gifts? Christians have been given special gifts to aid us in our service for the Lord, and to benefit the whole body of Christ. These spiritual gifts are special abilities given to a believer to aid in the service of the Lord. These abilities are supernatural, although they do not always appear to be “miraculous” in the conventional sense of the word. Spiritual gifts are “spiritual”, in that they do not come from man, although they could be given by apostolic power as in the case of Timothy (2 Tim. 1:6). People are not born with spiritual gifts, nor can they be gained by study or theological training. They are conveyed to a believer by the Holy Spirit upon salvation; hence they are “gifts”. You cannot purchase a gift of God with money (Acts 8:20). God can use “unlearned and ignorant men” like Peter and John the fishermen, or He can use a well-educated man like the Apostle Paul, who learned at Gamaliel’s feet. The Spirit uses “whom He will” (1 Cor. 12:11). I do not believe the lists of gifts in scripture are exhaustive, but do give us generally the spheres of Christian ministry. Read more…
Three mentions of gifts. These spiritual gifts are mentioned in a number of different contexts, and it is helpful to keep in mind the distinctions between gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, and Romans 12, etc. Read more…
The order of the gifts. The order of the gifts is important. First, we have the gifts that are for edification in v.8. They are supernatural, but not miraculous (so to speak). Then we get the miraculous, or “sign” gifts. In ch.13 we have an indication that these sign gifts would fade with time, but not the gifts for edification. The gifts for edification would continue on until the coming of the Lord, and at that time, come to an abrupt end (1 Cor. 13:8). At the end of 1 Cor. 12, Paul lists the gifts in order of importance; those for edification come first, and sign gifts at the end. If you talk to a charismatic, you might get the impression that they value tongues or healing more than wisdom or knowledge.
8 For to one, by the Spirit, is given the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit; v.8 Gifts for edification. The “word of wisdom” refers to the work either of a prophet or of a pastor; practical knowledge, wisdom for the pathway. In either case, it is the ability to communicate the mind of God, publicly or privately, to the people of God. In v.28, when the gifts are ranked in order of importance, the gift of prophecy is second only to the gift of apostleship. Then in 1 Cor. 14:1, the ability to prophesy is presented as the greatest asset to the local assembly. The “word of knowledge” refers to the work of a teacher. The “word of” means the “expressing of”, or the ability to give it out. A person may have great knowledge, but not have the ability to communicate it. The same is true for wisdom. On the other hand, to be effective, a pastor must have wisdom to communicate, and a teacher must have knowledge to communicate. But these gifts function “according to the same Spirit”. They are not rogue agents, acting at their own charges.
Wisdom vs. knowledge vs. understanding. There is a simple difference between wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge is the possession of information. Wisdom is the discernment to apply that knowledge to the circumstances of life. Understanding is a deeper grasp of the nature of knowledge. We can gain a lifetime of knowledge, yet never have wisdom for our pathway or to share with others. At the same time, a person may be wise, but without understanding, never see the big picture. We need all three! Knowledge is easiest to come by. A simple example is the light switch. A toddler gains the knowledge of the light switch at a young age, but will use it inappropriately without wisdom. Even with wisdom, he will never appreciate the convenience of electricity without understanding.
9 and to a different one faith, in the power of the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healing in the power of the same Spirit; 10 and to another operations of miracles; and to another prophecy; and to another discerning of spirits; and to a different one kinds of tongues; and to another interpretation of tongues. vv.9b-10 Sign gifts. The gifts that we call “sign gifts” are gifts that have a miraculous character.
The point here is that the gift of faith is empowered by “the same Spirit” who motivates the other gifts. Each gift is most useful when used in harmony with the other gifts, according to the Spirit.
Sign gifts. There is a great deal of misunderstanding today with regard to these gifts. I will make a few brief points. First, these gifts were given as a sign for unbelievers (1 Cor. 14:22). It was very rare for the apostles to heal believers (one exception might be when Peter healed Dorcas; Acts 9:36-42), and they never used their gifts to heal themselves. Secondly, sign gifts were given to confirm the spoken Word of God. When the apostles went forth, the Lord worked with them, allowing them to perform miracles, etc. “confirming the word with signs following” (Mark 16:20, see also Hebrews 2:3-4). Thirdly, scripture indicates that sign gifts would fade with time (1 Cor. 13:8). F.B. Hole gave the example of a new ship. When a new ship first sails out of the harbor on it’s maiden voyage, it is covered with flags and streamers to mark the occasion. But once the voyage is underway, those flags are taken down, and the regular operation of the ship commences. It was fitting that God would mark the early days of the Church with these signs, but now their use has faded, except perhaps in mission fields etc. where they are really needed to reach the unbeliever.
Spirit-led Ministry is Sovereignly Orchestrated by the Spirit, not by Man (v.11)
11 But all these things operates the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each in particular according as he pleases. v.11 The “one and same” Spirit of God is operating in all the gifts, orchestrating their use for the profit of all, that the mind of Christ would be accomplished. Furthermore, the Spirit of God is not to be thought of as a passive actor, doing the bidding of the Father or Son. No. On the contrary, the Spirit is God, and acts sovereignly “according as he pleases”. How dare any of us relegate the Spirit of God to the level of a subordinate being! That is blasphemy. Sadly, in practice, that is what much of Christendom has done. One particular evil that has pervaded the Church is clericalism. The clerical principle is a special kind of sin against the Holy Spirit, because it denies the Spirit’s place in the Church, and replaces Him with a false system. The clerical principle states that all true ministry flows from the clergy, and any lay preaching is from the Devil. You can see how this evil is of the same character as what the Jewish leaders were guilty of in Matthew 12:30-31. As Israel spoke injuriously against the Spirit in their dispensation, so Christendom has denied the Spirit in our dispensation. The Church has effectively denied the presence and power of the Holy Spirit on earth. Collectively, the Jewish system came into judgment in 70 A.D., and one day the clerical system of Christendom will come into judgment as well, at the middle of Daniel’s seventieth week. While we wouldn’t call the clerical principle “blasphemy” against the Holy Spirit, we can see that it is “sin” against the Spirit, and certainly the dispensational counterpart to what Israel was guilty of. Read more… Have we set up a system, formal or informal, that seeks to orchestrate ministry and the use of gift? If so, we are grieving the Spirit of God (Eph. 4:30).
The Body of Christ: Its Unity and Diversity (12:12-27)
The Body of Christ. The body of Christ is a figure used in the New Testament to describe the assembly of God. The body of Christ was formed on the Day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God was sent down to the earth, and indwelt the believers present, linking them to Christ in heaven. Believers on earth who have the Spirit indwelling them are members of the body (Rom. 12:5). Christ in heaven is the head of the body (Col. 1:18). Christ’s mind is to be displayed by His body on earth. The Holy Spirit is the one who directs the members of the body; similar to how the nervous system in the human body works. It is important to understand that the body is not a mere concept. It is a reality! There are really only two mentions of the mystical body of Christ in 1 Cor. 12. It is mentioned in v.13 and v.27, but indirectly in v.12. All other mentions of “the body” refer to the human body. In v.13 we get the universal aspect of the body, and in v.27 we get the local aspect. The body of Christ is the sphere in which the Spirit acts, and the vehicle through which the manifestations of the Spirit are displayed. The apostle brings out the connection between the unity of the body of Christ and the unity of Spirit led ministry. It is not only the next logical argument in the progression begin in vv.1-11, but it is a significant development of Church truth. Read more…
Formation of the Body of Christ (vv.12-13)
12 For even as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of the body, being many, are one body, so also is the Christ. v.12 The next point is the unity of the body of Christ. Paul draws on the human body as an illustration. The human body is one organism, yet is it composed of many members. Yet the multiplicity of the members in no way takes away from the unity of the body. This mysterious duality, many members yet one body, is exactly the characteristic of “the Christ”. Sometimes the Spirit of God will use the expression “the Christ” to refer to Christ and the Church, viewed in their inseparable connection. This is similar to the expression “one new man”, which is the “mystical man”, Christ the head and the members of His body on earth. It refers to the body and the head together, looked at as a complete whole. We must remember, when seeking to practice the truth of the assembly, that there are practical ramifications to both sides of this verse. We are obligated to maintain both: (1) the diversity of the members, which would prevent the idea of one man ministry, ordained ministry, etc., and (2) the unity of the whole body, which would prevent the idea of ecclesiastical independency.
You will see from this scripture, that the term “the body of Christ” is no mere figure of speech, as is so often alleged; but that it expresses a reality — the reality indeed of our union with Christ, as also of our union with one another. And I am sure that you will see that our responsibilities to Christ as the Head of the body, and our responsibilities to our fellow-members, cannot even be understood, much less discharged, if this truth is overlooked or ignored. But, on the other hand, when it is known, not only have we the joy of conscious union with Christ; but we can also rejoice in our union, our indissoluble union, with all the members of His body in all parts of the world. It leads moreover to very practical results. For example, if I am asked to connect myself with any of the denominations around, I instantly reply that I cannot do that which denies, plainly denies, this blessed truth. “You ask me,” I should say, “to join a certain number of Christians who agree upon certain things; but I am united to all believers, and I need them all, and I cannot therefore accept a ground of union which excludes any.” Again, if it is proposed to me to unite with a number of Christians irrespective of denominations, I should answer, “I am a member of the body of Christ; and I cannot therefore make any ground of union apart from that of the body. I must be on God’s ground or upon none at all.” Until therefore I know the truth of the body of Christ, I cannot understand the place which the Lord would have me to occupy upon the earth. 
13 For also in the power of one Spirit “we” have all been baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bondmen or free, and have all been given to drink of one Spirit. v.13 Paul’s next argument to establish the unity of the Church (thus the unity in ministry that is incumbent on the Church) is that God used “one Spirit” to form the “one body” of Christ. The body of Christ is composed of members from many origins; Jews and Greeks, slaves and freemen, etc. But all these different members have been given to “drink of” or “imbibe” one Spirit. It is the indwelling Spirit of God, which we receive when we believe the gospel (Eph. 1:13), that unites all the members and forms one body. It is the Spirit, not the blood of Christ, that makes us part of the body of Christ. This is why Old Testament saints were not part of the Church; because they did not have the Holy Spirit indwelling them.
Baptism of the Spirit. There is much disagreement today over the baptism of the Spirit. Critical translations render 1 Cor. 12:13 as follows, “For also in the power of one Spirit we have all been baptised into one body”.
There are two leading views about this verse, both are wrong. The Pentecostal view is that after a person is saved, they get a filling of the Spirit, which enables them to use their sign gifts. The Evangelical view is that the baptism of the Spirit occurs when an individual is saved and sealed with the Spirit. The former view confuses the baptism of the Spirit with the “filling of the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18), and the latter view confuses it with the “sealing of the Spirit” (Eph. 1:13). What does the scripture say? It says that the baptism of the Spirit is what formed the one body of Christ.
Two Attitudes that Militate Against Unity. Next Paul addresses two spirits that have been the bane of unity in the body of Christ over the centuries. Both have self at the root, and stem from members not “holding the head” (Col. 2:19).
- The inferiority-complex… discontent with one’s own role (vv.14-19).
- The superiority-complex… disdain for another’s less-prominent role (vv.20-24)
Discontent: 1st Attitude that Militates Against Unity (vv.14-19)
14 For also the body is not one member but many.v.14 The Principle: Diversity. The first attitude that the apostle addresses is that of discontent with our place in the body. To combat this attitude, Paul first lays out the principle of the diversity of the members. The human body is not one member, but many. In vv.15-17 he develops the problem that would result from denying said truth.
15 If the foot say, Because I am not a hand I am not of the body, is it on account of this not indeed of the body? 16 And if the ear say, Because I am not an eye I am not of the body, is it on account of this not indeed of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where the hearing? if all hearing, where the smelling? vv.15-17 The Problem: Discontent. If we lose the divine perspective about ministry in the body of Christ, we might develop an attitude of discontent. Paul gives two examples from the human body to show the foolishness of this attitude in light of the truth of the body. The first example is a foot, the “lowest” member in the body, who is envious of the hand, which is a “higher” more prominent member in the body. The second example is an ear, which is very prominent, yet still envies one more prominent than he… the eye. The point is, not matter what our relative place in the body, whether low (foot) or high (ear), we are all in danger of this attitude. In v.17 Paul shows the foolishness of envying another member. If God had made every member to be what we consider most prominent, the body would not function at all! “Where were the hearing?”, and “where were the smelling?” If we are occupied with wanting someone else’s place in the body, we will neglect our own responsibilities! We should do our own work, and not desire someone else’s (Rom. 12:3).
18 But now God has set the members, each one of them in the body, according as it has pleased him. 19 But if all were one member, where the body? vv.18-19 The Solution: Understand God’s Mind about the Body. The solution to this first “enemy” of unity (discontent) is to recognize God’s sovereignty in the placement of every member in the body; i.e. “as it hath pleased him”. If the placement of members was up to us, we would all choose the most prominent role, and the result would be that “all were one member”. If that were true, how would the body function as it should, and carry out the directions of the head? It couldn’t even be called a “body”, because a body has multiple members by definition (v.14). To want another place than what God has given us is to set ourselves in opposition to the sovereign will of God… a serious position.
Disdain: 2nd Attitude that Militates Against Unity (vv.20-24)
20 But now the members are many, and the body one. v.20 The Principle: Unity. The attitude Paul now addresses is disdain for other members. To combat this attitude, the apostle stresses the principle of the unity of the members. Compare with v.14; the words are changed to emphasize the unity of the body, rather than the diversity of the members. In v.21 he develops the problem that would result from this attitude.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, I have not need of thee; or again, the head to the feet, I have not need of you. v.21 The Problem: Disdain. If we hold the attitude of disdain for other members, it will lead to the dishonor of the whole body. The Spirit addresses disdain even more strongly than discontent, because disdain flows from the more privileged members. It is not always apparent how another “lesser” member is important to the body. If the eye, a very prominent member, cared only for itself and saw all other members as worthless, what would eventually happen to the hand? If the head held the feet in disdain, what would eventually happen to the head? The eye would lose its vision, and the head would lose its place. The lower members had a supporting role that is every bit as important as the prominent members! It is interesting that the human body instinctively knows that it needs all its members. Medical studies show that there are massive implications with any kind of organ loss. Even organ transplant is highly unnatural, and can result in the body rejecting the donor organ as a foreign object. Note: clearly the apostle is speaking of the human body, not the mystical body of Christ. Who would dare think of Christ the “Head” not caring for the feet?
22 But much rather, the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those parts of the body which we esteem to be the more void of honour, these we clothe with more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness; 24 but our comely parts have not need. But God has tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to the part that lacked; vv.22-24 The Solution: Understand God’s Mind about the Body. God has given humans an instinct to protect the weaker members… to clothe with honor those less honorable members. We instinctively know that if God has hidden a member, it must have a valuable roll in the body (see 1 Cor. 11:14). The human heart is not pretty to look at, but it is very important. The human hair and face are pretty to look at, but we could get along fine if they were damaged. Feet are “uncomely” members, and yet we cover our feet every day to protect them; and notice that feet do far more work on behalf of the body than the face or hair. In a car accident, the human instinct is to protect the vital organs, even though they are “less comely”. In that way, we clothe them “with more abundant honor”. But it is not our instinct to protect our hair, because “our comely parts have not need”. We must see that God has tempered or “blended” the body together, and every member given to the body is necessary. There is a tendency in Christianity to view the showy, outward gifts as most important, and to despise those doing a quieter work. That is because man looks on the outward appearance (e.g. “we esteem”), but God sees it all and weighs it perfectly. W. Kelly said, “Those that laboured like Epaphras are far more necessary than some who shone at Corinth with miracles or tongues.” Rather than hold a less prominent member in disdain, we should protect, value, and honor them. It is serious to reject or look down on any member, as if we could do without them.
The Appendix is an organ which medical scientists for years considered to be a useless organ. Regarded as a purposeless by-product of evolution, man regarded it as one body part that didn’t have a function! More recently, they have come to recognize that the appendix does play a role in digestion; it is an incubator for bacteria! Just so, every member of Christ’s body has a function, and that function is necessary.
The Proper Attitude for the Members of the Body (vv.25-26)
25 that there might be no division in the body, but that the members might have the same concern one for another. 26 And if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; and if one member be glorified, all the members rejoice with it. vv.25-26 God has ordered the human body this way to promote unity and mutual care between the members. For example, it is not possible for the eye, ear, and head to prosper without a care for the hand, legs, and feet. If God wants there to be no schism in the body of Christ, why are there 10,000 schisms in Christendom? In v.26 we have the interconnectedness of the human body brought out. Pain or suffering felt by one member is shared by all. Likewise, warmth or a soothing touch in one area spreads pleasure to the whole body. The same is true of the mystical body of Christ. If one Christian suffers, we all suffer with them sympathetically. If one Christian has a great success, we all win. Why? Because we are members of one body.
The Body-Character of the Local Assembly (v.27)
27 Now “ye” are Christ’s body, and members in particular. v.27 Paul now begins to speak of the local aspect of the body of Christ. When he says “ye”, he is referring to the Corinthian assembly. While there is only one Body, and the entire body could never be present in one location, the local assembly is an expression of the whole, and enjoys all the rights and privileges of the whole. The local assembly has “body-character”. A simple example has often been used: there is a U.S. Army base in Watertown, N.Y. I can drive up to the fence and say; “there is the U.S. Army”. I do not mean that the entire U.S. Army is in front of me. That would be impossible because the US Army is not only enormous in size, but distributed all over the world. And yet, what I see before me is an installment of the US Army, which has all the character, privileges, and authority of the whole Army, to act on its behalf. This is true of the local assembly as well. This true is very important if we want to gather on a scriptural basis. The local assembly must recognize what is true of the whole, and act on its behalf.
A Proper View of Gifts and their Role in the Assembly (12:28-31)
The Order of Importance of Gifts (v.28)
28 And God has set certain in the assembly: first, apostles; secondly, prophets; thirdly, teachers; then miraculous powers; then gifts of healings; helps; governments; kinds of tongues. v.28 The first thing Paul does is establish the order of the gifts in the purpose of God. The key is that God, not man, has placed the individual members in the assembly according to His sovereign will. When human wisdon gets involved, the placement and order of the members gets thrown off. The foundational gifts and “gifts for edification” come first, then “sign gifts” follow, taking a second place. How backwards the Corinthians were in their views! And how backwards a great branch of the Church is today, making everything of tongues and healings, and setting doctrine and prophetic ministry aside. Two other gifts are mentioned in v.28 that are not brought out earlier in the chapter:
- Helps is the special ability to discern needs, gaps, or weaknesses among God’s people, and to meet or ease those burdens. The word “helps” is actually connected with ancient maritime terminology. In Acts 27:17 the sailors “used helps, undergirding the ship”. Apparently these ‘helps’ were great straps or cables that were run around the belly of the ship to hold everything together in extreme weather conditions. In a similar way, those with the gift of helps can be instrumental in holding the assembly together in various ways. Phoebe might be an example of a sister who had the gift of helps; “she also has been a helper of many, and of myself” (Rom. 16:2).
- Governments is the special ability to direct individuals in the things of the Lord and collectively to help organize things. This is closely connected with the gift of a pastor, or shepherd. It may also be similar to “he that leadeth” (Romans 12:8). The original word comes from a Latin word which means to steer or to pilot. It is closely connected to the word for shipmaster in Acts 27:11. Someone with the gift of governments can guide their local assembly safely through numerous problematic situations, while others might steer them onto the rocks. Office or administration is local (bishops or elders), but gifts go beyond office in their extent, and therefore this gift seems to be more than administration. If the brother is in communion, this gift can be greatly used for the preservation of the assembly. Not everyone can guide in this way.
The overall subject of ch.12-14 is the functioning of gift in the sphere of the local assembly. Gift is not limited to a location, but the gifts listed in 1 Cor. 12 have their primary function in the local assembly; e.g. the gift of governments would primarily be used in the assembly care meeting. This is why evangelists are not mentioned in 1 Cor. 12 (not a local function), but are mentioned in Eph. 4!
The Distribution of the Gifts to Many Members (vv.29-30)
29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all in possession of miraculous powers? 30 have all gifts of healings? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? vv.29-30 The error made by some of the Corinthians was the belief that each believer has all the gifts. This is no worse than the modern belief that one ordained minister has all (or most) of the gifts. The apostle completely sets this notion aside. God steadfastly refuses to concentrate all the gifts in one person.
Desire for the Best (Edifying) Gifts & the Better Way (v.31)
31 But desire earnestly the greater gifts, and yet shew I unto you a way of more surpassing excellence. v.31 We are instructed to desire the “best gifts”; i.e. the ones at the top of the list in vv.28-29, those gifts that edify. This is written to correct an error among the Corinthians who desired the miraculous gifts. But we are not to covet those. Why does God command us to covet these gifts? Paul is writing to a local assembly, and this command is relative to that context. We are to earnestly desire the best gifts that the assembly might be edified. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we desire to have the gifts ourselves, although we should be willing to take on the responsibility of having them ourselves. We should desire them for the good of the assembly. And yet there is a “way of more surpassing excellence” that transcends the blessedness of gift. That “way” is the exercise of Divine Love, which Paul will expand on in the next chapter. Even if there is very little gift present in a local assembly, there can still be blessing if love is in activity. On the flipside, even if there is much gift present, without the activity of divine love, the gift is useless.
- Dennett, Edward. Twelve Letters to Young Believers. Loizeaux Bros., 1945.