1 Corinthians 12 – Diversity and Unity in Spiritual Gifts
A. The Holy Spirit is the source of the gifts.
1. (1-3) Introduction to the topic of spiritual gifts.
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant: You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
a. Now concerning spiritual gifts: The word “gifts” is added by the translators. Literally, Paul now addresses spirituals, after discussing all the areas of Corinthian carnality. But adding gifts is justified by the context.
i. Clarke defines spiritual gifts as “Gracious endowments, leading to miraculous results . . . these all came by the extraordinary influences of the Holy Spirit.”
b. I do not want you to be ignorant: The Corinthian Christians are given a reminder that is good for us, also. Perhaps we are ignorant of things regarding spiritual gifts, and we should not be.
i. Paul, in his letters, names three things he does not want Christians to be ignorant of:
· Don’t be ignorant of God’s plan for Israel (Romans 11:25)
· Don’t be ignorant of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1)
· Don’t be ignorant about the Second Coming of Jesus and the eternal state (1 Thessalonians 4:13)
Sadly, so many Christians are ignorant on these exact points.
c. You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols: Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to remember that their past of pagan idolatry did not prepare them for an accurate understanding of spiritual gifts. He did not want them to be ignorant, but because they were Gentiles, they came to the issue of spiritual gifts as ignorant.
i. Our past teaching and experiences have perhaps built a poor understanding of the Holy Spirit and His gifts. It is easy for us to take our materialistic or superstitious views into our understanding of spiritual gifts.
d. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed: Here, Paul lays down a broad principle for discerning matters regarding spiritual gifts – judge things by how they relate to Jesus Christ. Does a supposed spiritual gift glorify Jesus? Does it promote the true Jesus or a false one?
i. Jesus made it plain, saying that when the Holy Spirit would come, He will testify of Me (John 15:26), and He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you (John 16:14). The ministry of the Holy Spirit is not to promote Himself or any man, but to glorify and represent Jesus. We can, therefore, trust that the true ministry of the Holy Spirit will be according to the nature of Jesus.
2. (4-6) Diversity and unity of the gifts.
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.
a. There are diversities of gifts: Paul will go on to list some nine spiritual gifts in the following verses, and more in other places. There is indeed a diversity of gifts! Yet there is only one Giver, who works through the diverse gifts.
b. The gifts are diverse, the ministries are different, and the activities are diverse. But it is all the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God doing the work through the gifts, the ministries, and the activities.
i. Ministries probably has in mind the different “gifted offices” in the church, such as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers, as Paul also described in Ephesians 4. Paul’s point is clear: though there are different offices, it is the same Lord granting the offices and directing the service.
ii. The Greek word for activities is energemata, where we get our words energy, energetic, and energize from. It is a word of active, miraculous power. Activities is the same word as working in 1 Corinthians 12:10 (the working of miracles). Differences of activities means that God displays and pours out His miraculous power in different ways, but it is always the same God doing the work.
c. What are the differences between gifts, ministries, activities, and the manifestation of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7)? All of these are gifts. Some gifts are ministries – standing offices or positions in the church. Some gifts are activities – miraculous events or outpourings at a particular time and place (such as the manifestation of the Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:7).
i. “Habits and powers, by which men performed holy offices in the church, or wrought miracles, are called gifts. The acts or exercise of these powers are called administrations and operations. These latter differ one from another, as the former signify standing and continuing acts in the church; operations, rather signify miraculous events, such as healing the sick without the application of miraculous means, speaking with diverse tongues, [and so forth].” (Poole)
d. It is easy for us to focus on our own “little area” of gifts, ministries, or activities and believe that those who have other gifts, ministries, or activities are not really walking or working with God. Yet the one God has a glorious diversity in the way He does things. We should never expect it to be all according to our own emphasis and taste.
e. This passage also declares the Trinity in a typical, subtle New Testament flow. The gifts are the work of the Holy Spirit, the Lord Jesus, and Father God.
3. (7-11) The varieties of the manifestations of the Spirit.
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.
a. The manifestation of the Spirit is given: The Holy Spirit is always present in and among Christians. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, He may abide with you forever (John 14:16). However, at some times the Spirit’s presence is more apparent than at other times. There are times when He may choose to manifest Himself, that is, to make Himself apparent.
i. However, we should never think the Holy Spirit is “more” present when He is manifested through the gifts. The Holy Spirit is always present with believers, but at times He is more apparent through the manifestation of the Spirit.
b. Given to each one for the profit of all: The purpose of the manifestation of the Spirit is to benefit the whole church family, not just a particular individual.
c. As Paul begins to mention different manifestations of the Spirit, he begins by mentioning the word of wisdom. This is the unique ability to speak forth the wisdom of God, especially in an important situation, as shown in Stephen (Acts 7) and Paul (Acts 23).
d. The word of knowledge: The unique ability to declare knowledge that could only be revealed supernaturally, as shown in Jesus (Matthew 17:24-27) or Paul (Acts 27:10, 27:23-26). When Charles Spurgeon was saved, it was at the preaching of a man who directed a portion of his sermon right to young Spurgeon, and who supernaturally spoke right to where Spurgeon’s heart was. This is another example of the word of knowledge.
i. We do well to understand the difference between the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge. One may have great knowledge, even supernatural knowledge, yet have no wisdom from God in the application of that knowledge.
ii. As well, we must always use discernment in receiving a word of knowledge, remembering that God is not the only source of supernatural knowledge. Even if a word is true, it does not mean that it is from God and that the one speaking the word is truly representing God.
e. The gift of faith: Though faith is an essential part of every Christian’s life, the gift of faith is the unique ability to trust God against all circumstances, as Peter did when he walked out of the boat onto the water (Matthew 14:22-33). Another mighty example of the gift of faith was the Christian leader and philanthropist George Mueller, who in nineteenth century England provided for thousands of orphans completely by prayer, without ever asking for donations.
f. Gifts of healings: This is God’s healing power, either given or received, and has been repeatedly documented in the New Testament and since.
i. Adam Clarke on gifts of healings: “The power which at particular times the apostles received from the Holy Spirit to cure diseases; a power which was not always resident in them; for Paul could not cure Timothy, nor remove his own thorn in the flesh; because it was given only on extraordinary occasions, though perhaps more generally than many others.”
g. Working of miracles: Literally dynameis, or “acts of power.” This describes when the Holy Spirit chooses to “override” the laws of nature (as a pilot might use manual controls), working in or through an available person.
i. Gifts of healing and working of miracles often operate in conjunction with the gift of faith, as in Acts 3:1-8. These things are not done on the whim of the individual, as if the power to heal or work miracles was at their permanent disposal. Instead, they operate as an individual is prompted by God and given the faith to perform such a work (another example of this is in Acts 14:8-10).
h. Prophecy: The telling-forth of God’s message in a particular situation, always in accord with His Word and His current work. Sometimes this has the character of foretelling the future, as in Acts 21:10-11 and Acts 27:21-26.
i. Oftentimes, people who believe the miraculous gifts have been removed from the church, wish to define prophecy as “preaching.” Though this is common, it is inaccurate. There is a Greek word for preaching, and a Greek word for divinely-inspired speech. Paul uses the word for divinely-inspired speech, not preaching. Although good, Spirit-anointed preaching will often use the spontaneous gift of prophecy, it is inaccurate to define prophecy as “good preaching.”
i. Discerning of Spirits: The ability to tell the difference between true and false doctrine, and between what is of the Holy Spirit and what isn’t (Acts 8:18-23 and 16:16-18).
i. Satan appears as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). He deceives with a false, tempting message (Genesis 2:16-3:5). There can be lying spirits in the mouths of prophets (1 Kings 22:21-23 and 2 Chronicles 18:20-22). Satan can speak right after God speaks (Matthew 16:23). Sometimes people who seem to say the right things are really from the devil (Acts 13:6-12 and 16:16-18). It is important to test the word of anyone who claims to speak from God (1 John 4:1-3). Satan can work deceiving miracles (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 and Revelation 13:11-14). The devil will try to infiltrate the church with false teachers (Jude 4 and 2 Peter 2:1-2). How we need the gift of discernment in the church today!
j. The gift of tongues is a personal language of prayer given by God, whereby the believer can communicate with God beyond the limits of knowledge and understanding (1 Corinthians 14:14-15). Language is an agreement between parties, where it is agreed that certain sounds represent certain objects or ideas. When using the gift of tongues, we agree with God that as the Holy Spirit prays through us, though we may not understand what we are praying, God does.
i. Tongues have an important place in the devotional life of the believer, but a small place in the corporate life of the church (1 Corinthians 14:18-19), especially in “public” meetings (1 Corinthians 14:23).
ii. When tongues are practiced in the corporate life of the church, it is to be carefully controlled, and never without an interpretation given by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:27-28).
iii. The ability to pray in an unknown tongue is not a gift given to every believer (1 Corinthians 12:20).
iv. The ability to pray in a tongue is not the evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit; this emphasis has led people to seek the gift of tongues (and to counterfeit it) merely to prove to themselves and others that they really are filled with the Holy Spirit.
v. Many people believe the gift of tongues died with the apostles. Curiously, many of these define the gift of tongues as merely the ability to speak in other languages for the purpose of spreading the gospel in other languages. But that need has not changed one bit since the days of the apostles. Instead, the Bible clearly says that the gift of tongues is meant for an individual’s communication with God, not with man (1 Corinthians 14:2). Even on the day of Pentecost, when the disciples spoke in tongues, they were not preaching to the crowd (Peter did that in the Greek language which was common to them all). Rather, they were praising God (speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God, Acts 2:11), and the crowd at the day of Pentecost heard the disciples excitedly praise God.
vi. Often, those who speak in tongues today are mocked by those who deny the gift with the accusation that they are speaking “gibberish.” Acts 2 is wrongly used to support this, because Acts 2 tells us that those speaking in tongues on the day of Pentecost were speaking intelligible languages understood by others. But it does not tell us that all of the 120 or so who spoke in tongues spoke in languages that could be understood. And we should not assume that those who were not immediately understood by the bystanders spoke “gibberish,” as tongues are referred to with derision. They may have praised God in a language completely unknown, yet human (what would the language of the Aztecs sound like to Roman ears?), or in a completely unique language given by God and understood by Him and Him alone. After all, communication with God and not man, is the purpose of tongues (1 Corinthians 14:2). The repetition of simple phrases, unintelligible and perhaps nonsensical to human bystanders, does not mean such speech is “gibberish.” Praise to God may be simple and repetitive, and part of the whole dynamic of tongues is that it bypasses the understanding of the speaker (1 Corinthians 14:14), being understood by God and God alone.
k. The gift of the interpretation of tongues: This gift allows the gift of tongues to be of benefit for those other than the speaker, as they are able to hear and agree with the tongue-speaker’s words to God.
l. Though in these verses we tend to focus on the list of gifts, Paul does not. Since he does not give a detailed description of each gift, it is probable that the Corinthian Christians were familiar with them all. What Paul emphasized is that each of these is by or through the same Spirit, repeating the idea five times and concluding with the statement, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things.”
i. Apparently, the tendency for division among the Corinthian Christians had made them think separately or competitively about the gifts. Perhaps the “tongues speakers” thought themselves superior to the “prophesiers,” as if the gifts had come from two different gods! Paul emphasizes to them that one and the same Spirit works all these things, so they should reflect that same unity among themselves.
m. Distributing to each one individually as He wills: Here is another reason for unity, and a reason against any sense of superiority regarding the gifts. They are distributed not according to the will of man, but as the Spirit of God wills – as He wills.
i. As they are given as He wills, and sometimes if not often, the will and wisdom of God is different than our will and wisdom (Isaiah 55:8-9), we should never assume the gifts are distributed as we would distribute them.
ii. Often, we assume spiritual gifts are given because a person is especially spiritually mature or closer to God, but this may not be the case at all. We should never assume that giftedness is connected to maturity. God can and does, for His own glory and purpose, distribute spiritual gifts to those who are not especially spiritually mature or close to Him. This is why spiritual giftedness is never the criteria for positions of leadership among Christians, but Christian maturity and character are (1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9). God can grant anyone remarkable spiritual gifts in a moment, but character and maturity take time to build.
n. If the Spirit distributes to each one individually as He wills, why would He choose to give a particular gift at a particular moment? The larger reasons may not be apparent, but the goal of the Holy Spirit’s work is always to glorify Jesus and to build His nature and character in us. The Spirit’s goal is never to amaze or confuse, but to build the fruit of the Spirit, and He will use or not use any gift He thinks right towards that end.
o. Distributing as He wills: Though the manifestations of the Spirit are given as the Spirit wills, the believer still must receive them with faith. He distributes and we receive, and the receiving and exercising of the gifts is often very natural.
B. Are some of these gifts of the Holy Spirit no longer given to the Church today?
1. This is an issue that has greatly divided the body of Christ, both theologically, and spiritually. There are some who think those who believe all the gifts are for today (usually called “Charismatics” or “Pentecostals”) are deceived by Satan. There are others who think those who believe some of the gifts are no longer given are unspiritual and dead in their walk with God.
a. Often, Calvary Chapel churches are respected for their Biblical balance when it comes to the gifts of the Holy Spirit and their place in church life. Calvary Chapels have sometimes been rightly seen as “too Pentecostal for the Baptists and too Baptist for the Pentecostals”; we have been called “Pentebaptist” or “Bapticostal.”
b. However, balance is meaningless unless it is a Biblical balance. We don’t want to strike a balance between heresy and truth.
2. First, we must understand the issue. Virtually no Christian believes all the gifts have ceased in the church today. All Christians believe the gifts of teaching and administration are given and needed in the church today. It is the gifts that have a miraculous nature which are in dispute.
a. Therefore, many people divide up the gifts into different categories: communicative, administrative, miraculous. Then, they often say the miraculous gifts died out with the apostles or when the New Testament came together. Yet it is important to observe that such divisions and categories are not Biblical. Nowhere does any Biblical writer categorize the gifts in such a way, and then say some categories of gifts will remain but others will cease.
b. So, more accurately, the question would be: “Are all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit for today? Are some of them no longer being given by God?” Those who teach against the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit definitely believe they have the gift of teaching, and they believe God still gives that gift today.
3. What does the Bible say about the continuation of all the gifts of the Spirit?
a. Jesus made a promise in Mark 16:17-18: And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.
i. This is a simple and straightforward promise, in context, given to those who are involved in spreading the gospel – they will be unstoppable, and God will even use miraculous means to protect them and make them effective.
b. Acts 2:33, 39: Therefore being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He poured out this which you now see and hear . . . For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call. The promise of the Holy Spirit – specifically including miraculous gifts – is a promise made to all generations.
c. 1 Corinthians 14:12: Even so you, since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel. The purpose for spiritual gifts, even miraculous gifts, is the building up of the body of Christ and individual Christians; that need remains today.
d. The natural, consistent testimony of the New Testament is that the miraculous gifts described in the New Testament have not been retracted. No one with a fresh reading of the Scriptures could ever come to such an understanding.
i. There is no indication that miraculous gifts would die out when the apostles died.
ii. There is no distinction made between “sign gifts” or “miraculous gifts” and other gifts in the New Testament; they come always and only as a package.
iii. Little is said about the continuation of all the gifts because it was a given among the apostles. One might just as well ask, “Where is the Scriptural evidence that someone can be saved beyond the time of the apostles?” One would be hard pressed to find one conclusive verse to refute the argument, because it was simply assumed.
4. Why do some Christians believe some gifts of the Holy Spirit are no longer given by God today?
a. They have a wrong understanding of history, and they believe that historically, the miraculous gifts actually did cease when the apostles died (or perhaps even before).
b. They have a wrong understanding of 1 Corinthians 13:8, which says that tongues will cease (explained in the notes on 1 Corinthians 13).
c. They have a wrong understanding of Hebrews 2:3-4, which says that God bore witness with signs and wonders and various miracles by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The idea is that the only real reason miracles and gifts were given was to authenticate revelation, and there is no longer a need for that. As well, it is explained that there were three main areas of revelation (the times of Moses, Elijah and Elisha, and New Testament times), and that for the most part, miracles only happened then because God needed to authenticate revelation.
i. But if miracles only happened around certain times of revelation, then there is a substantial amount of revelation that is unaccounted for by miracles – everything from Judges through Song of Solomon.
ii. If miracles do authenticate revelation, then we are in trouble, because false prophets can and do perform authenticating miracles (Exodus 7:11-12, 7:22, 8:7, Deuteronomy 13:1-3, and 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10).
iii. The primary purpose of miracles, especially as they are seen in the New Testament, was not to authenticate God’s messengers, though that is a secondary purpose. The primary purpose of miracles was to humbly meet the needs of people.
iv. In Matthew 12:38-40, Jesus condemned those who sought to authenticate revelation by miraculous signs; He offered them no other sign other than His own resurrection. In John 2:18-19, Jesus provided one miraculous sign to the seeking: His resurrection. In John 6:29-36, after the feeding of the 5,000, people followed Jesus just to receive more miraculous bread, and Jesus rebuked them for their refusal to believe in Him and to see what Jesus had already done. And in 1 Corinthians 1:22, when Paul notes that the Jews request a sign, he doesn’t mean it in a positive sense!
v. Miracles are an insufficient evidence of authentic revelation. They can always be explained away by the unbelieving heart, and the unbelieving heart will always be asking for more miracles to “prove.” But although He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him (John 12:37).
vi. We agree that miracles have a purpose in impressing unbelievers and believers with the power of God, but that is clearly their secondary purpose. If this were the primary purpose of miracles, one could argue that since we have the completed revelation of God’s word, we would no longer need miracles to authenticate further revelation.
d. They make a wrong application of the truth that things like speaking in tongues have demonic counterparts, and are not unique to Christianity. This is certainly true and recognized by Scripture; however, the existence of a counterfeit tends to prove the existence of the genuine, not deny it.
5. Does the history of Christianity demonstrate that some of the gifts passed away? If so, when and how?
a. Although the issue is finally settled with what the Bible says, the voice of history is also compelling. Those who believe the miraculous gifts ceased claim the testimony of history supports them.
i. For example, John MacArthur writes in his book The Charismatics: “By the second century the apostles were gone and things were changed. Alva McClain said, ‘When the church appears in the second century, the situation as regards the miraculous is so changed that we seem to be in another world’ . . . The apostolic age was unique and it ended. History says it, Jesus says it, theology says it, and the New Testament itself attests to the fact.”
b. But history has another testimony, and if we will just let history speak, it will tell us. Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian all speak to the existence of miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit in their own day.
c. Actually, the idea that the miraculous gifts from God ceased with the apostles didn’t arise in the church until the middle of the fourth century (350 a.d. or so and on). Later, at the end of the fourth century and into the Middle Ages, the gifts were said to have ceased, and they were certainly neglected. But that wasn’t God’s desire. It was the result of people who convinced themselves that the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit was too “dangerous” for the institutional church. Other factors were also involved. But if you would have gone up to a Christian in 250 a.d. and told him, “We all know that the miraculous gifts ceased with the apostles,” he would probably tell you, “You don’t know what you are talking about.”
C. The diversity and unity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
1. (12-14) The fact of unity: believers all belong to a greater unit, the body of Jesus Christ.
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body; whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.
a. All the members of that one body, being many, are one body . . . for by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body: The “body-like” unity of Christians is not a goal to achieve; it is a fact to be recognized. Paul clearly says we were all baptized into one body.
i. Passages like this have led many to regard baptism as sort of the “initiation ceremony into the community of Christians.” While this may be an aspect of baptism, it is not the main point. The main idea behind Christian baptism is the identification of the believer – his “immersion” in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3-5). The idea that baptism is primarily the initiation ceremony into the church has led to, and reinforced, unbiblical ideas such as the baptism of infants (upon the thinking, “who wants to exclude them from the church?”).
ii. But here, Paul does not have in mind water baptism as much as Spirit baptism: For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. Paul here is writing of the common “immersion” all believers have in the Holy Spirit and in Jesus, a common “immersion” which brings them into one body.
b. One body . . . many members: Paul uses the brilliant illustration of the human body to relate the working of the community of Christians. Even as every cell in a human body is linked by a common root (a common DNA code), yet the parts of our body (members) look different, are treated differently, work differently, and accomplish different purposes. Even so, there is great diversity in the body of Jesus Christ, both in appearance and function, yet each member has a common root and a common goal.
c. Whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free: Because of the fact of the “body” dynamic, the dividing lines created by the Corinthian Christians were strictly artificial. Jew, Greek, slave, free, did not matter anymore, because they were all in one body.
2. (15-20) Elaboration on the illustration of a body.
If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.
a. If the foot should say: If the foot felt or declared itself not part of the body because it was not a hand, the foot would be both foolish and mistaken. Diversity does not disqualify one from the body.
i. Here, Paul puts the question in the mouth of the one who feels excluded from the body. It is as if some of the Corinthian Christians said, “I don’t have this certain spiritual gift. I guess I’m not part of the body of Jesus Christ.” After all, hands and eyes seem more important and more “glamorous” than feet and ears. So Paul wants these Christians who felt excluded to know they are indeed members of the body, and their sense that they are not is just as foolish as the foot or the ear that feels excluded.
ii. Yet the same principle can be stated towards those who want to exclude others from the body. Paul could have just as well said, “The hand cannot say the foot is not of the body because it is not a hand.” Paul wants Christians who might exclude others because they don’t appreciate their place in the body to recognize the fact of unity.
b. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? Not only is this diversity in the body of Jesus Christ acceptable, it is essential. The body cannot work properly if all are hands or if all are eyes. The body must have different parts and gifts, or it would not work together effectively as a body.
c. Just as He pleased: Why is the foot a foot and the hand a hand? Because it pleased the Designer to make it so. So the hand can take no “pride” in being a hand, and the foot can take no “shame” in being a foot. Each serves the pleasure of the Designer.
i. In the design, we see the wisdom of the Designer: everybody has something; but nobody has everything.
3. (21-26) Continued elaboration, showing that the less “glamorous” parts of the body are just as important.
And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
a. And the eye cannot say to the hand: Now Paul writes to those tempted to pride and a sense of superiority because of their gifts or place in the body. They cannot say to such parts, “I have no need of you.”
b. Those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary: Often, we consider a part of our body unnecessary or of low importance, until it is hurt – then we realize how important it is! The hand or the eye may seem to be more important, and may have more “glamour” in its position, but it is not more necessary or important than other parts of the body.
c. Less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor: The parts of our bodies normally covered by clothes are often considered less honorable, but we give them greater honor by clothing them so carefully.
i. Clarke on the less honorable parts: “Seem to mean the principle viscera, such as heart, lungs, stomach, and intestinal canal. These, when compared with the arms and limbs, are comparatively weak; and some of them, considered in themselves, uncomely and less honourable; yet these are more essential to life than any of the others.”
ii. Even so, God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it: If someone feels they are a “hidden” or “unglamorous” member of the body of Jesus Christ, God knows how to bestow honor upon them.
d. That there should be no schism in the body: Seen from God’s perspective, with the illustration of the body, there is never any reason for schism in the body. The “pride” of the “honorable” member is checked, as is the “shame” of the “less honorable” member.
e. That the members should have the same care for one another: Paul’s theological point about the nature of the body of Jesus Christ has now come to a very practical application. The Corinthian Christians should care for one another because they are all part of the same body.
i. The parts of the body work together. The eyes and ears do not only serve themselves, but the whole body. The hands do not only feed and defend themselves, but the whole body. The heart does not only supply blood to itself, but serves the whole body. Sometimes there is a part of our body that only lives to serve itself. It doesn’t contribute anything to the rest of the body, and everything it gets it uses to feed and grow itself. We call this cancer.
ii. “I want every member of this church to be a worker. We do not want any drones. If there are any of you who want to eat and drink, and do nothing, there are plenty of places elsewhere, where you can do it; there are empty pews about in abundance; go and fill them, for we do not want you. Every Christian who is not a bee is a wasp. The most quarrelsome persons are the most useless, and they who are the most happy are peaceable, are generally those who are doing most for Christ.” (Spurgeon)
f. Paul could have, and some today think he should have, just come out and said “care for one another” and ignore the spiritually true foundation for such caring. “Come on, Paul. Don’t bother us with theology. Just tell us what to do.” But Paul wants more than a result from the Corinthian Christians; he also wants them to have understanding. He also knows that ultimately, the best results are based on understanding!
g. And if one member suffers: The care for one another mentioned in the previous verse is now explained. It means to have a heart towards, and sympathy with, our fellow members, though they be different.
4. (27-31) God distributes gifts and callings according to His pleasure.
Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.
a. You are the body of Christ, and members individually: Paul sums up his previous point. Even as a human body is a unified whole with many different parts, so also is the body of Jesus Christ. Now Paul will write about the different parts of the body.
i. “We could call one eye, because of his acute observation of men and things, and penetration into cases of conscience and Divine mysteries. Another hand, from his laborious exertions in the Church. Another foot, from his industrious travels to spread abroad the knowledge of Christ crucified: and so of others.” (Clarke)
b. Apostles are “special ambassadors” of the church. Paul and others in his day had a unique apostolic authority, which will never be repeated because the foundation of the church has already been set (Ephesians 2:20). However, God still has His “special ambassadors” in the church today, though not with the same authority as the original apostles.
c. Prophets are those particularly called to speak forth for God with the gift of prophecy. There was a unique, foundational authority to this gift as well (Ephesians 2:19-20). However, God raises up those to speak to the church and the world with a special blessing and power.
i. However, if one will either claim or receive the title of “prophet” today, let them be held to the standard of a prophet: 100% accuracy, in every word (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).
d. Workers of miracles: Those used of God to do miracles. Yet, the Biblical pattern is for miracles to be done on the Holy Spirit’s initiative, not the initiative of the individual.
e. Helps: This has in mind those who help, or assist, others in doing the work of the Lord. The term was used in Jewish context in this way: “The Levites were termed by the Talmudists helps of the priests.” (Clarke)
i. Spurgeon on those with the gift of helps: “It strikes me that they were not persons who had any official standing, but that they were only moved by the natural impulse and the divine life within them to do anything and everything which would assist either teacher, pastor, or deacon in the work of the Lord. They are the sort of brethren who are useful anywhere, who can always stop a gap, and who are only too glad when they find that they can make themselves serviceable to the church of God in any capacity whatever.”
ii. In John Bunyan’s book Pilgrim’s Progress, “Help” came to Christian when he was mired in the “Slough of Despond.” That is often when the gift of helps is most useful. “Dear, very dear to us, must ever be the hand that helped us out of the depth of the mire where there was no standing; and while we ascribe all the glory to the God of grace, we cannot but love most affectionately the instrument he sent to be the means of our deliverance.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Spurgeon also describes the qualities of someone who is effective in the gift of helps:
1. A tender heart to really care.
2. A quick eye to see the need.
3. A quick foot to get to the needy.
4. A loving face to cheer them and bless them.
5. A firm foot so you will not fall yourself.
6. A strong hand to grip the needy with.
7. A bent back to reach the man.
iv. An old Puritan preacher once did a great sermon on this text: And Bartholomew (Matthew 10:3). His point was that Bartholomew is never mentioned by himself, but always with the phrase and Bartholomew. He is always spoken of doing something good with someone else. He was never the leader, but always a helper.
f. Do all speak with tongues? Paul’s plain meaning is that the gift of tongues is not for every believer, just as the gifting of apostles, prophets, teachers, working of miracles or healings and so forth are not for every believer. Great damage has been done in the church by promoting tongues as necessary to really live as a Christian, or as the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence. This has caused many to seek the gift of tongues, or to “fake” the gift of tongues, often only to assure one’s self or others that they are indeed filled with the Holy Spirit.
i. Since tongues is a communicative gift, used in speaking to God, the gift of tongues should be desired when the individual feels a lack in their ability to communicate with God. When one feels hindered in their ability to talk to God using their given language, they can and should ask God for the empowering to communicate with God in a language which He understands, but which surpasses their understanding. If someone feels satisfied with their ability to communicate with God, there is really no need for the gift of tongues, and it should not be desired until one does want a communication with God which goes beyond understanding.
g. Earnestly desire the best gifts: Though the Holy Spirit gives the gifts, it is good and proper for us to desire them, and to ask for them, all in submission to the plan of God.
h. Paul will explain the more excellent way in 1 Corinthians 13, with a focus on love, not the gifts themselves. The gifts are merely ways we can express and receive love from God and love to one another. They are the “containers,” and what is in the container – love – is far more important. “A shopful of barrels enrich not, unless full of commodities.” (Trapp)
©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission