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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

1 Corinthians 12

Verses 1-31

1 Corinthians 12:4

In the Iliad (bk. XIII. 726 f.), Polydamas says to Hektor: 'Hektor, ill is it for thy counsellors to persuade thee. Since God has dowered thee with warlike deeds, thou art fain to excel others in council as well. Yet by no means shalt thou be able to take all upon thyself. For to one God grants warlike deeds, to another the dance, to another the lute and song, and in the heart of another, farseeing Zeus hath set a goodly understanding to the profiting of many men.'

1 Corinthians 12:4

Ruskin says: 'God appoints to every one of His creatures a separate mission; and if they discharge it honourably, if they quit themselves like men, and faithfully follow the light which is in them, withdrawing from it all cold and quenching influence, there will assuredly come of it such burning as in its appointed mode and measure shall shine before men, and be of service, constant and holy.'

References. XII. 4. J. S. Bartlett, Sermons, p. 97. Bishop Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 220. Expositor (5th Series), vol. iv. p. 51. XII. 4-6. T. F. Crosse, Sermons, p. 27. Basil Wilberforce, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 65. XII. 4-6, 13. H. S. Holland, ibid. vol. liv. p. 8.

The Christian Ministry

1 Corinthians 12:4-7

Let me read the passage in Dr. Rutherford's rendering: 'There are gifts, each from each distinct, but the same Spirit; modes of service, each from each distinct, and the Master served the same; manifestations of energy, each from each distinct, and the same God, sole source of all energy whatsoever, in whomsoever manifested. None but has the opportunity offered him for revealing the Spirit for a beneficent end.'

I. When St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians the Christian Church was in its infancy. There was as yet no recognised ecclesiastical hierarchy, though already the necessity of maintaining order had created within the little communities of disciples a division of functions, which would inevitably lead on in due course to an official ministry. Assuredly there was nothing which could suggest the notion of an indispensable priesthood vested with sacerdotal functions by ordination, and holding these apart from the sanctions of the Christian congregation by an inherent and inalienable right. 'There is in the New Testament,' wrote Bishop Westcott, 'no trace of any rigid universal constitution of the Christian society. Of a primitive hierarchical ministry there is no record or tradition. And there is no provision for all time. The provision of a permanent and universal organisation of the Church was, in fact, wholly alien from the thought of the first age. The vision was closed by "the coming". At the close of it the Lord was to come Himself.'

II. What were the objects with which the primitive believers were originally formed into associations? They desired to do two things: first, to set forward the kingdom of their Master, and, next, to keep themselves loyal to His discipleship. They existed therefore for two grand purposes witness to the unconverted world, and mutual help in Christian living. They needed to organise themselves with that twofold end in view; and, under the inspired leadership of the Apostles, we can see them even in the first age setting themselves to the task. Very soon they had to distinguish between the business of the community, 'the serving of tables,' and the more solemn 'ministry of the Word'. As the Christian missions were extended, and the number of converts increased, subordinate ministries were developed. St. Paul tells us that he did not usually administer baptism, but left that work to his companions. With the establishment of local churches there emerged the necessity of making provision for their instruction and good discipline. We find mention of 'presbyters,' and clear indications of a careful disciplinary dealing with scandalous Christians. Over everything the Apostles appear to have exercised an authoritative oversight, taking counsel together with the presbyters, and restraining the enthusiastic tendencies of the believers. Everything had a provisional aspect, for everybody expected the speedy return of the Lord, but with the passing away of that great illusion the provisional ministries inevitably began to take a more settled and permanent form. In the Pastoral Epistles we have the picture of an organised Church, with an official ministry, to which men and women were admitted by formal appointment. The close of the apostolic age was followed by an obscure period, of which the scanty literary memorials allow us to possess no certain knowledge; but it is the case that, when the veil is lifted at the beginning of the second century, we find that the threefold ministry is already in existence.

III. The Christian minister is not a priest in any other sense than that in which every Christian man is a priest. He is appointed by public authority to serve his brethren in the office of a pastoral and teaching ministry, and so long as he labours honestly therein, he is justly entitled to their confidence, their sympathy, and their support. His ordination will do much for him. He will receive authority for his public ministry; he will be given a sphere in which to work. A door of opportunity will be opened to him. But there is no grace in ordination to remedy the defects of education, or to make amends for the weakness of undisciplined habits of life. The ministerial commission adds nothing to personal qualifications, and grants no exemption from the Divinely ordained laws under which human effort must proceed. As a teacher his competence will necessarily depend in great part upon his knowledge; as a pastor his success will turn on his courage and wisdom. Only hard work can secure the one; only self-discipline and experience can secure the other. Let him not dream that ecstatic fervour can serve the turn of serious study or a facile sympathy do duty for thought and trouble. But when he has done his best to make himself efficient, let him remember that he has but prepared the altar. The fire which shall consume the sacrifice must descend from above. Self-dependence here will be a sterilising blunder. It is the hardest of all the lessons which the Christian minister has to learn. The strength of God moves with the efforts of a man, and the Christian minister 'by the manifestation of the truth commends himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God'. 'Love never faileth.'

H. Hensley Henson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. LXXVIII. p. 305.

References. XII. 4-27. Marcus Dods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lv. p. 356. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 25. XII. 6. Ambrose Shepherd, The Gospel and Social Questions, p. 97. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 254. XII. 7. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, p. 178. XII. 8-11. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 103. XII. 9. J. Bannerman, Sermons, p. 63. XII. 9, 10. Expositor (4th Series), vol. v. p. 138. XII. 10. Ibid. vol. iii. p. 362.

The Universality of the Spirit

1 Corinthians 12:11

I. All that is good in Christian men is the gift of the Spirit.

II. The universality of the Spirit; or, each Christian man has it.

III. The endless variety in which the one Spirit manifests itself. Unity must needs express itself in infinite variety.

A. Maclaren.

References. XII. 11. J. Keble, Sermons for Ascension Day to Trinity Sunday, p. 281. Bishop Alexander, Verbum Crucis, p. 145.

1 Corinthians 12:12

'Like the flaming torches, the lampada vitae , which were passed from hand to hand, in the sacerdotal ceremonies of ancient Rome, this initiative,' says Mazzini, speaking of the moral initiative in Europe, 'has passed from one nation to another, consecrating each and all missionaries and prophets of Humanity. Were they not all destined hereafter to become brothers, fellow-labourers, equals; each according to his especial capabilities, in the great common workshop of Humanity, towards a common end collective perfection, the discovery and progressive application of the law of life?'

References. XII. 12. R. J. Campbell, British Congregationalist, 27th June, 1907, p. 633. Marcus Dods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 90. Expositor (6th Series), vol. viii. p. 379. XII. 12, 13. Marcus Dods, Christian World Pulpit, vol. liv. p. 321. XII. 13-26. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 41. XII. 13. Ibid. (6th Series), vol xii. p. 257.

1 Corinthians 12:14

'Every man would like to reproduce himself,' said Dr. John Duncan, 'and so turn God's beautiful variety into a hideous uniformity.'

References. XII. 14. T. Arnold, The Interpretation of Scripture, p. 220. J. Stalker, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 376. XII. 15. H. S. Holland, Vital Values, p. 154. XII. 17. A. P. Stanley, Canterbury Sermons, p. 397. XII. 20. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year (2nd Series), vol. ii. p. 251. XII. 21. A. P. Stanley, Canterbury Sermons, p. 397. T. Barker, Plain Sermons, p. 257. XII. 22. G. Sarson, A Lent in London, p. 142.

1 Corinthians 12:26

The simple truth is, that though it is one of the deepest laws of human society that we should bear each other's burdens that when 'one member suffers all the members suffer with it' that there is no such thing as the isolation of a sin, or even of the misery that proceeds in widening circles, though with slackening force, from every centre of sin though it is a law of human fellowship that the good must suffer with the guilty (and the more willingly the higher they are in goodness), as the price of that fellowship yet this is not a law of vicarious punishment, a law by which the penalty proper to sin is borne by one who has not committed that sin, but rather a law which intensifies a hundredfold instead of removing the sense of social responsibility, and consequently the burden of social guilt.

R. H. Hutton, Theological Essays, p. 371.

References. XII. 26. A. P. Stanley, Canterbury Sermons, p. 397. F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. v. p. 263. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Some Words of St. Paul, p. 110. XII. 27. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii. p. 222. XII. 28. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 777.

The Best Gifts

1 Corinthians 12:31

I. Think of the manifold gifts which the Church owes to the Spirit

II. The supremacy of Love. In Paul's idea love to God is the one root of love to man. It is the side of religion which is turned to the world and is the same as the side which is turned to God. Love is the root and flower of everything.

III. This supreme Love is the Spirit's gift

A. Maclaren.

1 Corinthians 12:31

I would the great world grew like thee,

Who grewest not alone in power

And knowledge, but by year and hour

In reverence and charity.

Tennyson, In Memoriam (CXIV.).

'Not to all men is it given,' says Maeterlinck, 'to be a hero or a genius, to be victorious, always admirable, or even simply happy in external things; but it lies within the power of the least favoured of us to be loyal and gentle and just, to be generous and brotherly; he who has least gifts can learn to look on his fellows without envy or hatred, without malice or futile regret; he who has barely one talent can still learn to forgive an injury with an ever nobler forgiveness, can find more excuses for error, and more admiration for human words and deeds.'

References. XII. 31. J. S. Boone, Sermons, p. 207. J. T. Bramston, Fratribus, p. 80. R. W. Church, The Gifts of Civilisation, p. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlvi. No. 2694.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/1-corinthians-12.html. 1910.