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1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. (vv. 1-11)
With this chapter we come to the beginning of a new division of the epistle. From verse 1 of chapter 12 to the end of chapter 14 the subject is the gifts of the Spirit, and the exercise of those gifts in the church, or the assembly of God. When the apostle gives instruction as to behavior in the church he means behavior in the assembly, and that takes in all who are redeemed, grouped into local assemblies.
In the churches of God there are spiritual gifts given for the blessing of all. In the epistle to the Ephesians we read, “When He ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men” (Ephesians 4:8). The Lord desires that His gospel should be preached, that His Word should be expounded, that His people should be built up in their most holy faith, and to this end He has imparted certain spiritual gifts. He has not given the same gifts to everybody, but to all He has given some gift for the blessing of the whole company.
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.” You will notice that the word gifts is in italics, and yet it appears farther down in verse 4, so we are perhaps justified in using that word. If it were proper to speak of “spirituals” in English, that would seem to be what he wrote in the Greek. The meaning is, concerning spiritual manifestations; there are different ways in which the Spirit of God is manifested, and we should not be ignorant of these. They are called “gifts” because they are given freely by the ascended Christ for the edification of the church and to assist in the proclamation of the gospel.
These Corinthians in their unconverted days knew nothing of this gospel. “Ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.” “Carried away” suggests satanic power, and there is satanic power behind all idolatry. “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to [demons], and not to God” (10:20). There is a terrible demon power working in every idolatrous system, and nothing can deliver from this power but the gospel of the grace of God. Our mission is to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” We do not go necessarily to antagonize people, we do not go to find fault with their religion, but we do go to preach Christ and Him crucified, and as the gospel is preached it delivers people from the satanic power that is working in these false religious systems. There is something that absolutely distinguishes them all from Christianity. They have no place for Jesus Christ, they all unite in calling Him, “Anathema,” accursed.
“Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” Thus the apostle marks the clear-cut dividing line between Christianity and every system of man’s devices. Christianity exalts Jesus Christ as Lord, these other systems deny His Lordship and rather think of Him as accursed. Even such a system as Islam recognizes Jesus Christ to a certain extent as a prophet of God, but sees Him as the accursed one, and so with every pagan system and so also with Judaism: it has counted Jesus Christ as an accursed one. Therefore the necessity of deliverance from those systems if people would know the truth. “No man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” It is by the Holy Spirit that we recognize His Lordship. I wonder whether you have ever taken the trouble to go through this epistle to the Corinthians and count the number of times the apostle uses the title of “Lord” as applied to our blessed Savior. This is the epistle of the Lordship of Christ, and we are called upon to ever recognize His Lordship, that is, His absolute authority over our hearts and lives. When He speaks, we have only to obey. It is not ours to question, it is not ours to reason, it is not ours to ask why, it is ours to do what we are commanded to do, for we are His servants and He is our Lord.
We here read of the entire Trinity in connection with the giving and using of gifts. In verse 4 we have the Holy Spirit, in verse 5, the Lord Jesus Christ, and in verse 6, God the Father. We read in verse 4, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” The one Holy Spirit manifests Himself through the church of God in different ways. We do not all have the same gift, we are not all constituted alike even from the human and intellectual standpoint, and when it comes to spiritual things we do not have the same ministry committed to us. A great many people in our day would be saved from the wildest fanaticism if they realized this. Efforts are made to recognize someone or more of these gifts, and everyone is urged to seek them, and told that if one does not possess them, he does not have the Holy Spirit dwelling in him at all. “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” We shall see presently what they are, but the one Spirit operates in each case.
Second, “and there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.” The gift and the manifestation are all of the Spirit of God within the believer, and when it comes to using those gifts all must be in subjection to the Lordship of Christ. If, for instance, God has given me some particular gift, I am not to use that gift whenever and as I think fit, but only in subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. At a funeral service some time ago I was put in a rather peculiar position. I was called upon to officiate at the burial of the mother of one of our State Senators in California. The mother had been a very devoted Christian woman, but I did not know whether her son was a Christian or not. There were present a great many of his friends, perhaps seventy-five or more men from the legislature, and naturally I was anxious to use that opportunity to the best of my ability in subjection to God, not only to seek to comfort those who were bereaved, but to present clearly and definitely that precious gospel message which had been the joy of that mother’s heart who had gone home to be with the Lord, for I was not sure that these politicians had heard the gospel for a long time. I was told that this dear lady who had passed away had a number of friends given to the use of a peculiar gift which was designated as “speaking in tongues,” though certainly not that which the Bible speaks of as the gift of tongues. They had a habit of going off into a semi-trance condition and uttering weird sounds. Somebody said, “Now just as you stand up to preach, these women will immediately begin with this weird gift of theirs.” So I said to the undertaker, “There are four people back there by the door. I wish you would keep an eye on them. If you see their jaws begin to work in a peculiar way (I had heard that for a few minutes before they began to make this noise, their jaws would work very peculiarly), you might suggest that they go outside and not remain for the funeral service.” So I began to speak and, sure enough, in a minute or two I saw the jaws begin to work, but the undertaker was on the job and immediately suggested to them that they all leave. In a moment they straightened up, but said with indignation, “This is a gift of God and we are free to use it where we will.” But the undertaker said, “Not here in my undertaking parlor,” and so they were quiet. One might have the most marked gift of God, but that does not mean that he is at liberty to use it wherever he will. “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Corinthians 14:32), and if any are gifted by God, they are to hold that gift in subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ and not make spiritual nuisances of themselves. Our blessed Lord’s authority must be recognized in the use of gifts.
Then we read, “There are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.” There are different ways by which the Word of God is given out, but it is the same God, and here of course it is God the Father “which worketh all in all.” He may have given to some of you very modest gifts. Your voice may never be heard in public, but you are to use your gift in subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ, if only in the quiet place of your home, just as truly as though you were called to preach or to teach in the assembly.
“The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” That is, it is not given for show, it is not given in order that a man may attract attention to himself, but for the edification of others. This in itself is very important. If God gives me any little gift at all, He gives it not that I may gather people about myself, but He gives it to me for the blessing of others, for the salvation of sinners and for the edification of saints. In John the Baptist we have a lovely picture of what every gifted servant of Christ really ought to be. John says, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23). And pointing to the Savior, he says, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). John found his delight in lifting up Christ, not in directing people’s attention to himself. All gifts are given that Christ may be exalted, and in that way others find blessing.
In verse 8 we have these gifts definitely specified. We may not see them all in evidence today, probably there are some of them that we never see. That does not say that they are not in the church. Some insist that some of these gifts have absolutely disappeared, but I do not know of any Scripture that tells us that. I do not know of any Scripture that says that the age of miracles has passed, and I would not dare to say that the sign gifts all ended with Paul’s imprisonment. I know from early church history that this is not true. As the early servants of God followed up the work of the apostles, gifts of healing and other signs were frequently manifested, and if the gift of tongues had fallen into disuse, marvelous help was given to the servants of God to preach in languages of the people that they had never known before. So I do not think it correct to take the ground that these gifts have necessarily disappeared from the church. I do, however, believe that many of them are not often seen today, and I think there is good reason for that.
In the beginning the apostle writes to these very Corinthians, “I have espoused you…as a chaste virgin to Christ.” It was a separated company, the affianced bride of the Lamb, and as this church went forth it was the delight of the blessed risen Lord to lavish upon her gift after gift. These Corinthians came “behind in no gift,” we are told, but it seems to me we can see in the book of Acts that as time went on and the church began to drift a little, and as dissension and other things came in that grieved the Lord, there was more reserve on His part in bestowing gifts. That, I believe, explains the lack of many of these gifts today. The church has gotten so far away and there is so much strife, division, worldiiness, and carnality that He no longer delights to lavish His gifts upon her as He did in the beginning.
Let me illustrate it this way. Here is a young man who is engaged to be married to a beautiful young woman. They have plighted their troth each to the other, and he seals that engagement by giving her a beautiful diamond ring. But now suppose that he has to be away from her for some time before the marriage; we will say he is going over to Manila or to Shanghai to earn enough money to build a home for his bride and send for her. Every little while what a joy it is to him to pick out some beautiful thing, and send this gift back to her, and she in turn is proud and happy to know that she is constantly remembered by him. But suppose that absence instead of making the heart grow fonder on her part should make her careless. She thinks, “Well, he is away from me so long, and he cannot expect me to forego the pleasures of the other young folk,” and so she allows other young men to take her out and to pay a great deal of attention to her. By-and-by word comes to him, perhaps from his mother or his sister, “Your fiancee is playing you false; she is not as true to you as she promised to be, you had better come home if you want to win her heart again.” Perhaps he cannot get home, and writes a letter to her which provokes a rather indignant answer on her part. He no longer finds the same delight in sending gifts to her as before, when he believed her to be true to him. He loved to bestow his gifts upon her once, but now he becomes more reticent in his own expressions of love and is more careful in what he spends on her. This illustration may be a very inadequate one, but it expresses one reason why our blessed Lord does not now give to His church all the sign gifts that He did when she was walking with Him in holiness and separation from this godless world. Another is that since we have a whole Bible, the New Testament as well as the Old, the sign gifts are not needed as at the beginning.
What are those gifts? Let us look at them. “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit.” Here are two gifts intimately linked together. What is the difference between them? Let me speak of knowledge first. The blessed Lord gives to some the knowledge of His Word, insight into the Holy Scriptures, in a remarkable way. I have known men who filled me with holy envy, for they seemed to know this Book from Genesis to Revelation. They could turn unerringly to almost any portion, and I have prayed, “O Lord, make Thy Word to me what it is to them; give me the gift of knowledge; open Thy Word to me.” You do not get this in some sudden miraculous way, but if you wish it, there is a way by which you can seek for it that is in perfect accordance with the Word of God. In Proverbs 2:1-5 we read, “My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.” The gift of knowledge is given to those who earnestly study the Word of God in dependence upon the Holy Spirit. But one might have the gift of knowledge and yet fail greatly because of the lack of ability to use that knowledge aright, and so we have here the gift of wisdom. This is the ability to use what God has revealed to us in a way that helps and blesses others. How many a one knows a little of the Word of God, but uses it in such a way that he drives people from him. Everything he says may be scriptural, but you can say scriptural things in such an unwise way that you upset people instead of helping them. Of course, I know there are some people who are upset, no matter what you do.
Someone came to a preacher and said, “I don’t like to hear you preach, because you always rub the fur the wrong way.” He answered, “Not at all, sister; just turn around.” Very often, no matter how carefully you use the Word of God, you seem to rub people the wrong way, but that is because they are going the wrong way. The gift of wisdom is the ability to use the Word of God wisely, so that you will edify people and build them up instead of driving them from you.
In the next verse we read, “To another faith by the same Spirit.” This, of course, is not the faith by which we are saved, otherwise many might say, “I would like to believe in the Lord Jesus, but I have not the gift of faith and so cannot believe.” So far as you are concerned, my unsaved friend, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17), and if you open your heart when the Word of God is preached, He will give you faith. When we read, “all men have not faith,” it is because some men turn from the Word of God, but here God gives to His own people the gift of faith and this refers to special faith for a special service.
George Mόller, in that great work of the Bristol Orphan Houses, was, I believe, the outstanding man of faith in the nineteenth century. God called him to open the orphanage to care for homeless boys and girls, but he had no money, and so he said to the Lord, “Thou wilt have to supply the means.” And so in the name of the Lord he went forward and spent every cent he had in opening the first building. The Lord sent more money, the children came, and the work went on. In fifty years he received $6,500,000 for that work, and he never asked people for it, he did not beg for money, the Lord sent it in. I have met a number of people who told me that they were going to do the same kind of a work as George Mόller. They started a home, announced that it was a faith work, but there is only one instance that I know of where the whole thing has not ended in failure. Why? Because they were trying to do George Mόller’s work without George Mόller’s gift of faith. When God calls a person to do a certain work, He gives him the gift of faith. The same thing is true in connection with missionary work. When God raised up Hudson Taylor to start the China Inland Mission, he knew that he was not to ask for money, but to trust the Lord. Every little while I have known someone else to say, “I am going to start a mission and run it on faith like Hudson Taylor.” They have gone on for a while, and then we have read of starving missionaries, and the whole thing has gone to pieces. They tried to do Hudson Taylor’s work without Hudson Taylor’s faith. This faith is a special gift for a special work.
Then we read, “To another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit.” The gift of healing is the ability to lay one’s hands upon the sick in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and call them back to life and to health. I do not know whether any today have that gift. I have never seen it exercised. I have gone in with other brethren and prayed for the sick, and we have seen the Lord graciously raise them up, but I have never felt that any of us had the gift of healing. I have heard of this sort of thing, but I must have been unfortunate in my investigations, for whenever I made any, I found the people who were supposed to be miraculously healed were either dead or worse than ever. I thought at one time that one dear man of God had this gift, but I was with him one day when he was praying for a sick woman and she did not get healed, and he turned on her and scolded her soundly because she did not have more faith, and told her she must have some hidden sin in her life. If that brother had had the gift of healing, her faith would not have made any difference. If there are such people in the world today-and there may be-we can thank God for them. Personally, I have never known one.
“To another the working of miracles.” God gives to certain servants the ability to work miracles. A miracle is anything that is not accounted for by mere natural law. God has often wrought wonderful things not to be accounted for naturally. When in Africa there was a terrible drought, and the natives had cried and cried to their false gods, but no relief had come, a missionary felt called upon to bring them all together and said, “Now I am going to cry to the God of heaven to give rain.” He stood before them and offered a prayer, and as he began to pray there was a cloudless sky above him, but he had not finished praying before there was a terrific clap of thunder. The thunder and lightning continued and in half-an-hour the rain was pouring down. That was a miracle.
“To another prophecy.” In the New Testament sense prophecy is not the foretelling of future events. Prophecy is preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit of God that meets the actual need of the case.
“To another discerning of spirits.” That is the ability to see through people. That is a gift I fear I do not have. I am too apt to believe every story that anybody tells me, at least until I have proven it to be false.
“To another divers kinds of tongues.” The gift of tongues was the ability to preach the gospel in languages that people had never learned. The preacher, in the power of the Spirit, was able to stand up and preach in the language of the people without having a course of schooling to learn the language. I do not know of this gift in the world today.
“To another the interpretation of tongues.” That is the ability to interpret a language that one has never learned. God gave those gifts in the beginning.
Then we read in verse 11, “All these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” If it is His will for us to have any of these gifts, He will give them to us; otherwise, He will not. Therefore, the folly of any one insisting upon having one or more of these gifts as the definite manifestation of the indwelling of the Spirit of God. In Ephesians we read of certain gifts that will abide to the end, that is, teaching and preaching for the edification of the saints.
Baptized Into One Body
1 Corinthians 12:12-26
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: and those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. (vv. 12-26)
Seven things are brought before us in the section, but that which is first emphasized is the unity of the body of Christ. In verse 12 we have the unity of the human body as a figure of that of the church. “For as the body is one”-that is, your body and my body. We have a great many different members, each one having special functions, and yet the body is one; it is under one central control, one heart, one circulatory system, one mind dominating and controlling everything. “As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is [the] Christ.” The definite article is found in the original, although we do not see it on the page of our King James Version. When the apostle uses the term, “the Christ,” it is just the same as if he said, “the church,” for as the context shows, he is thinking of the entire church as linked with the Lord Jesus Christ, its Head in heaven. As the human body is one, so also is the Christ. “Christ” means “the Anointed,” and our Lord Jesus is the Anointed. God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, that is why He is called Christ. But we read of all believers, “He which … hath anointed us, is God” (2 Corinthians 1:21) so we too have been anointed- “Christed”-by the same Spirit with whom God anointed Jesus. Therefore, our risen Head in heaven and the members of the body everywhere on earth constitute the Christ, the anointed One.
We cannot break the link that joins the believer to his Head in heaven. “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” Notice, it is not by the possession of divine life that we become members of the body of Christ. All believers from Abel (and we can go back to Adam, for Adam believed God when the promise came that the Seed of the woman should bruise the seed of Satan, and God declared His satisfaction in that faith by clothing Adam and his wife with coats of skin) down to the end of time have life from Christ. There is no other source of life, and no natural man in any dispensation was ever a child of God. The only way a man can become a child of God is through a second birth, through the reception of divine life, and this is given through believing the gospel. I know that people sometimes say, “But we must have life first before believing the gospel.” We have life before we believe a great many particulars in the gospel, but the apostle Peter says, “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever…And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (1 Peter 1:23, 1 Peter 1:25). Therefore, by believing the gospel, whatever form it takes in the various dispensations (for God’s message to man has differed in the various ages, but it has always had to do with Christ), men are born again.
However, to be born again is not the same thing as being baptized into the body of Christ. No one is baptized into the body of Christ until the Spirit of God dwells in him, and the Spirit comes to dwell only in people who have been born again. There is as much difference between being born by the Spirit and being indwelt by the Spirit as between building a house and moving into it. New birth is by the Word of God and the Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit builds the house, and then He comes to indwell the believer, He comes to take possession. In our dispensation there is no appreciable difference in time between a man’s being born again and being baptized into the body of Christ, but there was a time when there were numbers of people who were born again by the Spirit, but were not indwelt by Him.
On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came to indwell believers and to baptize them into one body. The Spirit of God now dwells within us and makes all believers one. That is what is meant by, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” I like the good old translation of the word baptized, to which some people object. I take this Greek word to mean “immerse.” “For by one Spirit are we all [immersed] into one body.” We who were so many individuals before have now been immersed into one, and in this body there is neither Jew nor Greek. Some used to be Jews, some used to be Gentiles, before they were born of God and indwelt by His Spirit. Now they have lost their old standing in the flesh. When we meet our Hebrew Christian brethren, we do not think of them as Jews any more, we think of them as fellow members of the body of Christ, and when they look upon us, their Gentile brethren, they do not think of us as unclean Gentiles, but as fellow members of Christ’s body. That is what took place on the Day of Pentecost, and has been going on ever since.
In this body there are neither bond nor free. It is not a question of master or servant. In the world outside we meet one another on that basis. If I am employed by another I am to render proper service to my master, but when we come into the church of God, we come together as fellow members of Christ’s body.
A Christian worker once told of her visit to the beautiful palace of an English Duchess, a very humble Christian. On the Lord’s Day morning the Duchess took the visitor to a meeting of a little group of Christian people gathered together around the table of the Lord, and as they sat there, a man got up and expounded the Word to them. The Duchess whispered to the lady, “That is my coachman.” The Christian worker was a little surprised that this lady should go and listen to her coachman expound the Word, and said to her later, “Isn’t it hard on your pride to have to listen to your coachman open the Scriptures to you?” The Duchess replied, “In the church of God there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, we are all one in Christ Jesus.” All these earthly distinctions are wiped out in the presence of God.
So the apostle adds, “We…have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” Just as by water baptism a line of demarcation has been drawn between the Christian and the world, so in this way we are definitely linked with the one body and enjoy fellowship in Him. Everything that you enjoy of a spiritual character in fellowship with your brethren, you do as in fellowship with the Holy Spirit who now indwells you.
Then we have a passage that is really a warning against discontent as to position in the body of Christ. In verses 14-17 we read, “For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” As men and women not yet glorified we still possess that old carnal nature. Even though set apart to God in Christ with new natures, we so often still find working within us envy and jealousy, and there is the tendency to say, “Well, as I cannot do what so and so does, I will not do anything,” and so discontent is engendered. Remember that every member of your physical body has its own special function. Just imagine a foot going on strike, and some morning when you are getting out of bed and you go to put your foot on the floor it should say, “I do not like being a foot, I do not like always being shut up, having a stocking pulled over me and then a shoe, I have just as much right to be in the open as that hand. I do not like it that the hand does all the writing, the painting, and the playing of the piano while I have to be hidden away all the time. I do not like that kind of a thing, and I am not going to function unless you train me to write and to play the piano. I refuse to work any longer as a foot.” I have seen folks just like that, folks that won’t play unless they can do things that other people do. I heard of a man born without arms who had been so wonderfully trained that he could hold a pen between his toes and write and paint on a board, but he was a freak in a sideshow. A normal person does not do that. The foot cannot do the work of a hand. If the foot is content to do its own work, what a splendid thing it is, but if it tries to do the work of a hand, what a failure it is.
If every member of the body does its own work and does it well, the whole body is benefited thereby. Just so in the church or assembly of God. He does not gift every one in the same way; some have special public ministry, others have quiet, private service for the Lord, but all are important. I think I shall never have the least inkling until I get to heaven and stand at the judgment seat of Christ how much I have owed to quiet saints shut away in hidden places who have bowed down on their knees before God and asked His blessing upon my ministry during these forty-three years that I have been preaching the gospel. I have had the public place, but I am sure that the greatest amount of the credit for work done goes to those hidden saints who have thought enough about me to bear me up in prayer, that God might keep me from sin and use my testimony for the glory of His name. So let us be content to labor on in the place God has given us.
“If the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?” Fancy the ear going on strike and saying, “I refuse to hear; if I cannot be the eye, I am not going to do anything.” What a foolish thing! And yet there are people like that. The apostle says, and I imagine he smiled as he said it, “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing?” Just imagine a body a great big walking eye. Or, “If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” If the body were one immense ear, would it not be a peculiar thing? And so each member has its place, and each is to act for God in that place.
In verse 18 the apostle shows that there should be no discontent, that there is no place for natural ambitions. “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.” When I think, “I should like to do so much that I cannot,” is it not blessed to realize that He has set me right here where I am, that I am in the place where He has put me, and He will give me grace to live for Him here?
“But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” What a rebuke to that sense of disdain that some of us cherish at times for other members of the body of Christ. Our Christian fellowship would be ten thousand times more precious if every one of us would settle it with God that by His grace we would never let an unkind criticism go out of our lips against any of His people. I find that the people who are the most sensitive to criticism are the most ready to criticize, those who get all broken up and upset if someone makes the least derogatory remark about them are those who will speak in the most cruel, unkind, and critical way of others.
I speak to you as a preacher, and I fear we are more guilty of this than anybody else. We often think and speak of one another in the most unkind way. Is it not a shame that men who have been set apart by God for the proclamation of His truth, who ought to stand shoulder to shoulder and be very jealous of each others reputation, should try to climb up on the failures of others? We who try to minister the Word, shall we not set an example to our brethren by covenanting with God that we will always say the thing that is good, the thing that is kind and helpful of our fellow servants; and if we see faults in them shall we not go to them personally and seek to help them; and when we speak to others of them, tell about the good things? In a restaurant I once saw a sign which read, “If you like our food, tell others; if you don’t, tell us.” I think that would be a good sign for a church of God. If you do not like things, you come and tell us about it, and let us seek to put things right. We need one another and we ought to be helpers of one another. The tongues of some of us are so vitriolic, we can say such unkind things, and forget that these people are souls whom Jesus loved enough to die for, so dear to God that He gave His Son for their redemption.
Oh, that when Christians meet and part,
These words were graved on every heart-
They’re dear to God!
However willful and unwise,
We’ll look on them with loving eyes-
They’re dear to God!
Oh, wonder!-to the Eternal One,
Dear as His own beloved Son;
Dearer to Jesus than His blood,
Dear as the Spirit’s fixed abode-
They’re dear to God!
When tempted to give pain for pain,
How would this thought our words restrain,
They’re dear to God!
When truth compels us to contend,
What love with all our strife should blend!
They’re dear to God!
When they would shun the pilgrim’s lot
For this vain world, forget them not;
But win them back with love and prayer,
They never can be happy there,
If dear to God.
Shall we be there so near, so dear,
And be estranged and cold whilst here-
All dear to God?
By the same cares and toils opprest,
We lean upon one faithful Breast,
We hasten to the same repose;
How bear or do enough for those
So dear to God!
Let us remember that “God [hath] set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.”
“Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary.” Sometimes perhaps we discount someone’s gift because it does not appeal to us, and yet that very person may be God’s messenger to others. Years ago when I was in the Salvation Army we had a girl who was certainly imbued by the Spirit of God, but she had worked in the open air so much that her throat was spoiled. I remember listening to her once as she tried to sing a song, but she could not sing. I felt so sorry for her, and somebody standing next to me said, “Why does she make such a fool of herself by trying to sing?” And on the other side someone said to me, “Oh, it does me so much good every time I hear that girl sing; it comes from her heart and she is doing it for love for Christ.” Remember, the people whom you do not appreciate may be God’s messengers to other folk. Be careful that you do not do anything to spoil the effect of their testimony.
I went to the dinner table in a home, and the people said, “We wish you would pray for our sons and daughter. We have tried to bring them to Christ. We do get them to come to meeting with us, but they are getting less and less interested.” I said, “I am sorry; we must pray for them.” There had just been a change of pastors in that church, and I had come to help the new pastor in some meetings, and as the dinner was passed around I said, “This new pastor of yours seems a fine godly man.” The mother said, “I haven’t any use for him; he doesn’t know how to dress for one thing, and he murders the king’s English.” The father said, “Yes, we are most disappointed in him.” And then the two boys and the girl went for them and said, “We would like to know why you expect us to go to church.” After the meal I said to the father, “How do you expect your boys and your girl to be interested in spiritual things when you tear the messenger of Christ to pieces over the dinner table?” Let us be careful, let us value one another, and remember that we each have our place to fill, and let us seek to fill it to the glory of God.
“And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.” You heard that man testify in the mission, and his grammar was so bad you said, “Oh, I wish he would sit down,” but yonder a poor wretch listened and said, “What! Did God save a man like that? Maybe He can save me. I am about as bad as he was when God saved him.” He was not a very handsome nor a very brilliant member of the body, but you never could have reached that poor down-and-out man as he did.
“And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.” The apostle Paul was a very observing person. Here is a woman who has a rather badly-formed ear. Upon that member she bestows more honor. Her beautiful hair is drawn over the ear, and that very uncomely part has become the most beautiful thing about her. People try to cover up the things in themselves that they do not think are pleasing, and try to make them more beautiful. I wish we would learn to cover up the uncomely things in our brethren. You never saw a perfectly beautiful woman yet who tried to cover her face with a dark heavy veil, unless she was about some nefarious business.
“For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked.” He has done this in order that there should be no divisions in the body, no strife, “that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.” Now honestly, if you had loved that brother or that sister as much as you love yourself, would you have said that thing the other day? Remember, “The members should have the same care one for another.”
A brother came to the late Leon Tucker and started telling him quite a little about another preacher. Mr. Tucker asked, “Is it because you love this brother so much you are telling me this?” He turned very red and did not know how to answer him. Test yourself by that. “The members should have the same care one for another.”
And then it is a practical thing, “Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it.” We know how it is in the human body. When you have had a festered finger, did you ever say to yourself, “That affects only my thumb or finger, and I am not going to let the rest of the body bother about it.” But the whole body was affected because of it. Let me say something serious and solemn: Your entire local assembly is affected if there is one member that is not living for God in it. The whole body of Christ is affected if there is one member playing fast and loose with holiness and purity and righteousness, because we are so intimately linked together.
“Or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” One member is selected for some position of honor, and all the members are jealous of that one. Is that it? No, if “one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.” If a member suffer, I suffer with him; if a member be honored, I rejoice with him.
Christ’s Provision For His Church
1 Corinthians 12:27-Obadiah :; 1 Corinthians 13:1
Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. (12:27-13:1)
In this particular portion we have Christ’s gracious provision for the edification of His church in this scene. In summing up, the apostle says, “Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” That is, you Christians are the body of Christ. Recently I read a book on a political theme in which the writer said, “It is important for us to remember, as Scripture says, we are all members of one body and therefore should work for the good of every nation.” Scripture is not talking about nations when it speaks about members of the body of Christ, nor does it use the word “body” as we use that term. We speak of a body of troops, a body of soldiers, etc., and mean a company, a collective company, but that is not what is meant by the term body when it is used in the New Testament for the church of the living God, the body of Christ. The illustration, as we have seen, is taken from the human body. As the human body is one but has many members, so also is the Christ, and every member joined together and linked with the Head is to work for the good of the whole. And so it is Christians that the apostle has in view when he says, “Ye are the body of Christ,” and then he adds, “and members in particular.” Looked at in one sense we have lost our former identity, we are not just so many units as once we were, having no special relationship each to the other, for we are now united to one another. We who are saved, we who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are thus baptized into one and are members of the body. But on the other hand we have our individual responsibility as members. Just as the various members of my body have their part in the building up of the whole, so every Christian has his special responsibility for the blessing of the entire body of Christ.
God has given to the church special gifts which are for the edification of the rest, and in this we may see Christ’s gracious provision for His church. In Ephesians 4:8 we read, “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men,” and we are told what some of these gifts are: “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (v. 11). Then we are told why He gave them (v. 12). If we should read it exactly as in our King James Version, we would think it was for three purposes. Let me read it emphasizing the punctuation, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the [edification] of the body of Christ.” From this you would gather that Christ had given these gifts, evangelists, pastors, teachers, etc., for three things: to perfect the saints, to do the work of the ministry, to edify the body of Christ. But let me point out that these punctuation marks are put in by our English editors, and have no real place in the Greek text. Now let us read it omitting the punctuation marks. “He gave some apostles and some prophets and some evangelists and some pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ.” He did not give these special gifts to certain ones to do everything for the rest that they might sit back and be perfected and helped and blessed through them, but that they through the ministry of the Word might perfect the saints, in order that the saints might go out and do the work of the ministry and thus edify the body of Christ. It never was the mind of the Spirit of God to have any drones in the gospel hive.
Now notice, the gifts that men most highly esteem are apparently the least valuable. For instance, we hear a great deal today and have heard for the last twenty or twenty-five years, about the gift of tongues, and some people imagine that this is the most important gift of all. Often people say to me, “Brother, have you the Holy Spirit?”
I say, “Yes, I have. I believe the gospel, and that tells me that upon believing I was ‘sealed with [the] holy Spirit of promise’” (Ephesians 1:13).
“Well, then,” they say, “can you speak in tongues?”
“Well, I speak a little English, and very, very little Chinese, but I had to study very hard to get those.”
“But that is not it,” they say; “can you speak in tongues in the power of the Spirit?” and they mean some strange language that I have never learned, and they tell me that is the supreme evidence of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Instead of that being the greatest of all the gifts, it is apparently the least, for notice the order in which these are given, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles.” And where do we have their ministry today? Right here in the blessed Word of God. Their voices have long since been silenced, but the witness still goes on and through their written ministry they abide in the church until the end of time. Linked with them we have the prophets, and they too have long since been silenced in the primary sense. Luke and Mark were prophets, and they gave us their written ministry and went home to heaven. And so we are told that the church of the living God is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets.
Then notice in the third place, “teachers.” The teacher then is one of the special gifts that God has given to the church, and-may I say?-if I had my choice of all the gifts there are two that I would find very difficult to choose between. If the Lord were to say to me, as He did to Solomon, “Ask what I shall give thee”; if He should say, “I am going to give you any gift that you want to be used for the blessing of a needy world and for My people.” I would have difficulty in choosing between the gift of an evangelist and that of a teacher of the Word. My heart yearns to be able to preach the gospel in a way that will grip dying men and women and bring them face to face with the realities of eternity. The gift of an evangelist is one of the greatest of all, but on the other hand when I see how the people of God today are bewildered and misled, are carried about by every wind of doctrine, I realize how much they need careful, thoughtful biblical instruction, and my heart cries out, “O God, help me to feed Thy people; give me the gift of teaching in order that I may open up Thy Word to Thy people.” For after all, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). And so I crave the gift of the teacher. The teacher is the one who comes to men giving them, not his own thoughts, not making up beautiful essays which he calls sermons, but he opens up, expounds, the Word of God. Our Lord Jesus, I think, describes the teacher in a wonderful way when He says, “Every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old” (Matthew 13:52). The treasure house is the Word of God.
I listened to a widely-advertised man the other day who was said to be one of the outstanding religious leaders of our day, and for nearly an hour he was telling ministers how to preach. I listened carefully, but I did not hear him quote one verse of Scripture. He quoted from Shakespeare, from George Bernard Shaw, and a number of trashy novels, and he drew his illustrations from ancient and modern literature. Yet he was supposed to be a teacher of preachers. If preachers have to listen to that kind of a teacher it is no wonder they deliver sermons that never could convert one poor sinner.
Scripture says, “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Psalms 119:130), and the apostle writing to Timothy says, “Preach the word…For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:2-3). The teacher is the man who calls the people of God back to the Book and opens up the Word of God to them. One of our very well-known American pulpit orators stated some time ago that expository preaching is the poorest type of preaching in the world because it leaves so little scope for the imagination. Thank God for any kind of preaching that leaves little scope for man’s imagination, for the Word of God says, “And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5). It ought to be the earnest desire of the real minister of Christ to subject himself to the Word in order that all unholy imaginations might be cast down, and only the solemn serious truth of God brought to bear upon the minds of people. God give us teachers of the Bible!
Then we read, “After that, miracles.” Some people may have thought it was, “First of all, miracles.” I am not a miracle worker and do not pretend to be. I have gone in and prayed with a great many sick people and some of them have been healed very quickly, but I did not have the gift of healing. To go in and pray for people is one thing; to have the gift of healing is another. If a lame man were here and I could turn to him and say, “In the name of Jesus, rise up and walk,” and in a moment he would spring to his feet and become whole, that would be the gift of healing, that would be working a miracle. I have seen some people throw away crutches, but I have heard that they came back for them a week or two later. And so I say of the next gift, the gift of healing, what I say of miracles. The Lord may give these gifts, and if He does, we will thank Him for them, but we do not know of any at the present time.
But in the next one, “helps,” is something we can all understand. Here are two terms, “helps, governments,” linked together. In these we have pretty much what we find elsewhere in Scripture where we read of the officers of the church, its deacons and elders. A true deacon is a help; he is one who can help in all the temporal and business affairs of the church, and a true elder is one who has spiritual discernment and can govern in the church of God. What a wonderful thing it is when men are really thus gifted of the Lord as “helps” and “governments!” What a pitiful thing it is when a church is bereft of these kinds of gifts! There are too many deacons who are deacons in name only. The word deacon means “servant,” a ministering servant. There are too many elders who are elders in name only, who are not really guides and helps to the church of God, but it is a blessed thing when God gives to a church true “helps” and “governments.”
Last of all in this list we have “diversities of tongues,” as though it is the gift least of all to be accounted of. And why is that? Because anybody can with a little intelligence learn a new tongue, and in most instances it is better that he should do that than to receive it miraculously. One may say in regard to this the same about receiving the truth of God. God could give every one a sudden illumination that we might have an amazing insight into His truth, but He does not choose to give it in that way. He says, “Study to show thyself approved unto God.” There are too many Christians today who would like to have everything predigested. This is the day of this kind of thing, and many Christians would like to have the truth presented in a pre-digested way so that it would not require any trouble to get it into their inmost systems. But God wants us to study His Word, and does not give us His truth in that easy way.
“Are all apostles?” Admittedly, no. We do not know of any such today in the full sense. “Are all prophets?” Again we have to answer, “No.” There may be prophets today, but they are very few, and as far as I know there are none in the full sense. “Are all teachers?” Again we have to answer, “No,” and yet there are teachers that God has thus gifted. If you as a minister are troubled with the question of empty pews, begin to dig into the Book and teach the Word, and you will soon draw the people. I know two young ladies who after they were graduated from college, did not know what to do in order to support themselves. So they came to my old home city, Oakland, California, and in a little side street opened up a wee restaurant. It was so small that only about seven people could sit down at one time. I went over to sample their cooking, and I found that the coffee was very different from what I was used to in most lunchrooms and so I went back to my bookroom and said to the other workers, “If you want a good cup of coffee, go to such and such a place.” The next day people were standing on the outside walk waiting for the seven inside to finish their lunch. Soon the girls had to rent the place next to them. When I was in Oakland the last time, they had a great big restaurant serving hundreds of people. The word had gone out over the city, “You can always get a good cup of coffee and excellent things to eat there.” Let the word go out, “You can always get the Word of God in that church, for that minister gives you the truth of God to refresh your soul,” and you won’t have any problem about empty pews. I heard a minister say to a group of pastors, “There is one thing that is a great help; you can do a great deal with different colored lights. You can get up wonderful effects with colored lights, and people will come from far and wide to see. Then, you can do so much with rhythmic dancing.” And then he added, “One of the finest things I have found is moving pictures for the night service.”
The church of God does not exist for the amusement of people. What we need is the Word of God presented in simplicity and power. Get your own mind filled with the truth of God and then give it to others. This minister said to the pastors, “You know, some of you may not approve of these modern methods, but I say you have to take your choice between empty pews or up-to-date methods.” Oh, no, we do not have to make any such choice; if you just give people the Book in the power of the Spirit they will come, for they are really ready to listen to the Word of God.
“Are all workers of miracles?” We know of very few indeed, if any. “Have all the gifts of healing?” No, and whether there are any we cannot say. “Do all speak with tongues?” Not in the Bible sense. “Do all interpret?” They do not. But now the apostle says that we are not to be concerned if we do not have all these gifts, “but covet earnestly the best gifts,” seek those that are for the edification of the church of God. Suppose it does not please God to give you any of these, “Yet show I unto you a more excellent way.”
There is something more excellent than signs and wonders. What is that? “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not [love], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” This leads us right into the wonderful “Love Chapter,” the thirteenth chapter of this epistle. The greatest gift of all is to have the Spirit of God dwelling in you shedding abroad the love of God in your heart so that you manifest the love of Christ.
There used to be a little mission in the lower part of Manhattan in New York. A poor little Irish boy started going there and got a great deal out of it. By-and-by his folks made a little more money and moved from that section and said, “Now, Patsy, you must attend one of the more stylish churches.” So they took him over and entered him in the Sunday school. The little fellow put in two Sundays there. On the third Sunday he was found way down near the Battery sitting in the little mission Sunday school, and when he got back home, the folks said, “O, Pat, why weren’t you in the nice Sunday school?” “I wanted to go back to the other Sunday school,” he said.
“But why did you want to go back to that one?” He hesitated, and they said, “Come, tell us why.”
“Well,” he said, “they love a fellow down there.” That is what took him miles and miles down to the simple little mission. It is a great testimony for any church, assembly, mission or Sunday school when people can say not alone that the Word of God is preached there, but that “they love a fellow there.”
This divine love is not something that is pumped up out of the natural heart; it is divinely given. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us” (Romans 5:5), and that is why men and women need to be born again. That is why we need to have a definite dealing with God about the sin question. That is why we have to come to the place where we put our heart’s trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as our own Savior. Trusting in Him we are born of God and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, and thus the love of Christ will be manifested in our ways.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11