Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 12

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

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Verses 1-31

The Lord's supper has been first considered, being the most important of all gatherings, because it is for the united expression of the affections of the saints toward Him. Now ministry toward the saints is in view in chapter 12. For this the Lord manifested Himself by the Spirit's work in saints. And we must not be ignorant as regards spiritual manifestations, for evil spirits are adept at simulating the work of the Spirit of God. The Corinthians had themselves known this in their former idolatry. Verse 3 lays down the basic principle as to ministry in the assembly. Did it depreciate the name of Jesus? Of course, an evil spirit might not in so many words directly call Jesus accursed, for he might do this indirectly, so that everyone might not at first discern it. On the other hand, does the ministry of any man show evidence of acknowledging the Lordship of Christ? It is not simply in the fact of once saying that Jesus is Lord, and then going on to deny it in his following words. The saints were solemnly responsible to judge soberly as regards all that was spoken. Compare chapter 14:29. And certainly it must be understood if they were to judge as to it. That ministry that rightly owned the Lordship of Jesus was by the Spirit of God.

Each of these manifestations were different, but all by "the same Spirit," not diverse spirits, as in the case of demon activity. Diversity in gift, but unity in function is most emphatic here. This verse deals with the actual, vital possession of gift by the power of the Spirit.

Verse 5 is not the question of power, but of authority. It is one Lord who is in authority over the various administrations, each gift given its proper place, and ordered in unity with the others. For the possession of gift does not give one authority to use it as he pleases, but only in subjection to the Lord.

Verse 6 now adds the thought of "diversities of operations," the working out of these things, and in this case it is the supremacy of God in sovereign wisdom working out His will. When considering gifts given to His saints, how good to begin with these basic facts of the power of the Spirit, the authority of the Lord, the supremacy of God. For in the Trinity we see wonderful diversity, yet absolute, precious unity.

Now the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every believer, for its profitable use. None of us can excuse ourselves therefore, in feeling that we have no gift. Each gift certainly is different, but each necessary. There are nine gifts now listed, though we must not consider this a complete list, for another viewpoint of gift is found in Romans 12:6-8; and a still differing viewpoint inEphesians 4:11-16; Ephesians 4:11-16. But here he is pressing the practical functioning of the Assembly in unity, by the indwelling Spirit, each gift being given for the profit of the Assembly, the body of Christ.

"The word of wisdom" is put before that of knowledge, for wisdom is the proper application of knowledge to whatever circumstances. One may be far wiser in his use of knowledge than another whose knowledge is greater. But "the word of knowledge" has its important place too, for it is no virtue to be ignorant. It is "the same Spirit" that gives each his gift: we must therefore not despise any. "Faith" here is seen too as a special gift, so that it is not the same Ephesians 2:10, where every believer is included, when faith is seen as "the gift of God." In our present case rather the_ "faith" spoken of is that unusual boldness of confidence Godward, that stands out in the energy by which it depends on God for His definite answers. Some are particularly gifted in this way.

"The gifts of healing" now indicate compassion manward. In the early church these sign-gifts were evident. But more important than the sign-gift is that which it signifies. Bodily healing is all very well, if it is the will of God; but how much more vital is the spiritual healing of discord, ruptures, schisms among the saints of God! How precious indeed if one has a gift for this kind of work!

"The working of miracles" is another sign-gift. In this would be included the blinding of Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:8-11), and cases of casting out of demons. But if we see no one today literally gifted in this way, yet there are those who may have special gift for the virtually miraculous removal of obstacles to spiritual blessing, perhaps so ministering the Word as to totally change the attitude of one formerly opposed or rebellious. "Prophecy" is "forthtelling," not necessarily "foretelling," but giving the Word of God suitable for the immediate occasion, to have an effect upon hearts and consciences. "Discerning of spirits" is that spiritual discernment that recognizes in any given ministry whether it is totally the work of the Spirit of God, or whether in any measure an evil spirit may be involved. It may be a quiet gift, not at all one for public speaking, but is deeply important.

"Kinds of tongues" is next. These of course are intelligible languages, unknown naturally to the speaker, but in which he was given ability to speak his own thoughts. In any true sense of what these were, no doubt they have ceased; but being another sign-gift, its significance remains emphatically for us. They were first given in Acts 2:1-47 to promote an understanding between those naturally unable to communicate. The Corinthians were using such gifts in the interests of factions and of self-exaltation, but all gift is given for the opposite reason, that of unity and understanding. Though we do not have this gift literally today, yet are there not those who are gifted with such grace as to encourage a proper understanding and fellowship between saints naturally aloof from one another? How much better is this than speaking in a way that none can understand!

"The interpretation of tongues" involves an explanation of what was not understood by some, at least. This was a sign gift also, and a spiritual application would be that of making more plain for some the ministry of another, which tended to be difficult for uninstructed saints. Let us remember that all gift has the blessing of the body of Christ in view, not by any means merely that of the person gifted. And all of these are the work of "the selfsame Spirit," whose object is unity in His diversely giving each his special function, "as He will."

For as our human spirit controls the function of our bodies, so the Spirit of God is the animating power of every member of the body of Christ. The body is one: it has many members; yet all unitedly are one body. "So also is the Christ." This certainly is not merely local: it includes the entire body of Christ worldwide, though of course the local assembly is intended to give expression to it.

Verse 13 is most important as the basis of all true unity among saints. Though "the baptism of the Spirit" is spoken of six times previously to this, and every time referring to the public coming of the Spirit in the book of Acts, yet this verse is the only one that explains what is accomplished by the baptism of the Spirit. It refers to the initial forming of the one body of Christ by the coming of the Spirit, uniting all believers, Jews and Gentiles, in one. It is not, therefore, a personal blessing, but a collective one, the property of the entire body of Christ. The Spirit has endowed every believer with many personal blessings too; but this is corporate. The word "baptism" is used because it implies burial; the burial of all mere natural differences, national, social, cultural, or whatever. Then, drinking into one Spirit, they become one indeed. Of course, as believers are added to the body of Christ, they participate in the already established "baptism of the Spirit:" they are not given any independent "baptism."

But the body has many members, each different, and each necessary in its own place. Can the foot excuse itself from use because it is not the hand? Does walk have no place because it is not work? Or because the ear is not as prominent as the eye, is it therefore unnecessary? Is receiving a report unimportant because it is not personal observation by sight? These verses show that no child of God ever has any excuse for not functioning in unity with the rest of the body of Christ. And verse 17 adds that if the eye is essential (observation), so is the hearing (communication), and the smelling (perception). Whether one is prominent or not makes no difference: it is God who has set every member in its own place in the body, not by our preference, but "as it has pleased Him." If I were disposed to prefer a different function, let me consider that if I were able to change, I would very soon prefer something else. God knows better what is good for me than I do.

Verse 14 has stressed the fact of many members, now verse 20 emphasizes, "yet one body." Verses 15 and 16 have reproved any excusing of oneself from responsibility: now verses 21 to 26 strongly reprove any attitude of despising of any member of the body. "The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee." The eye lets in the light; but is light (even spiritual light) sufficient of itself, without the conformable actions of the hand? The one may apprehend true principle, but the other is needed for true practice. Or can the head dispense with the feet? In other words, is intellect sufficient, apart from a consistent walk? Indeed, to reject one member would be to cripple the body. Some members may seem to be more feeble. We have never even seen our windpipe: could we easily dispense with it, or refuse it permission to function for ten minutes?

And most of our apparent members we cover with clothing, to give them more abundant honor. Are they not as essential as the head and the hands? Our very concern for them is a witness that we should similarly be concerned for every weakest member of the body of Christ, to give them honor, if they have not been publicly honoured by a prominent gift and function. The more quiet and obscure the gift, the more encouragement we ought to give that person: those more publicly gifted do not need the same encouragement, though they need our prayers. It is God who has tempered the body together, fitting each member in its place of interdependency and interactivity in conjunction with all other members. And in doing so, He has manifested an evident real care and concern for the most feeble member.

So there is no excuse for division in the body. The natural body just does not function in any divided condition, an example for ourselves as to having impartial care for every member.

If one member of the physical body suffers, the person suffers, which includes all his members. We may not see clearly how this applies to the entire body of Christ, but is it not through the head that all communication comes, and all feeling is registered? Christ is affected by the suffering of any single member, and in this way, so is the rest of the body of Christ affected, whether or not we intellectually realize it. And the same is true in reference to the blessing or honor one member may receive: the other members rejoice, for they are blessed also. Let us think of it in this way, and all selfish envy will be honestly judged.

It is interesting that verse 27 is properly translated, "now ye are body of Christ, and members in particular." For the Corinthians were not the entire body of Christ, so that the definite article could not rightly be used. The people of New York City might be told, "You are Americans," in order to alert them as to their responsibility as American citizens. They could not be told, "You are the Americans," for they are but a small part, yet responsible to act in a way that would rightly represent the American nation. Just so, each local assembly is but a small representation of the entire body of Christ, and of course to act in unity as a credit to the whole. And each individual is a "member in particular."

Verse 28 speaks then of gifts given to the body of Christ as a whole, not of the local assembly. For certainly an apostle was not an apostle of a local assembly, but an apostle everywhere. No gift is merely local, though the charge of elder or deacon is only local. Note here that there is emphasis on the order of the gifts, "first," "secondarily," "thirdly," and "after that." Apostles are first because they were sent with distinctive authority from God, with the main object of establishing the Church on the basis of that authority. None of the other gifts could possibly take this place. Certainly today there is no living apostle to take such authority; but we have them still in the Scriptures they have left to us, in which alone is the absolute authority of God. But submission to Him is of first importance.

Prophets are mentioned secondarily: these bring home the truth of God to consciences and hearts: their function is giving the message at the time necessary for the need of souls, in order to encourage obedience to the Word of God. Teachers are third, for they enlighten the mind. While the intelligence must certainly be instructed, yet the conscience and heart must first be reached. These three are fundamental to all proper functioning of the body in unity, and they must have precedence over those that follow. Some today put the last mentioned gifts in the most important place, and sad confusion is the result. But the words "after that" are intended to mean just what they say.

Miracles" deal with the power to overcome obstacles that may hinder true blessing in the assembly. "Then gifts of healing," no doubt in Corinth literally present, are significant of spiritual healing of ruptures, discord, etc. "Helps" is next, no doubt unpretentious, yet of precious value. "Governments" would of course imply the sober wisdom and balance so necessary in keeping godly order among saints. And last of all, "diversities of tongues." It was these in particular that the Corinthians were emphasizing, and using to please themselves, yet God puts them in the last place. No doubt they have ceased today, literally speaking; but their significance of promoting godly understanding among those naturally separated has real meaning for us.

The questions of verses 29 and 30 of course are intended to imply negative answers. No more did all speak with tongues or interpret than were all apostles or teachers. Yet they are encouraged to desire earnestly the best gifts, This is not that each individual is to desire this in order to rival others, but rather the assembly was to desire earnestly that the best gifts should be in godly exercise in the assembly. As to the regulating principle in desiring gifts, however, chapter 14:12 is plain: "Seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church." Gift is given for the good of others, not for my own satisfaction. And the apostle adds, "Yet show I unto you a more excellent way." More excellent than gift itself is the genuine spirit of love in which it should be consistently exercised. Chapter 13 considers this.

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. 1897-1910.