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Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary

1 Corinthians 12

Verse 1

1 Corinthians 12:1

I. No man can even profess Christianity without the help of the Holy Spirit. It is something even to profess to be a Christian, to make a clear statement even of doctrinal truths which have entered very deeply into the heart. "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." The mere convictions of our intellects are not in our own power. The strongest arguments might not convince a man, unless the Holy Spirit of God was at hand to add force to the argument, and to enable the man, by spiritual help, to say that Jesus is the Lord.

II. If we believe our creeds and the doctrine of Whit Sunday, we shall, all through our lives, recognise the presence and working and power of the Holy Spirit of God; but then, if we are to have any real conviction of this spiritual operation amongst the people of God for the salvation of souls, how must our thoughts be occupied? Not with the things seen and temporal, but with the things unseen, which are eternal. He who would be able to realise the working of the Spirit of God must endeavour not only to think of spiritual gifts, but of the spiritual world. It is a proverb among the Germans that beyond the hills are people living. Men are apt to suppose that in the narrow valley in which they pass their days all life and activity is concentrated; but beyond the hills, where the sun sets, there are other nations full of life and spirit; and his mind is cramped and confined who thinks only of the narrow district in which he lives. Far beyond all material creation, there is a spiritual world, where God the Father dwells, and where the Lord Jesus Christ is on His right hand. And do we not feel and know that all the highest impulses of our souls come direct from the spiritual world, and that the Lord who died for us fulfils in every honest Christian heart the promise which He gave, making all good men to become better, through the working of the Holy Spirit of God?

A. C. Tait, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 1.

References: 1 Corinthians 12:1 . Church of England Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 81; H. P. Liddon, Church Sermons, vol. ii., p. 321. 1 Corinthians 12:1-31 . F. W. Robertson, Lectures on Corinthians, p. 168.

Verse 3

1 Corinthians 12:3

A Test of True Inspiration.

It is not easy at first to understand St. Paul's object in this passage. He seems to be laying down, first of all, a truism about which there can be no discussion whatever, and next, a proposition as to the truth of which there is apparently very large room for question. St. Paul himself is conscious that he is saying something which might not at first sight approve itself to his readers, or which, at the least, requires their careful attention. The phrase "I give you to understand" is one of those turns of speech which he employs when he wishes to stir the minds of men to an unusual effort.

I. "No man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed." There were Corinthians who claimed to speak on the prompting of the Spirit, and who, when in a state of ecstasy, exclaimed, "Accursed be Jesus." These Corinthians were almost certainly Jews who had mixed a great deal with Christians, and who had caught something of the enthusiasm which was created within the Church by the presence of the extraordinary gifts vouchsafed to it. In this sentence we have a warning, first, against a false liberalism, and, secondly, we have a warning against thinking too much of religious passions. Just as the prophets in the synagogue said "Jesus is accursed," so the Christians meeting in the house of Justus cried "Jesus is the Lord."

II. "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost." Why is this? Why cannot a man recognise the divinity of Jesus by the exercise of his natural faculties, and when he has recognised it say that he has done so? Why must the Holy Spirit intervene to teach this any more than other kinds of truth? The reason is twofold. It is found partly in the understanding of man and partly in his will. (1) The will has an intelligent instinct of its own. We believe, at least to a great extent, that which we wish to believe; and we wish to believe, most of us, that which will not cost us much in the way of effort or in the way of endurance. We wish this and no more, always supposing us to be left to ourselves with the average human nature and instinct which our first father has bequeathed to us. The Holy Spirit must intervene so far as to restore freedom to the human will, thereby preventing its mischievous action upon the understanding. The greater the practical demands of a given truth the more needed is the high impartiality of the will; and, therefore, in no case is it more necessary than in that of believing our Lord's divinity, which, when it is really believed, leads to so much and demands so much. (2) A second reason is found in the understanding. If a man was to rise above the prejudices of the time if he was to see what those words, those acts, that character really meant if he was to understand how the Cross was as much a revelation of Divine love as the Transfiguration was a revelation of Divine glory, he must have been guided by a more than human teacher; he must have been taught by the Spirit to say, "Jesus is the Lord."

H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 1116.

I. The Jews resisted the light of the Holy Ghost and His grace soliciting them from without; Christians, if they reject that same truth, reject Him as teaching within also. The Jews had the condemnation that they rejected truth which they might have known; Christians have that much sorer condemnation that they reject truth already known and attested by those whom they once knew to have come from God. Light, against which the eyes have been often closed, will still not unseldom, in God's mercy, reach the eyes which shut themselves against it; very rare is it that the eyes will open to see the truth which they once saw and rejected.

II. Let us guard the truth, not as lords over it, to adapt it, as a Lesbian rule, to all the passing phases of human opinion or conjecture, but as itself the unerring eternal rule, to which all human opinion, when corrected by God-enlightened reason, the mirror of the wisdom of God must conform. Christianity being the offspring not of human, but of Divine wisdom, its life also is Divine, maintained, alike in the world and in each heart, by the Lord and Giver of life, God the Holy Ghost. This being so, then the most stupendous and central unwisdom of our day must be the ignorant ignoring of Him who is our light and life. Our generation is so busy with matter that it can afford no time for spirit. What is spiritual seems to it unreal, because "beyond the grasp of eye and hand." Men are so busy with their researches, so certain of the process, that it does not occur to them to think that their foregone conclusion may be wrong, that they may be following an earthly meteor hovering round morasses, instead of the clear light of truth, set by God to rule over day and night.

E. B. Pusey, University Sermons, p. 463.

References: 1 Corinthians 12:3 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ii., p. 89; vol. vii., p. 84; F. W. Robertson, Sermons, 3rd series, p. 29. 1 Corinthians 12:3-6 . C. Kingsley, Town and Country Sermons, p. 290; G. Salmon, Sermons in Trinity College, Dublin, p. 107. 1 Corinthians 12:3-7 . H. Scott Holland, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiv., p. 155. 1 Corinthians 12:4 . E. C. Wickham. Wellington College Sermons, p. 122. 1 Corinthians 12:4 , 1 Corinthians 12:5 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 204. 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 . Church of England, Pulpit, vol. xvii., p. 99; R. S. Candlish, The Sonship and Brotherhood of Believers, pp. 299, 312; J. H. Thom, Laws of Life after the Mind of Christ, 2nd series, p. 225; E. Hatch, Church of England Pulpit, vol. xii., p. 1; T. Kelly, Pulpit Trees, p. 67. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 . A. W. Momerie, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxii., p. 348; A. Barry, Cheltenham College Sermons, p. 395. 1 Corinthians 12:9 . W. G. Horder, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiv., p. 61. 1 Corinthians 12:11 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 45; Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. vi., p. 109. 1 Corinthians 12:12 . Homilist, 3rd series, vol. vii., p. 87; G. E. L. Cotton, Sermons and Addresses in Marlborough College, p. 308; J. B. Lightfoot, Church of England Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 117; E. M. Goulburn, Thoughts on Personal Religion, p. 312.

Verse 13

1 Corinthians 12:13

Regenerating Baptism.

As there is one Holy Ghost, so there is one only visible body of Christians which Almighty God "knows by name" and one baptism which admits men into it. This is implied in the text, which is nearly parallel to St. Paul's words in the Ephesians: "There is one body, and one Spirit,... one baptism." But more than this is taught us in it: not only that the Holy Ghost is in the Church, and that baptism admits into it; but that the Holy Ghost admits by means of baptism, that the Holy Ghost baptizes: in other words, that each individual member receives the Holy Ghost as a preliminary step or condition or means of his being incorporated into the Church, or, in our Saviour's words, that no one can enter, except he be regenerated in order to enter it.

I. When men refuse to admit the doctrine of baptismal regeneration in the case of infants they look about how they may defend infant baptism, which perhaps from habit, good feeling, or other causes they do not like to abandon. Surely, if we go to Scripture, the question is decided at once, for no one can deny that there is much more said in Scripture on behalf of the connection between baptism and Divine grace than about the duty of infant baptism. If the doctrine and the practice are irreconcilable baptismal regeneration and infant baptism let the practice which is not written in Scripture yield to the doctrine which is; and let us (if we can bear to do so) defraud infants of baptism, not baptism of its supernatural virtue. Let us go counter to tradition rather than to Scripture.

II. The partly assumed and partly real parallel of circumcision comes in fact, whether they know it or not, as a sort of refuge to those who have taken up the intermediate position between catholic doctrine and heretical practice. They avail themselves of the instance of circumcision as a proof that a divinely appointed ordinance need not convey grace, even while it admits into a state of grace. Circumcision admitted to certain privileges to the means of grace, to teaching, and the like; baptism, they consider, does the same, and no more. The plain objection to this view is that Christ and His apostles do attach a grace to the ordinance of baptism such as is not attached in the Old Testament to circumcision which is exactly that difference which makes the latter a mere rite, the former a sacrament; and if this be so, it is nothing to the purpose to build up an argument on the assumption that the two ordinances are precisely the same.

III. If baptism has no spiritual value, can it be intended for us Christians? If it has no regenerating power, surely they only are consistent who reject it altogether! I will boldly say it, we have nothing dead and earthly under the gospel, and we act like the Judaizing Christians of old time if we submit to anything such; therefore they only are consistent who, denying the virtue of baptism, also deny its authority as a permanent ordinance of the gospel. Either baptism is an instrument of the Holy Ghost, or it has no place in Christianity.

J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. iii., p. 271.

References: 1 Corinthians 12:13 . Collyer, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxx., p. 116. 1 Corinthians 12:14 . A. Murray, The Fruits of the Spirit, p. 312. 1 Corinthians 12:14-20 . R. A. Armstrong, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxiii., p. 141. 1 Corinthians 12:14-21 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. ix., p. 171. 1 Corinthians 12:22 . Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iv., p. 86. 1 Corinthians 12:24 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 107. 1 Corinthians 12:25-27 . L. Campbell, Some Aspects of the Christian Ideal, p. 55.

Verse 26

1 Corinthians 12:26

St. Paul would have the Corinthians struggle incessantly, not to create a new order for themselves, but that they might not in every act of their lives be contradicting that order to which they eventually belonged.

I. And what is that order? St. Paul takes the simplest method one can conceive for making us understand what it is. He leads us to notice obvious facts, which every one admits, and not only admits, but is compelled by the keenest experience to recognise every moment. He asks us to consider the structure of our bodies not any secrets about them which anatomists and physiologists may know but what every mechanic must know. He says that each of our members or limbs has a power or work of its own; that no other limb can put forth the same power or do the same work. Here surely are laws of the universe laws concerning our own selves, which no one can reverse. The practitioner in medicines or surgery does not aspire to alter these facts. He conforms himself to them, he regulates his treatment in accordance with them.

II. Then the Apostle goes on to do what? He goes on to speak of other facts as nearly concerning each one of us individually, as nearly concerning the whole race, about which he can appeal to the same conscience and experience, which he can submit to the same test and trial. He does not ask any special field for the proof and examination of them. He asks for no choice spot which the winds of heaven do not visit too roughly. He takes the world as he finds it. A Greek city with all its corruptions, the Roman empire with its tyranny, answer his purpose better than an Atlantis. There are members of the body politic, as certainly as there are members or limbs of the body natural. Each man is such a member or limb. Each man has a function or office assigned to him in the body politic, as the hand or foot has in the natural body. One man may as little do the work of another, as the hand can do the work of the foot. And here, too, the many members can never make us forget the one body.

III. This description of St. Paul does not presuppose perfection, but rather presupposes imperfection. The Jews had discovered the existence of a law of fellowship between human beings. They had proved that that law was liable to constant violation. They had proved that its violation brought misery upon him who was guilty of it, as well as upon those whose claim upon him he had refused to acknowledge. They had not shown how that witness of prophets respecting a Divine Word and Ruler over their nation could be actually fulfilled for the benefit of all nations; they had not shown who was the centre and head of the body with its many members; they had not shown whence could come a power strong enough to make their cohesion to each other real and practical, strong enough to overcome the tendency in each member to rend itself from the rest. It is this hiatus in the lore of past ages which St. Paul fills up when he says, "Now are ye the body of Christ, and members in particular." He had said before in this chapter, "As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ." All artificial significations which have been given to the Church shall perish. This signification which connects it with the natural body, which identifies it with the universal body politic, of which Christ is the Head, because He is the Head of every man, shall remain.

F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. v., p. 263.

References: 1 Corinthians 12:26 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 133; J. H. Evans, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. x., p. 5.

Verse 26

1 Corinthians 12:26

St. Paul would have the Corinthians struggle incessantly, not to create a new order for themselves, but that they might not in every act of their lives be contradicting that order to which they eventually belonged.

I. And what is that order? St. Paul takes the simplest method one can conceive for making us understand what it is. He leads us to notice obvious facts, which every one admits, and not only admits, but is compelled by the keenest experience to recognise every moment. He asks us to consider the structure of our bodies not any secrets about them which anatomists and physiologists may know but what every mechanic must know. He says that each of our members or limbs has a power or work of its own; that no other limb can put forth the same power or do the same work. Here surely are laws of the universe laws concerning our own selves, which no one can reverse. The practitioner in medicines or surgery does not aspire to alter these facts. He conforms himself to them, he regulates his treatment in accordance with them.

II. Then the Apostle goes on to do what? He goes on to speak of other facts as nearly concerning each one of us individually, as nearly concerning the whole race, about which he can appeal to the same conscience and experience, which he can submit to the same test and trial. He does not ask any special field for the proof and examination of them. He asks for no choice spot which the winds of heaven do not visit too roughly. He takes the world as he finds it. A Greek city with all its corruptions, the Roman empire with its tyranny, answer his purpose better than an Atlantis. There are members of the body politic, as certainly as there are members or limbs of the body natural. Each man is such a member or limb. Each man has a function or office assigned to him in the body politic, as the hand or foot has in the natural body. One man may as little do the work of another, as the hand can do the work of the foot. And here, too, the many members can never make us forget the one body.

III. This description of St. Paul does not presuppose perfection, but rather presupposes imperfection. The Jews had discovered the existence of a law of fellowship between human beings. They had proved that that law was liable to constant violation. They had proved that its violation brought misery upon him who was guilty of it, as well as upon those whose claim upon him he had refused to acknowledge. They had not shown how that witness of prophets respecting a Divine Word and Ruler over their nation could be actually fulfilled for the benefit of all nations; they had not shown who was the centre and head of the body with its many members; they had not shown whence could come a power strong enough to make their cohesion to each other real and practical, strong enough to overcome the tendency in each member to rend itself from the rest. It is this hiatus in the lore of past ages which St. Paul fills up when he says, "Now are ye the body of Christ, and members in particular." He had said before in this chapter, "As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ." All artificial significations which have been given to the Church shall perish. This signification which connects it with the natural body, which identifies it with the universal body politic, of which Christ is the Head, because He is the Head of every man, shall remain.

F. D. Maurice, Sermons, vol. v., p. 263.

References: 1 Corinthians 12:26 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 133; J. H. Evans, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. x., p. 5.

Verse 27

1 Corinthians 12:27

I. The Church is the body in which Christ dwells as the soul, lighting up the body with His Divine presence, the organisation of this tabernacle being the sanctified tabernacle of flesh and blood in which Christ shall dwell, from whose lips He shall speak, whose hands He shall employ, and whose feet shall bear the manhood and the influences of His life through the world around: the organisation that He shall make use of to extend the interests of His kingdom, and from which the majesty and glory of His dominion shall be extended through the neighbourhood around. Christ dwells in the Church, the Fountain of its life, the centre of its power "that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith."

II. If this be so, the Church as the body should reflect and manifest the expression of the Divine soul within. It should ever be prepared to respond to the Divine will. My action does not spring from the body, but from the mind and will within. It is from that action originates, that to which action is subordinate, and of which it is the manifestation. And so it should be with the Church as the body of Christ, ever responding to the will of the Divine Spirit within, and offering all its powers to the service, adoration, and worship of the Divine power, to which it may well be contributory, and to whose glory it shall ever be subordinate. If the Church is the body of Christ, it is to do His bidding, to accomplish His purpose, to live to His glory.

III. The Church is the body of Christ, then: (1) There is her Divine safety; (2) her Divine blessedness; (3) her Divine honour and glory; (4) the activity by which she ought to be distinguished.

J. P. Chown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 264.

The Christian Idea of Man.

I. What is the nature, the meaning of our human life? The words of the text seem to give the answer which we need. We look upon our nature, borne heavenward by splendid aspirations, crushed down by a miserable load of failures, conscious of a Divine kinsmanship, conscious of personal transgressions, and it tells us: "Ye are the body of Christ, Son of God and Son of man." We look upon our lives, fragmentary, imperfect, involved, with capacities which enjoyment cannot satisfy, with attainments which are only a shadow of our desires, and it tells us: "Ye are severally members thereof." But Divine connection is the revelation of our being, the interpretation of our partial service given to us first in the fiat of creation, given to us afresh out of the darkness and the glory of the Cross; fellowship with God, fellowship with man in God, through Christ. We feel that we are a result and a beginning; we acknowledge the power of the race, and we treasure the gift of personality. We, too, share in a larger life; but that we may do so according to the will of God we use the individuality of our own life. We are a body "the body of Christ, and severally members thereof."

II. As Christians, we believe that the contrasts which are represented by the thoughts of the solidarity of mankind and the individuality of each single man are harmonised in the Incarnation. As Christians, we believe that social responsibility and personal responsibility belong equally to each citizen of the Divine commonwealth and correspond with the fulness of His manifold life. While we ponder the elements of our creed we realise little by little the promise which it seals of some revelation which interprets to us our nature, and our nature furnishes us also with a new rule and a new motive for action. The Christian idea of man brings us the sense of brotherhood, which is the measure of our efforts, the sense of brotherhood with the Son of man, which is their support.

Bishop Westcott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxii., p. 177.

References: 1 Corinthians 12:27 . H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 388. 1 Corinthians 12:28 . Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii., No. 777. 1 Corinthians 12:31 . Homilist, 3rd series, vol. x., p. 330; Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 351; R. Tuck, Ibid., vol. xix., p. 248; H. W. Beecher, Ibid., p. 373; G. Salmon, Sermons in Trinity College, Dublin, p. 55; F. W. Robertson, Lectures on Corinthians, p. 73; R. W. Church, The Gifts of Civilisation, p. 5.

Verse 31

1 Corinthians 12:31 ; 1 Corinthians 13:1

St. Paul has been treating of spiritual gifts as they then existed in the Church of tongues, of prophecy, and the like. They were things to be courted and attained if it might be so. Still, there was one thing better; one way of living and proceeding, which was far in excess of all these; a way of living and preaching which could do without gifts, but they could not do without it. And by enlarging on the latter negative fact he opens his description. He will show them this more excellent way, by asserting first how worthless every gift, every attainment, is without it, and in its absence.

I. 1 Corinthians 13:1 supposes the existence of the very highest supernatural gifts without largeness of love in the spirit and character. I take this verse to represent for us the endowment, as we understand it, with pre-eminent external gifts gifts of accomplishment and acquirement to be shown and exercised before men. For of that kind was the gift of tongues. Let me not be understood as for a moment casting a slur on any of the elements of a liberal education, or as recognising the false and narrow view, which would measure that which is really useful to a man by so much only as is worn and torn in the great outward struggle of life. But if it be true that all these without Christian love are nothing, and that Christian love does not come by nature, but must be sought by culture, and by seeking God's blessing on diligent practice of it; then we have a right to expect that accomplishments and acquirements shall not be accounted the first thing, nor hold the first rank, but shall all be subordinated to the formation of this Christian character.

II. Is there not something very wrong in our land and our Church in this matter? We are not seeking after, we are not valuing, we are not encouraging, we are not even tolerating, the practice of large-hearted, universal, all-enduring Christian love. Hard thoughts are our common thoughts; bitter words our current words. Let us dare, knowing what we do, in a bitter and gainsaying generation, to maintain that love is first and midst and last in the Christian's practice.

H. Alford, Quebec Chapel Sermons, vol. vii., p. 104.

References: 1 Corinthians 13:1 . E. Blencowe, Plain Sermons to a Country Congregation, p. 191; J. Thain Davidson, Talks with Young Men, p. 61; E. H. Bradby, Church of England Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 134. 1 Corinthians 13:1 , 1 Corinthians 13:2 . W. T. Bull, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 406; T. Kelly, Pulpit Trees, p. 267. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 . W. M. Statham, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 20; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. iv., p. 58. 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 . J. Halsey, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxxv., p. 168. 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 235. 1 Corinthians 13:2 . Homilist, 2nd series, vol. i., p. 433; T. Gasquoine, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 296; J. G. Rogers, Ibid., vol. xxvi., p. 376.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/1-corinthians-12.html.