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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 12

 

 

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Verses 1-3

A Warning That Spiritual Gifts Can Be Imitated By Evil Forces (12:1-3)

'Now concerning spiritual things (‘what is spiritual’), brothers, I would not have you ignorant. You know that when you were Gentiles you were led away to those dumb idols, however you might be led. Wherefore I make known to you, that no man speaking in the Spirit of God says, "Jesus is anathema". And no man can say, "Jesus is Lord", but in the Holy Spirit.'

'Now concerning spiritual things (or 'affairs' or 'gifts' or 'persons'), brothers, I would not have you ignorant.' This is a response to a further query from the Corinthians to Paul about 'what is spiritual'. ('Spiritual' has no noun, it therefore has to be read in, thus the variety). Some of the Corinthians were clearly proud of what they saw as their spiritual knowledge and the manifestation of their spirituality through charismata (‘gifts of grace’, compare 1 Corinthians 1:7). They saw themselves as especially 'in the know' and especially spiritual, and nowhere more than in their use of 'unknown tongues', which they seem to have thought of as the language of angels. And it would seem that some constantly spoke in tongues loudly during church worship, with the result that it had become of concern to the elders. So Paul has to set the gifts in their rightful place, and to stress above all the need for unity and a right approach to their use.

The word 'spiritual' (pneumatikon) can be either masculine or neuter. It is used earlier in the letter to describe spiritual men (1 Corinthians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 3:1) and also spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:13). See also 1 Corinthians 14:1 where gifts of grace are in mind as is evident from the fact that prophecy is specifically in mind, followed by the mention of tongues. Here the context seems to favour seeing it as meaning 'what is spiritual (or 'of the Spirit')', although the term might have become a technical one for the gifts.

Thus he begins with a stern warning of the danger that what are seen as spiritual gifts, and their expression, can be hijacked by spiritual forces of evil, even leading to the proclamation of false teaching. He reminds them that before they became Christians they were led by such evil forces in their idolatrous, occult world, where they had probably also seen, and even themselves partaken in, manifestations of tongues and prophecy connected with idols. And he reminds them that it is still possible for such false leading to take place. When getting involved in the spiritual world man needs to be especially careful for there are deceptive forces at work. The only way of avoiding being deceived is submission to the Lordship of Jesus in all we do.

'Those dumb idols.' Unlike God these idols do not speak, they have no wisdom or knowledge to give. They provide no revelation. They are not gods. They are but pieces of wood, or metal. On the other hand their followers made up for it by ecstatic utterances, and in speaking in strange tongues and in spirit possession, especially in the mystery religions, all evidence of the activities of evil spirits (1 Corinthians 10:20). And it was often demonstrably ‘out of control’ of the speaker. That these are not to be seen as parallel to the charismata in the Christian church comes out, however, in that the true charismata are subject to those who use them. If it is of the Lord they are not carried along in uncontrollable ecstasy but are under the control of the user. The spirit of the prophets is subject to the prophets (1 Corinthians 14:28; 1 Corinthians 14:32). But this is not necessarily always externally distinguishable.

So they must for example measure any 'spirit' of a prophet against the body of Apostolic teaching. If for example the spirit says, 'Jesus is anathema' then it is clearly a false spirit. If however it says 'Jesus is Lord', signifying His full status in the Godhead (1 Corinthians 8:6), or reveals Jesus as Lord by the tenor of its message, then it is of God, for no evil spirit will willingly testify to His Godhood. But these two clear cut extremes may well be just that. They are probably also intended to indicate that there are other levels in between in which they can be falsely or truly led. But they can be tested by the impression that they give about Jesus. They must beware of being possessed by just any spirit, and must rather ensure that they are yielded to the Holy Spirit.

To put someone or something under 'anathema' was to cast it out, to reject it, to allocate it as God-rejected, and to bring God's stamp of disapproval on it. It was then under the curse and fitted for destruction. The thought being reflected by the false spirit here is therefore probably that the human Jesus will be so rejected by the spirit, who will magnify 'the Christ', as a semi-divine figure, who will then shine through, having left the human body in which it had dwelt. In other words it is a rejection of the true humanity of Christ. This may not be an actual example that has occurred in the church, possibly rather referring to well known examples among worshippers in mystery religions who were known to prophesy in this way.

While we must not read in here a full blown Gnosticism, some Corinthians clearly did believe that their spirits had full contact with the spiritual world, giving them special status, and did believe that eventually they would leave their bodies which would simply be left in the grave to rot, either because the body was tainted, and therefore cursed, or at the least because it was unimportant and not fit for the spiritual realm (1 Corinthians 15:12).

On the other hand someone might have seen some encouragement for this idea when mistakenly distorting such teaching as Galatians 3:10-13 where Paul speaks of Jesus as being under the curse of the law because He 'hung on the tree'. A Gentile who failed to understand the background to Paul's argument might gain the wrong impression from such teaching, especially in the light of their background, thinking that the human Jesus was being cursed so that the Christ spirit might go free (although we have no actual evidence for such being established as a doctrine until later in the first century). He may have, in attempting to prophesy, stated such a fact to the shocked horror of the whole church. Thus it may be that Paul is warning specifically against such false interpretations in terms of an example they all knew about, and is pointing out, as they would all be well aware, that the Holy Spirit could never possibly be the cause of such things being said. So the evil spirits are seen to be capable of denying both the true humanity (compare 1 John 4:2-3) and the full divinity of Jesus Christ.

Alternately Paul may have been selecting the worst possible scenario so as to establish the case. It would be obvious to all that anyone who spoke like that in prophecy could only be inspired by a deceiving spirit. On the other hand his argument might then to some extent lose its force which would be far better served by an example known to all. If that be accepted there is nothing at all unlikely in the thought that a vindictive or wildly misled attendant at a gathering of the church, caught up in the excitement of the meeting, might have spoken thus in 'prophecy'. The danger always of opening the opportunity of prophesying to all is that it will be misused by someone who is enthusiastic but mistaken. The Jews certainly thought of Jesus as accursed, precisely because He had died on a cross, which was one of their great stumblingblocks (1 Corinthians 1:23), and the idea may well have circulated in Corinth. We can imagine the shock if the church was going along with a prophecy which seemed sound, only to hear these dreadful words. It would have been a lesson indeed of the need to 'judge' prophets.

'Jesus is Lord.' This is the opposite position, that the human Jesus is also Lord of all. Compare here Philippians 2:9-11 where the fullness of what His Lordship involves is brought out. He is the One Who has the name above every name, the name of Yahweh, He is the One before Whom every knee in both Heaven and earth and the underworld will bow (see Isaiah 45:23), He is the One Whom every tongue will confess as 'Lord' (compare Romans 10:9; Acts 2:36; Acts 16:31). And this will bring great glory to God the Father.

This statement is central to Christian belief. It is by declaring that Jesus is Lord that we declare our faith (Romans 10:9). It is an essential part of being saved. Thus all true prophecy must by its very nature reveal Jesus as Lord. It is the essence of true prophecy. For God’s purpose is that in the end the whole of creation will declare that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ (Philippians 2:11). This is not simply a mechanical test, it is the whole basis on which all prophecy must be judged by others (1 Corinthians 14:29). It lies at the root of all truth.

There is here, then, a clear warning that spiritual gifts can be imitated, and that they are no necessary proof of spirituality, and that even some of the supposed charismata may in fact not be genuine. We must all beware when opening ourselves to the Spirit that we do not open ourselves to the sway of false spirits, or even false ideas, or our own false inner consciousness. The positive aspect is the emphasis on the fact that when such spiritual gifts are of God they exalt the Lord Jesus in the fullness of what He is. Here is a crucial test of what is a true gift. And here also is a test of true spirituality, a genuine recognition of Jesus as Lord, and a genuine desire to exalt Him. As with so much we must consider the motive.


Verses 1-33

Spiritual Gifts For The Well-being of Christ and His Body (12:1-14:33).

Paul now begins his reply to their question about spiritual gifts ('concerning spiritual things') and immediately gives an initial warning that such gifts can easily be perverted by the subtlety of evil spiritual forces. It is in the nature of spiritual gifts that they will be imitated and distorted by such evil forces with ill intent, for they are ever out to deceive, and will seek to mimic spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-3). Today it may be in a more refined way, but it is still ever a possibility. That is why 'prophets' must subject themselves to the judgment of others so gifted (1 Corinthians 14:29).

This is then followed by a brief description of the gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) and the stress that each is necessary for the well-being of the body of Christ. The seemingly least important members of the church with the least of the gifts is as essential as the most important (1 Corinthians 12:12-26). And the stress is on their benefit to the whole body. We should note here that there is no contrast between body and head. Here he is speaking of Christ's own body into which His people have been incorporated through inundation by the Holy Spirit into His body. The people are both head and body, made one with Christ in His body as in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17. The body is Christ and His people (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).

When Paul mentions Christ's Headship in Corinthians it is describing His authoritative position and has no direct connection with the idea of His body (1 Corinthians 11:3). He finishes the chapter here by outlining different ministries and gifts, and stresses that each should be desirous of playing a full part, consonant with their gifts, in the church, as members with Christ of the whole body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27-31).

So all have their part to play through the Spirit in nourishing Christ's body. He then stresses the way in which these gifts should be used. They are to be used in love and concern for every member of Christ's body, lovingly, gently, humbly, unselfishly, and thoughtfully (1 Corinthians 13:1-10), for no gift or act of service has any value unless used in love. Indeed our knowledge is restricted and dimly perceived, something we should recognise in all humility, but love is possible in fullest measure (1 Corinthians 13:11-13 compare 1 Corinthians 8:1-3). There is no limit to Christian love.

This is then further followed by advice and warnings with respect to the utilisation of spiritual gifts during church gatherings (1 Corinthians 14:1-33), stressing the importance of gifts that can benefit all, and warning against enthusiastic overuse. They must not be allowed to crowd out the essentials of Christian worship, the word, exposition, prayer and worship in song.


Verses 4-6

'Now there are diversities of gifts (charismata), but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of ministrations, and the same Lord. And there are diversities of workings, but the same God, who works all things in all.'

Paul then goes on the point out that there are in fact diversities of spiritual gifts (charismata - 'gifts of grace'), all given and inspired by the same Spirit, differing ministries in the church, all performed and empowered under the same Lord, many types of workings in creation (or in all the churches, or in all Christians), but all energised through the One God, Who works everything ('all things') everywhere (or 'in everyone'). Thus there is one Spirit, one Lord and one God Who is/are responsible for true spiritual gifts, for true spiritual ministry and for all that goes on either in Christians or everywhere. Note that the stress is on oneness, thus stressing also the oneness in triunity of the Spirit, the Lord and God Whose activity unites the people of God as one.

(We use the verb ‘is/are’ advisedly. Our problem when speaking of the triune God is that we have no human language with which to adequately describe Him. In the Old Testament the word for ‘God’ was plural with a singular verb emphasising this dilemma. There is nothing on earth that remotely parallels God. God is One and yet revealed in plurality. ‘Is’ emphasises the unity, ‘are’ emphasises the plurality. Neither is adequate to express the full truth about God).

Not all have the same gifts. And yet, as he is at pains to stress, if they are genuine they come from the one Spirit. Diverse gifts do not indicate disunity and disharmony, for each is necessary in the fulfilling of the church's service and ministry This stress on unity is continued by emphasising that service within the church is through the one Lord, and that the bringing about of ‘all things’ in all (giving overall coverage of anything that takes place through the church, or indeed in creation) are the working of the one God. So, as with the Lord's Supper earlier, there is a stress both on the Godward side, and here the oneness of God is revealed in triunity, and on the oneness of all believers because all are in union with Christ's body, and all that they have comes from the one God. Note on the Godward side, the emphasis on the triunity of God; one Spirit, one Lord, one God (compare 1 Corinthians 8:6).

All ministries in the church are administered and empowered by the same Lord. This is not to separate the functions but to combine the activities of the Godhead in provision for His people. Ministries and gifts are seen as part of one whole in 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, the provision of both Spirit and Lord.

And it is God Who works everything everywhere/in everyone. This could mean everything in all the churches worldwide, or everything in creation. In context possibly it is the former that is intended. All that is true that occurs in the churches is of God's working. But we would not exclude the other.


Verse 7

'But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal.'

From considering the mighty power of the triune God in His working on behalf of His people, Paul now comes down to the individual believer. The mightiest Being imaginable resources every believer as He chooses. Thus there is no room for jealousy or boasting. Each one is in some way given the manifestation of the Spirit that all may profit. This may mean that each one who is given a manifestation of the Spirit is given it for the benefit of the whole church. Or it may signify that each member of the church can be sure that they will have some gift from God through His Spirit with which they can serve in the church and make the truth known in one way or another, so that all may profit. Both are in fact true, especially if we take the gifts in their wider sense as revealed elsewhere. And all are necessary to the wellbeing of Christ's body (Ephesians 4:15-16). None can do without the other.

'Is given.' The passive verb regularly indicates that the source is God. Thus the source of the Spirit's genuine gifts is God, and the manifestation of the Spirit at work is God's gift to His own.


Verses 8-10

'For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom, and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit, to another faith, in the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healings, in the one Spirit, and to another workings of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another discernings of spirits, to another divers kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.'

His emphasis that all is from God through one Spirit continues, repeated here four times. The gifts are many but the Source and Administrator of them is one. Dogmatism on what exactly each gift consists of is ruled out, for they are not defined or exhaustive. But they are clearly gifts which cover the whole aspect of a church's need for a teaching ministry, and they are being spoken of against what Paul has previously written. From the use of these gifts the church can receive from those so gifted true spiritual wisdom, and true spiritual knowledge, can manifest faith, which will be evidenced by all and strengthens the whole church, and see that faith in action in wonderful ways, experience healings and miracles, receive prophetic guidance, have those who can discern the true Spirit from false ones, speak with 'tongues' in private prayer and experience the interpretation of tongues so necessary if the gift of tongues is ever to be used in the church. All is there that is necessary for a full orbed ministry.

Various ways of looking at these differing gifts have been suggested, but whatever interpretation we put on them must take into account that they are gifts whose purpose is to continually edify the whole church. Thus to limit them to very unusual situations is probably to misunderstand them. And we must consider them in the light of what Paul has previously written. The first two are describing the enlightening of God's people, bringing to them 'wisdom' and 'knowledge'. These remind us of the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians where 'wisdom' (1 Corinthians 1:25; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 Corinthians 2:6-7) and 'knowing' (1 Corinthians 2:11-12; 1 Corinthians 2:14-16) are prominent, in contrast with false wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:17 to 1 Corinthians 2:9), and false knowledge. There wisdom is finally found in those who come to know the One Who is the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:25) and the wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1:30). It is a wisdom not of this world, a mystery, a hidden wisdom now revealed (1 Corinthians 2:6-7). The message concerning Christ the crucified one was called 'the word of the cross'. In the same way the 'word of wisdom' must surely relate to the same idea. It is in contrast to 'wisdom of word' (sophia logou) and 'persuasive words of wisdom' (sophias logois - 1 Corinthians 2:4), and like Paul's 'word' (1 Corinthians 1:18) here demonstrates the activity of the Spirit. The 'word of wisdom' (logos sophias) indicates divine illumination in understanding about Him Who is the wisdom from God (1 Corinthians 1:30), and in having power from the Spirit in proclaiming the message revealing the fullness of Jesus Christ as the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24), causing the light to shine in men's hearts as they come to know Him as He is, so that all may have true wisdom.

The 'word of knowledge' would seem to be in contrast to the claim of some of the Corinthians to 'knowledge' (see 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 8:10). Their knowledge was something that they boasted in and which led them into actions which could harm the body of Christ. But this 'word of knowledge' is surely therefore referring to the divinely given ability to know and to impart the true knowledge so that the church may be enriched and men may know the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2:11-12; 1 Corinthians 2:14). Compare 1 Corinthians 1:5 where Paul speaks of them as being 'enriched in all utterance and all knowledge'. This is not speaking just of any preaching, but of inspired preaching in which the Spirit is the inspirer of the preacher so that he goes beyond his normal abilities revealing knowledge opened up to him by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:11-16). A man may win an award as preacher of the year without knowing anything of the word of wisdom or the word of knowledge. But he cannot be a true preacher of the Gospel without experiencing both.

'Faith.' Many combine as a threesome 'faith', 'gifts of healings' and 'workings of miracles', and see 'faith' as describing an especially deep faith which can make things happen, like the faith of Elijah (James 5:17-18). That that is part of it we do not doubt. But James sees that as a faith similar to that resident also in the elders of the church (James 5:15), and he would probably have added in all Christians. Thus there is good cause for suggesting that 'faith' here is that faith which stands not in the wisdom of men but in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:5). It is the Spirit's gift given to all true Christians, first of all founding them in faith, and then resulting in their exercising that faith in fulfilling the purposes of God in both small ways and great, including the proverbial moving of mountains (1 Corinthians 13:2).

This would then tie 'faith' in with the previous two gifts as indicating that the response of faith to the first two gifts is also a gift of the Spirit, resulting in a God-sustained life of faith, and the blessings which come from the exercise of such faith. All Christians exercise Spirit-inspired faith, God's gift to His own, some more than others, and such faith builds up the church and brings honour to God. We must not underestimate the divine wonder of true responsive faith even in its basic form.

Jesus in His teaching constantly spoke of faith as something that could be exercised in differing degrees by all (Mark 9:23) and does not differentiate one faith from another in essence, only in degree. Faith in Him should result in the ability to exercise faith in all circumstances. Indeed the moving of mountains only requires faith the size of a grain of mustard seed! (Matthew 17:20; compare Luke 17:6). Although such faith could be built up by prayer (Mark 9:29).

It should be noted in this regard that ‘faith’ in 1 Corinthians 12:9 is preceded by ‘etero (‘to another’) rather than the ’allo (‘to another’) which precedes the other gifts, which suggests that it is to be seen as distinctive, even among the gifts. This may be intended to divide the gifts into two, which are specific witnesses to Christ, and seven, beginning with faith, which are manifestations of faith. Two is the number of witness and seven the number of divine perfection. (Unlike today, in those days such use of numbers was not something to be subtly utilised, but a very part of the way people thought. Rather than being mathematical they were descriptive). Thus ‘faith’ may be including all that follows (and all gifts) as contained within them all (compare Isaiah 11:2 where ‘of the Lord’ is then expanded in the other six gifts).

The whole point of these gifts is that they will be manifested regularly in the church. It would therefore be wrong interpretation to make them so special that they are hardly ever experienced, and all true faith was certainly seen as the gift of God.

Indeed we might from this see a progression. The coming of the word of wisdom enlightening them in Christ, the word of knowledge increasing their understanding of Christ to greater depth, which then results in the strong and well-founded faith that comes from God that can face all assaults of the enemy, and can 'move mountains', and is followed up by divine manifestations in healings and miracles, and inspired proclamation of truth, all resulting from faith.

However that may be the next gifts are of the 'gifts of healings' and 'workings of miracles' which stand together as manifestations of divine power. The early church expected to experience such things among them continually as God confirmed His word with signs following. It is the general lack of these in the New Testament sense in the centuries that followed that gives support to the suggestion that not all the gifts were permanent for all time. They are given as and when He wills. But nevertheless they do spasmodically appear.

The word for 'miracles' is 'powers', which is often used of healing miracles (Matthew 7:22; Matthew 11:20-21; Matthew 11:23; Matthew 13:54; Matthew 14:2; Mark 5:30; Mark 6:2; Mark 9:39; Acts 19:11). Thus the two gifts, as general gifts of the Spirit, may simply reflect different kinds of healings including the exorcism of evil spirits, although exceptionally other kinds of miracles such as nature miracles might be included.

The final grouping is divided into two twosomes, prophecy along with the necessary discernment of spirits so that the prophets can be tested, and tongues along with the interpretation of tongues so that the tongues can be meaningful to the hearers. Some would see prophecy as limited to the recognised 'prophets' approved by the church (1 Corinthians 12:29), others would see it as a more general gift experienced more widely among members of the congregation. In either case it is a speaking forth under divine utterance, which is fully under the control of the speaker (1 Corinthians 14:32). The general impression from what follows in 12-14, and especially from the exhortation to the Corinthians that they should seek the gift of prophecy, is that it is a gift given as the Spirit wills to 'ordinary' members of the church (1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Corinthians 14:31; 1 Corinthians 14:39), although not necessarily permanently. It is not necessarily always a once for all gift and may well have been exercised more frequently by some (the recognised prophets) than by others. We can compare here the example of those who 'prophesied' around the time of the births of John the Baptiser and Jesus (Luke 1:46-55; Luke 1:68-79; Luke 2:29-32; Luke 2:38).

Prophecy is here an inspired forthtelling and exhortation (see Acts 15:32) rather than a foretelling, although the latter did occur at times among the recognised prophets. It would, however, seem that this was only rarely. Agabus appears to be the recognised exception (Acts 11:28; Acts 21:10-11). We can also consider John in Revelation. The gift was to be exercised with restraint (by two or three) and tested by other prophets, a reminder that such inspiration did not necessarily guarantee truth (1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21, compare 1 Corinthians 12:1-3 above). Its purpose was that all may learn and be strengthened (1 Corinthians 14:31). The fact that both men and women would 'prophesy' in abundance was declared by Joel, and confirmed by Peter (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17). But Acts gives us no examples of a special type of prophetic forthtelling of a type which would be common in meetings of Christians which was distinctive from the preaching of those who went forth in the Spirit, reminding us that 'prophecy' is probably to be seen as including true Spirit-inspired, divinely wrought, preaching.

This is not simply to equate prophecy with preaching, for the latter would better come under the heading of 'teaching', which of course should also be Spirit inspired (1 Corinthians 12:28). Such an equation would be totally misleading. It is a manifestation of the Spirit's working, and certainly all preaching is not that. But nor can we simply suggest that there have been no prophetic speakers through the centuries, simply because the form in which they spoke did not conform to our way of seeing it. In mind is rather the forth-telling of truth, by men truly inspired by the Spirit for the purpose, in any form chosen by the Holy Spirit. And the spirit of the prophets was subject to the prophets. And others who hear must judge.

'Discernment of spirits' probably has mainly in mind the discernment as to whether prophecies were of the Spirit or were the work of deceiving spirits (1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). But it may have included awareness of spiritual deceit generally as in Acts 5:1-10, and discernment in general of other charismata, including tongues. 1 John 4:1 also tells us that we must test/prove the spirits of the prophets (their own inward spirits) as to whether it is the Spirit speaking through them, or a deceiving spirit. There the test is as to whether 'Jesus Christ' is come in the flesh. That is, do they accept that the Christ and the human Jesus, Who came in the flesh as a human being, are one. Do they accept the true humanity of the Christ?

'Tongues' was an expression of worship in unknown tongues, and these were different and varied. Again its manifestation was controllable, and was to be controlled (1 Corinthians 14:27). But Paul saw them as speaking words when they did so (1 Corinthians 14:19) and so clearly thought of them as languages. The only description of their content is in terms of giving thanks to God (1 Corinthians 14:16-17). Paul restricted speaking in tongues specifically to not more than two or at the most three in one meeting (1 Corinthians 14:27), and then only when interpreted, and this was in meetings which could last for several hours. This was to curb their excessive use. He also rejected their public use in meetings unless they were interpreted. When an interpreter was present it could act as a means of ministry, and it was on interpreted tongues that the limit was placed. He gave no approval to public use of uninterpreted tongues. If no interpreter was known to be present they should not be used. Such manifestations were also known among worshippers in other religions, as indeed was a kind of prophecy, and it was therefore necessary to be careful on both accounts.

It is not the same as the tongues in Acts 2 which were in languages recognisable to the hearers and for a specific purpose, which included that they would be understood by the hearers. Paul is quite clear on the fact that the tongues mentioned here are unintelligible to people, whether they are real languages or not. There is no thought that it will be otherwise. 1 Corinthians 13:1 might indicate that he sees the language as heavenly, but there the idea might rather be connected with what the Corinthians thought. He specifically indicates that all do not speak with tongues (1 Corinthians 12:30) any more than all heal. On the other hand it is not to be totally forbidden in public use (1 Corinthians 14:39), as long as it is interpreted (1 Corinthians 14:27). It will come out later that one of his aims will be to prevent an apparent overabundance in the use of tongues in public worship in Corinth, while at the same time not denying its usefulness in public worship, when interpreted, and in private worship.

The interpretation of tongues is a gift of being able to interpret the meaning of unknown tongues spoken publicly (this stresses the fact that the tongues are expected to be unknown tongues). Without such an interpreter present, tongues were not to be so used. He is not necessarily a translator but an interpreter of meaning.

But that this is not intended to be an exhaustive or definitive list of all gifts comes out in that in this whole section of the letter Paul constantly lists gifts, and each time the lists differ. See 1 Corinthians 12:28-30; 1 Corinthians 13:1-3; 1 Corinthians 13:8; 1 Corinthians 14:6; 1 Corinthians 14:26. (Compare also Romans 12:4-8; Ephesians 4:11) So to these gifts listed here we could add:

· 'Helps' (1 Corinthians 12:28), possibly referring to the gift given to the outwardly lowly folk like Martha who consistently laboured for others (Luke 10:40, and consider 1 Timothy 5:9-10; 1 Timothy 5:16; Romans 16:2), although we have only the meaning of the word to go by, or the idea may be of those who gave spiritual help to women and possibly youngsters (Titus 2:4-5);

· 'Governments', (or 'those who steer'), which is possibly the gift given to those who saw to the secular affairs of the church or gave God-given guidance in general affairs (1 Corinthians 12:28; compare Romans 12:8 c);

· 'Revelation', which is linked with prophecy, but has precedence, indicating a specific word of instruction from God - 1 Corinthians 14:29-32),

· 'Teaching' (1 Corinthians 14:6; 1 Corinthians 14:26), a gift in instructing others in the truth.

Possibly also we can add 'having goods for giving to the poor' (compare Romans 12:8 b; compare also 1 Corinthians 13:3) and sacrificial living or 'martyrdom' (1 Corinthians 13:3). Romans 12 also adds 'ministry', 'exhortation', 'showing compassion'. His emphasis here is not so much on what the gifts consist of, but on the fact that all such gifts are given for a purpose, the edifying and sustaining of God's people, and he selects the gifts accordingly.

(Note. These gifts are spread throughout the church and reveal themselves in different ways, and we must differentiate them from natural gifts. These are spiritual gifts, gifts of grace, and do not rely on natural abilities, although those with natural abilities will no doubt utilise them wisely when exercising their spiritual gifts, and the gift may well enhance a natural gift. But we must not bind the Spirit to our own particular ideas of how His gifts will operate. Pentecostalists and Charismatics may see them in one way, while others see them in another way. What we must not do is remove the direct link with the Spirit's working. The Spirit is sovereign. We cannot seriously doubt that God has gifted His true people by the Spirit through the centuries, even though not manifested in the way in which some might see it. It is not for us to tell the Spirit what He must do and how He must manifest Himself. We cannot and must not limit Him. He works through people as they are and to some extent in accordance with their temperaments, their environments and their expectations. Had He desired that all be overt Pentecostalists or Charismatics, or not so, He could easily have arranged for it to be so.

It cannot be doubted that in all centuries there have been godly people who were open to His working, and we must remember that the manifestations that came in the early days often came in spite of expectations, not because of them. So why not later? Certainly through the last two thousand years, once the first century AD had passed, the more spectacular gifts were in short supply even though there were godly and deeply spiritual men through whom they could have been manifested had the Spirit purposed to do so, while at the same time the New Testament was established as the final source of revelation and means of guidance and sustenance to the people of God in these 'end days' since Jesus came, which may partly explain it. Yet we can hardly doubt that the Holy Spirit continued to manifest His gifts in some way to God's true people. The growth of the true church continued.

Furthermore, in spite of many claims to the contrary, the gifts of healings and of miracles are quite obviously not permanently manifested today anywhere in the world in the way in which they were manifested in the first century church, and most of such that are overtly claimed can mainly be put down to psychological factors or the body's natural ability to heal, combined with the factors of prayer and faith. It is spiritual healing, not miraculous healing. Jesus healed all who came to Him. There were no exceptions.

Similar to those often described in fact occur among people of many religions and faiths and there do seem to be those who naturally have 'gifts of healing' of a kind. But these are different from the gifts described here which came to those who did not have natural gifts of healing. We can rightly look for such healings, and give thanks for them, but we must not overstate what they are. Spectacular instantaneous healings which cannot be doubted are in very short supply, although apparently not so in the early days. But there were many 'healers' at work in Jesus' day, who also saw 'psychological' healings of the kind described above. The difference, however, between Him and them was that He healed all who came. And some of those which occurred could be described as instantaneous and spectacular, try as He did to prevent them from being so (what a contrast to some 'healers' today). Nothing was able to resist His power. And the early church apparently experienced the same. Would that it were so today, but it is not.

There can also be no real doubt on the one hand that many spurious manifestations are ‘worked up’ in these days by human manipulation (as they no doubt were then, but it should be noted that the New Testament never hints at a need for such practises. The Spirit does not need a helping hand). And on the other hand that many spiritual churches flourish without the outward manifestation of spectacular gifts, although certainly not without gifts of the Spirit.

On the other hand we must not deny that genuine manifestations do occur and can bring blessing to many when rightly controlled. And control is one of Paul's specific emphases. The church must be open to whatever the Spirit wills to do, but should especially beware of false manifestations, human imitation, and lack of restraint. Many in some modern day charismatic churches sadly follow the Corinthians into a 'knowledge' which is not Scriptural. In the end the test of all must be that they bring men to appreciation of Scriptural truth. End of note).


Verse 11

'But all these works the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as he will.'

Paul again emphasises that the one Spirit, the same Spirit, is responsible for all. This stresses that there are no other good spirits that speak through humans. Whatever ministry angels and spirits may have (Hebrews 1:14) it is not one of enlightening God's people through the workings of mind and heart. That is the work of the Holy Spirit and He alone, working through men of God. And He gives the gifts to each one as He will, so that we can be sure that the gifts will be there in the church. Yet none given such gifts can boast and feel proud, for they are not chosen because they are special, but because He has willed it. And what He gives He can take away. All are therefore to use their gifts for the wellbeing of the whole church, recognising the Spirit's sovereignty.

'Even as He will.' Note the emphasis on the will of the Spirit bringing out that He acts personally in what He does.


Verse 12

'For as the body is one, and has many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.'

Paul here likens Christ and His people to a body with its many different parts, and he describes them not as 'the church' but as 'Christ'. This revelation of Paul's inspired thinking must be carefully noted. It is not that Christ is in Heaven and we are on the earth, it is that we are with Him in 'heavenly places' (John 14:18; John 14:23; Ephesians 2:6; Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:1-3), and He is present on earth with us and in us, manifesting Himself through us, so close is the union. It is not satisfactory to simply see these as metaphors, although they are partial metaphor. His nearness and indwelling in His people is a genuine reality. It is a oneness that goes beyond metaphor, although we must, while enjoying it, not build great theories on it. And the spiritual realm, the unseen realm, is a reality. In the end the body is the glorified Christ.

This verse should be writ large in all our hearts for it reveals Paul's central emphasis and will save much false interpretation. It is in close union with Christ's body sacrificed in death and its consequence that we are one body (Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 1:22), for it is through unity with Him that we are one (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). The body is primarily Christ, not the church. So it is in union with Him that we are the body, and the closer we sense our union with Him to be, the more will we see ourselves as one with His people in 'the body'. In all that follows we must remember that he is not speaking of the church as the body, but of Christ as the body with Whom they have been made one and through Whom the church lives. It is not a physical body at all, but a spiritual body, although partly and dimly manifested through physical bodies.


Verse 13

'For in one Spirit were we all baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free, and were all made to drink of one Spirit.'

Again note the continued emphasis on the one Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 1 Corinthians 12:11). His purpose is once more to emphasise the unity of all Christians as made one in the Holy Spirit in Christ. The oneness of the people of God with Christ through the one Spirit is seen as vital. In or by the one Spirit we have been inundated into Christ. Through the Spirit's overwhelming activity we are made one with Him, and have become that through which He reveals Himself and personally acts. Christ is seen as genuinely present on earth not just through His people but in His people (who abide in heavenly places - Ephesians 2:6). And all are therefore to be seen as equal and one, each a full representative of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20), and each a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), even as we are all also together one sanctuary (1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:20-22). Christ walks on earth, not as us, but in us, for He dwells within us.

'For in one Spirit were we all inundated (baptizo - deluged, baptised, overwhelmed) into one body.' John the Baptiser had proclaimed of Jesus 'He will deluge (baptizo - drench, baptise, overwhelm, inundate) you in/by Holy Spirit'. Here Paul says that this is the means by which He has incorporated all the people of God into Christ. In/by one Spirit we are incorporated into Christ as if in a mighty flood, coming from Heaven in the form of rain which becomes a mighty flood, giving us life, and filling us and satisfying us, and making us one with Him, just like a great flood brings all to the same level and unites all that it covers, and results in life wherever it goes (compare Ezekiel 47:1-12). Note that the emphasis is not on the deluging but on the Spirit. Whether we see water baptism here (which is doubtful) or not it is secondary to the reality. If water baptism is in mind here it is as a picture, and we must not lose the reality in the symbol. It is not baptism that incorporates us into Christ, but the overwhelming work and power and flooding of the Spirit.

It is doubtful whether Paul is thinking of water baptism, although it is always possible, even probable, that it may have been in the background of his mind, for 'baptism in the Holy Spirit' as described here was spoken of by John the Baptiser as being the fulfilment of what his baptism signified, the greater reality, of which His baptism in water was but the prophetic picture. And it was Jesus Who would baptise in Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16), and Jesus Himself particularly contrasted baptism with water from baptism in Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5) and had in mind for the latter what happened at Pentecost. That was the initial 'baptism in the Spirit' into the body of Christ, (not just 'into the church', but into Christ Himself as one with His people by spiritual union) into which subsequently all who truly respond to Christ are incorporated in the Spirit.

'And were all made to drink of one Spirit.' Again drinking is never associated with water baptism, but it certainly is with life-giving rain (Hebrews 6:7), and the springs and rivers that result (John 4:14), and Jesus Himself linked 'coming to Him and drinking' with the coming baptism (drenching, overwhelming) in the Holy Spirit which firstly occurred in the Upper Room and at Pentecost (John 7:37-39). Thus both descriptions cover one and the same experience. Water was one of man's greatest blessings, and lack of it a curse. It was life-giving and life-sustaining. Man drank and was satisfied. The good earth drank and was fruitful. We should note that the only other verse which links drinking with the Spirit is in Isaiah 29:10 where LXX translates ‘poured out’ as ‘being made to drink’.

Man was experienced at channelling floods for the good of the soil. That was how the Negev was made fruitful. That was why Egypt was so fertile. Thus is the Spirit likened to God's provision of abundant water, inundating the earth and causing it to drink so as to produce fruitfulness. So in the background here is the thought of the life-giving rain as so often pictured by the prophets in describing the coming of the Spirit (Isaiah 44:1-5; Isaiah 32:15; Isaiah 55:10), and the life-giving water from the flood-river, spring or well of life which resulted (Isaiah 59:19; John 4:14; Zechariah 12:10 with 1 Corinthians 13:1). Compare also Ezekiel 36:25-28; Ezekiel 47:1-12. And through this deluge we were all made one body with Christ in His body and were all made to drink of one Spirit. Thus Christ's own body in which we are incorporated, and the Spirit within the body, are one, and we too are therefore one and are to manifest the fact. And constantly in Scripture behind the thought of the provision of rain and water is the thought of life and fruitfulness (e.g. Isaiah 44:1-5 and often; Matthew 3:8-12 linked to his baptism; John 4:10-14).

This emphasises the spiritual nature of 'the body'. The purpose of the body is not to walk on earth but to walk in Christ, as united in Him, and to grow into Christ (Ephesians 4:15). Walking on earth is incidental to the concept, and it is as incorporated into Christ that it is to be Spirit nourished and sustained, partly through the gifts He has bestowed. The doctrine of the body of Christ always emphasises this growth into Christ. It is a spiritual body. It is never used in Scripture as depicting the idea of the church active in the world. The church is active in the world, and Christ is active in the church, but the former is not the significance of the Scriptural idea of the body. It is rather associated with our being in Christ.


Verses 14-17

'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", it is not therefore not of the body. And if the ear shall say, "Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body," it is not 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?'

Having stressed the unity of the body Paul now distinguishes the individual members. The body is not one member, but many. There are feet and hands and ears and eyes (and head - 1 Corinthians 12:21). Each is a separate part of the one body, and the head is also but one member of the body.

He presents his picture quaintly and picturesquely as though different members of the body were trying to deny their place in it. (Which some of the Corinthians may well have been doing, thinking themselves superior). But they must recognise that they cannot, for the body needs all. All are necessary and not one must be lacking. All the members he selects are major parts and well separated from each other. And yet they are one in the body. It is clear that the body cannot do without them. They are all equally important to the whole.

In the same way, he implies, all the believers, with all their widely differing gifts, are necessary to Christ's body. It is possible that in his selection of members, eyes, ears, hands, foot, he intends us to see that he includes those who were inspired to see and hear the truth, and those who performed the truth by going forth and doing good by hand and foot.


Verse 18

'But now has God set the members each one of them in the body, even as it pleased him.'

And each member is set in the body by God as they are needed, and in accordance with His good pleasure, so that we can be sure that what the body requires will be provided. Every one individually is chosen and given their place in the body. So each is important to God, and each, if responsive, in his proper place.

'According to His good pleasure.' Compare 'to one is given' (1 Corinthians 12:8), 'severally as He will' (1 Corinthians 12:11). The emphasis is on the fact that all is done according to God's will.


Verse 19

'And if they were all one member, where were the body?'

Indeed if all the members were exactly the same where would the body be? There would be no body, just a pile made up of quantities of one particular member, a pile of legs or a pile of eyes, and so on. The idea is ridiculous. No, all the differing members are required to make up the body, and all need differing gifts for the benefit of the body, and all are interdependent.


Verse 20-21

'But now they are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you", or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you".

So the body being made up of many differing members, each has to recognise that all are necessary for the whole. Behind the statement, 'I have no need of you', is almost certainly the attitude of some of the Corinthians who saw themselves as spiritually superior and in no need of others. Sometimes Christians can gather in small groups thinking themselves to be superior, but they should then recollect their great need for the whole of Christ's body, of which they are a part, (and if separated, a disabled part).

Note again in all this that the head, eyes and ears are simply members of the body. There is no thought of Christ as the head. In 1 Corinthians that is a different concept (1 Corinthians 11:3), not connected with the body. It may be that the eye and head are to be seen here as superior members, with the idea in mind of those Corinthians who had inflated opinions about themselves, and looked down on the lesser members and saw them as unnecessary. If so Paul is bringing home to them how essential the other members are. We would not want to be without hand or foot.


Verses 22-24

'No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be more feeble are necessary, and those parts of the body, which we think to be less honourable, on these we bestow more abundant honour, and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness, whereas our comely parts have no need.'

Indeed it is the seemingly most unimportant parts of our bodies, our 'less honourable' members and our most uncomely members, on which we bestow the most honour and care, ensuring that they are covered and clothed. (The verb for 'bestow' is used of clothing in, for example, Matthew 27:28). We treat them with honour and seek to make them comely. We clothe our feebler parts. So should God's people care for the meanest of their number so as to ensure that they too are honoured and made comely, as they can be sure that Christ, Whose body they are, certainly does (compare Ephesians 5:25-32).


Verse 24-25

For God, in tempering (combining) the body together in Christ, has given more abundant honour to those parts which were lacking, so that all would be as one and there might be no schism, so that all may care for one another. In mind here especially would seem to be those Christians who in their physical poverty had not been cared for but had been allowed to go hungry (1 Corinthians 11:21-22). There may also be in mind some who criticised the use of spiritual gifts by others, and those who were criticised. The use of tongues seems to have been one of the dividing factors. Thus Paul says that while control was certainly necessary, their use was not to be forbidden (1 Corinthians 14:39). God's whole concern is that there be no schism in the body.


Verse 26

'And whether one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it.'

Indeed the literal body is so made one that when one member of a literal body is in pain the whole body is aware of it and suffers, for it affects the whole. When we have a raging toothache, for example, it affects the functioning of the whole body. In the same way Christ's body should be so one that when a member of Christ suffers, the whole of Christ's body should suffer with him, and indeed his suffering does, like a toothache, affect the functioning of the whole body, even if only in a small way. The body cannot feel whole while one member is in pain. And the same applies when one member is honoured. The whole body is (and should be) so united that it rejoices in his being honoured, for they share in his honour. Such should be the oneness of Christ's body in its divers manifestations.


Verse 27-28

'Now you (the 'you' is emphatic) are the body of Christ, and severally members of it. And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, guidance, divers kinds of tongues.'

So he reiterates that all Christians are united with Christ in His body, and that the Corinthian Christians are emphatically so. 'YOU are the body of Christ', each one being separately a member of that body. They must not avoid what they are. And in order for His body to be nourished, sustained and cared for God has set in the church people with many types of gift, and they should look to one another. For it is He Who is over all. First, at the head, come the Apostles. Then come the regular prophets. Then come the teachers. And then various other 'gifted' members, who reveal gifts such as miracles, gifts of healing, helps, (the cognate verb refers to helping those in need), guidance (those who govern, those who steer), various types of tongues.

Note how what we would call functions are intermingled with gifts. Each is seen as a gift to the church. Each has his function by reason of such a gift or gifts. (We note elsewhere how the Apostles had a combination of these gifts). The spread of gifts is intended to cover all gifts from top to bottom, and from spiritual ministry to practical. All are a necessary part of Christ's body. And all function for the benefit of the whole.

As always when Christ's body is in mind the thought is not of ministry to the outside world, but of that which builds up and sustains within. Oneness with Christ in His body, and the growth of the whole into the 'perfect man', 'the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ' (Ephesians 4:13), is the idea behind the picture.

The unusual fact of grading the first three gift/functions is probably as a reminder to the rebellious among the Corinthian prophets and teachers that the Apostles, and he as an Apostle, are primary, and that therefore his word should be heeded. In God's eyes he is among those who are 'first', while they are but second and third. But at the same time the fact that he grades them demonstrates that he wishes to establish the importance of prophets and teachers. They are leaders of the churches (Acts 13:1). The final gifts are not graded but seen as in parallel (otherwise he would have continued to use 'then'). Oneness does not mean that there are not those who are in overall charge.

'Apostles.' This was the title given by Jesus to the twelve whom He appointed (Luke 6:13) as the foundation of the new congregation (church) of Israel (Matthew 16:18; Matthew 19:28). United with that group (as altered by the introduction of Matthias on the defection of Judas and probably James, the Lord's brother on the martyrdom of James) were Paul and Barnabas as the Apostles to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:8-9; Acts 14:4; Acts 14:14). There is never any suggestion that individual churches had Apostles at their head. The term 'The Apostles' always has in mind the twelve and/or the two, although 'apostle' is twice a description used by Paul of messengers sent to or by him as ambassadors, but probably not as a permanent title (2 Corinthians 8:23; Philippians 2:25). Also in 1 Thessalonians 5:6 Paul probably loosely includes Silas (or all his companions) in the term 'apostles of Christ'. But we should note that when he includes Silas with himself in the headings to his letters he unusually does not use the title Apostle. He clearly did not see Silas as an Apostle in the full sense of the word. Otherwise (apart from the reference in Hebrews of the concept to Jesus Christ Himself - Hebrews 3:1) there are only false apostles, man made apostles who set themselves up as Apostles.

This uniqueness is brought out in the qualifications necessary in order to be an Apostle. They must have followed Jesus from the beginning and be witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). They were thus eyewitnesses and receivers directly of His teaching. Paul, as a part exception, saw himself as 'untimely born' (1 Corinthians 15:8) as a witness of the resurrection.

'Prophets' These would seem to be men who are seen as having a permanent gift of prophecy and thus hold a recognised position in the churches (Acts 11:27; Acts 13:1; Acts 15:32; Acts 21:10; Ephesians 4:11). They are linked with 'teachers' as representing recognised leaders (Acts 13:1-3). (Had there been 'apostles' connected with churches they would surely have been mentioned in Acts 13). Their main ministry was exhortation and inspired preaching (1 Corinthians 15:32). Only Agabus is actually described as foretelling the future (Acts 11:28; Acts 21:10-11). Thus while foretelling must not be excluded this was clearly not their prime function.

As prophecy in general is not mentioned in the list, in spite of its prominence in chapter 14, this might be seen as supporting the idea that prophecy was limited to the official prophets, but probably Paul also saw this mention of prophets as covering all gifts of prophecy under one heading so that it did not need to be brought in again. He was not trying to give a comprehensive picture.

'Teachers.' Our paucity of information about 'teachers' is such that dogmatism is excluded, but their position as leaders in the churches (Acts 13:1-3) demonstrates that along with the prophets they were responsible for the spiritual instruction of the churches. This would include delivering and interpreting the Old Testament Scriptures, and the Testimony of Jesus, which would be the traditions on the life and teaching of Jesus officially passed on orally, and in some cases almost certainly written down (Luke 1:1).

The remainder of the list are gifts, and this is a reminder that the mention of these first three is because of the benefit they bring to Christ's body as gifts by God to His people. 'Helps' has probably in mind those who act practically and helpfully for the good of the whole as in Romans 12:8 b; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 1 Timothy 5:9-10; Titus 2:4, and even in prayer (1 Timothy 5:5; Luke 2:36-38). 'Guidance.' The cognate word is used of steersmen on ships and this may signify moral guidance, or general guidance with respect to the affairs of life, both spiritual and physical, given both to the whole church and to individuals. Some translate as 'administrations', but we must recognise that the idea goes beyond just administrative functions.

It is noteworthy that tongues continually comes at the end of the lists. This cannot be accidental. This is partly because Paul sees it as mainly a personal gift (1 Corinthians 14:18-19), and thus as less beneficial in public use than other gifts. But it is probably also because it was mainly about tongues that the church was concerned when submitting its question (1 Corinthians 12:1), and because he intended to deal with it in some detail as a problem to be sorted out.


Verse 29

'Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all gifts of healings? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?'

The questions are a reminder of their interdependence. As he has already demonstrated, the gifts are distributed throughout the body. All do not have all the gifts, and some have more than others, but all have their part to play in building up and establishing Christ's body. It should be noted here that not all speak with tongues any more than all do miracles or prophesy. There are no Biblical grounds for the statement that tongues is a sign for all of the reception of the Holy Spirit in a special way. (The passages in Acts that mention tongues will not bear the weight put on them. They refer to unique situations where tongues were a necessary sign so as to show that Jews of all nations, Gentiles and disciples of John the Baptiser, a unique group who were numerous in those early days, all had to be, and could be, incorporated into Christ by the Spirit).


Verse 31

'But desire earnestly (or 'you desire earnestly') the greater gifts. And moreover I show to you a most excellent way.'

At first sight this seems to contradict what has been said before about the gifts being given by God in accordance with His will, but the thought is not of trying to get the greater gifts for themselves, but of obtaining for the whole church the benefit of the greater gifts, and of aiming to be the best and most useful that they can be for God. No Christian should be satisfied to be an 'also ran', just there to fill up the seats. He is to earnestly desire before God the greater gifts, without demanding them for himself, so as to advance God's Kingly Rule. It is also probably to counter the desire of the Corinthians for what they saw as the more spectacular gifts such as tongues which they saw as the language of the angels. If you desire gifts, says Paul, desire the greater gifts.

The 'greater gifts' must be those so listed, prophecy, teaching and powerful miracles (if linguistic distinctions mean anything the others are shown as being on the same level). They are to be earnestly desired because of the benefit they are to the church. But there is an immediate caution demonstrating the spirit that must lie behind the 'earnestly desiring'. They must be sought so that they can be used in love. This must not be a matter of personal ambition and personal aggrandisement, but of longing to obtain the very best for God's people.

Some translate using the indicative, 'you earnestly desire the greater gifts' (which is possible), as a kind of rebuke, leading on to an admonition to act rather in love, but similar exhortation is found in 1 Corinthians 14:1; 1 Corinthians 14:39 of desiring to prophesy, which supports the imperative here.

'And moreover I show to you a more excellent way.' This qualifies the plea to seek the greater gifts. He will now describe the way in which these and all gifts should be used, in love and concern for the whole body, for without such an attitude they will be an empty noise. If love is not at the root of the request it were better not to seek them.

The Corinthians were walking in a way where 'the spiritual' was exalted, but sadly it was 'the spiritual' in false terms. It exalted special 'knowledge', it exalted wisdom, it exalted prophetic utterances, it exalted speaking in heavenly languages, it exalted manifestations. Even though it was causing disagreement and dissension and lack of unity, they were confident that they had found the true way. Paul therefore declares that he will show them a more excellent way, the way of love. It is love, he declares, that is the more excellent way. It is love which lies at the heart of true spirituality, not spiritual manifestations. And he will now reveal that, by showing that all spiritual manifestations are lacking if love is omitted, gain their true meaning by being used in love, and that love is over all.

It should finally be noted that the fact that we should earnestly desire the greater gifts is no guarantee that we ourselves will receive them. This is not an injunction to go on praying, and never stop, untilweget what we want. It is rather an indication that, like Paul, we long for the fulfilment of God's purposes through us, and through the church, and to submit to His will in it. It will then be up to God to allocate those gifts as He pleases, and to show us the way that he wants us to take.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 12:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-corinthians-12.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, August 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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