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1 Corinthians 12
This and the following two chapters were written to correct disorders which had arisen in the Corinthian church over the question of spiritual gifts, especially with regard to envy and strife over the relative importance of various gifts. The great test of all spirituality is its relation to Christ and his spiritual body the church. So-called "gifts" that led to the denunciation of Christ or any conduct that contravened the will of Christ were not of God, but of the devil. "Gifts" that take people away from the church are not of God's Spirit at all, but are derived from the evil one (1 Corinthians 12:1-3). There is diversity in the unity of the church, since the Lord has not given the same gifts to all Christians (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). The great metaphor of "the body" is developed as a figure of Christ's spiritual body, the church (1 Corinthians 12:12-31).
The word "gifts" is supplied; and this does no violence to the text, since it may not be denied that the "gifts" were very much in Paul's thoughts. The setting of the entire Corinthian letter should be noted.
Before the New Testament was completed, while it was still being written, in certain places and at certain times, God gave special miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit's help of the churches. F1
It is with such miraculous gifts that this and the following chapters are concerned. As Kelcy said:
These gifts were necessary in the days of the infancy of the church when as yet the body of perfectly revealed truth was incomplete. They were temporary measures designed for a special purpose. F2
The trouble was that in Corinth "The whole idea of the gifts of God's Spirit had degenerated, most of them being ignored, and the one being stressed above all others was speaking in tongues." F3 Thus most of these three chapters deals with that phenomenon. However, there are beautiful insights into many other things as well.
There is a reminder to the Corinthians here that just as they had been carried away (led away) into idolatry, there was another danger that some were being "carried away" with charismatic gifts! The impotence of idol worship also appears in this. As Wesley paraphrased it, "Ye were led by the subtlety of your priests." F4 "Literally, they were led about like a condemned prisoner." F5 As Morris noted:
There is something pathetic about idol worship. The heathen are pictured, not as freely following the gods their intellects have fully approved, but as under constraint, helpless, men who know no better. F6
The genuine test of true spirituality turns upon the attitude of the soul toward the Lord Jesus Christ. It is astounding that some of the tongue speakers in Corinth had (presumably) blasphemed the name of the Lord himself, "anathema" meaning accursed! If this seems astonishing, then let it be compared with certain "charismatics" of our own times who deny many of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity "in the name of Christ"! As Russell pointed out, Paul did not refer to those alone who actually used the words "Jesus is anathema," but to all those who practice "what amounts to the same thing." F7 To deny or renounce Christ's teaching would be the equivalent error.
Jesus is Lord ...
The sure mark of spirituality is the soul's confession of Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9), coupled with the exhibition of a life in harmony with such a profession.
The immaturity of the Corinthian church is evident in the fact of their seeking some shortcut to spiritual excellence. This is precisely the motivation, it would seem, of many in various ages who have aspired to miraculous manifestations, thinking that in these they achieved genuine spirituality. It should be noted in this connection that Corinth was the most carnal of all the churches mentioned in the New Testament; and it was precisely there that "a church had mostly gone to tongues." F8
VARIOUS SPIRITUAL GIFTS ENUMERATED
"Here the apostle called the supernatural endowments of the first Christians GIFTS, because they were foretold under that name (Psalms 68:18; Ephesians 4:8)." F9 They are also referred to in the several terms of Heb. 2:4 as "signs and wonders, and manifold powers, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will." All such supernatural wonders were scheduled to disappear (1 Corinthians 13:8); and their unique purpose was that of "confirming" the word of God (Mark 16:20), certainly not that of flattering the ego of Corinthian charismatics.
This is used nowhere else in the New Testament. F10 Likewise the word "gifts" is "a typically Pauline word, used only once by any other New Testament writer (1 Peter 4:10)." F11 It is derived from [Greek: charismata], whence the term "charismatic." another form of the word being [Greek: charis] (grace). thus these were "grace-gifts." The big point Paul made here is that all gifts came from the same Spirit. Significantly, 1 Cor. 12:4-6 speak of "same Spirit ... same Lord ... same God," giving a strong trinitarian emphasis.
The mere fact of some of the Corinthian Christians having one gift and others another gift really made no difference, since it was the same godhead working through all of them. Unlike the numerous idols of the pagans, the one true God is a unity, a unity which was denied by the parties and divisions in Corinth; and these words were written with a view to restructuring the broken unity.
To profit withal ...
"This means that they were for the common good; the spiritual gifts were to benefit others" F12 Charismatic gifts were being utilized by the Corinthians for self-promotion, especially the more spectacular and showy gifts like tongue speakings. This, of course, was totally wrong and contrary to God's purpose.
Here begins Paul's enumeration of those miraculous gifts with which God endowed certain men in the primitive period of the church's history.
The word of wisdom ...
"This was the doctrine of the gospel, communicated by inspiration, ... peculiar to the apostles, and enabling them to direct religious faith and practice infallibly." F13 This is mentioned first because it was first chronologically and first in importance.
The word of knowledge ...
This was the gift of that superior order of prophets, among whom were Barnabas, Stephen and Paul himself. As Macknight pointed out, it was this class of persons who unraveled the mystery hidden before times eternal, who discovered the deep secrets hidden in the ancient Scriptures regarding the call of the Gentiles, the rejection of Israel, the salvation of all people through the faith and obedience of Christ, etc. Paul received divine knowledge with reference to all these things; Barnabas apparently discerned the mystery of the new name and Paul as the name bearer; and Stephen unlocked the mystery of the Jewish temple, revealing that, from its inception, it represented a departure from God's will.
The list of miraculous endowments continues here. "Faith" is the endowment of all Christians, but more than faith ordinary is meant here.
It has a special meaning here. It must mean a faith that has special, visible results, a faith that enables one to do miracles (Matt. 17:20; 1 Cor. 13:2). F14
Lipscomb identified faith here as "that which enabled one to remove mountains, as Jesus said, enabling one to exert power." F15
Gifts of healings ...
As Hodge said, "This evidently refers to the miraculous healing of diseases." F16 There were many examples of this recorded in Acts, as for example when Paul healed Publius and many others on Malta (Acts 28:8,9). In this connection, it is clear that not even Paul used such a gift for the indiscriminate healing of all who were sick. There was a divine purpose in miracles, that being confirmation of the word of God. Significantly, Paul did not heal Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23), nor Trophimus (2 Timothy 4:20). As Johnson said of the gifts of healing in view here:
They are not to be confused with the work of so-called divine healers today. The gift of healing provided restoration of life, which is beyond the power of `divine healers' (see Acts 9:40; 20:9). F17
Five other miraculous gifts are enumerated here, making nine mentioned in this paragraph.
Working of miracles ...
It appears that miracles would be a greater gift than healings, mentioned above them; but McGarvey thought that these included miracles of judgment such as those executed upon Elymas, Ananias and Sapphira, saying that "The miracles of mercy stand higher in God's esteem than those which execute his judgments and mete out punishment." F18
Gifts of prophecy, including the ability to foretell future events, were the endowment of certain Christians in the apostolic age; and there would appear to have been two orders of these, the higher including those mentioned under 1 Cor. 12:8, and others whose ability concerned the prediction of events such as those prophesied by Agabus (Acts 11:28; 21:11).
Discernings of spirits ...
This was a gift enabling its possessor to identify and expose false teachers. Presumably this gift was held by all of the apostles and prophets of the new dispensation as well as by other persons not so generally known.
Divers kinds of tongues ...
The nature of the tongue speaking Paul discussed in these chapters has been the subject of much disagreement. Many of the older commentators have held that only one kind is mentioned in the New Testament, that being the miracle of Pentecost in which the apostles spoke in tongues and were understood by all who heard them, each in his own language. McGarvey and Lipscomb both understood it thus. Nevertheless, there appears to be insurmountable difficulties in such an understanding of what is in view here. "Kinds of tongues" forbids the idea of there having been only one kind; and, besides that, the special gift of interpreting tongues mentioned a moment later and the absolute necessity of having an interpreter (as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14:27,28) make it impossible to identify the "tongues" discussed here with the miracle of Pentecost. There was no interpreter then! For those who might be interested in a further examination of the interpretation that only the speaking of foreign languages unknown to the speaker (but spoken miraculously) is meant here, James Macknight treats it extensively. John Peter Lange, Adam Clarke, Matthew Henry, and John Calvin all held this view; and despite the reluctance of this student to disagree with such giants of exegesis, in conscience it must be done. The lack of any need to interpret on Pentecost, plus the opinion of outsiders that the tongue speakers were "mad" (1 Corinthians 14:23); plus the fact that there were many of them engaging in this activity all at once, requiring Paul to restrict it to one at a time (1 Corinthians 14:27); plus the impression that inevitably comes from reading the entire context - all of these things support the conclusion that the phenomenon was different from that of Pentecost.
Why was it? Why did not Paul condemn it out of hand, instead of containing it by a series of regulations clearly designed to discourage and diminish it? We do not certainly know. Yet we shall hazard the opinion that whatever purpose of the divine mind was fulfilled by it, the Corinthians had contravened it by their shameless distortion and abuse of it.
Interpretation of tongues ...
This is perhaps the key to understanding the whole passage. Through the influence of God's Spirit some could speak languages they had never learned; but for this to do any good at all, someone was required to interpret what was said, the ability to do so being the "gift" in view here. Furthermore, such a thing raises all kinds of questions. Some have supposed that both gifts of tongues and interpretations were held by the same individual; but, if that is so, why did not such an individual speak in the proper language to begin with? On the other hand if the gifts were not joined in one individual, then only on the mission field could there have been any utility whatever in it. Perhaps it was this abuse of a genuine gift God had intended for missionary work, making it a plaything and diversion in an established church, which was the thing being done in Corinth. Despite abuses, however, there was a genuine gift, which appears from Paul's words that he "spoke with tongues more than ye all" (1 Corinthians 14:18), and also his admonition, "forbid not to speak with tongues" (1 Corinthians 14:39). Paul's firm declaration, however, to the effect that he certainly would not speak with tongues in Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:6ff) would strongly indicate that whatever the gift was, it did not belong in the assembly of Christians; and this agrees with the dogmatic statement that tongues were a sign "not to them that believe, but to the unbelieving" (1 Corinthians 14:22). From this, it has to be inferred that any tongue speaking Paul did, it was in the mission field, and for the purpose of reaching people whose language he did not know. The fact of Paul's doing such a thing at all, coupled with his refusal to do it in the presence of believers, emphasizes the limited nature of the gift and also refutes the conceit that what he did was merely ecstatic jabbering. The Corinthians had probably prostituted the gift to that low level; but Paul would never have done so. The fact of his having used the gift himself, however, and the knowledge of its true utility (in certain limited circumstances, and for that age only), were doubtless the facts underlying his refusal to denounce and forbid the thing altogether.
The conclusion, therefore, is valid, which may be summarized thus:
All of the nine gifts in view here were miraculous.
All disappeared completely at the end of the apostolic age.
The mess at Corinth was a mingling of the true gift of tongues with emotional and psychologically induced ecstatic utterances, which were not miraculous at all but nonsense.
A further element of the disorder was the perversion and prostitution of the true gifts (on the part of a few), making it a device of self-glorification.
It was this mixture of genuine and false elements which made it impossible for Paul to condemn the false without appearing also to condemn the true gift. Remember, he was not present, but was writing a letter.
Therefore, he laid down the rules which would eliminate and destroy the false, but which would leave undisturbed the true gift.
Thus, there were three kinds of tongues in New Testament times: (1) those spoken by the apostles on Pentecost, (2) the gift of tongues in this passage which required an interpreter, and (3) the false tongues which had invaded Corinth.
Paul had the true gift of 1 Cor. 12:10 here; but it may never be supposed that he engaged in the non-sensical blabberings affected by the Corinthian tongue speakers.
The nine miraculous gifts mentioned here are: (1) wisdom; (2) knowledge; (3) faith; (4) healings; (5) miracles; (6) prophecy; (7) discernments of spirits; (8) tongues; and (9) interpretation of tongues.
Is the true gift of speaking in tongues on earth today? The answer has to be negative. What is admittedly true of all other gifts in this list may not be denied as true of the eighth and ninth also. A more extensive examination of this entire question is found in 1 Cor. 14.
Wonderful as was the true gift of tongues, it cannot fail to be significant that it appears last in Paul's list, both here and in 1 Cor. 12:30. Why? Perhaps it was the fact of its being so easily counterfeited. In those days, as now, anybody could do it, not the real thing, of course, but the counterfeit. This is not intended as a denial of the sincerity of some who practice this; but the sincerity of its advocates has never been a reason sole for accepting any proposition, religious or otherwise.
Paul's evident purpose in this was to discourage the inordinate over-valuation of some gifts above others, the humble teacher of the word of God being no less honorable than the holder of some more spectacular gift. He at once presented the marvelous metaphor of "the body" to prove that there are no unimportant members; because the Spirit of God has created, endowed and maintains them all.
THE ONE BODY
The great Pauline teaching that the church comprises the spiritual body of Christ is among the most important teachings revealed to man. God's device of accounting people righteous is that of forming them into a corporate unity, of which Christ is head, all the saved being members of it, the body itself being identified as "Christ," and therefore partaking of the perfect righteousness of the Son of God himself. God saves people, not by injecting righteousness into them (on the grounds of their faith and/or obedience), but by transferring them "into Christ," identifying them "as Christ," and making them, in fact, to be Christ. By this heavenly device, man becomes truly righteous and thus saved, not as John Doe, but as Christ. Faith and obedience of the gospel are the conditions antecedent to God's transfer of sinners into Christ, baptism being the action through which God effects the actual entry into Christ; but neither the faith of the sinner nor any act of obedience is the ultimate ground of his redemption, that all-important ground being the perfect faith, obedience and righteousness of the Christ himself. For full discussion of this, see my Commentary on Romans, pp. 118-126. Any man failing to fulfill the prior conditions of being "in Christ" is not a part of the body in view here, as evidenced in the next verse.
In one Spirit were we all baptized ...
Throughout the New Testament, Christian baptism is revealed to be one of the two essential elements of the new birth, without which no man may see the kingdom of God. These are: obedience to the ordinance of baptism and the reception of the Holy Spirit. Jesus joined these two essential elements by his requirement that people be "born of the water and of the Spirit" (John 3:5ff). Peter joined them on Pentecost by the command that all people should "repent and be baptized ... and ... receive the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38ff). There is no doubt whatever that Paul's words here refer to the same twin essentials of the new birth, the same being a prior condition of participation in the body of Christ.
In one Spirit ...
As Kelcy said, `This is actually `by one Spirit,' making the Holy Spirit the agent or administrator of baptism." F19 In a similar way, Christ was named as the actual administrator of the rite of baptism, even though his disciples actually did the baptizing (John 4:1,2). The unity of the godhead makes it correct to refer any action ordained and commanded by God, to the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit; and when the action is obeyed, it is proper to say that any one of them did it. This truth does not exclude the reception of the indwelling Spirit in Christian hearts, as Paul dogmatically emphasized that in the very next clause, "made to drink of one Spirit."
We were all baptized ... and were all made to drink of one Spirit ...
As Metz correctly noted, "the word `baptized' relates to the actual act of baptism." F20 The mention of the Spirit as the administrator of baptism in this verse provoked Hodge to declare that the baptism in view, therefore, is "the baptism of the Holy Ghost!" F21 If that is true, it would make Paul here declare that all of the Corinthians were baptized in the Holy Ghost, or had received the Holy Spirit baptism! Who could believe such a thing? It is true of course that all of them had themselves baptized, and in consequence had all received the gift ordinary of the Holy Spirit, common to all Christians; but to suppose that those carnal Corinthians had "all" participated in the baptism of the Holy Spirit is impossible. Of course, the design of many scholars is to get water baptism out of this text altogether; but that is also impossible.
All made to drink of one Spirit ...
This refers to the reception of the ordinary gift of the indwelling Spirit by the Corinthians in consequence of primary obedience to the gospel. "There is no evidence that all the disciples at Corinth, or any of them, had been baptized in the Holy Spirit." F22
The spiritual body of Christ, like the human body, is composed of many members, having various functions, and some "from the human viewpoint" being of lesser or greater honor; but, by the very fact of being "of the body," each member is necessary, partaking of the destiny of the whole body.
The great lesson is that various members of Christ's spiritual body have many various talents, perform many different services, some (in the eyes of men) receiving distinctions and honors; but no member of the holy body should be envious of any other. All are necessary; all are genuinely a part of the sacred whole. The differences among Christians are similar to the differences in nature, in which arena there is infinite diversity, not even two snowflakes ever having been exactly alike. This is according to God's will. In the current era, people are apparently determined that all shall be alike; but this can never be. In some limited political sense, perhaps, it may be affirmed that "all men are created equal"; but as a matter of simple fact, the opposite is true. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at the age of five years composed a concerto in one sitting and then played it from memory! F23
Robertson suggested that in this passage people "should observe the difference in the Christian doctrine of unity and equality, and the world's idea of leveling all to one standard." F24
As it pleased him ...
God made people different, each person being unique; and there were never two "equal" people on earth. This may displease man, but it pleased God, that being His holy purpose so to do.
But one body ...
Since the figure here represents the corporate body of Christians on earth, it must be accepted as God's purpose that "they all should be one" (John 17:21), even as Christ prayed. The shattered unity of Christianity is due not to the will of God, but to the devices of Satan.
I have no need of thee ... I have no need of you ...
The thought of Paul in this passage is that the learned, the famous, the talented and the honorable cannot possibly do without the rest of the body. The nation could get along without its philosophers and politicians much better than it could get along without its farmers and plumbers. The same principle holds in the church.
Necessary ... together ...
These are the big words, that show the mutual dependence and indispensability which characterize the relationship of every member of the body of Christ to every other member. There is even a sense in which the "less honorable" are more abundantly honorable. Eisenhower reprimanded a general in the army for speaking of a soldier as "just a private," adding that "The private is the man who wins the war." This is exactly what Paul was saying here.
As Dummelow expressed it, "What is true of the human body, through the nervous connection of all of its parts, should be true of the church." F25
This means that "All the members will feel involved in the misfortune or prosperity of fellow-Christians." F26 If a brother suffers any kind of sorrow or loss, those who are really Christians will share in the hurt; and whatever honor, success or joy may come to a brother in Christ, the same should be an occasion of rejoicing on the part of all his Christian brothers.
As Farrar interpreted this, "Paul did not mean that the Corinthian church was a member in the body of all the churches, but that each Christian is a member of the body of Christ." F27 Johnson added that:
There is no definite article (ye are body of Christ); and this does not refer to the local church at Corinth, for there are not many bodies, a thought contrary to the context. Rather, it points to the quality of the whole, which each of them individually helps to constitute. F28
Apostles and prophets ...
The preeminence of these is apparent in all Paul's writings. See Eph. 2:19. There is a conscious ranking of offices and functions of the Lord's church in this passage, as indicated by "firstly ... secondly ... thirdly ... then." It is significant that teachers of God's word are ranked next to the highest. It is of no consequence that the order of "miracles" and "healings" is reversed, due to their similarity.
Helps ... governments, divers kinds of tongues ...
Dummelow thought that "helps" refers to the office of deacons and "governments" to that of the presbytery. It is significant that "divers kinds of tongues" is placed last. That which had so captured and carried away the Christians at Corinth was here made to be the lowest in God's scale of values.
This reference to church government should not be downgraded nor overlooked. Church organization was not something that people contrived and added in the post-apostolic era. "God set some in the church," including elders of the church. Acts bears witness to the fact that apostolic churches did not exist without elders, except for the briefest time after their founding (Acts 11:29; 14:23).
The "miracles" in view in this passage ceased; but from this it might not be inferred that the office of elders also ceased. As Hodge said, "The evidence that an office was intended to be permanent was the command to appoint to the office." F29 those possessing the qualifications. No such continuity pertains either to the miracles, the apostles, the prophets, the healings, or the speaking in tongues.
The tragedy at Corinth was that a few who had the genuine gift of tongues were displaying it for purposes of their own vanity in the public assemblies of the congregation, where it was never intended to be used, being absolutely unnecessary and unneeded there; and then, to compound the evil, there were evidently a great many others who were getting in on the action by exhibiting a kind of tongue speaking (called ecstatic utterances) which had absolutely nothing to do with the Holy Spirit, having only one utility, that of flattering the practitioners of it and bringing down the scorn of the whole community upon the whole church. With marvelous diplomacy, Paul avoided condemning "tongues" abstractly, for that might have been to reflect upon those who really possessed the gift; but he promptly gave orders which diminished and removed the objectionable conduct altogether. However, before he would give those orders (1 Cor. 14), he would show them "a most excellent way." That way was the way of love, love itself being one of the fruits, indeed the first fruit, of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Christians (Galatians 5:22). The immortal words of the thirteenth chapter comprise the apostle's exhortation for the Corinthians to walk in the way of love.
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.