Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. 1 Corinthians 12:1
Often, when Paul uses “brothers,” he is indicating a new subject. This new discussion obviously is in answer to some questions that were asked him by the Corinthians. The apostle does not want them to be ignorant or uninformed on the subject of spiritual gifts. Unfortunately, over the centuries and even up to the present, we seem to be more ignorant about this subject than any other.
The expression, “gifts of the Spirit” (pneumatikōn) is not the normal expression for gifts, which is usually charisma. The Greek word pneumatikōn can be translated masculine, meaning “spiritual men” or neuter, meaning “spiritual things.” Translators most generally take the latter meaning.1 Often, as is here in the NIV, the word “gifts” is added for clarity. McGee remarks, “The first section of 1 Corinthians had to do with carnalities, as we have seen. Chapter 12 begins a new section which deals with spiritualities.” 2 It appears that some of the Corinthians felt they were a little more spiritual than the others because of their special spiritual gifting.
“You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols” (12:2). Human beings through the ages, and up to the present hour, have been greatly affected by idols and idolatry. Donald McCullough says, “We will be tempted, therefore, to create for ourselves gods who will not threaten us with transcendence, gods who will be manifestly useful in a world of confusing voices, and gods who will conform to the contours of our individualistic desires.” 3
In ancient times idols were fearful things, created solely by the minds of men. The idols were actually nothings – they were dumb blocks of wood, stone and metal. However, these idols became inhabited by evil spirits and therefore they became dangerous. It is clear from history that glossolalia or ecstatic speech was paralleled to a degree in paganism. This was present in the worship of Apollo, in Cassandra of Troy, in the oracle at Delphi as well as the Sibyl of Cumae.4 Prophecy, or rather false prophecy, was also present in paganism.
Severian of Gabala once said: “The soothsayer’s soul is darkened, and he does not know what he is saying, whereas the prophet’s soul is enlightened and reveals what the prophet has learned and understood.” 5 Clearly, the Corinthians had been deeply influenced by paganism and by pagan idolatry.
“Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (12:3). Jesus had said of the Holy Spirit: “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father— the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father— he will testify about me” (Jn. 15:26). Thus, we see that one of the Spirit’s main functions is to testify about Jesus. No doubt, the Corinthians had been exposed to some so-called spiritual influences who were speaking ill of Jesus. Perhaps some evil spirit had hijacked the spiritual gifts and was making such pronouncements.
It was certainly true of the Jews in these early years that they often blasphemed Christ. In their synagogue prayers they cursed all apostates and that included Christians. No doubt they felt they had a biblical right to curse Jesus because he was hung on a tree (Deut. 21:23). 6 Even to this day, in some Jewish circles, the Hebrew word for Jesus (Yeshua) is substituted by the word Yeshu. Yeshu is an acronym which means, “May his name and memory be stricken out.” 7 Obviously, this is a subtle way of cursing Jesus.
One speaking by the Holy Spirit of God will never curse Jesus. The Greek word is anathēma and it “means a thing devoted to God without being redeemed, doomed to destruction (Lev. 27:28 f.; Josh. 6:17; 7:12).” 8 In time it came to mean “that which is destroyed.” 9
In the early centuries of Christianity the pagan enemies tried to get the Christians to blaspheme the Lord. The word for “Lord” was the Greek kurios, and that was usually the word applied to Caesar. When Polycarp, the famous martyr and bishop of Smyrna was about to be executed the proconsul demanded: “Say, ‘Away with the atheists,’ swear by the godhead of Caesar, and blaspheme Christ.” The aged bishop replied, “Eighty and six years have I served Christ, and he has never done me wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” 10
DIFFERING GIFTS AND SERVICES
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 1 Corinthians 12:4.
Now Paul gets right into what is called the spiritual gifts. There are many different kinds of spiritual gifts, and it does not seem that Paul is trying here to give us an exhaustive list. In other Scriptures like Romans 12:4-8; Ephesians 4:11-13 and 1 Peter 4:10-11, he augments this listing considerably. The different kinds, distinctions, differences or distributions of gifts are made clear. The gifts themselves (charismatōn) may need clarification. Utley says, “This is the Greek term charisma. This is from the root term ‘chairō,’ which means to rejoice, or be full of joy (cf. 1 Cor. 7:30; 13:6; 2 Cor. 2:3; 6:10; 7:7, 9, 16…).” 11 Of course, the recent Charismatic Movement has sprung from this word.
There is hardly anything that has so divided the church as this subject of spiritual gifts. Miraculous tongue speaking has been the most prominent point of division. Many pastors and church members as well have been sent packing and put out of their churches because they made the mistake of speaking in tongues. Many conservative Christians have simply labeled tongue speaking as a thing of the devil and they have had nothing to do with it.
The common argument by many dear leaders is that these miraculous gifts ceased after the First Century. However, since the turn of the twentieth century there have been numerous accounts of the Holy Spirit’s miraculous activity in the church worldwide. So God is still delivering his people. Over the years we have heard many accounts of folks who even have been raised form the dead.
It is interesting that those who deny the gifts today still believe that there are gifts of administration. As Guzik says, “… Those who teach against the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit definitely believe they have the gift of teaching…” 12 He also asks, “Where is the Scriptural evidence that someone can be saved beyond the time of the apostles?” 13
We only have to look at church history to see that such signs, wonders and miracles were never removed. In AD 160, the church father and apologist Justin Martyr spoke of people receiving gifts of healing, understanding and foreknowledge.14 The church father Irenaeus (around 180), spoke of devils being cast out, of healings and of the dead being raised and remaining among the church people for years.15 The early Latin father Tertullian (about 197), wrote of exorcising evil spirits and performing cures.16 The influential father Origen (around 248), mentioned expelling evil spirits, performing many cures and foreseeing certain events.17
John Wimber, leader of the Vineyard Movement, in his book Power Evangelism, Signs and Wonders Today, recounts many later miracles and gifts of the Spirit. In the case of Ambrose (339-397), this father recounted gifts of healings and tongues.18 He states how the great Augustine (354-430) related the miraculous healings of blindness and cancer as well as the casting out of demons. Augustine said that there were actually too many miracles for him to list.19 Wimber goes on to relate many additional miracles happening in the days of Gregory of Tours (c. 538-594) and even in the later times of Gregory the Great (540-604).20 Thus, it is obviously false and fallacious for church leaders today to declare that the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased with the first century.
The apostle, in this verse and those following, emphasizes both the unity and diversity of the Trinity and of the church. Guthrie says, “The doctrine of the Trinity is unconsciously but clearly expressed in these verses.” 21 Also, while there is great diversity of gifts in the church there is a unity of the Spirit.
“There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (12:5-6). The word for service is the common diakoniōn, from the root of which we get “deacon.” It is not just the deacons, but all members who have the sacred obligation of service to one another in the church. Utley says that the miraculous gifts are not merit badges but service towels.22
The spiritual gifts in the church are described as different kinds or working (energēmatōn). It is from the root of this term that we get our English word “energy.” 23 Obviously, there is a divine energy at work in the church. It seems that Paul is beckoning us to plunge into the mysterious spiritual realm and to receive God’s gracious spiritual insights and gifts in order that we may better accomplish our ministries.
It was said of the great Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) that he, “…after a lifetime of brilliant writings, had a mystical experience that made him consider all of his writings (including Summa Contra Gentiles and his Summa Theologiae) as ‘mere straw’…compared to the knowledge of God that came to him in this experience.” 24
A LISTING OF THE GIFTS
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
1 Corinthians 12:7
We note something very important here. The spiritual gifts are given for the common good. Apparently, the Corinthians were treating the gifts as their own private treasures. They were taking pride in them, but not using them for the benefit of the church or to the building up of the Body of Christ.
Also, we notice in this verse that spiritual gifts are given to each one, or to every person in the church. Obviously, some people have not yet discovered their gift(s). Those who have not, need to pray and ask for their gifting to be revealed. Sometimes, other people see our gifts clearly while we are blind to their presence. It might be helpful just to ask our friends if they can recognize our gift. Paul challenged young Timothy with these words: “…fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you…” (2 Tim. 1:6). Stedman says, “The most carnal church in the New Testament had these gifts abounding.” 25 We should certainly not be lacking in them today.
All gifts are given for the benefit of the Body of Christ, the church. We cannot really grade the gifts as to their importance. The one that is important is the one we need at the time. Bruce says, “Some gifts may be more extraordinary and spectacular than others, but it does not follow on that account that those who receive them are more spiritual than others.” 26 I remember on an occasion or two, we traveled abroad with some person who seemed unimportant at the time, but when we came up against people speaking a different language that unimportant person would suddenly become our greatly needed translator.”
“To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit,” (12:8). The Greek word for wisdom is sophias and the word for knowledge is gnōseōs. The Greek scholar Barclay sees gnōseōs as having more of a practical application to human life. It tells us what to do in certain given situations. It helps us apply sophias to everyday life and affairs.27 He adds, “The two things are necessary— the wisdom which knows by communion with God the deep things of God, and the knowledge which, in the daily life of the world and the church, can put that wisdom into practice…” 28 Of course, Colossians 2:3 tells us of Christ, “…in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
Gifts of supernatural knowledge or the so-called “word of knowledge” gifts are fairly common in the church today. My wife and I remember an occasion when we were in great turmoil about the direction of our lives and ministry— whether we should pursue a secular job or continue on in ministry to Israel. At that critical moment, a much frightened woman in the church gave us a word of knowledge from Isaiah 48:17-22. She charged us with not paying attention to God’s direction, that we should flee from Babylonian things and declare that God had redeemed his servant Israel. With that word, we immediately changed our course and we soon began to work full-time with an Israel ministry— ultimately leading us back to Israel for many years. On several occasions afterward we thanked that dear woman for her apt word of knowledge.
In the Scripture we see several occasions where a direct word of knowledge was used. The prophet Agabus (Acts 21:10-11) foretold of Paul’s being bound. Paul himself even spoke in detail of the coming shipwreck on the journey to Rome (Acts 27:25).
Paul continues: “to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,” (12:9). The faith mentioned here is not the saving kind of faith. It is rather a special gift of faith for some particular need. I remember long ago that one of our deacons became ill with thyroid cancer. The doctors assured him that his condition would quickly become fatal. At that moment, I felt the Lord give me a special gift of faith for his healing. I became so elated that his poor invalid wife thought I had lost my mind. Her husband lay dying and her pastor had gone crazy. I can remember that there was not a shred of doubt that the deacon would get well. Within a week his condition miraculously reversed. He came to be totally free of cancer and lived to a ripe old age. That gift of faith seemed to have nothing whatever in common with my normal faith, which went up and down. It was purely supernatural.
Barclay says, “For too long the church split man into a soul and a body, and accepted responsibility for his soul but not for his body. It is good that in our time we have once again learned to treat man as a whole….” 29 In early Christianity healing of the body was a common thing. We see in this verse that the Lord has given gifts of healing to the saints. The Greek is charismata iamatōn. Morris feels that the gifts are mentioned as plural because there are different gifts for different types of sickness.30 This seems to be a pretty reasonable assessment. Today we seem to have multitudes of sick people in our churches. We not only need to establish a church ministry of healing according to James 5:14, but we also need to discover those saints in the congregations who possess certain gifts of healing and let them minister to the needy in our churches.
Paul continues: “to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues” (12:10). The first gift mentioned in this verse is the Greek energēmata dunameōn, which Smith sees as performing supernatural acts of power. 31 We can all probably remember some of the supernatural acts in the Old Testament. There were all the plagues of Egypt, the crossing of the Sea on dry land, and the supernatural manna each day for forty years. The ministries of Elijah and Elisha abounded with miracles, like the metal axe head floating (2 Ki. 6:5-7); the oil in the poor woman’s jar not running out through all the years of famine (1 Ki, 17:10ff.). There were many more.
The New Testament is replete with the many miracles of Jesus, like the miraculous feeding of the 4,000 and the 5,000; like Jesus and even Peter walking on the water. In biblical history miracles seem to abound when God’s people are being delivered. We also see Paul working miracles, like the blinding of Elymas (Acts 13:11), and Peter with the supernatural deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). In Galatians 3:5, it appears that this church had seen some miracles. The same might have been true for the Hebrew believers (Heb. 2:4). Unfortunately, we do not see too many miracles today. We might ask, “Is the Lord still delivering his people?”
Next in this verse Paul mentions the gift of prophecy. Paul says prophecy should continue in the church. However, many commentators deny this fact. One popular commentator even remarked: “Since there are no prophets in the church today, we need not worry about false prophets…” This is a dreadful statement that will leave God’s people defenseless when the False Prophet will make his appearance in the last days.
As we mentioned, many commentators do not believe that the gifts have continued to this day and therefore they are not great believers in the gift of prophecy. We are not going to get much help from them. However, Paul tells us that it is the most important gift and he encourages us to seek it (1 Cor. 14:1). Smith sees New Testament prophecy as more in the sense of forthtelling (proclamation) rather than foretelling (prediction). He feels that New Testament prophecy cannot be equated with either teaching or with preaching.32 However, we do see the prophet Agabus clearly foretelling events in more than one instance (Acts 11:28; 21:11). Prophetic gifts like all other gifts must be tested and approved by the congregation (1 Cor.14:29; 1 Thess. 5:19-22; 1 Jn. 4:1).33 The reason for this is that all gifts are in part and most will pass away when the Perfect One is revealed
Again, from long personal experience, I can remember a time when my family and I attended a prophetic meeting held by the late evangelist Dick Mills. It was a fairly large meeting and we were sitting somewhere in the middle of the congregation. Mills, without knowing anything about our family, suddenly asked us to stand. He told us that we would minister in Israel and that our children would be for signs and symbols to that nation. In time, our family did go to Israel. My wife and I then ministered in the land for a total of sixteen years, and our oldest son became a licensed tour guide in Israel. He and his wife are still there and their four children are all fluent Hebrew speakers. Our daughter loves Israel and fervently works to bless the people and the land. Our young son would return to Israel in a moment if he could but find any way to do so.
The next supernatural gift Paul mentions in this verse is the distinguishing of spirits. We know that Satan can appear as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Sometimes God’s people are really taken in by something that looks good and sounds good, but is not of God. Most of the cults look good and sound good at first. Someone once said that nothing can compete in simplicity with the inventors of religion. The cults often “love bomb” the newcomer and make that person really feel loved and wanted. However, all that quickly wears off and the grim reality of deception eventually sets in.
In the true church there is unity in diversity and that is healthy. There always needs to be people who can say, “Something is wrong here!” Or, “This is not of the Lord!” In the tragic case of Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre (Jonestown, Guyana, 1978), where over nine-hundred believers died in a mass suicide, there was no dissent. In earlier days, if just a few believers had expressed their disagreement, the whole disaster may have been avoided. Honest dissent is healthy. People need to be around to raise honest questions in the church. The early church had many differences of opinion but they still had great unity.
The spiritual gift of discernment enables certain people in the church to quickly sense whether or not something is of the Lord. This gift is greatly needed today but will become critical in the last days when Antichrist begins to establish his kingdom.
Next, Paul deals with the gift of tongues (glōssōn). This was apparently a big thing in the Corinthian church. Actually, people had probably taken it to extremes, while at the same time ignoring gifts like love for one another. This gift, more than any other, has sparked heated debate through the centuries and especially throughout the Twentieth Century. Commentators love to talk about it, even if many do not believe in it.
Guzik defines it as “a personal language of prayer given by God, whereby the believer can communicate with God beyond the limits of knowledge and understanding.” 34 This gift can be practiced privately (14:28) but in some instances it can also be used in the congregation. For congregational use there must be an interpreter present. The Corinthians apparently took great pride in this gift but Paul lists it last, along with interpretation, as if these were the least important gifts.
Once again, due to the dearth of positive material from commentators, I will share what I know and have experienced concerning this gift. I do believe it is one of the least-important gifts and that it is probably available to most everyone who desires it. The Bible also never says that it is the evidence of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, despite what many Pentecostals and Charismatics claim. We should probably go easy on the expression Baptism of the Holy Spirit, since it is used only seven times in the New Testament. In all these occasions it speaks of the original historic giving of the Holy Spirit. It seems that the Filling of the Spirit is a much better and more accurate expression for us at this time.
The Scripture does say that the Spirit is a blessing of Father Abraham (Gal. 3:14). Peter tells us, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off— for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39). He was referring a lot to tongues as he spoke this. Many years ago, I was seeking this filling of the Holy Spirit. I was at a jobsite alone in my motel room when in desperate prayer I took this verse as my own. In simple faith I opened my mouth to begin talking and in my great surprise I soon began to speak in a language totally unknown to me. The gifts are without repentance (Rom. 11:28), so they continue with us throughout our lives. Many times this gift has strengthened and assured me in my private devotions. Some may not desire it, but for those who do, it is likely available. It, like everything else in our Christian experience, comes by simple faith.
In the Charismatic Movement many people used this gift to divide the churches. That should be avoided at all cost. It should rather be used to strengthen the church and build it up. We should exercise great discretion in using this gift so that we can build up the church rather than tear it down. I like what pastor Mark Driscoll said. He once described himself as “Charismatic with a seat belt.” 35 That is a pretty good way to look at tongues and other miraculous gifts. We must remember again that they are given to build up the Body of Christ.
Paul advises us that we should not forbid people to speak in tongues (14:39). He even says that he spoke in tongues more than all the others (14:18). He does instruct us that when we use the gift of tongues in public we should make sure there is an interpreter, so that the congregation can be edified with the message (14:13, 27).
Last of all in this verse, Paul deals with the gift of interpreting tongues. Tongues at Pentecost seem to have consisted of known languages that were immediately understood by the many diverse people who were present. While this has occasionally been the case in succeeding history, most tongues are strictly unknown. For all we know, they might be languages of the angels (13:1). It seems that most tongue speakers have no idea what they are saying. When these unknown tongues are interpreted, it most often seems that the interpretation is not literal but that it is a comforting spiritual message. Most tongue speaking involves the person speaking only with God (14:28). Actually, a person can pray in tongues silently, in the mind only. Tongues are a great means of praying when we have absolutely no idea how we should pray.
“All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines” (12:11). Paul is insistent that the many gifts come from the one Spirit. Thus, while there is diversity there is also unity. The church father, Jerome, once said: “One and the same rain comes down on all the world, yet it becomes white in the lily, red in the rose, purple in the violets and hyacinths, different and many-colored in manifold species.” 36 So it is with God’s wonderful gifts.
THE ONE BODY WITH ITS MANY PARTS
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12
For some years Dr. Paul Brand worked with lepers in India, and while there he made remarkable discoveries about the disease. In his book, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, he shares a great deal of important information on the human body. He says that all the body’s cells are flooded with communication about the rest of the body and that each cell has an infallible sense of belonging.37 He relates how some cells share all the benefits of being in the body but they remain independent. They are known as cancer cells.38
Dr. Brand relates how the cells of the body resemble the interworking of the spiritual body of Christ, the church. For instance, each cell has a complete identity code relating to the whole body. With that code in the spiritual body we each become like Christ, genetically speaking we belong to his body.39 How amazing, that we believers are all sharing the DNA of Christ! He notes that “God requires only one thing of his cells: that each person be loyal to the Head.” 40 In the physical body he notes how pleasure seems to be the result of cooperation. The same thing appears to be true in the spiritual body.41
In this verse we see that although the body has many parts, there is still a unity in the body. So it is with the church. When we think of the first church we see much diversity. Some kept Sabbath and some did not; some kept kosher in their eating and some did not. Some kept feast days and some did not. Yet, in all that diversity there was unity.
“For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body— whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free— and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (12:13). Some commentators see this as a reference to water baptism, but this is doubtful since he mentions the Holy Spirit in connection with this baptism. Pett says, “It is not baptism that incorporates us into Christ, but the overwhelming work and power and flooding of the Spirit…” 42 Bruce notes, “This is the one place in the New Testament outside the Gospels and Acts where the baptism of the Spirit is mentioned…” 43
INTERDEPENDENCE IN THE BODY
Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 1 Corinthians 12:14
“In our human body the liver must find the backbone, or heart, or eye, hard to understand, but it serves them. So in a church community we find other members of the body difficult to understand, but we can listen to them and work with them.” 44 We must remember not to judge ourselves by other members who seem to have more usefulness, prominence or gifts than we do. Each member is vitally important to the whole body. If one member is honored all are honored. If one suffers, all suffer (12:26).
“Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body” (12:15). Guthrie says, “A ‘foot’ bearing the weight of the body might easily envy a ‘hand’ swinging free and unencumbered.” 45 Both have vastly different tasks, but in the physical body we find them working together. The hands sometimes steady the feet. The feet take the hands where they need to be in order to do their work. All play their part. Robertson notes the vast difference in Christian understanding of unity and the world’s idea of leveling everyone to one standard.46 This trend has accelerated mightily since Robertson’s day.
“And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body” (12:16). “The foot and hand represent men of active life; the ear and eye, those of contemplative life.” 47 They have to work closely together. Trapp says, “A man had better be blind, lame, dumb, than deaf; because by the ear life enters into the soul (Isa. 55:3).” 48
“If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? (12:17). One of my seminary professors used to gross out his classes by speaking of a 175 pound eyeball just rolling around staring up at the sky. Obviously such a member would be a helpless monstrosity or worse still, an eyesore. We can also imagine the body being one super big ear, like a giant radar receiver. It would get sound impulses from everywhere but it would have no brain to decode them. It would also have no nose to detect the skunks that just moved in. Obviously, we really need each other in the Body of Christ. We are really quite helpless when we are all alone.
GOD’S WONDERFUL ARRANGEMENT
But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 1 Corinthians 12:18
In our physical bodies, the Bible says we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psa. 139:14). How these wonders are totally eclipsed by the glorious splendor of the spiritual body, the church! We all have a great need of each other in the church. Some have practical skills and gifts that are urgently necessary at times. Coffman says, “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.” 49
“If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body” (12:19-20). Pett comments, “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.” 50 Instead, the parts of the Body of Christ work together and grow together. Our purpose is that the body will grow to the measure, stature and fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13). Meyer says, “The apostle’s aim throughout this passage is to enforce the interdependence of believers.” 51
THE WEAKER BUT INDISPENSABLE PARTS
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 1 Corinthians 12:21-22
Barker and Kohlenberger say, “the inconspicuous members of the church – the poor, the despised, the less prominent – are to be cherished and nurtured.” 52 Wiersbe adds: “Diversity in the body is an evidence of the wisdom of God…In a healthy human body, the various members cooperate with each other and even compensate for each other when a crisis occurs.” 53 The great general Dwight Eisenhower once reprimanded another general for speaking of a soldier as “just a private.” Eisenhower replied to him, “The private is the man who wins the war.” 54
Paul continues saying, “and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,” (12:23-24). Guzik adds, “Often, we consider a part of our body unnecessary or of low importance, until it is hurt – then we realize how important it is! …The parts of our bodies normally covered by clothes are often considered less honorable, but we give them greater honor by clothing them so carefully…. The ‘pride’ of the ‘honorable’ member is checked, as is the ‘shame’ of the ‘less honorable’ member.” 55 Barnes adds: “…those members of the church which are most retiring and feeble apparently which are concealed from public view, unnoticed and unknown – the humble, the meek, the peaceful, and the prayerful – are often more necessary to the true welfare of the church than those who are eminent for their talent and learning.” 56
There are a lot of Christians who have a low opinion of themselves and who feel that their gifts, if they have any, are of no importance. We only have to think of the liver. If we held it in our hands it would no doubt look like a bloody mess. Yet, we would sure hate trying to live without this bloody mess.
Paul goes on speaking of the body: “so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (12:25-26). The word for division is the Greek schism. It is from this word that we get our English words like schism and schismatic.57 A division of some sort in our physical bodies would be a terrible thing, but we can imagine that it is much worse in the spiritual body, the church.
If some member in the body suffers, the whole body suffers. Calvin refers to this as “fellow feeling.” 58 Dr. Brand in his work discovered that the great damages of leprosy happened because the nerve endings had lost their feeling.59 How tragic when this happens in the church, when we lose our feeling one for another. It is really a form of spiritual leprosy.
THE CHURCH AND ITS WORKINGS
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27
Since there is no definite article in the Greek before “body,” we can assume that this is a reference to the universal body of Christ.60 Pfeiffer and Harrison remark that “Each church is in miniature what the whole aggregate of churches is collectively, ‘the body of Christ’ (compare 1 Corinthians 3:16): and its individual components are members, every one in his assigned place.” 61 Long ago Severian of Gabala commented: “We are not individual members who elect to join together to form a whole, but rather organic members of a wider whole, which is the whole body.62
“And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues” (12:28). With the listings of gifts, we notice that some gifts might be labeled gifts to the church and others may be labeled gifts in the church. First in his listing here are gifts to the church. First and foremost he lists apostles.
It is important that we understand the critical role of the original apostles in the matter of revelation. Many of these had been with Jesus in the flesh. They had heard him speak of wonderful things. Others like Paul had received powerful revelations of Christian truth. On one occasion Paul was caught up to the heavens and heard unspeakable things (2 Cor. 12:2-4). We might need to pause and consider the levels of apostleship.
First let us clearly say that the twelve original apostles appointed by Jesus were “one of a kind” and their particular calling will not be reproduced. Why do we say this? In Acts 1:21-22, we read that the eleven original disciples felt it necessary to find a replacement for Judas who had betrayed Jesus. At this time they laid out the prerequisites for the one who would fill this position. In stating these prerequisites they said: “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” We see by this that to be a disciple in the original biblical sense, it was necessary for one to have been present throughout the ministry of Jesus, including his resurrection and ascension. These special men were founders of the church and Paul places them in a very high position.
Second, we see that the group of apostles was not limited to the twelve. There were others who had not met all the above requirements. Thus, they were foundational apostles of the second level, so to speak. Although they had not been with Jesus throughout his ministry, they nevertheless had a commission directly from the Lord and had apparently received some type of spiritual experiences with the Lord. We know that Paul, Barnabas and Silas were in this group (Acts 14:14; 1Thess 2:6). James Dunn lists some characteristics of this group of apostles. He says that they were personally commissioned by the risen Christ (1 Cor. 9:1; 15:7; Gal. 1:1). They were also the church founders (Rom. 1:5; 1 Cor. 3:5 f.; Gal. 1:15f.). They, like the others, had a distinctively eschatological role (1 Cor. 4:9;
All these original apostles had a difficult task. They had to convey accurately all the teaching of Jesus. We must remember that in these early years there was no compilation of the New Testament books, and so much rested on oral teaching and repetition. At this early time, all books had to be written by hand and it would have cost something like a year’s wages for the average working person to acquire a New Testament, had one been in existence. So the work of these original apostles was of utmost importance in determining and proclaiming sound Christian doctrine.
Third, there were other degrees of apostleship as we see reflected in the New Testament. We realize that certain others were added to the original group. In Romans 16:7 we read of Andronicus and Junias. Then we read of James, the Lord’s brother (1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19). Still, Paul tells us that these early apostles had certain marks: “The things that mark an apostle— signs, wonders and miracles— were done among you with great perseverance” (2 Cor. 12:12).
Finally we must add that there were still others who later came into the apostolic ministry. In 2 Corinthians 11:13 and Revelation 2:2, we see that there were also ‘false apostles.’ This indicates that there must have been a fairly large group of people operating in the apostolic ministry. Had there only been the original small and select group, they would have been easily recognized throughout the church and there would have been no need to warn of false apostles.
In Ephesians 4:12, we see that a part of the mission of the apostle was to prepare God’s people for the works of service and to build up the body of Christ. Obviously these works are very much needed today in the modern and postmodern church. When we observe the condition of the church today we may conclude that apostolic ministries of some sort are needed more than ever. The word apostle (apostolos) simply means ‘one sent out.’ Many are obviously sent out today. Also it cannot be denied that some are doing works that appear to be apostolic in their nature. I am thinking of the great work of Hudson Taylor and his China Inland Mission that opened China to the gospel. I am also thinking of Dr. Victor Choudry and his group, who have started multiplied thousands of churches in the area of India.64
We can do with a word of caution about this whole subject. For the office of apostle to continue in any sense today, real apostolic work needs to be evidenced. Also, the respect of this high office must be maintained by those who feel this calling. It seems that there are many running around today proudly proclaiming themselves to be apostles, but with little or no regard to the dignity of the apostolic office, and producing few if any apostolic fruits.
One new prophetic group called the ICA will make anyone a prophet for an annual fee of $450 (couples $650). If a person fails to renew his or her apostleship, that person becomes a “deactivated” apostle. 65
I have been a Christian for over 70 years and I must confess that I have never met anyone who bears the marks of a true apostle. True apostles are scarce and we need to be very cautious with this gift. Some of our modern apostles are already busy leading the church off into error. A few are saying that the word of God established by the early apostles is less important than the new revelations that they themselves are receiving. Thus, what they are calling “apostleship” might better be described as “apostasy.”
Now let us examine the office of prophet. The prophetic gift had to do with the understanding of mysteries and knowledge. The prophets spoke forth the words of God. They could speak in a predictive sense but this was not always the case. As we have said concerning apostles we also say concerning the original prophets. They were one of a kind and we remember that the church was founded upon these original apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20). In this special group of people we have some women represented. There was Anna (Lk. 2:36-38) and the four daughters of Philip (Acts 21:9).
Because of the mysterious nature of this gift we can understand how it quickly came into disrepute. There began to be many false prophets. The aged John wrote of this saying: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1). Peter also wrote about false prophets and false teachers. He warned the church about the destructive heresies that they would introduce (2 Pet. 2:1). Also, in time, “the settled ministry began to resent the intrusion of these wandering prophets, who often disturbed their congregation.” 66
Apostles and Prophets were traveling ministries that didn’t remain in any one church but ministered to all the churches. In Ephesians 4:11, Paul mentions a third traveling ministry, that of the evangelist. These three ministries made up the gifts of God to the church or to the churches.
Next Paul deals with some of the gifts in the churches. In this important verse Paul mentions teachers. We must remember again that few materials were written down in the First Century. Common people did not have Bibles and there was not yet a New Testament. The teachers had the difficult job of instructing the church on what was proper apostolic doctrine.
The apostle lists miracles (dunameis) next. We spoke a lot about miracles in our comments on verse 4. Apparently, there were a number of people in the early church who had gifts of working various miracles. No doubt, such a person would bring a lot of excitement into the early congregations and would astound unbelievers as well.
After miracles, we have listed gifts of healings. We have noted before that this gift is in the plural and apparently different people had specific gifts for certain diseases. As we have said previously, we surely need these people to rise up with their gifts because we have many sick people in our churches today.
Then Paul mentions gifts of helps (antilēmpseis). Robertson feels that such gifts would have been found in the deacons who helped the poor and sick.67 We note that in Romans 16:3, Priscilla, and Aquilla are called Paul’s helpers. Also in Rom. 16:9, Urbanus is also called his helper.
He moves on to mention the gift of administration or government (kubernēseis). Barclay says of this word, “…it literally refers to the work of a pilot who steers the ship through the rocks and shoals to harbor.”68 A lot of churches today could use this kind of gift. For some gifted people the tedious work of leading is a snap.
As Paul winds up this listing he mentions gifts of tongues. It is probably no accident that he places it last. He no doubt does this as a corrective for the Corinthians who seemed to have placed it first.
We note that Paul does not mention pastors or elders in this listing. He does so in the Ephesians 4:11 listing. Coffman remarks: “Acts bears witness to the fact that apostolic churches did not exist without elders, except for the briefest time after their founding (Acts 14:23).” 69
DESIRING GREATER GIFTS
Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 1 Corinthians 12:29-30
In the church some people have more than one spiritual gift, but it is clear that every believer has at least one. While the gift of tongues is a common gift and perhaps the least gift, it is not possessed by everyone. The reason may be that a lot of people do not wish to have this gift. The Corinthians had it and they overdid it. We might consider that these spiritual gifts are distributed among people much like the natural gifts are. Not everyone is an artist, but there are plenty of them around. Not everyone is a musician, but the gift is scattered liberally among people.
“Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way” (12:31). Paul is about to interrupt his teaching on gifts in order to tell us about the greatest gift of all. Before he does, he challenges us to eagerly desire the greater gifts. That must sound like a strange message to those who deny the gifts today. We need to remember that God once gave the important gift of prophecy to Balaam’s donkey. If he can do that for such a lowly beast, just think what he can do for us!