“…concerning spiritual gifts…”
In the churches there are many misconceptions, errors and even outright lies. Today, some churches have made these things their foundation. In this chapter we see that though there are many types of people and different gifts, each one of them is united in one body, ‘the Church’.
We are told there should be no schism in that body. For this reason, countless charges have been laid against me, that I am causing schism by denigrating fellow believers who happen to be charismatics. They ask how can I do this when they are fellow members of the same body?
My answer is this – no man ‘happens’ to be a true charismatic, and one who has chosen the charismatic road chooses a whole ethos. There are two types of ‘charismatic’ – the one who deliberately enters into the charismatic scene because of its theology, and the other, a Christian, who almost inadvertently enters it and knows very little of the underlying thinking. This latter type is my brother. The former type is not if he prefers charismatic heresies to biblical truth.
Salvation is an act of God, and He chooses who will be saved. This is, basically, predestination and election. Charismatic theology teaches otherwise: that men can choose God any time they wish, by a process of thoughts and emotional responses. This is Arminian heresy, which places the will of men above that of God, or at least equal to it.
Ordinary reason tells us that if a man deliberately chooses a charismatic theology and says he chose salvation, believing and teaching this to others, then he is heretic and is not saved. Therefore, from scripture, we can say he is not my brother. Believing himself to be soundly saved, he is bound for hell and requires to hear the true Gospel, in order to be truly saved.
If true charismatics are not my brethren, I cannot cause schism in the Body by opposing them, because they are not, and never have been, members of that Body of Christ. They are not of the same Spirit, but are alien to me. Christians must learn the difference between true charismatics and inadvertent charismatics who have imbibed bad theology without realising it.
In this chapter we will look at what is meant by spiritual gifts and start to define what they are. Bear in mind (as we shall see) that the list of gifts given in this Book are not the only ones, but are representative of the whole marvelous spread of gifts given by God to genuine believers.
In defining what these gifts are, we will attempt to cut ourselves off from the definitions given by charismatics, so that scripture can speak for itself. In this way we shall see what God says, rather than men. Scripture is our defining measure, not charismatic pseudo-theology.
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.
Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.
Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
And there are difference of administrations, but the same Lord.
And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.”
Paul now turns his attention to another matter – spiritual gifts. He does not define what they are but simply talks about them as though the Corinthians already know what they are and how to interpret them, along with their uses. In many ways, definitions of what is true and false are easy for those who are of God. It is only when we defy conscience that interpretation becomes a problem.
Paul is talking about the gifts because he does not want the Corinthians to be ‘ignorant’, agnoeo. He does not wish them to lack in knowledge and understanding, to be mistaken, about the gifts. This is set against a background of heathen worship where gifts were claimed but were unreal and false. They must know what to think about them or they would again be dragged away into superstition and error. As today, when charismatic heresies and ignorance abound.
Now the word ‘gifts’ is implied rather than explicit in this verse, for it does not appear in the Greek. I say they are implied, because Paul goes on to speak about them. The actual wording in the Greek is “Now about the spiritual matters…” or “Now, about the spiritual…”.
‘Spiritual’ is pneumatikos. This word is often taken to refer only to the activities of the Holy Spirit, but this is inadequate. It can refer to the Holy Spirit, or to the human spirit or soul (often synonymous in the New Testament), or to an angel (good or bad). It can refer to those things of the Holy Spirit, or to men filled with the Spirit. It can also refer to wind or breathing, or to someone/thing exposed to the wind.
The word is derived from its root, pneuma, which refers directly to one of several meanings – Holy Spirit, Jesus’ Spirit, the spirit of truth, the human spirit or soul, a movement of air, the spirit or ‘vital principle’ that causes everything to live (by God), the ability to know something, a life-giving spirit, a human soul that has left the body, heavenly angels or demons, the nature of Christ, God’s power, a person’s soul direction or path. So, you can see that ‘spiritual’ can have one of many meanings (the above list is not complete).
Ultimately, the root of both words is pneo, meaning to blow (as wind) or to breathe, with its implications of movement, life, and taking out/putting out. Which meaning, then, can we apply to ‘spiritual’ in this text? The answer is surprisingly simple – the meaning is given in later qualifying texts or words, which refer to ‘diversities of gifts’. So, ‘spiritual’ in verse one can be taken to mean the spirit of truth as it is projected by the Holy Spirit through the human spirit, as physical and mental activities. As pneo suggests, this activity is real, fresh and active, and is not just a thought or theory.
This basic meaning, e.g. the things of God as found in men, is supplemented in further explanations for each gift.
The Corinthians were ‘once Gentiles’ or ethnos, heathen. Note that the term ‘ethnic’ really means ‘heathen’, though it is used too loosely in society today. An ‘ethnic minority’ is, then, a small group of heathens, made opposed to God by their false beliefs. Far from being a colourful addition to society, they are ungodly and pagan. They are Gentiles. Do not suppose, however, that only Muslims, etc., are heathen, for the same title is applied to all non-Jews, too! That includes most of us.
The term should not be used, then, in a derogatory sense, but to define every non-Jew who is unsaved. Paul was referring to the Corinthians as a ‘nation that did not worship the true God’. They were once Gentiles, outside of God’s protection, and worshipping idols. The words tell us that people who are idolatrous are ‘carried away’ and ‘led’. That is, led off to prison or punishment, misled, seduced, and then trained in what is wrong. They were seduced to follow ‘dumb idols’…silent false gods, without power and insignificant (aphonos). Roman Catholicism is a modern example.
True charismatics can be defined similarly, for they remain ‘ignorant Gentiles’, unsaved and worshipping their own version of ‘God’, close to the real thing, but heathen and false. They are seduced by their theology even though their ‘Christ’ is false and has no power. In this they are as good as in prison, bound hand and foot by their own desires, and by Satan, their father. In their seduction is an element of willingness. This was made very plain in first ‘wave’ of the Toronto Blessing and it continues today in many guises. It is no coincidence that they are aligned with Romanism.
Therefore, says Paul, I want you to understand that no Christian can call Jesus ‘accursed’ or anathema. That is, no Christian can curse Christ or say that He is a curse upon others. And, only the Holy Spirit can cause a man to admit that Christ is The Lord, kurios – sole master Who can take us up and dash us down at will, our Messiah and sovereign.
Now, this does not necessarily mean that if a man says ‘Jesus is Lord’, he is to be regarded as saved. No, the text says that a man cannot say it unless made to do so by the Holy Spirit. I have personally heard men scream in agony that Jesus is Lord, though they were possessed by demons and hatred. Scripture tells us that Satan acknowledges the Lordship of Christ, for he has no other option. He knows it to be fact, though he is personally doomed. One cannot deny the truth, though many try to reject it in their own lives. Perhaps the thrust of this text is that God is supreme and nothing occurs without His knowledge and/or prompting.
Now, he says, there are ‘diversities’ or different gifts or charisma. ‘Diversities’, diairesis, tells us that the gifts are varied and distinct. The word includes the meaning of distribution. Thus, the phrase can read ‘there are different gifts given to each person as God sees fit’. Each Christian, then, is given gifts personally by God, Who chooses what to give and when. They do not necessarily have the same gifts, nor can they ‘claim’ gifts God has not allocated to them.
This must be borne in mind when we come to a later text that refers to us ‘asking’ for gifts… if God gives them as he sees fit, we may not assume that we can ask for anything we wish. Rather, God divides up His gifts into parts (diaireo) and distributes them to us by name. Thus, no Christian will receive a gift that is not meant for him, merely because he desires it or prays for it. This choice by God is discovered in the original root words of diairesis, dia meaning the channel of an act, and haireomai meaning to choose or to elect or to take for oneself (i.e. God).
We have, then, established that it is God Who chooses which gifts to distribute to individual Christians. What is meant by gifts or charisma? Firstly, charisma are defined as being free. They are received without any merit on our part and such gifts are many – far more than appear in the book of Corinthians. They include faith, knowledge, virtue, holiness, and even salvation itself. Gifts can also include extraordinary powers used for the benefit of the whole Church; these are rare. All gifts are made alive by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit. Christians who have gifts that display power are not, therefore, powerful in their own right, and the power does not rest in them personally.
The gifts are given as a pleasant benefit, charizomai, a free favour given by God to one who is already saved by His grace. Gifts claimed or used by the unsaved are not given them by God, but by Satan, who will mimic God’s grace. God’s gifts contain the promise of forgiveness and kindness, etc., These attributes are not found in false gifts, which do not display the essentials of grace, charis – sweetness, joy, pleasure, delight, charm, grace of speech, loveliness, good will, loving kindness, and so on. From chairo, meaning to rejoice exceedingly, to have God’s blessing. False gifts are chilling by nature and evoke feelings of despair and fear, sometimes hidden under a generalised anxiety or agitation.
Verse 4 is a broad statement – that all gifts given by God and distributed as He sees fit, come from the same Holy Spirit. Paul goes on to give other broad statements, all saying that whatever is given, is given freely and with individual purpose, by God (and so, not by our own choice).
There are ‘differences’ (diversities) of ‘administrations’. Surprisingly, a vast number of Christians, without proper examination of the text, take this to be a support for denominations and for a variety of ‘management’ techniques in churches. This might be a convenience, but it is not what this term means! ‘Administrations’ is diakonia. Thus, there are different ministries.
It can also refer to the office held by Moses, to teachers of Christians, the Apostles and the way they worked, prophets, evangelists, those who collect and distribute for others (e.g. for the needy), deacons, those who prepare and serve food (the primary ‘job’ of deacons). Again, the main thrust is that though there are many different offices within the churches, there is only one Lord, kurios.
We can see that diakonia is an umbrella word. From this general word comes the more specific diakonos, which means deacon. His task is to care for the poor (something few do nowadays) by distributing money and food, etc. He may also serve at table during feasts e.g. Lord’s Supper. This fits the wider meaning of executing the commands of another (usually a master). It is assumed that the word is from diako, not now used, but meaning to run errands.
The point I am making is that ‘deacon’ is not an office demanding submission to the deacon – it is an office that is in submission to others. Today, deacons are known as managers of churches, hierers and firers of pastors, and dispensing rules, regulations and punishments. None of these is part of a deacon’s office, which has a more humble origin. This does not say that other ministries are ‘higher’ in status – only that deacons ought not give to themselves a status that is not given in scripture.
There are also different ‘operations’ or energema – ways of working. From energeo, this is how a person makes his work effectual and shows its power, also showing that he is indeed active, energes. Rooted in both en (instrumentality as well as being a relation of rest) and ergon (what occupies a person; any product; an act, deed; a thing done, from ergo – to work), this gift indicates that a saved man has a work to do that must be obvious, active and powerful. The primary preposition en tells us that the man is instrumental and, though at work, is at rest (e.g. resting in the Lord). All suggest that God is the prime mover of the man’s work which is to be taken as a ministry.
The structure of the texts tell us that these different obvious and powerful works are for every saved person, not just for some. There is no justification in the usual position, where most of a congregation do nothing and only a small number have a ministry. Everyone has a ministry, large or small, fast-moving or slow, less known or better known. But, all ministries must be obvious, active and evidenced in power.
I have often been asked what a person’s ministry is. My response is that if a Christian has to ask this, he or she must be doing something wrong, but maybe there has simply been bad or poor teaching. God will make a ministry very clear and it will be imposed upon his or her conscience, mind and heart in such a way as to make it a ‘burden’ (a word often used in the books of the prophets).
In modern days, when making a living and having an eye for social and leisure time take precedence, many Christians ignore God’s prompting toward a ministry, or they may operate one without knowing it is the ministry chosen for them by God. Look at ergo and its derivatives and you will learn what your ministry is. And remember – we are only on this earth once, so our leisure time does not take precedence over His work.
Whatever your ministry, and in whatever measure God gives it, every ministry is given by God, chosen especially for you. It can be very public, such as preaching, or it can be less public such as pleading by prayer. It does not matter, for each ministry has its place in the whole Church and is vital to its life. That makes each ministry equally important to God, even if we, as proud human beings, think certain ministries are ‘better’. Let us rejoice in what we have been given, for God chose them for us! Do not desire after gifts given to others; be thankful for the ones you are given, which you probably will not recognize because you are always looking at the supposed greener grass over the wall!
“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
To another the working of miracles; to another prophesy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:
But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.”
Paul now starts to define some of the spiritual gifts, but note one important factor – the Spirit gives “to every man severally as he will”. That is, each gift is chosen for each individual. The choice is made by the Spirit and distributed at His pleasure. We cannot take it or get it by our own efforts, or even by prayer, fervent or not.
If we are prompted to pray for this or that gift, then it is because the Spirit wishes us to do it that way, but the prayer itself cannot obtain it for us; the prayer is merely a device used by the Spirit to effect the initial use of the gift.
Paul again uses a general term, by speaking of the ‘manifestation of the Spirit’. The manifestation or phanerosis means just that – manifestation. The immediate root is phaneroo, meaning to show or to make appear what was previously hidden or secret. This manifestation shows the world and the church who you are and what God has given you to do. Your gift will be plainly recognized (unlike the hyped-up fakes in charismatic circles).
At the time of the start of the Toronto Blessing I insisted from the beginning that the so-called ‘gifts’ of charismatics were false. Rather than being obvious gifts, they were redefined by charismatics because they did not comply with scripture. That is why I could not recognize them or acknowledge them to be true. God’s gifts must be recognized by all Christians to be of God. (Of course, charismatics and other heretics will not recognise true gifts because of their sin).
The manifestation, or making public, of the gifts is not to be deliberately restricted, but should be allowed to spread wherever it will, phaneros; it must ‘shine’ shedding light and showing the glory of God to the mind and hearts of others, phaino. Related to phos, the heavenly light that surrounds heavenly angels visiting earth, and to God as Light. Also refers to knowledge, truth and spiritual purity. The simple word, ‘manifest’, contains a wealth of meaning.
The manifestation is given to every man. That is, it is granted, didomi, by God of His own will, for the man’s benefit; it is to give to the man what is necessary and into his care, to be given out to others. Didomi can also mean to give after being asked, but, as we have seen, one may only ask and receive if God has decided to give it in the first place; the asking is only a mechanism God has used for the man to receive it. It cannot be asked for because the man decides to have it. If it is, he will not receive it. This all emphasizes the fact that we can have no gift or office unless God has chosen to give it.
Each gift is given “to profit withal”. It is meant to ‘bring together’ God’s blessings for the churches. Gifts are given to help others and to be profitable to them. It includes the idea of bearing someone else up in Christ and to keep from falling (phero); to move someone forward, to announce, to lead by one’s conduct. In recent years we have seen stupid claims to the gifts. They are stupid because they are so insulting to God!
Why should God cause someone to fall down to the floor and convulse? To jump like a kangaroo? To bark like a dog? Why should God create a picture of Christ in a pizza, or on a crumbling church wall? Why should He find lost keys, or ‘cure’ a cold that would disappear in days anyway? To what end? The list of claimed spiritual gifts and miracles is endless! The gifts are supposed to profit everyone, not just the ones who have them.
Specific gifts are now mentioned and we see that everyone receives a different one – the first mentioned (but not the first in importance) is the “word of wisdom”, the logos - conception or saying of God. The saying or teaching is about wisdom or sophia. It means to have intelligence or information that gives one a broad knowledge of things. It can also mean to be given dreams and their interpretation. It includes the skill to speak with unsaved men about Christ, and the ability to give counsel about how to live as Christians.
This gift ensures that the recipient of the gift is skilled in letters (sophos), cultivated in his mind and learned in the things of God. Hence the word (sophos) was used to describe Greek philosophers, Jewish theologians and Christian teachers. Such a man will form excellent plans for God’s work and use the best means to bring them about. This, of course, is bound to occur if the man is faithful, for God will guide him clearly (saphes) every step of the way. Also, the man who has the gift of wisdom will always reach his audience with clear and precise language and meaning, making his words easy to hear and understand.
God will give to another man the gift of knowledge, gnosis. That is, ‘science’ in its widest meaning of the word. Broad knowledge of Christianity and its teachings leading to a deepening theology. This gift is of an advanced nature and can differentiate what is right and wrong for Believers. A holy life will show itself in the man. It seems that wisdom is a general gift used to bring counsel in everyday things, whereas knowledge leads to a deepening theology that can be used to edify many by explaining God’s word and will in a systematic way.
Of course, God can give one or many gifts to any man, thus combining them as He wishes. In charismatic circles, ‘knowledge’ has been redefined unbiblically to mean secret information, usually of no consequence, such as the color of a person’s shirt! This is not from God – it is occult.
Faith is listed as a gift. Every Christian is given faith, but if this is listed especially, perhaps (though I have a doubt) it means that some are given an enhanced portion of faith, though the text does not say either way. Faith, pistis, is assurance or belief. It is the conviction that God is true and that His salvation is effective. This kind of assurance prompts a man to do great deeds for God and to portray Him as true to others. True faith believes everything as it is written in God’s word and will not flinch from those who deny God or reject what He says, because he says “let God be true and every man a liar”. This utter confidence in God leads to utter faithfulness to His word and to holy living, both of which help to persuade other Believers (and sometimes unbelievers) to believe also.
The next part of the text (verse 9) refers to the ‘gifts’ of healing in the plural, but I do not know why. The healing here is predominantly physical, as it refers to medicine and medical remedies, iama. I doubt very much if mental or emotional healing is included in this, and suggest that mental and emotional healing are really the province of giving counsel from scripture. Therefore, iama is physical healing.
It is interesting that charismatics believe mental and emotional healing come under this category of gift, probably because they are toying with emotions anyway and wish to justify their claim to have gifts of healing. They do so because they cannot effect physical healing. Again, this is a convenience not wrapped in truth.
Another, different, word is used in scripture to denote non-physical healing – iaomai. Though the root of iami, (also iami) was used because it only refers to the physical. If non-physical healing (e.g. of the soul – salvation) was meant, then Paul would have used the root word instead.
Some reformed Christians, especially if they have been rescued from charismaticism, are afraid to face the fact that God is alive and what He promised to Christians 2,000 years ago, He promises to us today. That includes the gifts. As I have pointed out, if they say that the gifts are now dead, then what of salvation, faith, love, etc., which are all called ‘gifts’? Scripture does NOT say that the gifts will die with the Apostles and I respectfully suggest that the brethren carefully reconsider their beliefs in the true light of scripture, without recourse to Reformed (or charismatic) theology.
This need for careful reconsideration is made more vital, for now Paul speaks of the gift of miracles. If God said that all these shows of power were to be lost from the first century after Christ, then I would not argue the case. But, He does not. Therefore, the gifts are still valid and still with us.
It is a truism that the Christian life is only as powerful as we want it to be. If we do not wish to see a miracle, we will call it a natural event! If we do not wish to see a healing, it will become the result of medicine and men’s skill. And so on. And if we do not wish to see the miraculous, we shall say a man can choose his own salvation! What is more miraculous than a dead man coming alive in Christ?
Some will know the ‘workings (energema) of miracles’. Miracles are dunamis – mighty works, great feats of strength, something mighty, evidence of a power one has within, the miraculous. It can also refer to moral and other purity, as well as physical wealth. We cannot escape it, that dunamis includes the idea of miracles. It is true they are few and far between, but that does not negate their existence. Whatever meaning is given to this word, it means something powerful and extraordinary has happened. Again, this is the result of the Holy Spirit acting through the recipient of the gift.
Prophecy is another gift. Charismatics heavily weight this to mean telling the future, but this is a partial interpretation. Prophecy, propheteia, can refer to the act or to the result. It can be the receiving of inspiration direct from God stating what He wishes to do. This can include rebuke, comfort, the revelation of something previously hidden, and foretelling future events (concerning salvation and its allied topics). Prophecy can be the powerful and accurate interpretation of scripture for the sake of Believers, in particular relating to the future kingdom and salvation. It can also mean poetry given divinely. Today, true teaching of scripture is the main activity of ‘prophecy’. Anything else is usually false.
Discerning of spirits is another gift. To discern is to dispute or judge something (diakrisis) and to contend over it if required. The ‘spirits’ are pneuma and the meaning is various, e.g. spirit of man, Jesus’ spirit, Holy Spirit, Spirit of God, evil spirit, and so on. This gift enables a Christian to separate what is holy from what is true, to know when something is of God, or not. This is often an instant response, but it might also come as a result of searching a matter. Sadly, few Christians use this gift today, or they reject it and use their own ideas.
There are also ‘divers kinds of tongues’. That is, the speaking of foreign languages, glossa. It is a gift because the Christian who uses them has not previously been able to use them and has no idea what they mean. (For a full explanation of ‘tongues’ in scripture see separate article). To another may be given the gift of interpreting the tongues. Again, this person will not previously have known the language he is to interpret. It is given directly from God. Tongues does not mean an heavenly language. Allied study of scripture shows that tongues are not for private use, but only to edify the Church.
Verse 11 sums up this section by saying that though there are different and varied gifts, all of them are given by God to whoever He wishes to give them. Paul says the Body of Christ, the Church, is one body made up of many members, and that is what Christ is like. His Body is the Church, containing many members, each with their own gifts, given to enhance the whole Body and to glorify God.
“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
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; is it therefore not of the body?
And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it 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?
But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
And if they were all one member, where were the body?”
We were all baptised or immersed into one Body by the Holy Spirit. It does not matter if we are Jews or Gentiles, slaves or freemen, because we all drink of the same Spirit. That is, we have all saturated our minds with the same God.
This uniform and unified immersion into the One God is vital, because otherwise each member of the Body might think he is alone, or better, or more important. Paul looks at some who try to make themselves more important, probably by taking pride in their office or gifts. He tells them they are not more important, but merely have a different gift and purpose given by God. The foot is as important as the hand, and so on. Each member is in the Body to praise God and to help each other. That is why each has different gifts. If all the craftsmen on a building site were painters, how could they build the structure? One set of craftsmen would not build the building, so others are needed, with different skills. Each has skills that complement and help the other.
God has ensured that each of us has been given our own gifts, and these must be used in conjunction with the gifts of others, so that every one of us can know the benefits.
“But now are they many members, yet but one body.
And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.
For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked:
That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.”
There are, then, many members in the Body, the Church, and each has his own gifts. Together, these many people and many gifts build the whole Church. One part of the Church cannot disown the other. For this reason we must be very careful who we cast aside and why. If some are found to be recalcitrant sinners who will not repent, then we may cast them out from fellowship for a while until they repent. But, we cannot completely disown them. One Christian is not more important than another. The lowliest and the mightiest belong together. (See my work on discipline and disfellowship).
We are told that the lowliest ‘more feeble’ are needed by the Body. These are the sickly and weak Christians. They bring much bother and grief at times, but they are there to help us come to a proper understanding of Christ and His Body. They test others in their claimed faith and cause them to work to solve the problems raised by the weak.
There can be no doubt that many within our churches frown upon those they think are ‘less honourable’ (despised)! Yet, Paul says we must give them greater honour and esteem them more highly! Can you imagine this happening in our churches? It means to treat the lowliest members as being of higher ‘rank’ than ourselves and to give them a position in our midst that is far higher than our own. Would this not get rid of the way some vaunt their own importance? Humility is a much needed attribute today, and what better way than to think of the garbage collector as being greater than the college professor!
As Paul rightly says, if something is beautiful already there is no need to add beauty. Christ said the healthy do not need a doctor, and that is why He went to see those whom society despised and whose sin was crippling them. For this reason, God has given the less honoured members in the Body a higher regard and help. The others are comely and already have their confidence, so God helps the weak and less honoured. He does so because He does not want any member to fight the other for any reason. If each is equally comely, then each is equally valued.
We must, says Paul – on behalf of God – treat everyone within the Body equally and with great care. We must look out for everyone, not just those we think are powerful, important and socially valuable. We must be so engrossed with each other that what harms one also harms all the members. And if just one member is honoured by God or men, then this honour is shared by all. That is how we ought to be. Why are we not like it? Ask yourself!
“Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?
Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”
The Corinthians, reminds Paul, are all members of the One Body of Christ. They each have their part to play. None is higher and none is lower. Each is equal. God has appointed certain offices, but each office is subject to the whole Body and no-one in office is greater than others.
Note that it is God Who has ‘set’ (appointed) some to office. Not men or colleges or churches. God appointed apostles. These were ‘first’ because they literally were the first to hold office. They include the 12, but are not confined to them. An apostle in Paul’s day was either one of the 12 (perhaps we could call them the ‘originals’), or some other great preacher, such as Barnabas, or Apollos.
An ‘apostle’, apostolos, is a messenger, one sent from God with orders. Apostles had a ministry that affected many and they displayed power in their ministry. This is very different to those today who falsely call themselves ‘apostles’, who hold vast campaign meetings but have no power in their preaching or results. Nowhere in scripture are we told apostles will not exist after the first century.
There are also prophets (see above definitions) and teachers, didaskalos, who are ‘doctors’ of theology and scripture, gifted to teach others in the ways and teachings of God. Some of these draw great crowds (not for spectacle, but by the power of God in them) and others teach methodically over time. Teachers will show others the way of salvation, not just how to be saved but how to live out their salvation daily. The term can also apply to the apostles and even to false teachers (but not in the same way). True teachers are able to teach by the Holy Spirit, not by their own learning, even if such learning is evident and great.
Doers of miracles and healings come lower down the list (probably because they are much fewer); note that teaching of the mind and heart come much higher. Then there are ‘helps’ or antilepsis… to aid others by disputing. I take this to mean that a Christian will help another to understand an issue properly, to save him from error.
‘Governing’ means government or ‘to steer’, kubernesis. This suggests involvement in guidance, possibly as a pastor, but not necessarily. All members may assist pastors in steering others. Note that tongues come lowest of all in this list.
Then Paul addresses those who think they can do everything: ‘Is everyone an apostle? Or a prophet? Or a teacher? Or workers of miracles? No – each has his own gifts and his own office. Do all heal? Or speak in tongues? Or interpret them? It is true that many Christians in our churches think with pride that they have many gifts and offices, when they do not.’
Rather than think highly of ourselves we must instead covet the best gifts. To ‘covet’ means to be zealous for something, and to strive after it, with a mind excited by our goal and ministry. We must covet the ‘best’ or most useful gifts which give the Church most advantage. Yet, says Paul, he wants to show the Corinthians a ‘more excellent way’, something far better and beyond all measure, superior. The nature of this he begins to unfold in the next chapter.
© January 2003 (revised October 2016)