|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
12:27-31 Contempt, hatred, envy, and strife, are very unnatural in Christians. It is like the members of the same body being without concern for one another, or quarrelling with each other. The proud, contentious spirit that prevailed, as to spiritual gifts, was thus condemned. The offices and gifts, or favours, dispensed by the Holy Spirit, are noticed. Chief ministers; persons enabled to interpret Scripture; those who laboured in word and doctrine; those who had power to heal diseases; such as helped the sick and weak; such as disposed of the money given in charity by the church, and managed the affairs of the church; and such as could speak divers languages. What holds the last and lowest rank in this list, is the power to speak languages; how vain, if a man does so merely to amuse or to exalt himself! See the distribution of these gifts, not to every one alike, ver. 29,30. This were to make the church all one, as if the body were all ear, or all eye. The Spirit distributes to every one as he will. We must be content though we are lower and less than others. We must not despise others, if we have greater gifts. How blessed the Christian church, if all the members did their duty! Instead of coveting the highest stations, or the most splendid gifts, let us leave the appointment of his instruments to God, and those in whom he works by his providence. Remember, those will not be approved hereafter who seek the chief places, but those who are most faithful to the trust placed in them, and most diligent in their Master's work.
Verse 31. - Covet earnestly; literally, be zealous for, strongly desire. That which we aim at we usually attain; and we should aim at that which really is, not at that which seems, the most splendid charism. And yet show I unto you a more excellent way. The "more excellent way" is the way of love, which he sets forth in the next chapter, and which lies open to all Christians without distinction. The verse means either, "And further" (besides bidding you aim at the better gifts), "I show you one supreme way of attaining them;" or, "And I show you a still more eminent way." I bid you desire the best gifts, and further show you a truly royal road (viam maxime vialem), a road par excellence, which leads to their attainment. The way of love would lead to them, and it was itself the best of them. "All the way to heaven lies through heaven, and the path to heaven is heaven."
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
But covet earnestly the best gifts,.... Which may be rendered either indicatively as an assertion, "ye do covet earnestly the best gifts": of prophesying and teaching, of doing miracles, healing diseases, speaking with, and interpreting, different tongues and languages; but I can, and do show you something that is better, and more excellent than these: or, by way of interrogation, "do ye covet earnestly the best gifts?" do you zealously affect them, fervently desire them, and emulate one another in your endeavours after them? I have something to observe to you which exceeds them all, and which you would do well to follow after, and eagerly pursue; or imperatively, as an exhortation, as it is rendered by our translators: and by the best gifts may be meant, the best of these external gifts before mentioned; and not those of the highest class, and the more extraordinary, but which are the most useful and beneficial to the church, as preaching or prophesying was: the Corinthians seemed most covetous and desirous of speaking with different tongues; but the apostle shows, in 1 Corinthians 14:1, by divers reasons, that prophesying was preferable, being more serviceable and useful to the church, and so more eligible and to be desired by them, to which he may have regard here: or else by them are meant the internal graces of the Spirit, as faith, hope, and love, which are all of them gifts of God's grace; all useful and valuable, and better than all external extraordinary gifts whatever, which a man might have, and be nothing, be lost and damned; whereas he that believes in Christ, has a good hope through grace, and love in his soul to God, Christ, and his people, though he is destitute of the other gifts, shall certainly be saved; wherefore these are the gifts which men should be solicitous for and covet after, and be greatly concerned to know that they have them, and to be content without the other:
and yet show I unto you a more excellent way: if by the best gifts are designed the above graces of the Spirit, then by "the more excellent way", Christ must be meant, the author and object of these graces; who is the way to the covenant, and to a participation of all the blessings of it, as justification, pardon, adoption, and eternal life; the way into a Gospel church, and to all the ordinances of the Gospel dispensation, as baptism, and the Lord's supper; for faith in him is the prerequisite, and proper qualification for the enjoyment of each of these: Christ is the way of salvation, and the way to the Father, and to heaven and eternal happiness; and an excellent one he is, the more, yea, the most excellent; he is the only way to each of these; he is the new and living way, a plain and pleasant one; and so a safe and secure one, in which all that walk shall certainly be saved: now this way the apostle showed, declared, pointed out in the ministry of the word; it was his chief and principal business, the sum of his doctrine, to make known Christ, and him crucified, as the way, the truth, and the life; to direct souls to him, and to show them the way of salvation by him: but if by the best gifts are meant the more useful ones of those before mentioned, as prophesying, or preaching, then the more excellent way designs grace, special and internal grace; and that either grace in general, regenerating, sanctifying grace, including all sorts of grace; which is the way of a soul's passing from the death of sin to a life of faith and holiness; and is the way to eternal glory, and which gives a meetness for it, and is inseparably connected with it. This is a more excellent way than gifts; for gifts, be they ever so great, may be lost or taken away, through disuse or misimprovement; but grace always remains, can never be lost, nor will ever be taken away, but will issue in everlasting life: men may have the greatest gifts, and yet not be saved, as Judas and others; but he that has the least degree of faith in Christ, hope in him, and love to him, shall be saved by him with an everlasting salvation: or particularly the grace of charity, or love to the saints, may be intended by the more excellent way; which is the evidence of a man's passing from death and life; the new commandment of Christ, and the fulfilling of the law; without which, a man, though he has never such great gifts, he is nothing as a Christian, nor in the business of salvation; and is the greatest of all the graces of the Spirit; and is of such a nature, that when prophecies, tongues, knowledge, and all external gifts shall fail, and even the internal graces of faith and hope shall cease, the one being changed for vision, and the other swallowed up in enjoyment, this will continue; and the rather this grace may be thought to be meant, since the apostle immediately passes to treat it in the next chapter, and prefers it to all gifts, and even graces.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
31. covet earnestly—Greek, "emulously desire." Not in the spirit of discontented "coveting." The Spirit "divides to every man severally as He will" (1Co 12:1); but this does not prevent men earnestly seeking, by prayer and watchfulness, and cultivation of their faculties, the greatest gifts. Beza explains, "Hold in the highest estimation"; which accords with the distinction in his view (1Co 14:1) between "follow after charity—zealously esteem spiritual gifts"; also with (1Co 12:11, 18) the sovereign will with which the Spirit distributes the gifts, precluding individuals from desiring gifts not vouchsafed to them. But see on 1Co 14:1.
the best gifts—Most of the oldest manuscripts read, "the greatest gifts."
and yet—Greek, "and moreover." Besides recommending your zealous desire for the greatest gifts, I am about to show you a something still more excellent (literally, "a way most way-like") to desire, "the way of love" (compare 1Co 14:1). This love, or "charity," includes both "faith" and "hope" (1Co 13:7), and bears the same fruits (1Co 13:1-13) as the ordinary and permanent fruits of the Spirit (Ga 5:22-24). Thus "long-suffering," compare 1Co 12:4; "faith," 1Co 12:7; "joy," 1Co 12:6; "meekness," 1Co 12:5; "goodness," 1Co 12:5; "gentleness," 1Co 12:4 (the Greek is the same for "is kind"). It is the work of the Holy Spirit, and consists in love to God, on account of God's love in Christ to us, and as a consequence, love to man, especially to the brethren in Christ (Ro 5:5; 15:30). This is more to be desired than gifts (Lu 10:20).
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