|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
12:3-8 Pride is a sin in us by nature; we need to be cautioned and armed against it. All the saints make up one body in Christ, who is the Head of the body, and the common Centre of their unity. In the spiritual body, some are fitted for and called to one sort of work; others for another sort of work. We are to do all the good we can, one to another, and for the common benefit. If we duly thought about the powers we have, and how far we fail properly to improve them, it would humble us. But as we must not be proud of our talents, so we must take heed lest, under a pretence of humility and self-denial, we are slothful in laying out ourselves for the good of others. We must not say, I am nothing, therefore I will sit still, and do nothing; but, I am nothing in myself, and therefore I will lay out myself to the utmost, in the strength of the grace of Christ. Whatever our gifts or situations may be, let us try to employ ourselves humbly, diligently, cheerfully, and in simplicity; not seeking our own credit or profit, but the good of many, for this world and that which is to come.
Verses 6-8. - Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, according to the proportion of our faith; or ministry, in our ministry; or he that teacheth, in his teaching; or he that exhorteth, in his exhortation; he that giveth, in simplicity; he that ruleth, with (literally, in) diligence; he that showeth mercy, with (literally, in) cheerfulness. The elliptical form of the original has been retained in the above translation, without the words interposed for elucidation in the Authorized Version. There are two ways in which the construction of the passage might possibly be understood.
(1) Taking ἔχοντες δὲ in ver. 6 as dependent on ἐσμεν in ver. 5, and κατὰ τὴν ἀναλογίαν τῆς πίστεως, not as hortatory, but as parallel to κατὰ τὴν χάριν τὴν δοθεῖσαν ἡμῖν, and understanding in a like sense the clauses that follow. Thus the general meaning would be - we are all one body, etc., but having our several gifts, to be used in accordance with the purpose for which they are severally given.
(2) As in the Authorized Version, which is decidedly preferable, hortation being evidently intended from the beginning of ver. 6. The drift is that the various members of the body having various gifts, each is to be content to exercise his own gift in the line of usefulness it fits him for, and to do so well. The references are not to distinct orders of ministry, in the Church, but rather to gifts and consequent capacities of all Christians. The gift of prophecy, which is mentioned first, being of especial value and importance (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:1, seq.), was the gift of inspired utterance, not of necessity in the way of prediction, but also, and especially, for "edification, and exhortation, and comfort" (1 Corinthians 14:3), for "convincing," and for "making manifest the secrets of the heart" (1 Corinthians 14:24, 25). He that has this special gift is to use it "according to the proportion of his faith;" for the meaning of which expression see on μέτρον πίστεως above (ver. 3). According to the prophet's power of faith to be receptive of this special gift, and to apprehend it if granted to him, would be the intensity and truth of its manifestation. It would seem that prophets might be in danger of mistaking their own ideas for a true Divine revelation (cf. Jeremiah 23:28); and also that they might speak hastily and with a view to self-display (see 1 Corinthians 14:29-33), and that there was a further gift of διάκρισις πνευμάτων required for distinguishing between true and imagined inspiration (see 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 14:29). Further, the spirits of the prophets were subject to the prophets (1 Corinthians 14:32); they were not carried away, as the heathen μάντις was supposed to be, by an irresistible Divine impulse; they retained their reason and consciousness, and were responsible for rightly estimating and faithfully rendering any revelation (ἀποκάλυψις, 1 Corinthians 5:30) granted to them. Delusion, inconsiderate utterance, extravagance, as well as repression of any real inspiration may be meant to be forbidden in the phrase. (The view of τῆς πίστεως being meant objectively of the general Christian doctrine, from which the prophecy was not to deviate - whence the common use of the expression, analogia fidei - is precluded by the whole drift of the passage. It is not found in the Greek Fathers, having been apparently suggested first by Thomas Aquinas.) The gift of ministry (διακονία) must be understood in a general sense, and not as having exclusive reference to the order of deacons (Acts 6:1-6; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8; Romans 16:1), who were so called specifically because their office was one of διακονία. The words διακονεῖν διακονία διάκονος, though sometimes denoting any kind of ministry, even of the highest kind, were used and understood in a more specific sense with reference to subordinate ministrations, especially in temporal matters (cf. Acts 6:2, "It is not reason that we should leave the Word of God, and serve tables (διακονεῖν τραπέζως)"). If any had a gift for any such kind of administrative work under others, they were to devote themselves to it, and be content if they could do it well. Teaching (διδασκαλία) may denote a gift for mere instruction in facts or doctrines, catechetical or otherwise, different from that of the inspired eloquence of prophecy. Exhortation (as παράκλησις, which bears also the sense of consolation, seems here to be rightly rendered) may be understood with reference to admonitory addresses, in the congregation or in private, less inspired and rousing than prophetic utterances. In Acts 13:15 the word παράκλησις denotes the exhortation which any person in the synagogue might be called upon by the rulers to address to the people after the reading (ἀνάγνωσιν) of the Law and the prophets; cf. 1 Timothy 4:13, where Timothy is told to give attendance to reading (ἀνάγνωσιν), to exhortation (παράκλησιν), and to teaching (διδασκαλίαν). He that giveth (οὁ μεταδιδοὺς) points to the gift of liberality, to the endowment with which both means supplied by Providence and a spirit of generosity might contribute. The almsgivers of the Church had their special gift and function; and they must exercise them in simplicity (ἐν ἀπλότητι), which may perhaps mean singleness of heart, without partiality, or ostentation, or secondary aims. But in 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:11, 13, the word seems to have the sense of liberality, and this may be the meaning here. "Uti Deus dat, Jac. 1:5" (Bengel). In the 'Shepherd of Hermas' (written, it is supposed, not later than the first half of the second century) ἁπλῶς is explained thus: Πᾶσιν ὑστερουμένοις δίδου ἁπλῶς μὴ διστάζων τίνι δῷς ἠ τίνι μὴ δῷς πᾶσι δίδου ('Hermae Pastor,' mandatum 2.). Possibly this gives the true original conception, from which that of general liberality would follow. [The idea that the almoners of the Church, rather than the almsgivers, are intended, viz. the deacons (Acts 6:3, seq.), is inconsistent with the general purport of the passage, as explained above. Besides, μεταδιδόναι means elsewhere to give up what is one's own, not to distribute the funds of others. Ὁ διαδιδούς might rather have been expected in the latter case (cf. Acts 4:35).] He that ruleth (ὁ προιστάμενος) means, according to our view all along, any one in a leading position, with authority over others; and not, as some have thought, exclusively the presbyters. Such are not to presume on their position of superiority so as to relax in zealous attention to its duties. He that showeth mercy (ὁ ἐλεῶν) is one who is moved by the Spirit to devote himself especially to works of mercy, such as visiting the sick and succouring the distressed. Such a one is to allow no austerity or gloominess of demeanour to mar the sweetness of his charity. On the general subject of these gifts for various administrations (cf. 1 Corinthians 12, seq.; 14; Ephesians 4:11, seq.) it is to be observed that in the apostolic period, though presbyters and deacons, under the general superintendence of the apostles, seem to have been appointed in all organized Churches for ordinary ministrations (Acts 11:30; Acts 14:23; Acts 15:2, seq.; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3. l, 8; 5:17; Titus 1:5), yet there were other spiritual agencies in activity, recognized as divinely empowered. The "prophets and teachers" at Antioch (Acts 13:1) who, moved by the Holy Ghost, separated and ordained Barnabas and Saul for apostolic ministry, do not appear to have been what we should now call the regular clergy of the place, but persons, whether in any definite office or not, divinely inspired with the gifts of προφητεία and διδασκαλία. In like manner, the appointment of Timothy to the office he was commissioned to fill, though he was formally ordained by the laying on of hands of St. Paul himself (2 Timothy 1:6) and of the presbyters (1 Timothy 4:14), appears to have been accompanied - perhaps sanctioned - by prophecy (1 Timothy 4:14). Persons thus divinely inspired, or supposed to be so, appear, as time went on, to have visited the various Churches, claiming authority - some, it would seem, even the authority of apostles; the term "apostle" not being then confined exclusively to the original twelve; else Barnabas could not have been called one, as he is (Acts 14:14), or indeed even Paul himself. But such claims to inspiration were not always genuine; and against false prophets we find various warnings (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:3, seq.; Galatians 1:6, seq.; Galatians 3:1; 1 John 4:1, seq.; 2 John 10 Revelation 2:2). Still, these extraordinary agencies and ministrations, in addition to the ordinary ministry of the presbyters and deacons, were recognized as part of the Divine order for the edification of the Church as long as the special charismata of the apostolic age continued. Afterwards, as is well known, the episcopate, in the later sense of the word as denoting an order above the general presbytery, succeeded the apostolate, though how soon this system of Church government became universal is still a subject of controversy. It appears, however, from 'The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles' (Διδαχὴ τῶν Δώδεκα 'Αποστόλων), recently brought to light by Archbishop Bryennius (the date of which appears to have been towards the end of the first century or the beginning of the second), that the earlier and less regular system continued, in some regions at least (it does not follow that it was so everywhere), after the original apostles had passed away. For in this early and interesting document, while directions are given for the ordination (or election; the word is χειροτονήσατε, the same as in Acts 14:23) of bishops and deacons in the several Churches, there is no allusion to an episcopate of a higher order above them, but marked mention of teachers, apostles, and prophets (especially the last two, apostles being also spoken of as prophets), who appear to have been itinerant, visiting the various Churches from time to time, and claiming authority as "speaking in the Spirit." To these prophets great deference is to be paid; they are to be maintained during their sojourn; they are to be allowed to celebrate the Eucharist in such words as they will (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:16); while speaking in the Spirit they are not to be tried or proved (οὐδὲ διακρινεῖτε; cf. δια κρίσεις πνευμάτων, 1 Corinthians 14:10; and οἱ ἄλλοι διακρινέτωσαν, Romans 14:29), lest risk be run of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Still, among these itinerants there might often be false prophets (ψευδοπροφήται; cf. Matthew 7:15; Matthew 24:11, 24; Mark 13:22 1 John 4:1), and the Churches are to exercise judgment in testing them. If they taught anything contrary to the received doctrine; if they remained for the sake of maintenance without working for more than two days; if they asked in the Spirit for worldly goods for themselves; if their manner of life was not what it should be; - they were false prophets, and to be rejected, Similarly, in the 'Shepherd of Hermas' (apparently a document of the first half of the second century, and in some parts corresponding closely with the Teaching, from which such parts may have been derived) like directions are given for distinguishing between true and false prophets, between those who had τὸ Πνεῦ,α τὸ Θεῖον and those whose πνεῦμα was ἐπίγειον (mandatum 11.). And even in the 'Apostolical Constitutions' (a compilation supposed to date from the middle of the third to the middle of the fourth century) there is a passage corresponding to what is said in the Teaching about distinguishing between true and false prophets or teachers who might visit Churches (Romans 7:28). The Teaching seems to denote a state of things, after the apostolic period, in which the special charismata of that period were believed to be still in activity, though with growing doubts as to their genuineness in all cases. As has been said above, it does not follow that this order of things continued everywhere at the time of the compilation of the Teaching; but that it was so, at any rate in some parts, seems evident; and hence some light is thrown on the system of things alluded to in the apostolical Epistles. It is quite consistent with the evidence of the Teaching to suppose that in Churches which had been organized by St. Paul or other true apostles, the more settled order of government which soon afterwards became universal, and the transition to which seems to be plainly marked in the pastoral Epistles, already prevailed.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Having then gifts, differing,.... As in a natural body, the various members of it have not the same office, and do not perform the same actions, thus they have not the same, but different faculties; one has one faculty, another another; the eye has the faculty of seeing, the ear of hearing, &c. thus in the spiritual body the church, as there are different members, these members have not the same work and business assigned them; some are employed one way, and some another; also they have diversities of gifts for their different administrations and operations, and all from Christ their head, by the same Spirit, and for the service of the whole body,
according to the grace that is given unto us; for all these gifts are not the effects of nature, the fruits of human power, diligence, and industry, but flow from the grace of God, who dispenses them when, where, and to whom he pleases in a free and sovereign manner; and therefore to be acknowledged as such, and used to his glory, and for the good of his church and people. Wherefore
whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith. The offices here, and hereafter mentioned, are not of an extraordinary, but ordinary kind, such as are lasting, and will continue in the church unto the end of time: and are divided into two parts, which are after subdivided into other branches. The division is into "prophesying" and "ministering". By "prophesying" is meant, not foretelling things to come, thought this gift was bestowed upon some, as Agabus, and others in the Christian church; but this, as it is of an extraordinary nature, so it is not stinted and limited according to the proportion of faith; but preaching the Gospel is here designed, which is the sense of the word in many places of Scripture, particularly in 1 Corinthians 13:2. Now such who have this gift of prophecy, or of opening and explaining the Scriptures, ought to make use of it, and constantly attend toil: "let us prophesy"; diligently prepare for it by prayer, reading and meditation, and continually exercise it as opportunity offers; nor should any difficulty and discouragement deter from it: or whereas this last clause is not in the original text, it may be supplied from Romans 12:3; thus, "let us think soberly", who have this gift, and not be elated with it, or carry it haughtily to those who attend on the exercise of it: but behave with sobriety, modesty, and humility, in the discharge thereof: "according to the proportion of faith". There must be faith, or no prophesying; a man must believe, and therefore speak, or speak not at all; a Gospel minister ought not to be a sceptic, or in doubt about the main principles of religion; such as concern the three divine persons, the office, grace, and righteousness of Christ, and the way of salvation by him: he should be at a point in these things, should firmly believe, and with assurance assert them, nor fear to be called dogmatical on that account: he is to preach according to his faith, the proportion of it: which may be the same with the measure of it, Romans 12:3. And so the Syriac version reads it, , "according to the measure of his faith"; to which the Arabic version agrees; that is, according to the measure of the gift of Christ he has received; according to the abilities bestowed on him; according to that light, knowledge, faith, and experience he has; he ought to preach up unto it, and not in the least come short of it; or by "the proportion", or "analogy of faith", may be meant a scheme of Gospel truths, a form of sound words, a set of principles upon the plan of the Scriptures, deduced from them, and agreeably to them; and which are all of a piece, and consistent with themselves, from which the prophesier or preacher should never swerve: or the Scriptures themselves, the sure word of prophecy, the rule and standard of faith and practice: the scope of the text is to be attended to, its connection with the preceding or following verses, or both; and it is to be compared with other passages of Scripture, and accordingly to be explained: and this is to follow the rule directed to.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
6-8. Having then gifts differing according to the grace given to us—Here, let it be observed, all the gifts of believers alike are viewed as communications of mere grace.
whether—we have the gift of
prophecy—that is, of inspired teaching (as in Ac 15:32). Anyone speaking with divine authority—whether with reference to the past, the present, or the future—was termed a prophet (Ex 7:1).
let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith—rather, "of our faith." Many Romish expositors and some Protestant (as Calvin and Bengel, and, though, hesitatingly, Beza and Hodge), render this "the analogy of faith," understanding by it "the general tenor" or "rule of faith," divinely delivered to men for their guidance. But this is against the context, whose object is to show that, as all the gifts of believers are according to their respective capacity for them, they are not to be puffed up on account of them, but to use them purely for their proper ends.
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