James Gray - Concise Bible Commentary
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.1 Corinthians 12:1-14:40
The theme of this lesson is closely related to the preceding, for the church disorders included not only unbecoming conduct of the women in the public assembly, and an unworthy observance of the Lord’s supper, but an unholy emulation in the matter of spiritual gifts.
After a brief introduction (1 Corinthians 12:1-3), the apostle discusses the origin of these gifts as not natural to the believer, but the special bestowment of God. God the Father is the worker of them, God the Spirit their distributor, and God the Son the One on Whose behalf they are administered (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).
As to their nature, there are nine wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues and interpretation of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). Of course, the above means “wisdom” and “knowledge” in the things of God; “faith,” not merely for the acceptance of Christ, which is assumed, but for special purposes or objects, “prophecy,” not in the sense of foretelling, but forth-telling, speaking “to edification, exhortation and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3).
The object and use of the gifts is for the profit of the whole body of Christ, into which believers have been baptized by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). They are in Christ what the foot, the hand, the ear, the eyes are in the human body (1 Corinthians 12:14-21). Hence honor, unity, sympathy, and mutual joyfulness should pervade and prevail (1 Corinthians 12:22-26). There are differences among these gifts, and the best are to be coveted, but all depend on the spirit in which they are exercised (1 Corinthians 12:27-31).
This leads the apostle to speak of the abuse of the gifts of which the Corinthians had been guilty, and which consumes the whole of chapter 13. Of what value is any of these gifts to their possessors without “love,” which is the meaning of “charity” in this chapter (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Love is now defined (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) and its supremacy and permanency affirmed (1 Corinthians 13:8-13). A time is coming when prophesying and speaking with tongues will be no longer required, and the knowledge we now have will appear childish in comparison with what we shall have, but not so with love, which, like faith and hope, is eternal. Therefore follow after love (1 Corinthians 14:1).
SPEAKING WITH TONGUES
Returning to the choice among gifts the preference is given to prophesying (1 Corinthians 14:1-25), especially as compared with “tongues,” because the latter had been the chief cause of the unholy emulation referred to, and also of gross disorder in the public assembly. The value of prophesying is stated in 1 Corinthians 14:3. “Tongues” should not be exercised unless an interpreter is present (1 Corinthians 14:5), and for the reasons indicated (1 Corinthians 14:6-14). Paul’s own custom or example is now stated (1 Corinthians 14:15-19), an exhortation follows (1 Corinthians 14:20), and a declaration of the purpose of “tongues” concludes this part of the subject (1 Corinthians 14:21-25).
“Tongues” are a sign not for believers but unbelievers, and not for their conversion evidently, but simply as a demonstration of Divine power. It is far different with prophesying, which practically is identical with preaching and testimony, for this serves both for believers and unbelievers.
The order in which the gifts are to be publicly exercised is now given (1 Corinthians 14:26-35). The form of worship was very democratic, the people generally participating, reciting psalms, giving instruction, speaking with tongues, interpreting tongues, uttering a “revelation.” As to this last, it would appear that until the New Testament was written, new revelations suited to the new dispensation were given to certain of the prophets. Care was to be taken that not more than two or three should speak in an unknown tongue, and not all at once, but one by one. Moreover, in the absence of an interpreter they should not speak at all. The same method should be followed by the prophets. Nor let any say when he felt a desire to speak, that he could not wait until another had concluded (1 Corinthians 14:32-33).
In such meetings when the whole church came together in one place, women were to keep silence. This is the interpretation Scofield puts on verses 34-35, but there is a difficulty here in light of 1 Corinthians 11, where women are not forbidden to pray and prophesy in public.
The contentious spirit of the church is rebuked as in chapter 11. They were evidently seeking to establish a precedent of their own in these matters (1 Corinthians 14:36), but that which Paul is writing to them is the commandment of the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37). Whatsoever they did was to be done “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40).
1. Name the seven divisions in the text of this lesson.
2. Name the nine spiritual gifts.
3. What is meant by “prophesy”?
4. How should “charity” be rendered in chapter 13?
5. Which of all the gifts is to be preferred, and why?
6. What restriction is placed on “tongues” and why?
7. What is the meaning of “revelation” in this case (1 Corinthians 14:26)?
8. What principle is to be maintained in the public gatherings?