William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.1 Corinthians Chapter 12
It may be well to remark here the wisdom of God in furnishing the revelation of the due object and order of the Lord's supper before He treats of the Spirit's presence and operations in the assembly. The observance of that holy feast is independent, not only of the presence of elders or bishops, as we have seen, but of the display of power in the assembly. Not that grace now withholds the Spirit's working, but that God would have us to know that His saints are free, and bound, to remember Christ in this solemn and appointed way of His love, apart from this, or that, or any form of gift. The unfolding of the ways of the Spirit in the church follows as a fresh topic, and is thus kept quite distinct from the standing sign of our fellowship in showing forth the Lord's death.
Nor can there be a doubt to the intelligent believer that an apostle had authority from Christ to act, speak, and write of Him in all that concerns the church, its doctrines and discipline, its order and worship; and that these regulations found in the written word bind the church at all times. It is in the despising of these institutes, and the deliberate abandonment of them, consists the sin and ruin of the church; as, again, those who have ears to hear prove it in their practical submission and obedience. For it is not enough to do the will of the Lord in our individual ways. After being awakened of the Holy Spirit, and brought to God, we find, if we believe scripture, that we are not units but living parts of an organic whole. We belong to God, but also are members of a body on earth - the body of Christ, the church, in which the Holy Spirit acts with a view to glorifying the Lord Jesus. We are not left to our own wisdom as to this, but instructed and directed by the word of God, and very especially by such apostolic epistles as the present. Hence the all-importance of diligent attention to these inspired words, with dependence on God and distrust of ourselves; for the aim of Satan is by all means to thwart what is so near to His glory, and so full of blessing to the saints themselves. Self-confidence may be the snare of some; others may be exposed to the influence of tradition, public opinion, and human learning. The truth is that we must be taught of God, though this be in the godly use of every means His word warrants for our help. But then we have the assurance that "they shall be all taught of God" - a word which our Lord drew from the prophets and applies to the present, so that we may confidently look for its verification in the measure of our waiting on Him in faith.
We shall also see, as we study this new section of the epistle (1 Cor. 12 - 14), how grace turns the errors and faults of the Corinthians to the standing profit of all who desire to learn and walk faithfully. Power is wholly distinct from spirituality. What assembly among the Gentiles surpassed that in the capital of Achaia for the display of energy evidently supernatural? Yet was their communion with God's mind at the lowest ebb. This should have checked the yearning, in our day as in the past, after such manifestations of the Spirit as abounded in their midst; and the rather, as we live when Christendom has grown so inured to its own ways, that though God's word seem to many saints peculiar and eccentric, they have forgotten, if they ever knew, that the most ancient tradition is but an innovation on the "old path" marked down unerringly in scripture. The Corinthians had slipped away from God's end of glorifying the Lord Jesus in the assembly; and hence flesh was active, which forgets the common grace in Christ, and leads us to measure ourselves by ourselves, and to compare ourselves with ourselves. It is vanity, not intelligence; and the fruit is puffing up, not edification. But the watchful eye of the apostle was led to use it for God in his care for all the churches, yea, for the church at all times. Scripture meets every need. It is God's word, and in view of all wants, though He availed Himself only of what then pressed, but after a divine sort.
There are indeed two great and widely prevalent snares: that of sacrificing the individual to the assembly; and that of forgetting the assembly for the individual. Romanism illustrates the former, as Protestantism the latter. In Romanism the church is all; there alone is the Spirit, the truth, holiness, everything: the individual is nothing, not even a saint. It were presumption; the church must settle it, if at all, fifty years after he is dead. The individual cannot even pretend to know his sins forgiven: anathema, says the Council of Trent, to him who says justification is by faith alone; anathema to him who says he can know it for his soul. Thus is the gospel ignored and denied in principle, and most distinctly, for every individual within the bosom of Rome; and this to aggrandize the church, which arrogates to itself alone to speak, but speaks here falsehood in Christ's name. And as to any individuals pretending to say that their body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in them, which they have of God, it could only sound still more awful presumption, if not blasphemy. And no wonder, for it is wholly inconsistent with the sacrifice of the Mass, or the subsistence of an earthly priesthood, which are the Jachin and Boaz of the Romish temple. It is of no avail that the apostolic doctrine is plain, precise, and conclusive that every Christian should know this transcendent privilege of himself now on earth. Romanism boldly sets it aside, and every other which belongs to the individual, in order to swell the church's power and glory. "Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Matthew 15:7-9)
But there is an opposite snare, not so destructive of man's salvation, but equally at issue with God's glory. It is the Protestant scheme, which rightly affirms justification by faith, and God's title to address every man's conscience in His word, though enfeebled and spoilt by putting it as man's right to a private judgment on it. But Protestantism ignores the church of God, and in claiming a co-ordinate place for churches, national and dissenting and what not, virtually denies the one body on earth. It may dream of one body in heaven, where scripture never speaks of such a thing, but it recognizes ever so many bodies on earth, each independent, which scripture expressly sets aside.
The word of God guards the truth as to both points, and excludes all error. According to it the gospel deals with each soul first of all. By faith the individual has life and is justified, adopted as a child of God, blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Then, over and above his faith, he is sealed by the Spirit. In virtue of one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free, and were all given to drink into one Spirit. Thus, and thus only; is the body, the church, formed; it supposed the individual question settled by faith, and then the corporate relationship begins, and is established by the Holy Spirit; and this now on earth, as a privilege indeed of the highest kind, yet at once involving responsibilities thenceforth of the gravest. If the known individual blessedness by faith delivers the soul from Romanism, no less surely does the corporate place of the church, when understood, lift one outside and above Protestantism in all its manifold and varying phases. How could you, intelligibly or consistently, join this, or that body, when you are consciously of the "one body," and responsible to walk according to God's will in that relationship? If I hear God's word, I am first in Christ, then in the church; I know the Spirit dwells in me, and know also that He dwells in the church, which is therefore one while on the earth, not merely alike in doctrine, discipline, and polity, which might be in many independent societies, but one body here below. And this is so true and grave, that the truth would call one out of Romanism, if Rome had not an Image nor a superstition, and out of Protestantism, if its sects kind not a single unconverted member or minister. All this, however, and more, will appear plainly as we pursue the teaching of the apostle.
"Now concerning spiritual things, brethren, I do not wish you to be ignorant. Ye know that, when* ye were Gentiles, [ye were] led away unto the dumb idol as ye might be led. Wherefore I give you to know that no one speaking in [the] Spirit of God saith, Jesus [is] accursed, and no one can say, Lord Jesus,† unless in [the] Holy Spirit. Now there are differences of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are differences of services, and the same Lord, and there are differences of operations, but the same God‡ that operateth all things in all." (Vers. 1-6.)
* It is clear that ὅτε was omitted by mere oversight through the preceding ὅτι in F G K and many cursives, followed by the Pesch. Syr., Cop., etc, but all the rest A B C Dgr Egr L P, etc., read it.
† The Text. Rec. follows the mass in giving the accusative; but A B C, etc., the nominative.
‡ B C, etc., read καί "and;" and the Text. Rec. with most adds ἐστι "is."
The Authorized translation, with almost all others, inserts "gifts" after "spiritual" in the first verse; but this is scarcely comprehensive enough, for it does not properly contemplate the presence of the Spirit Himself, which clearly is far more momentous than any gift, and in itself distinct from them, they depending on Him rather than He on them. Hence "manifestations" has been suggested. But this, though better, seems inadequate to express the great truth in question, as we may learn from verse 7, where "the manifestation of the "Spirit" refers to what is given to each, as distinct from the baptism of the Spirit, which forms all into one body. The sense is the entire range of what pertains to the Spirit; and if our language could bear "spirituals," this would seem the best way of rendering τῶν πνευματικῶν. A christian usage has already adopted "heavenlies" in Ephesians. There seems at least as much need for a similar modification here in Corinthians. There is no sufficient reason, with Locke and others, to suppose that spiritual men are meant here again, as in 1 Corinthians 14:37, 1 Corinthians 2:15; Galatians 6. Compare verse 31 and 1 Corinthians 14:1. This would narrow the field even more than the common version, and thus be more objectionable still.
The apostle, then, would have them acquainted with the source, character, and object of all that flows from the Spirit in the assembly, and of His manifestation in each member of Christ. And, first, he reminds them of their pitiable condition when heathen. They were led away to the dumb idols so familiar to all, as they happened to be led. Their own will, doubtless, wrought and exposed them to unseen beings, who availed themselves of those senseless objects of adoration. The more, therefore, did they need to learn what had a wholly different origin and intent. This brings in the criterion of the Holy Spirit, the confession of Jesus as Lord, in contrast with the aim of evil spirits, who said, Curse on Jesus. Alas I this was not confined to Gentiles, for so cried the Jews under Satan's influence at the late crisis of their history. It would be to lose much, however, to reduce this twofold test to such gross forms alone. We may justly infer that, as the Holy Spirit ever works to exalt Jesus, so does the enemy to degrade Him. And this appears to be the point here, not the ascertainment of true believers among professors, but the character of what is taught in the assembly, whether of God's Spirit or of Satan. So it is even in 1 John 4:2-3; 2 John 1:7.
Next, the apostle descends from this broad and absolute test, in which all true confessors must unite, to the varieties, and these in relation to their source and aim. "Now there are differences of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are differences of ministries, and the same Lord; and there are differences of operations, but the same God that operateth all things in all." It is not, on the one hand, the Trinity, as such, which we have here, though unquestionably "the Spirit" and "the Lord" could not be thus introduced if they were not God equally with the Father. But it is plain that our Lord appears not so much in His divine glory as the Son, but rather in the official position conferred on Him. And God is spoken of as such, not in His personal distinctiveness as Father. On the other hand, it is not a division into three classes of gifts, but the same thing in substance viewed in three relations: gifts, in relation to the Spirit, through whom they come; services, in relation to the Lord, under whom and for whose glory they are responsibly exercised; and operations or workings or effects, in relation to God, for it is God, and not man, that works the whole in all. Thus, if by the Spirit there be a gift, its exercise is a ministry or service of the Lord, by whose authority it is carried on; and it is God who works it all effectually. Compare 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 and chapter 2.
We learn also how surely the action of the Holy Spirit in a Christian must be in communion in order to meet the mind and will of God. Powers, even of the most manifestly supernatural kind, may be exercised, as in too many of the Corinthians, to self-exaltation.
We come next to individual distinctions, the special forms of the Spirit's working in Christians.
"But to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for profit. For to one, through the Spirit, is given [the] word of wisdom, and to another [the] word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit;* to a different one faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healings by the same† Spirit, and to another operations of powers, and to another prophecy, and to another discerning of spirits;‡ to a different one kinds of tongues, and to another interpretation of tongues. But all these things operateth the one and the same Spirit, dividing in particular to each according as he pleaseth." (Vers. 7-11.)
* δέ "and" is read by the majority of MSS and versions, but is not in p.m. B Dp.m. E F G, etc.
† Or "one," ἑνί, A B, etc.
‡ Authorities are pretty equal for and against δέ "and."
It is well to remark that the apostle is speaking only of the assembly, of each one there and not in the world. This might seem needless to notice, did we not know that a whole community in Christendom is based on the opposed assumption that a manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man on earth without restriction. Here the apostle is treating strictly of the church: to each within it is the manifestation of the Spirit given, and that with a view to the common good, not for personal influence or display. Chrysostom is quite in error in supposing that the term "manifestation" is here used because unbelievers do not own God, save by visible wonders. For it is not a question of miracles only, as the very first samples (the word of wisdom and that of knowledge) prove; nor is it a sign to unbelievers, but for the profit of believers.
The way of the Spirit too is not concentration of all His powers in a single person, but distribution to a variety of individuals; and this because the assembly is contemplated, not a chief man but the church, by the different constituents of which God is pleased to work for the good of all. "For to one, through the Spirit, is given [the] word of wisdom, and to another [the] word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit." The apostle takes care to begin with what would be called non-miraculous gifts, the better to counteract the fleshly mind, whether of the Corinthians or of any others, which sets an inordinate value on what strikes the eye, the mind, or the imagination by undeniable effects of power. Though not miraculous however, the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge are as expressly of the Holy Spirit as the most striking sign-gifts. It is not through a commanding, or a merely "sanctified," intellect that the word of wisdom comes; it "is given through the Spirit." "According to the same Spirit" is given the word of knowledge. They are thus no less supernatural, though not in the ordinary sense miraculous. They are the fruit neither of innate powers nor of acquirement, but of the Spirit, just as is the new birth of every believer; and far more important than any miracle, grave as it may be and glorifying to God in its own place and for its own purpose.
What then is "wisdom" as distinguished from "knowledge?" Wisdom seems to me that moral discernment given by God of things as they are before Him, and consequently as they truly are in themselves, and in relation to one another, which is of prime value for practical judgment and conduct here below. Good and evil, right and wrong, are thus seen intuitively, because of familiarity with the presence of God, not only in their results but in their principles and springs. Knowledge is rather that understanding of revealed truth, which of course therefore is given through a diligent use of the scriptures, and is of great value for appreciating the ways as well as word of God, though the abuse of it issues in systems of divinity, of prophecy, and the like. The "word" in the two instances means or implies the faculty of communicating to others the wisdom or knowledge, as the case may be. It does not seem correct to infer that the prophets were characterized by the latter as apostles undoubtedly were by the former. It would be more according to scripture if one said that "the word of knowledge" pertained to the teacher, always remembering that an apostle or a prophet might also be a teacher and a preacher, as Paul himself was beyond all controversy. But his was a rare combination of gifts, and all of them rich, deep, and ample, in order to accomplish the special work for which he was called of the Lord.
But next follow very different manifestations of the Spirit. "To a different one faith by (ἐν) the same Spirit; and to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, and to another operations of powers, and to another prophecy, and to another discerning of spirits," etc. Clearly "faith" here, as sometimes elsewhere, does not mean a soul's believing in Christ or the gospel for salvation, being a manifestation of the Spirit, and this to one here or there among the Christians. It is that distinctive gift from God which enables its possessor to face foes and dangers, and rise above hindrances or difficulties, and be assured of the issue, where others, even saints, are perplexed and disquieted. It is thus distinct from healings, powers, prophecy, etc.
There seems no need of dwelling on "gifts of healings in virtue of (ἐν) the same Spirit," further than to say that it is not more comprehensive, but less, than "faith." There was faith in him who exercised spiritual powers in healing the sick, but gifts of healings were restricted of course to their own peculiar domain. "Faith," as such, might be exercised in a great variety of ways besides that which strengthened some to be martyrs or confessors. Again, another might have "operations of powers" (erroneously rendered in the Rhemish and the Authorized Versions, "the working of miracles"), which were not "healings," but such superiority to things material, or beings spiritual, as we see promised in Mark 16:17-18, and illustrated in the Acts of the Apostles. "Prophecy" another might have given him, which was an energy of the Holy Ghost in the purely spiritual domain, enabling him to give out the mind of God as to the present or future. This definition embraces the twofold application of the term in scripture, whether to the narrow field of prediction, or to the larger one of declaring God's mind and will, so as to act on conscience with unfailing, divine conviction. (See for the latter 1 Cor. 14; for the former Acts 11) "Discerning of spirits" is another gift, which means the faculty of deciding, not between true and spurious professors of the Lord Jesus, but between the Spirit's teaching and that which simulated it by evil spirits. The general responsibility to try or prove the spirits if they are of God we see in 1 John 4, because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Here it is a special gift. The danger, or rather the fact, of misleading some is also foreshown in 1 Timothy 4. The designed distribution of these gifts is strikingly shown in the last two, where "kinds of tongues," or a variety of languages naturally unknown to the speaker we find distinguished from "interpretation of tongues" given to another, though 1 Corinthians 14:13 intimates the desirableness of their combination.
"But all these operateth the one and the same Spirit, dividing in particular to each according as he pleaseth." (Ver. 11.) The unity of the Spirit, who not only distributes each to each but works all the gifts, thus keeping up dependence on His power, is thus set forth, no less than His sovereign activity as a divine person, however truly come down to work in subservience to the glory of the Lord Jesus. Evil and error may have as many springs as there are men and demons with their varied and often conflicting wills, lusts, and passions. But the self-same Spirit works all that glorifies Christ in these different gifts, distributed respectively at His pleasure to each servant of the Lord. How this diversity with unity characterizes the church will appear from the reason given in the subjoined comparison, as little understood in its force as it is familiar in its forms or phrases, yet of all moment for His glory and our blessing.
"For even as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the* body, being many, are one body, so also [is] the Christ. For by one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free, and were all made to drink of† one Spirit." (Vers. 12, 13.) Thus the assembly, being an organic unity, while it consists of many parts or members, harmonizes with the various gifts which the Spirit distributes according to His will. Just such is, as the apostle pointedly says, "the Christ;" we would have said the church. The apostle looks at Christ and the assembly as one mystic man, which, while one, has many members, and yet all the members, many as they are, forming but one body. "So also is the Christ." The assembly is identified with Him, and this because "by (ἐν, in virtue of) one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free, and were all made to drink of one Spirit."
* Text. Rec. adds ἕνος, with two or three uncials and the mass of cursives, etc., contrary to the best MSS, versions, and other authorities.
† A few uncials with most cursives insert E", contrary to B Cp.m. Dp.m. F G P and the best of the other witnesses. A gives the strange reading καὶ πάντες ἓν σῶμά ἐσμεν.
It is important to observe that it was not by faith, precious and mighty as it is, that this unity was formed, but by the Holy Spirit personally sent down from heaven. Faith is individual; it does not unite, though fitting for union morally. One believes the gospel for one's own soul; and the believer receives life for himself in the Son of God, who is life and quickens the dead. But the baptism of the Spirit is over and above life, and is given therefore not to the dead unbeliever but to those already quickened, and the issue is the one body. So the Lord, who had already quickened the disciples, and this even with life more abundantly in resurrection (John 10; 20), promised them just before His ascension that they should be baptized with the Holy Spirit, which accordingly was fulfilled not many days after at Pentecost. (Compare Acts 1:6, Acts 2; also Acts 8:15-16; Acts 10:44-45; Acts 11:15-17; Acts 19:2-6.) The one body had never existed; from Pentecost it begins, as a present fact, on earth, because the Spirit is thus sent to baptize as He never did before; and this continuously, for He when given was to abide in and with us for ever. (John 14:16-17.) No difference in religion or in social standing hinders. There is one body and one Spirit. The figures employed in the verse before us seem to allude to baptism and the Lord's supper, the latter being the standing sign of the church's unity.
But it must be borne in mind that scripture nowhere identifies water-baptism with the baptism of the Spirit. Thus, on the grandest occasion of all, the disciples in Jerusalem, waiting for power from on high, were not baptized with water that day; and the convicted souls from among the Jews were told to repent and be baptized each of them, in the name of Jesus Christ, for remission of sins, and they should receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The disconnection of the two is still more manifest in the case of the Samaritan converts a little after, and of the Ephesian disciples long after. If possible more evidently false is the hypothesis which binds them together in Cornelius' case, with his household and friends, who received the gift of the Holy Spirit before they were baptized with water.
It is not only Catholics then but Protestants also, who are utterly wrong in adducing this text for the effect of baptism. We are not, though Calvin puts it into the lips of the apostle, "engrafted by baptism into Christ's body."* Baptism is not an engrafting into the body; it associates the believer with His death. It means that we were buried with Christ unto death, a strictly individual truth, and wholly distinct from making us members of His body, which is always attributed to the Holy Spirit, whether we were or were not baptized with water at that time. Nor is it possible to attribute to the cup the keeping up of the unity, or the conducting us by degrees to the same unity, for the phrase implies a single finished act (ἐποτίσθημεν, like ἐβαπτίσθημεν, both aorists). It is at most therefore a glance at the two institutions of our Lord, and in no way a doctrinal connection. They are separable, and in fact separated, even when true believers are concerned; and, blessed as is the aim and the effect of the Lord's supper, it has nothing whatever to do with our reception of the Spirit, though doubtless the Spirit, when received, gives an immense accession to the enjoyment of the grace of Christ in the supper, and this in communion with one another. They are not sacramentally bound together, even baptism being to death with Christ, not to life, still less to union or the one body which is by the baptism of the Spirit.
* "Probatio est ab effectu Baptismi. Inserimur, inquit, per Baptismum in Christi corpus. . . . . . deinde ubi sacram Coenam percipiunt, gradatim rursum ad eandem unitatem deduci, quia eodem simul potu reficiantur." (Calvini Opera, vii. 187, 188, Amst. ed. folio, 1667.)
Further, it will have been gathered by the thoughtful reader that the baptism of the Spirit is wholly distinct from the new birth, as in John 3. Hence it is incorrect to think that any communication of the Holy Spirit is called His baptism. Neither the new birth nor sanctification of the Spirit is so designated, any more than His inspiration, but only the gift, Himself personally received by the believer, not His quickening operation which makes a believer or gives one faith.
The apostle proceeds to employ the idea of the body to illustrate the assembly of God as now existing on earth. Doubtless it was in season for the state of things then in Corinth; but it is ever needed while we are here below, and never more so than now, when the state of Christendom renders it, on the one hand, harder to seize and apply the truth, and, on the other, still more imperatively due to the injured honour of the Lord, whose word and will are in general so grievously set at nought and ignored.
"For also the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body, it is not on this account not of the body; and if the ear say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body, it is not on this account not of the body. If the whole body [were] an eye, where the hearing? If all hearing, where the smelling? But now God set the members each one of them in the body according as he pleased. And if they all were one member, where the body? But now [are there] many members, and one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee; or again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. But much more the members of the body that seem to be weaker are necessary; and those which we think to be less honourable [members] of the body, on these we put more abundant honour, and our uncomely [members] have more abundant comeliness; but our comely [members] have no need. But God blended the body together, having given more abundant honour to that which lacked, that there might be no division in the body, but that the members might have the same concern one for another." (Vers. 14-25.)
The great and most obvious characteristic of the body is that it consists of not one member but many. This is so essential to its nature that it could not be called "the body" if it consisted of but one member, and not of many. It would be a monstrous formation, not the beautiful unity with diversity seen in the human body, as indeed in every other organization. It is exactly so with the assembly of God. It is not only His house, but Christ's body in virtue of the one Spirit who has baptized all the believers, whatever their antecedent and their otherwise irreconcilable differences, into one: an unity which subsists now and not by-and-by alone, on earth and not merely in heaven. Indeed we may go farther, and say that the sole object of the Spirit's instruction here is the church now on earth, and not at all in heaven, where we hear of the bride and the new Jerusalem, never of the one body or the many members.
But it is important to observe that the instruction has no bearing on denominations, save simply to blot them out. So far are they from being contemplated in the exhortation, that the truth of the one body utterly condemns them root and branch. In no extent or way then can the apostle's words be applied to the different denominations which now exist. It is opposed to the fundamental unity of the body on which Paul insists, that one denomination stands in need of another. The body has many members, not denominations, which only exist antagonistically to that unity. Far from being necessary to the due working of the church, like the many members of the body, they frustrate the truth, allowed in theory perhaps, but always denied in practice, as indeed they are dead against the will of the Lord.
The first practical inconsistency with the church's constitution which the apostle warns against (vers. 15, 16) is the discontent of inferior members with their position. They were in danger of ignoring and neglecting their own functions from envy of those who had a higher place. "If the foot say, Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body, it is not [or, is it] on that account not of the body. And if the ear say, Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body, it is not [or, is it] on this account not of the body." Such disaffection, if carried out, would destroy the church. Each has its own office, but for the assembly, not for itself; as the foot and hand, the eye and ear, act for the entire body.
Next the absurdity of such wishes is shown. If one member might desire lawfully some special place, so might all the rest; the consequence of which would be the ruin of the body. "If the whole body [were] an eye, where the hearing? If all hearing, where the smelling?" (Ver. 17.) The admirable co-ordination and sub-ordination of the various members in the one body would be at an end.
Nor is this a question of a true theory or of a wise practice, but of the divine will. God has so ordained it; and those who wish otherwise are fighting against His word." But now God set the members each one of them in the body according as he pleased." (Ver. 18.) It is not merely the providential fact of one being in the wilderness, and another in a city; nor is it one led of the Spirit to go here, and another there. As the assembly is according to God's design and constitution, each is set in a place arranged by God in the body of Christ with a gift suitable for it. One's own choice is excluded: and so is selection by other men. It is neither self, nor man, nor the church, but God, who can, or ought to, set the members; and He set them, each one of them, in the body according as He pleased. He determines for the least as well as for the greatest. Any other ordering is at issue with God's ways and pleasure. It is God's church; and He, not man, orders the place of each and all in it.
"And if they all [were] one member, where the body?" (Ver. 19.) It is the remark of another that as the former proof of absurdity (ver. 17) appealed to the concrete, so does this to the abstract. I add that as there is shown that the distinctness of the members would be destroyed by forgetting the truth, so here the completeness of the body. "But now are they many members, and but one body." (Ver. 20.) The unity of the body perfectly consists with diversity in the members, and the diversity of the members with that one body. And so, in fact, it is according to God's mind. It is the departure from this which constitutes mainly the present disorganized state of the church which we see in Christendom. For the most part all the gifts which can find expression must be in one member in a congregation, and there is not one body, as far as facts attest, but many bodies, differing and opposed. The root of the evil is that the one Spirit is not really owned, but human acquirement and appointment of varying form. And the eye does, in present practice, say to the hand, I have no need of thee, and the head to the feet, I have no need of you, the eye and head coalescing in the one sole minister.
Thus openly is the truth, enunciated by the apostle, set at naught; for he is proving that, as this cannot be without ruin in the natural body, so is the body of Christ framed in the grace of God. "And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee; or again the head to the feet, I have no need of you." (Ver. 21.) Disdain is thereby put down even more strongly here, on the part of the higher members toward the lower, than was discontent, as we saw, in the lesser toward the greater. The highest cannot do without the least. God has made nothing, gives nothing, in vain; yea, the truth demands more than this. "But much more, the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those [members] of the body which we think to be lees honourable, these we invest with more abundant honour; and our uncomely [members] have more abundant comeliness: but our comely [members] have no need. But God blended the body together, having given more abundant honour to that which lacked, that there might be no divisions in the body, but that the members might have the same concern one for another." (Vers. 21-25.)
By this instinctive sense implanted in us, we feel that the most attractive features can do without the care which is freely bestowed on the less comely; while we know that there are parts of the body which seem weaker, and yet are necessary to its wellbeing, or even life, which last is not the case with some possessed of show and strength, and having a good place, if not so essential. Nature itself teaches us to cover or adorn what is not pleasant or proper to see, while what is fair can appear freely.
So is it according to God with the body of Christ. Much that appears not is ,of the utmost importance; those that laboured like Epaphras are far more necessary than some who shone at Corinth with miracles or tongues. As we cover the feet, not the face, so it is that God uses and honours what is apt to be despised; and so should we, if we have the mind of Christ; and this is thus ordered of God to guard against the tendency to division in the body. Had the Corinthians heeded this, how much sorrow and shame would have been spared! The disorder, however, grace has turned to our account, who have been awakened to see and judge, and to have done with that which is so dishonouring to the Lord, but a state which is ever ready to repeat itself, and not least where knowledge takes the place of love, and saints condescend to form cliques with a favourite leader. to help them on in the sorry work of jealousy and detraction. Is this the members having the same concern one for another? or is it not schism, against which God tempered the body together so that there should be none?
We have seen, then, that God has so constituted the body of Christ, like the natural one, that there should be no division of interest, but the good of each in the good of all, and the care of each for every other member. It is His aim, but may not be the fact.
"And whether* one member suffer, all the members suffer with [it]: whether a [or one] † member is glorified, all the members rejoice with [it]." (Ver. 26.) It is not said merely that they ought, but that they do. Whether it be good or ill, all that is according to God in one Christian goes out for blessing to all the rest; and there is not an ill or scandal in a saint at the antipodes which does not affect with its shade and suffering every other in these lands. We consciously suffer or rejoice, one may add, in the measure of our spiritual power. But the effect is real throughout the church. It is a body - the body of Christ - and as a whole it feels in joy or sorrow: else it were not a real organic unity. Undoubtedly also its present condition, with denominational barriers, which in all the saints sever into independent associations, as well as with the allowance of the world in most, reduces spiritual sensibility to the lowest: still, far from desiring otherwise, one dares not deny that it subsists, surviving these deplorable hindrances by its own vitality, as flowing from the Holy Spirit of God who dwells in the church.
* εἴ τι B F G, etc., and versions, the rest εἴτε.
† The second ἕν is not in p.m. A B.
See how the blessed apostle brings home the truth from the abstract to the concrete, applying this precious truth to the case before him. It is true that the state of the Corinthians was such that he would not go there. If he had gone, he must have taken a rod with him, and this was far from his heart. He would rather write, and wait; and God blessed his written rebuke to their restoration in measure, and he could rejoice as we see in the second epistle. But even here, before he was refreshed with the fruit of grace, while censuring severely their faults, he does not hesitate to say, "Now ye are Christ's body, and members in particular." (Ver. 27.) Such is the privilege, and such no less the responsibility of the local assembly; not independently of course, for this would deny the body of Christ, but representatively, for, if it were not so, the local assembly were not Christ's body; and as this they collectively were, so also they were members severally.
It is very evident too that it is not an ideal or future picture. It is a living reality on earth, which every Christian is bound to walk in and manifest, abandoning at all cost whatever is inconsistent with, or destructive of, it. It is a state now on earth, not about to be by-and-by in heaven. There will be no such thing as the suffering of one and the sympathy of the rest on high. Unbelief shirks responsibility, and would like to conceive it another state, not yet practicable, because it does not like the trial. In heaven, no doubt, there will be perfect love, and all selfishness will be gone for ever; but it is quite a different state of things, and not once contemplated in these verses.
"And God set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, then powers, then* gifts of healings, helps, governments, kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all powers? Have all gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But desire earnestly the greater† gifts, and yet I show you a way of exceeding excellence." (Ver. 28.)
* ἔπειτα (sic) ABC, five cursives, and several fathers; εἶτα Text. Rec., with E L and most cursives, etc., while D E F G, etc., omit either.
† μείζονα A B C, ten or more cursives, both Aeth., and many ancients; κρείττ(σσ)ονα as in Text. Rec. DEFGKL and the great mass of cursives, most versions, etc. Chrys. and Theoph. expressly add even that he did not say τὰ μ. but τὰ κρ.
We see hence how completely the true thought is that God, not man, arranged the assembly, and the relative place of all in it. It is the same principle, from the highest to the lowest, from apostles to the least gift for the manifestation of the Spirit in it. And the Corinthians then, as others of late, had to hear, whether they heeded or not, that those striking displays of power in which they found their childish surprise and delight, like the world without, were not highest, that there were gifts relatively first and second and third, the last-named being the very one they had been abusing to no small disorder and hindrance of edification in the assembly. The apostles had a place of governing for Christ which prophets had not, though both constitute the foundation on which this building of God is built. (Eph. 2) Teachers were subordinate of course. "Helps" and "governments" are commonly supposed to be the gifts needed for the offices of deacon and elder respectively. It at least is certain, that there is no difficulty in understanding this of the presbyters or bishops, because these had to be διδακτικοί. For "apt to teach" is not the same thing as a "teacher." The ruling elders of Presbyterianism are very distinct from scriptural elders; and so still more is the one teaching elder, or the minister. Other societies diverge, if possible, farther from the principle laid down here and elsewhere.
But it is the Lord who calls, not the church. The church may be the sphere of the exercise of the gifts, never the source of the authority, any more than of the power, both of which come from Christ. It is He who gives mission, He who sends labourers to sow or reap. Nor does scripture ever assert it to be the church's office to examine the candidate for the ministry, as it is called, nor authoritatively to declare its judgment. There is no appointed way for the church in either case, because it is not the church's work or duty. The Lord qualifies the servant whom He calls for the work He appoints to be done; and He works by the Spirit, not only in this member, but in all the others, to have His call and work and workmen respected, though flesh and world be stirred up of the enemy to discredit all. Hence we find the church at Corinth, as well as those of Galatia, questioning, not declaring authoritatively (which God never asked any to do), the apostleship of St. Paul. Ministry, according to scripture and this very chapter in particular, is clearly the exercise of a gift from the Lord to a given end. So says the apostle Peter in his first epistle (1 Peter 4:10): "As every man [each] hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God." There is therefore no real ministry according to God without a gift in the word; and where such a gift is exercised, it is ministry. Only there were also lower gifts of power, and these the apostle puts in their true place, as the Corinthians had put them out of it.
It is to be noticed too how, in verses 29, 80, the apostle's questions suppose distribution of gifts among the members of Christ, and not their concentration either in one or in all. Neither have all the same functions, nor has any one all the functions which are expressly said to be distributed to each of the many members, to this one, and to that another.
The Corinthians' folly was not greater in wishing all the gifts to be in each and all the saints, than the modern theory of arrogating all, as far as public ministration goes, to a single official. The one was ignorant vanity before the truth was fully revealed in a written form; the other is more guilty presumption in presence of the acknowledged word of God, which condemns every departure from His principles, and the great fact of the one body with its many members, wherein the Holy Spirit works to glorify the Lord Jesus.
At the same time the saints are encouraged to desire earnestly the greater gifts, but these were for edification, not for show. And yet he points out to them a way surpassingly excellent; not surely a mere way, however eminently good, to obtain these gifts, as some suppose, but a way for souls to feel and think, to walk and worship, beyond all gifts. It is the way of love, which he opens out in the next chapter.
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 the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
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 prophecy; 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.
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?
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.
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 healings, 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.