1 Corinthians 12:28-31
And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings…
The second of the two words which I have taken as including a large portion of the activities of human life for the good of others is even more directly figurative than the first. The seafaring life of the Greeks taught a race more gifted than most others with the power of interpreting the troubles of the world around them, and led them to see in the work of piloting the ship that which had its counterpart in the duties of those who were called to be rulers of mankind. Probably no similitude has taken so vast a hold on the minds of men as that which we find in the Republic of Plato, and in which he compares the democracy of his own time to an untrained crew in which every one thought that without any previous discipline he was competent to take the helm. He pictures the confusion which must ensue when men undertook that work without any knowledge of seas or sky, of stars or wind; how the man truly gifted with the power of steering would be despised and rejected as the demos of Athens despised and rejected the teachers of wisdom who gave them true counsels for their good. The thought of the word passed from Greece to Rome. The figurative meaning almost superseded the literal, and so became the Gubernator to Western Europe. I can scarcely doubt that one with St. Paul's experiences of perils by water, thrice shipwrecked, able to give wise counsel to master and mariners out of his own experience, would use the word with a full sense of the similitude under which it would be present in his thoughts. It was as familiar to him as the soldier's armour or the conflict for the prize and the training of the athlete. He paints Hymenaeus and Alexander as having made shipwreck concerning the faith. He warns men not to be carried about by every blast of false doctrine. Some men seem born with an innate capacity for this form of government in its most literal sense. They have the watchful eye, the ready hand, the sagacious forecast, which, working together, bring them to the haven where they would be. They need only to teach and to practise, and they rapidly become proficient. And passing from the literal to the figurative meaning, he saw that here also there was a gift of steersmanship, governments, as well as a governing power, which showed itself in helps. Discerning schoolmasters soon learn to see what boys are likely to take the lead among their fellows. They recognise in him one firm in purpose, ready to accept suggestions when they are reasonable, not shrinking from using his power when occasion calls for it. To most of you, of course, who are yet in the probationary stage of manhood, the opportunities of governing are few and far between. The influence of the young is for the most part, as I said, that of ministration. But not seldom, as your own experience or the history of the past may tell you, the one gift grows out of the other. The good subject ripens into the good ruler. Help leads to insight of character, and rubs off the angularities of temperament and self-assertion which impair the capacity for governing. That discipline where the capacity for ruling exists leads men on to the likeness of the ideal king, who reigns not for his own good but for that of his people, while without it the gift itself may degenerate into the pattern of the mob-ruling tyrant. We find this in the limits and the walks of duty which lie within your immediate reach. The teacher in the Sunday school develops into a professor of theology, or, as in two familiar instances, into the holder of one of our highest offices of state. The manager of the boys' guild may become a faithful and wise steward in some wider organisation, in which he will give to every man his portion of meat in due season. You will stand face to face with some at least of the great problems of our times, the relations of capital and labour, the question of land tenure and the equitable division of its profits, the organisation of charity so that it may tend to elevate and not degrade, the problem how best to bridge over the chasm which yawns between the classes and the masses; these and other kindred inquiries can scarcely fail to meet you. It is easy, fatally easy, to ignore these problems, to follow the impulses of pleasure seeking, or of working for your own success. But England expects better things from you. You need to learn how to steer, to know the forces which are working around you, the currents and the drifts of thought which are sweeping over men's minds, the time when to spread your sails to the wind of public opinion and when to reef them, to discern the signs of the times, to free yourselves from the delusion of an unreal optimism or an equally unreal and far more perilous pessimism. And in close connection with these views of the gift of government there is a wide sphere of yet vaster questionings, which make the thinker, who is led to speculate, ponder on the course of the world's history, the mystery of man's life and of God's covenant, the wonders of our being, the origin of the evil which leaves its serpent trail alike in our individual lives and in the collective experience of mankind, the manner of the final victory over that evil. Here, also, the gift of steersmanship is needed. It is no voyage upon the summer sea on which the frail barque of the weak or untrained intellect may lightly launch. The thought comes to our minds that it is safer to stand on the shore and watch the surging waves from a position of security. The warnings may be unheeded, the impulses that sway the mind to look before and aft and muse upon many things are not easily repressed. All that we can attempt, with any hope of success, is to put before the inquirer the conditions of safe sailing in that vast sea of thought. We may tell him that there must be the temper of love and purity, for now as ever it is true that "into a malicious soul peace will not enter, nor dwell in the body that is subject unto sin." There must be a recognition at once of the capacity and limitations of man's knowledge. The questioner must restrain himself to keep within the boundaries of the known or knowable. There must be reverence for the past in its strivings and aspirations and successes, the recognition of the increasing purposes which works throughout the ages, of the education of mankind in many varied manners and many different measures. The system of speculative thought in which the man thought to win his fellows to reach the desired haven may prove unseaworthy and founder in sight of shore. There may be with them in the ship, as in that night in the Adria, one whose prayer is mighty to prevail, to whom God has given the lives of his companions. Here, too, the highest form of the gift of government is that which has been rightly disciplined by the exercise of the earlier gifts of helps. "Helps, governments." I return to the two words from which I started as embracing wide reasons of all human activity. Each of you, as you look within the depths of your own personality, or in the environment in which you live, may find in yourselves the germs of one of those — ἀντιλήψει´, κυβερνήσεις — possibly not seldom of both of these germs. It is yours to quicken them into life, to train by exercise the talents which you have to keep, as those who shall give an account to the Master who has bestowed them upon you. For the faithful exercise of those gifts there is a sure reward of ever-widening opportunities. With the will to do that which is indeed God's will, there will come a power sooner or later in this life, or behind the veil, to know the doctrine of the Christ, whether it be of God.
(Dean Plumptre, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.