An understanding and application of the teaching of chapter twelve of the First Epistle to the Corinthians would transform the way Christians relate to one another, both individually and collectively. It would rid us of arrogance and pride as we realise that Christ is, in fact, Lord; of lethargy as we come to terms with the idea that every believer has at least one gift; of indifference as we appreciate the wonder of the truth of the body of Christ; of heartlessness and selfishness as we see that every believer in the assembly is vitally important, and necessary for the good of the whole. Rid us, too, of compromise and collusion with the religious world around us. Then, humbled for our past failures, we would move forward with fresh zeal to put into practice the life-changing doctrines contained in these verses.
The first epistle to the Corinthians was written in response to three things. Chapters 1-4 were written in response to a report to the apostle from the house of Chloe, informing him of the dangerous divisions in the assembly. The apostle counters this evil by dealing with the root of it, namely, the thinking of the world. Those versed in this world’s wisdom were divided into parties owning a particular philosopher at the head, and the Corinthians were becoming like them.
In chapters 5 and 6 the apostle responds to the common report that there was immorality allowed in the assembly. In chapter 5 the apostle shows how to deal with the matter within the confines of the local assembly. In chapter 6 he shows that the matter should not be dealt with by going to law before unbelievers.
The third and largest portion of the epistle consists of the apostle’s response to matters raised by the Corinthians themselves, “the things whereof ye wrote unto me”, 7:1. These things were five in number. In 7:1, 25, the matter of marriage. In 8:1 the question of things offered to idols. In 12:1, spiritual gifts. In 16:1 the collection for the saints. In 16:12 concerning Apollos.
The structure of the passage
Turning now to chapter 12, we should note the structure of the passage which may be thought of as follows:
Verses 1-3 The necessity of the recognition of Jesus as Lord.
Verses 4-11 The variety of gifts given to believers.
Verses 12-13 The unity of the members both of the human body and the church which is Christ’s body.
Verses 14-17 The plurality of the members of the human body.
Verses 18-21 The diversity of the members of the human body.
Verses 22-26 The equality of the members of the human body.
Verse 27 The solidarity and individuality of the members of the local assembly.
Verses 28-30 The priority of the gifts of some members of the church which is Christ’s body.
Verse 31 Charity to the members of the church which is Christ’s body.
12:1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.
12:2 Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.
12:3 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.
Verses 1-3 The necessity of the recognition of Jesus as Lord
In verse 1, we find that there is reference made to spiritual gifts. The word “gifts” is in italics, however, and this prompts us to realise that the section which begins here, and extends to the end of chapter 15, deals with “spirit-matters”, not just spiritual gifts. It is indeed true that chapter 12 has things to say about spiritual gifts, as does chapter 14, but it also has to do with the evil spirits which carried idol-worshippers away, causing them to pronounce a curse upon Jesus. Again, the work of the Holy Spirit is also in view in the chapter, so the range is wider that spiritual gifts. So, too, in chapter 13, where spirit-attitudes are in view, as well as spiritual gifts. In chapter 14 we are reminded that the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets, so human spirits find a mention. Then in chapter 15 the question is whether there is a future resurrection, or whether it is purely a “spiritual” concept. In response to this the apostle shows clearly that Christ is risen and has been seen in a body, and also that believers await the time when they will be raised with bodies that are spiritual, as opposed to the bodies they have now which are natural.
The apostle begins to write of spirit-matters by contrasting the result of the activity of evil spirits with that of the Holy Spirit. The former energise heathen idol-worshippers to pronounce a curse on Jesus, for they know that when His name is mentioned, their power is destroyed. They know who Jesus is, see Acts 19:15, and they know, too, that He will destroy them at God’s appointed time, Matthew 8:29. The ministry of the Holy Spirit is markedly different. He empowers God’s people to recognise the Lordship of Christ. In fact, this ministry could be said to embrace all His other ministries.
12:4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
12:5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
12:6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
12:7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.
12:8 For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit;
12:9 To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;
12:10 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:
12:11 But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.
Verses 4-11 The variety of gifts given to believers
Since the diversity of spiritual gifts is as a result of, (and only as a result of), the ministry of the one Spirit, and since His ministry is to glorify Christ as Lord, it follows that every spiritual gift will result in glory for Christ when it is exercised in a scriptural manner. So it is that all the varied ministries carried out as a result of the exercise of gift will be in recognition of the same Lord. And the God who works out all of His purpose through all of His people, will achieve His goal.
Continuing his theme of spirit-matters, the apostle indicates that the Spirit of God manifests His presence in the assembly gatherings by the exercise of the gifts God’s people have. He lists nine of these gifts. This list is clearly not exhaustive, for at the end of the chapter he mentions several that are not found here. Perhaps those listed in verses 7-10 are chosen because they would, if the Lordship of Christ was not kept in view, lead to the exaltation of man. The Corinthians had a tendency to pride, as 5:2 shows.
They would be used to seeing philosophers discoursing, and gathering around themselves those who admired them and their teachings. Those in the assembly who were given the gift of a word of wisdom or a word of knowledge, should have been very careful not to attract men to themselves. They would need to take note of the apostle’s teaching regarding the danger of dividing the saints into parties, as found in chapters 1-4.
Then again, how impressive it was when Peter discerned the spirit of Ananias and his wife, and of Simon also, Acts 5:1-11. Also when Paul penetrated through to the spirit of Elymas, Acts 13:6-12. Both Peter and Paul possessed the gift of miracle working also. Someone with a like gift in the assembly at Corinth was in great danger of being revered, and given power and prestige as a result, especially since some of the Corinthians would have had superstitious tendencies before they were saved.
How remarkable was the gift of tongues, which enabled a believer to speak a language that had not been learnt, and to do so perfectly. The gift of interpretation was equally wonderful. And the gift of faith, that special ability to move forward for God when others were hesitant- who would not admire believers thus gifted?
These gifts, then, imparted wonderful abilities to men, and because of this, there needed to be the reminder of the Lordship of Christ, lest men become petty lords; the reminder, too, of the sovereignty of the Spirit, lest self intruded; and, furthermore, a reminder of the over-riding will of God, lest man’s will come to the fore in the way of pride and self-assertion.
Now all these gifts, in the opinion of the present writer, have been withdrawn, for there is no need for them now. The completed canon of Scripture supplies us with wisdom and knowledge. The sign the gift of tongues represents has made its point, and the need is gone. This is the case with the other gifts mentioned.
Those who claim to have this gift today must show several things. First, that what they have is what believers had at the beginning. Second, that the restoration of the gift is to be expected, (for it is a historical fact that it ceased). Third, that there is a need for the gift. Fourth, that the result of the exercise of the gift is the exaltation of Christ as Lord.
If, as is suggested, these gifts have been withdrawn, it might be asked why they are listed here. Three reasons may be given. First, since they were in use when the epistle was written, it was appropriate to mention them as examples of spiritual gifts. Second, one of them at least, the gift of tongues, was being over-emphasised at Corinth, and the apostle needs to correct this in chapter 14. Third, now that these have been withdrawn, and also now that there are those who claim to possess them, we need a standard by which to assess the genuineness or otherwise of modern claims.
The fact that not every believer in those days should have expected to possess the gift of tongues is seen in verse 11, for the gifts are divided severally according to the will of the Spirit. So it is not His will to impart each gift to every believer. The gifts are distributed (“dividing”) to separate individuals, (“severally”). We would do well to ponder this point, and assess our attitude to it.
It is good to be clear in our minds that the gift of tongues is not for today. It is equally good to be clear that the Spirit does still distribute to each believer those gifts that are for today. Which should prompt us to ask ourselves whether the gift given is being used. Remember God works in each member of the assembly for the profit of all- any lack of exercise of gift on the part of one, therefore, means that there is less profit for all. Since a gift is a spiritual thing, it should have precedence over natural things. We should not let self and the world stand in the way of the use of gift. The world is increasingly saying, in the language of the king of Sodom to Abraham, “Give me the persons (souls), and take the goods to thyself”. Abraham was strengthened to resist that temptation, and so should we be, resolutely determining to put the interests of God and His assembly first in both our thoughts and actions. This will undoubtedly involve sacrifices as matters of lesser importance are let go, and the primary purpose in the life of the believer is concentrated upon. An increase in salary is worthless if it results in a decrease in spiritual usefulness.
Verses 12,13 The unity of the members both of the human body and the church which is Christ’s body.
12:12 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.
12:13 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.
It is important to notice the structure of the remainder of chapter 12. In verses 12, 13, the apostle speaks of the church which is Christ’s body, but as he proceeds, he develops this truth in verses 14-26 in connection with the local assembly. This is why in verse 27 he declares “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular”, or in other words, what is true of a human body in terms of its diversity yet unity is true in principle of the local assembly in Corinth. He clearly does not mean that the whole church which is Christ’s body was at Corinth at that time. As far as representing Christ in Corinth was concerned, they were the body. This is the only realistic way in which the church which is Christ’s body can be expressed.
This pattern is repeated in verses 28-31, where the church which is Christ’s body is spoken of, for apostles are not set in the local assembly, but in the church as a whole. Then after the parenthesis of chapter 13, the way gift is to be exercised in the local assembly is detailed.
So we could summarise as follows:
12:12,13 The church which is Christ’s body is one, yet diverse, as the human body is.
12:14-27 The local assembly is body-like, and functions as the human body does.
12:28-31 The members of the church which is Christ’s body have gifts which have an order of importance, with teaching gifts having priority.
(13:1-13 Parenthesis, to show the atmosphere of love in which the gifts should be exercised.)
14:1-46 The regulation of gift in the local assembly, ensuring priority for teaching gifts.
It is important to realise that there are distinctions to be made between the church which is Christ’s body, and the local assembly. For instance, the former is fixed in the number of its members, being a complete entity in the mind of God from all eternity, as Ephesians 3:11 indicates. The latter, however, may fluctuate in membership for various reasons. The former is one, Ephesians 4:4, whereas, sadly, a local assembly may have divisions. Membership of the former, (leaving aside the truth of Ephesians 3:11 mentioned above), begins the moment a person believes the gospel, and the Spirit of God unites to Christ in an eternal union, whereas membership of a local assembly must be sought. Sadly that membership has to be terminated if doctrinal or moral sin requires it. In which case membership in the local assembly ceases. If that believer repents of whatever caused the excommunication, then he or she may be received back again. Again, there may be true believers in a locality that have never seen the truth as to the local assembly as set out in the New Testament. Content with the systems of men, they never seek fellowship, and as such, cannot be said to be in the local assembly. As Christians, they are equally part of the church which is Christ’s body, but are not part of the local company. In the days of the apostles, a person was either an unbelieving Jew attending the synagogue, an unbelieving Gentile attending the heathen temple, or a believer in Christ meeting with fellow-saints in the local assembly, unless excommunicated for some reason. Thus all was simple and straightforward, whereas today the denominations of men cloud the issue. The scriptures are sufficient for this situation, however, for those who are prepared to bow to their authority. We should remember that at conversion we are “called in one body”, Colossians 3:15, and that truth should govern us.
There are those who speak of “the church on earth”, by which they mean, apparently, the sum total of believers on earth at any one time. This is a notion that is foreign to the Scriptures. The Lord Jesus, when detailing the procedure for dealing with disputes amongst the saints, clearly indicated that the final court of appeal in such matters was “the church”. By which He meant a company of people that could have things told to it, and whose counsel could be heard, see Matthew 18:17. There is no provision made for any other company or persons to take the matter further. The local assembly is the final court of appeal in a locality, and spiritual decisions made there are valid in heaven. It is not possible to access all the believers on earth at any one time, and the Lord does not require us to do impossible things.
The sad divisions amongst those who hold to the theory of the church on earth should caution us to not countenance it. The suggestion that the church is in ruins is an insult to the Head of the church. That fact that Christian testimony is in a lamentable state generally is beside the point. May the Lord deliver us from the mafia-style oppression that is endured in certain circles. The last thing believers need is a spy network, set up to find failings that can be withdrawn from in the name of unity. The fact is, separation from evil is not God’s principle of unity. God’s principle of unity is the Headship of Christ and every believer’s link with Him by the Spirit.
With these distinctions between the church which is Christ’s body and the local assembly in mind, we return to verses 12 and 13. In verse 12 the apostle begins to use the illustration of the human body to enable us to grasp the ideas he has been setting out, and also to prepare for teaching regarding our relationships with one another in the assembly. First, he speaks of the whole company of believers saved during the period from the Day of Pentecost to the return of the Lord into the air to take His people to heaven. Just as a man has a body that is one organic whole, even though it has many members, so also is it the case with Christ. His figurative body likewise is one whole thing, and has many members. By reason of the functioning of these many parts, the one body exists, not just in theory but in practice. It is not that the church is one body despite being composed of many members, but rather that it is the very plurality of the members which goes to make the body one.
How is the unity of the church which is Christ’s body achieved? The answer in verse 13 is that “by one Spirit” we are all baptized into one body. We should notice that the preposition in the phrase “by one Spirit” is one that emphasizes the character of the thing being done. It is not that the Spirit does the baptizing, but rather that the baptizing is given character and meaning by the involvement of the Spirit of God. This leads of course to the question as to who the baptizer is. We know from the preaching of John the Baptist that the one he announced to be coming would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, Matthew 3:11. Only those in Israel who pass the searching test of the fanning process, (and remember that the word for wind and spirit are the same), and who are thereby shown not to be chaff, can be gathered into the kingdom garner, whilst the chaff is burnt up in a baptism of fire. So Matthew’s emphasis is on the Spirit in relation to Israel.
Mark, however, is concerned about the principles of service, whether Christ’s or ours, and so briefly mentions Christ as the one who will baptise with the Holy Spirit, for only in the power of the Spirit can God be served, Mark 1:8.
Luke uses identical words to Matthew, but we could say that whereas in Matthew the garner or granary is the kingdom, in Luke it is the church, Luke 3:15-18. And whereas in Matthew the chaff represents false professors, in Luke it represents unbelievers in general.
John’s approach is typical, for he records that John the Baptist had been convinced that Jesus was the Son of God by the fact that he had seen the Spirit like a dove descend on Him at His baptism, and so he, having seen, bore record that this was the Son of God, John 1:32-34. It is significant that John describes the One who will baptise with the Spirit as the Son of God, for when the Lord Jesus in the upper room spoke of the coming of the Spirit, He said it was to be as a result of the Son praying to the Father, John 14:16. See also Acts 1:4,7. Significantly, when Peter explains the meaning of the happenings at Pentecost, he says it is because the promise of the Father has been granted to Christ, Acts 2:33, and this is the only place that the name of God as Father is found being used in the book of the Acts by any other than the Lord Jesus in 1:4, 7. The baptism which took place on the Day of Pentecost, therefore, is linked, not only to the fact that Jesus is the Son of the Father, but also to His promise to His own in the upper room, representative as they were of the believers of this present age.
So it was when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, and the disciples were all of one accord in one place, the Spirit not only filled them, but also filled the place where they were sitting. By this means they were completely immersed in the element of the Spirit of God. They were baptised in the Spirit just as effectively as they had been baptised in the waters of Jordan by John a few years before. A similar experience had been known by the nation of Israel. Just before they passed through the Red Sea on dry land, the pillar of cloud and fire which had led the way for them, removed to their rear. Thus it was that the apostle Paul can describe them as having been baptised unto Moses in the cloud, 1 Corinthians 10:2, for it had engulfed them as it moved from the head of the column to the rear.
All those baptised on the Day of Pentecost, however, were Jews, and yet our verse declares “whether Jew or Gentile”. How is this true? When Peter was preaching to Cornelius, and his fellow Gentiles, the Spirit of God fell on them too. It is interesting to notice that when Peter was called to account for the events of that day, he says, amongst other things, that he remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said “John indeed baptised with water, but ye shall be baptised with the Holy Spirit”, Acts 11:16. He does not quote the finish of the sentence which runs “not many days hence”, for this was not a relevant phrase in the case of Cornelius. It is significant, however, that when Peter realised that Cornelius had received the gift of the Holy Spirit, (as was proved in his case by the fact that he was enabled to speak in tongues), Peter recalled, not the Lord’s words in the upper room giving the promise of the Spirit, but His words in Acts 1:5 already quoted. This would strongly suggest that a person is baptised in the Spirit when they are saved. There are those who disagree with this, however, and believe everything took place at Pentecost, with the individual entering into the good of that when saved, just as the good of Calvary is entered into at salvation. The strength of this argument lies in the fact that the apostle definitely teaches a similar idea when he says that when Christ died, His people died with Him, and they come into the good of that when they are eventually saved, see Romans 6:1-6. Along the same line is the fact that when a covenant was made between God and the people of Israel in Moab, it was made with “he that standeth here this day before the Lord our God, and also him that is not with us this day”, Deuteronomy 29:15. Those actually present when the covenant was given represented all who would come under its terms.
Whichever of these two views we adopt, the effect is the same, namely, that it can be said of all believers, whether Jews or Gentiles before conversion, that they are, as a matter of historical fact, baptised into one body. The view we should definitely not adopt, is that one which says that the baptism of the Spirit is an experience that comes to a believer at some time after conversion. This has no support in scripture, for Paul is able to state categorically that “we”, that is all believers, are baptized into one body; there are not some believers of this present age who are not baptized into one body.
Whatever the Divinely-made distinction before, when the Jew was separated from the Gentile in the purpose of God, they are irrelevant as far as the body of Christ is concerned. Whatever the man-made distinctions before, such as bond and free, these are gone also. The way is clear for the manifestation of true unity. This unity has been formed by the three persons of the Godhead, for the Father has responded to the request of the Son, John 14:16, and the Spirit has come. It is this Divinely-formed unity that all in the local assembly have part in.
12:14 For the body is not one member, but many.
12:15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
12:16 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?
12:17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?
Verses 14-17 The plurality of the members of the human body.
We now come to the ways the apostle uses the figure of a human body to illustrate the functioning of the local assembly. That he does refer to the local assembly in verses 14-27 is seen by the fact that he classes the head as one of the members in verse 27, whereas Christ Himself is the head of the body, the church, Colossians 1:18. The headship of Christ has to do with the church which is His body, whereas the Lordship of Christ is to the fore in connection with the local assembly.
It is important to notice that in verses 14-26 no spiritual application is made. It is the human body alone that is in view. When we come to verse 27, however, we have the key to the section, for the assembly at Corinth was body-like in character, and belonged to Christ. Having noted that truth, we may then retrace our steps through the passage, and begin to apply the lessons locally. So when the apostle describes the local assembly as body-like, he is referring to likeness to the human body, not likeness to the church which is Christ’s body.
Notice in verses 14-17 the presence of diversity in the body. The human body does not consist of just one organ or limb, but many. This fact has practical implications. A believer may have an inferiority complex, feeling that he or she has nothing to contribute to the assembly, even to the extent of opting out as not being worthy of a place there. Others seem to have such abilities, such skill, just like the eye in the human body. The apostle argues, however, that if everyone except the eye-member thought like this, there would be no body, for in no sense can an eye be called a human body.
It is good to have humility, and to take the lowly place, for we are called to this as we follow Christ’s example. That is not true humility, however, which seeks to escape the responsibility of exercising the gift God has given. True humility will lead us to use our gift for the glory of Christ, whereas mock humility will only attract attention to ourselves. Notice that the apostle not only uses sensitive parts of the body such as the eye and ear as his illustration, but also active parts, like the hand and the foot. There is a need for both sorts, and it is possible to divide the list of gifts given in verses 8-10 into those that are sensitive, (word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, discerning of spirits, prophecy), and those that involve more activity, (gifts of healing, working of miracles, kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues).
The apostle does not directly mention the nose, but does mention smelling, suggesting that the emphasis should always be on the effect of the gift, and not on the one possessing the gift itself.
12:18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.
12:19 And if they were all one member, where were the body?
12:20 But now are they many members, yet but one body.
12:21 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.
Verses 18-21 The diversity of the members of the human body
If in verses 14-17 we have diversity emphasised, with certain members saying, in effect, “You have no need of me”, we now have in verses 18-21 a member saying “I have no need of you”. The word for “say” here is quite a strong one. In fact it is used in Matthew 4:3 where the Devil sought to get the Lord Jesus to “command” that a stone be made bread. This member is laying down the law, stating with force that certain members can be dispensed with. This is the Diotrephes spirit in its early stages, and must be dealt with. Taken to its logical extreme, it would result in the assembly consisting of but one member, for sooner or later a Diotrephes is going to find fault with everyone except himself. This is in direct conflict with the Creator and Designer of the human body. For He has set the members in the human body according to His good pleasure- it is not for us to alter His arrangement. The apostle gives two illustrations to show that this sort of attitude is not acceptable. First the eye speaks to the hand, then the head to the feet. So we have a sensitive member addressing an active member in each case, with the suggestion that we must beware of conflict arising between members of the assembly in this regard. The active may be irritated by the apparent inactivity of the sensitive, and the sensitive may chafe if the active one seems not to have such a regard for principles as he should. We should be like John (the sensitive) and Peter (the active), and run both together, John 20:4. And the active must not be surprised if in fact the sensitive member outruns him eventually.
The use of the head as an example confirms for us that the church which is Christ’s body is not in view here, for He is the head of that. The apostle would surely not envisage our Head speaking in such a manner. In any case, the eye and ear have already come in for a mention, but they are parts of the head. Confusion results if we now begin to think of the head as Christ. Perhaps his deliberate use of the head as an illustration, when there are so many other members of the human body available to choose, is an indication that he has the local assembly in mind. Is it not true that in the local assembly there are those who are gifted to do in the spiritual realm what our head does in the physical? The head controls and gives leadership to the body, so a head member is one who has the gift described in verse 28 as governments. He may be an elder, or a deacon, both of whom need to exercise leadership and control in the exercise of their gift.
Those gifted with these leadership qualities should not despise those who do not possess them, least of all express that despising. The apostle is emphatic in his “Nay” in regard to this attitude, and proceeds to present what should be the true one.
12:22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
12:23 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.
12:24 For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked.
12:25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
12:26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.
Verses 22-26 The equality of the members of the human body
In our bodies there are certain members which we might think, (and it is only our thought, not God’s), to be feeble. We are wrong, however, if in our thinking we dismiss some members as feeble, for God has given every part of our body the ability to make a positive contribution to the whole. We must distinguish between apparent feebleness, as we assess the usefulness of the member, with spiritual weakness, which may be characteristic of any member of the body. Our arms, which we would reckon to be strong members, can at times be made very weak, whether by disease, accident, or even fear.
Not only are there some members which seem to us to be feeble, (and we are wrong), but there are also members which we think to be less honourable- and we are wrong again. Our own behaviour in the natural realm confirms this, for we balance out the honour of the various parts of our bodies by dressing up that which it is not appropriate to display.
In this way we give greater attractiveness to those parts which lack it, and thus balance out the honour. Our comely parts have no need of this adornment, however appropriate for reasons of decency. We may think parts of our body need our help, but really it is not so, for God has tempered or blended the human body together in such a way that those parts which we, with our deficient view of the situation, think to be less honourable are in fact already honoured by our Creator and Designer.
The honour He gives, however, is not of dress, but of usefulness. It would be well for us if we translate this into local assembly terms, and instead of assessing one another according to human opinion, look upon one another in the context of God’s perfect design of the body. When usefulness and not attractiveness is the benchmark, then we shall begin to view things in a better way.
The reason why our Creator has designed the body in this way, is that there should be an entity that is one harmonious whole, free from division. As such, it is a model of what the local assembly should be like. Each part of the human body works for the good of every other part, and in that sense displays an impartial care. One of the dangers of larger assemblies is that meetings of the assembly come and go, and contact need not be made with a large percentage of the company. This cannot be right, and does suggest that it may not be the Lord’s will that assemblies be large at all. “Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” is a very precious promise from the lips of the Lord Jesus Himself, yet we tend to think of such a company as “struggling”, and about to close down. Perhaps we need to learn the lesson that Gideon was given in Judges 7.
Is it not clear from 1 Corinthians 14:26, “when ye be come together…every one of you”, that it is expected that every brother should make some audible contribution to the assembly gatherings in any one week? It is probable that in early days the various kinds of assembly function, whether the Lord’s Supper, teaching, or prayers, were combined, and each brother took part in some way. Clearly this could not happen if the assembly were large. Certainly in a small company there is less opportunity for party spirit, and more opportunity for the exercise of gift. These things should be borne in mind when moving house, and small companies will not be ignored by spiritual believers who desire to be of help.
According to verse 25 the opposite of being in a state of schism is displaying an attitude of care. Schism involves fighting, care involves fostering. And this fostering spirit should be shown to all, irrespective of personal likes and dislikes. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye so unto them.” We should remember the “go thou and do likewise” at the end of the story of the Good Samaritan, and have compassion on, and take care of, our neighbour in the assembly. Which term takes in all in the company.
Every part of our body is designed to further in some way the well-being of every other part, and so should it be in the local assembly. If one member is injured, then a veritable army of helpers springs into action to relieve the situation. In this way the hurt of one member is shared by all.
At the other extreme, modern science is constantly discovering fresh wonders about our bodies, (for we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”), and some particular part of us is honoured. This honour, however, is the honour of all the members, for the human body is a unified whole.
Just as there is no schism in the human body as God designed it, (we leave aside the effects of the fall), so there is no jealousy either. Jealousy is cruel as the grave, Song of Solomon 8:6, and should be far from the minds of those who name the name of Christ. He it is who gave us the supreme example of that selflessness which refuses to entertain a jealous thought.
12:27 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
Verse 27 The solidarity and individuality of the members of the local assembly
Having detailed some of the features which mark the human body, the apostle is ready to assert emphatically that the Corinthian assembly was the body of Christ. It is not possible to indicate in English the absence of the article here by simply omitting it, but rather we have to use an expression such as “ye are body-like, and that as belonging to Christ”.
We have already seen that there are marked differences between the church which is Christ’s body and the local church, despite the fact that the same name is given to them both. When the apostle describes the local assembly at Corinth as body-like, then, he means to compare them to the human body he has been using as his illustration from verse 12 onwards. The Corinthians are to apply these lessons to their local situation. They should remember as they do this, that as a local company they belong to Christ, and He therefore has a deep and personal interest in them. There needs to be the cultivation of loyalty to one’s own local assembly, in response to that deep interest on the part of Christ. Assembly testimony is greatly weakened when this loyalty is absent.
An awareness of these truths with regard to the local assembly should not minimise, however, the importance of each member, for we are “members in particular”, each one being part of the whole, and recognised as such.
So as far as representing and manifesting Christ in Corinth was concerned, the assembly at Corinth was the body. Not all believers that lived in Corinth necessarily, but all in fellowship in the assembly in Corinth. So their solidarity as a body-like company did not negative their individuality as members thereof.
How solemn is the responsibility to represent Christ in a locality during His absence. How circumspect we should be, not just when we are together but at all times.
12:28 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.
12:29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?
12:30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
Verses 28-30 The priority of the gifts of some members of the church which is Christ’s body
Having now reached, in verse 27, the climax of the teaching of the chapter, the apostle now prepares the way for the teaching of chapter 14. He does this by showing that there is an order of importance in regard to gift. We must remember he is now going to speak of the church as the body of Christ, as in verse 13. We have a responsibility to all believers. Zeal for the local assembly should never cause us to be insular- we are linked to all the members by the Spirit joining each to the Head, and by the common possession of eternal life. Our responsibility is best discharged, however, in the context of the local assembly, which is God’s means of setting forth the person of His Son in a locality. The apostle John is clear that we love the children of God when we love God and keep His commandments, 1 John 5:2. That is not Christian love which compromises the truth.
That there is an order of importance in regard to gift is seen in the use of the words first, secondarily, thirdly, and also by the two expressions “After that”, and “then”, which indicate the same idea. Thus the list is divided into five sections as follows: apostles; prophets; teachers; miracles; then in a group together gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. This is highly significant, and greatly helps the argument of the apostle as he prepares the way for the teaching of chapter 14. He will contend there for the primacy of prophecy and teaching, and will show their superiority to tongues speaking. Very pointedly, then, he lists various gifts in order of importance, and puts teaching gifts first, and tongues-speaking last. He begins with apostles to establish their authority, then continues with prophets and teachers, those given by Christ to His people that they might be taught. He then mentions miracles. This may seem strange, until we remember that the miracles of the Lord Jesus were support for what He taught. He appealed to His disciples to “Believe Me, or else believe Me for the very works’ sake”, John 14:11. Here, however, miracles are distinguished from gifts of healings. This suggests that the miracles referred to here are works of power, such as the acts of judgement performed by both Peter and Paul in the Acts. What great fear came upon all when Ananias and his wife were struck dead! Or when Elymas was struck blind. These were dramatic events, and served to show that the apostles had great power and authority. This, in turn, would support the doctrine they taught. It is no surprise to learn that after Elymas had been smitten with blindness, Publius the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished, not at the miracle, but at the doctrine of the Lord, Acts 13:12. The act of power drew attention to the doctrine preached, and emphasised the authority of the one who preached it.
So it was also with the healings, as will be seen by reference to Acts 3:11,12 with 4:14; 8:5-8; 9:32-35; 9:36-42. The result of these miracles was a taking note of the word preached by the miracle worker. It is clear, then, that the apostle is emphasising in verse 28 the great importance of the word of God. And even helps and governments are mentioned before tongues speaking, for these two gifts also serve to further the interests of the word of God.
In Acts 27:17, when Paul’s ship was in danger of breaking up, the mariners used a common device of the day to stop the timbers separating. They ran thick ropes round the ship, and then tightened them, so that the vessel was kept together. This is what is signified by the word helps. There are those in the assembly that are especially gifted to keep things together, encouraging those who want to give up, and seeing to it that the assembly continues to function. They have an optimistic spirit, and are not swayed by the pessimistic fainthearts around them. Then there are those with the gift of governments, able to keep the assembly going forward in a spiritual manner, so administering affairs in the assembly that the word of God in honoured.
It is not until the apostle has mentioned these gifts that he brings in the gift of tongues. This is not to minimise the importance of tongues, especially in those early days. In fact, it was as a result of men speaking in tongues on the Day of Pentecost that the people gathered to hear Peter preach, and 3000 souls were saved. It does, however, put tongues in their proper perspective.
The apostle now asks a series of questions which admit of only one answer. Are all apostles? The answer is clearly in the negative and does not need to be stated. So for the other gifts mentioned. There are echoes here of his teaching about the diversity of gifts in the local assembly, and this prepares the way for the teaching in chapter 14, where the Corinthians’ love of tongues-speaking was tending to make everyone want the gift. Just as not everyone could be an apostle, so not everyone could speak with tongues; nor should they wish to.
There is a great need in our day for the accurate teaching of the word of God. In Acts 2:42 we read of those things in which the early believers continued steadfastly. Perhaps if we had listed their activities we would have put the breaking of bread first. Not so, for of primary importance is the doctrine of the apostles, the basis of all Christian conduct. We shall not be able to break bread effectively if we are not well-versed in doctrine. We need the systematic and in-depth teaching of the word of God by those who are gifted to give it. Only so will the saints be built up on their most holy faith, and able to function in a manner which glorifies God.
Are there no young men who will respond the need of the hour, and give themselves to the study of the Word, so that their fellow-believers may be instructed and encouraged?
12:31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.
Verse 30 Charity to the members of the church which is Christ’s body
Now if verses 28 and 29 are a preparation for chapter 14, then verse 30 is a preparation for chapter 13. It is important for an assembly to seek the Lord’s face in earnest prayer that He would supply them with believers with the better gift of teaching. Yet there is an even better way of functioning as an assembly, and this is the way which exercises the better gifts in an atmosphere of fervent charity. This charity is of such abiding, and indeed eternal value, that it will remain even when prophecies and tongues have ceased. Charity plus teaching gifts will build eternally abiding principles into the members of the assembly, so that all are edified, and Christ is manifested and glorified.