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 Church of Corinth abounded most with spiritual gifts, and so they did most abuse them. All had not those spiritual gifts, some had those that had them despised those that had them not; and those that had them not envied those that had them. Paul, therefore, that he might heal this distemper, tells them that though the way of gifts be an excellent way, yet the way of grace and love is more excellent and most to be desired.
I. THERE IS A WAY OF GIFTS DISTINCT FROM THE WAY OF GRACE, and vice versa. All the saints have grace, but all have not gifts. Grace is that excellency whereby we are made like to God in Christ; gifts, that whereby we are serviceable for God in the Church. A man may have a gift and yet no grace in prayer or in preaching, and may have the gift, and yet not the saving grace of faith.
II. BUT WHAT EXCELLENCY IS THERE IN THE WAY OF GIFTS?
1. They are useful. The sun is an excellent creature, because he doth good to others. Though there be excellent commodities in other countries, yet if you have no means of transport, you are no better for them; therefore there is a great use of shipping. So by these gifts, the grace that grows in one man's heart is transported into another's (Ephesians 4.). If you cannot reach a book you take a stool, and then you are able to take it down; the stool are these gifts.
2. They add excellency to that which is the most excellent. Ordinarily, if a worse thing be added unto a better, the better is defiled, e.g., when lead is added to silver. But now grace is the greatest excellency in the world, yet add gifts to it, and grace itself is made the more excellent; for as the temple did sanctify the gold, but the gold did beautify the temple; so grace sanctifies gifts, and gifts beautify grace.
III. WHEREIN IS GRACE AND LOVE MOST EXCELLENT.
1. Love —
(1) Is not an empty thing (1 Corinthians 13:1).
(2) It never fails.
(3) It is not easily provoked, etc.
2. Grace —
(1) Is the proper effect of the Spirit; gifts are, opus ad extra.
(2) Affords no hold for sin.
1. To those that have gifts. It calls upon you all for to bless the Lord, and to seek the more excellent way. For gifts and grace differ —
(1) In their nature; the one are a dead grace, the other a living gift.
(2) In their disposition, for grace is contented with the simplicity of the gospel, gifts are not contented. The Corinthians, who excelled in gifts, adulterated the gospel with their swelling words: and the Galatians with false doctrine. A child in a cornfield is most taken with the coloured weeds and daisies; but the husbandman is taken with nothing but the corn. So a man that hath gifts only, when he comes to a sermon, or a prayer, is much taken with the fine expressions; but the man that hath grace looks at the spirituality and the power of those things that are there delivered.
(3) In their effects; grace hath a good hand at suffering as well as at doing; gifts have a very good hand at doing, but an ill hand at suffering.
(4) In their abatement and quenching: if a man have grace and fall into sin, that sin will hinder and quench the former actings of his grace; but if a man have gifts only, and he fall into sin, that sin hinders not his actings, he can pray as he did, etc. A candle painted upon a board, if put into water, is not quenched thereby; because it is a dead and not a living candle.
2. To those who have either no gifts at all, or very weak gifts. It calls upon you to be of good comfort. The way of gifts, indeed, is an excellent way; yet if God has led you in a more excellent way, have you any cause to complain? Will you complain for want of that, which if you had in abundance, you would have less time to tend your own souls? Or, will you complain for want of that, which if you had without grace, would be your undoing?
(W. Bridge, M.A.)
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.