1 Corinthians 12:1-31
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I would not have you ignorant.…
1. This Epistle is well fitted to disabuse our minds of the idea that the primitive Church was in all respects superior to the Church of our own day. We turn page after page and find little but contention, errors, immorality, etc.
2. At this point, however, the primitive Church is differentiated from our own, and it would have been surprising had the revolution which Christianity introduced not been accompanied by abnormal manifestation. The new Divine life, suddenly poured into human nature, stirred it to unusual power. People who yesterday could only condole with their sick friends, found today that they could impart to them vital energy. Men brought up in idolatry and ignorance suddenly found their minds filled with new and stimulating ideas which they felt impelled to impart.
3. The Spirit of Christ does not produce these manifestations now because —
(1) They are no longer required. When you sow a plot you stick twigs round it that the unseen plant may not be trodden down, but when the plants have become as tall as the twigs, then these are useless. So miracles helped the young Church's growth; but she has now become sufficiently visible and understood to need them no more.
(2) The disturbances produced by the first impact of these new' Christian forces could not be expected to continue. New political or social ideas suddenly possessing a people, as at the French Revolution, inspire with an energy which cannot be normal.
4. Nothing could be more natural than that these gifts should be overrated. They came to be prized for their own sake, and, as usual, what was useful could not compete with what was surprising.
5. Paul now explains the object of these gifts and the principle of their distribution.
(1) He reminds them that their previous history sufficiently explained their need of instruction (vers. 1, 2). The first thing needed to guide them, therefore, was a criterion by which they could judge whether so-called manifestations of the Spirit are genuine or spurious (ver. 3). Very early men were found in the Church who could not reconcile themselves to the accursed death of Christ. They believed in His gospel, miracles, kingdom, but the Crucifixion was a stumbling-block. And so they held that the Divine Logos descended upon Jesus at His baptism, but abandoned Him before the Crucifixion. This degradation of Jesus was not to be tolerated, and to own His lordship was the test of a man's Christianity. And this is the only sure test to-day. No wonderful works he may accomplish prove his possession of Christ's Spirit (Matthew 7:22, 23).
(2) And as to the gifts themselves, they should be no cause of discord, for they have everything in common: they have their source in God; they are for Christ's service; they are forms of the same Spirit (vers. 4-6).
(3) The new life assumed various forms and sufficed for all man's needs. As the sun in spring develops each seed according to its own special character, so with this new spiritual force. Christian influence does not clip all men after one pattern like trees in an avenue, but causes each to grow according to his own individuality, one with the rugged irregularity of the oak, another with the orderly richness of the plane.
6. That society is an organism similar to the human body, is not an exclusively Christian idea. It was a common Stoic doctrine, and in the earliest days of Rome Menenius Agrippa uttered his fable which Shakespeare has helped to make famous. But although this comparison is not new, it is now being more seriously and scientifically examined and pushed to its legitimate conclusion. Paul suggests —
I. THAT THE UNITY OF CHRISTIANS IS A VITAL UNITY (ver. 13). This unity is not a mechanical unity, as of shot in a bag; nor a forced unity, as of wild beasts in a menagerie; nor a unity of mere accidental juxtaposition, as of passengers in a train. But as the life of the human body maintains all the various members and nourishes them to a well-proportioned and harmonious growth, so is it in the body of Christ.
II. THAT THE EFFICIENCY OF THE BODY DEPENDS UPON THE MULTIPLICITY AND VARIETY OF ITS MEMBERS (vers. 17, 19). The lowest forms of life have either no distinct organs or very few; but the higher we ascend the more numerous and distinctly differentiated are the organs. The same law holds good of society. Among uncivilised tribes each man is his own farmer or huntsman, and his own priest, butcher, cook, and clothier. But as men become civilised the various wants of society are supplied by different individuals, and every function is specialised. The same law necessarily holds true of the body of Christ. In a society in which Christianity is just beginning to take root, it may fall to one man to do the work of the whole Christian body, etc. But as it advances towards a perfect condition its functions and organs become as multifarious and distinct as the organs of the human body. Every member therefore has something to contribute to its good and to the work it does. And it is for him to discover what his Christian instincts lead him to. The eye does not need to be told it is for seeing, or the hand that it is for grasping. And where there is true Christian life, it matters not what the member of Christ's body be, it will find its function, even though that function is new in the Church's experience.
III. THAT AS THERE IS TO BE NO SLOTHFUL SELF-DISPARAGEMENT IN THE BODY OF CHRIST, SO MUST THERE BE NO DEPRECIATION OF OTHER PEOPLE (ver. 21). When zealous people discover new methods, they forthwith despise the normal ecclesiastical system that has stood the test and is stamped with the approval of centuries. One method cannot regenerate and Christianise the world any more than one member can do the whole work of the body. Paul goes even further, and reminds us that the "feeble" parts of the body are "the more necessary"; the heart, the brain, the lungs, etc., are more necessary than the hand or the foot, the loss of which no doubt cripples, but does not kill. So in the Church it is the hidden souls who, by their prayers and domestic godliness, maintain the whole body in health and enable more conspicuously gifted members to do their part. Contempt for any member of the body of Christ is most unseemly and sinful.
IV. THAT "THE MANIFESTATION OF THE SPIRIT IS GIVEN TO EVERY MAN TO PROFIT WITHAL," and not for the glorification of the individual. However beautiful any feature of a face may be, it is hideous apart from its position; so is the Christian who attracts attention to himself and does not subordinate his gift to the advantage of the whole body of Christ. If in the human body any member is not subservient to the one central will, that is recognised as disease: St. Virus' dance. If any member ceases to obey the central will, paralysis is indicated. And equally so is disease indicated wherever a Christian seeks his own ends or his own glorification, and not the advantage of the whole body.
(M. Doris, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.