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 words which I have taken as my text occupy, you will remember, a somewhat exceptional position. They occur in the midst of what seems at first a systematic classification of gifts in the apostolic Church and the functions resting on those gifts: they come in between "gifts of healing" and "diversities of tongues." The two terms do not meet us elsewhere in the writings of the New Testament. It is open to us, under the view of interpreters, to identify them respectively with the offices of the deacons, and bishops, and elders of the Church; but it is also open to us to believe that the terms occur to St. Paul's mind as covering, each of them, a special class of supernatural gifts, or of natural gifts purified and illumined by the higher gifts, of the course of which the diaconate and presbyterate were indeed the representative exponents, but which were to be found also in those who are not called to either of those special functions. Every member of that Church which the Eternal Spirit governs and sanctifies has a vocation. The history of the word which we render "helps" sufficiently explains its meaning — to lay hold as with a firm and loving hand on one who totters and stumbles and is on the point of falling. That is its sense as I find it in an old lexicon. In that sense it meets us in the words St. Paul addressed to the ministers of Ephesus when he bids them so minister that they may "support the weak," a sufficient proof, I take it, that we may not limit the word to the function of the diaconate, As in every grace, so in this; what from one point of view is a special gift of God is from another the development of a natural capacity, and with the capacity there is a natural delight in its exercise. The wild flower, which on the wayside might have been withered by the parching winds or degenerated into a weed, is transplanted into the paradise of the great Gardener, and watered by the dew of His blessing and fostered by the warmth of the eternal sunshine of His love it becomes a goodly flower, bright in its varied hues and fragrant as the spices of Lebanon. The observer of the child nature will tell you, from experience well confirmed, that there are few children in whom this desire to help is not, in a greater or less measure, a motive spring of action. They delight in their little gifts: little ministries and services to parents, to brothers, sisters, friends, and teachers. All they seek is a recognition by Word or look, by loving glance or smile, that their service is appreciated. Their labour of love, however small it may be, is its own exceeding great reward. The next stage of life to most men is for the most part less favourable to the growth of the ministering spirit. The life of the public school, with its struggle for existence, its inevitable self-assertion, its competitive exercise. The boy has to learn to make a just estimate of his powers of body and mind, to assert his own rights, sometimes also to uphold the rights of others by fighting for them. It is well on the whole it should be so. To be weak is miserable, and strength of body, brain, and will, cannot be secured without collision. When these early years are over, and the boy passes into the man, it is at once right and wise to form a distinct plan. To yield to the passing impulse of the moment is to drift he knows not whither. What forms of help-work, then, are possible for those living, as you live, in the midst of tasks and duties? Of that which has seemed to some the chief, if not the exclusive meaning of the helps St. Paul speaks of, "supporting the weak," in the sense of ministering to the sick, I do not suppose you have much experience or opportunities. That gift belongs more, on the whole, to women than to men, and your efforts at direct nursing might perhaps be clumsy and inefficient. For those who are without that special call for ministration, it may not be a bad training of their capacity for service to visit sometimes the wards of the hospital to read to the patients there, or talk with them, or better still, as meeting what is often a real want with the disabled poor, write letters for them to their friends. A more familiar and easy form of help given to the weak is found, I need hardly say, in the work of teaching the young. And then among the functions of true friendship there is that of helping the weak, not in body, but in mind and will. You may know one who has been dear to you as a brother, companion in sports or studies, who is infirm of purpose, drifting on the impulse of sin, on the waves of doubt. I know all too well the difficulty of that form of helping, the hindrances of shyness, reserve, self-distrust, which check the utterance of the faithful words that may avert the threatened evil. You fear to make matters worse, to lose your hold on affections which are as yet unstable only. Among the means of work those of helping those whom we call the poor hold, of course, a permanent place. Their lot is in the nature of the case for the most part a hard one, even if they have fallen in the struggle for existence through no fault of their own. More often, it may be, their lot is all the worse because it is made harder by their faults. Help in this case calls for the higher gift of government. Happily, in this instance, the guidance is not far to seek. Work in subordination to others, to the minister of a parish or to the society which by its very title undertakes to organise charity, supplies the missing link. To love all you can and to help all you can is the true way to the highest culture, and works out a higher spiritual completeness than any forms of aestheticism, asceticism, and shall I say athleticism, in which, according to men's character and temper, they too often seek for that completeness. I have dwelt chiefly upon the manifestation of the gift — the ἀντιλήψεις of which I have spoken. I must say something as to the source from which it springs, the source which is the secret of its permanence. One hears much of the religion of Humanity, of the altruism which they oppose alike to the ordinary self-consciousness of mankind and to the loving charity of the mind of Christ. That religion, it is said, supplies us with a sufficient motive for the love of sacrifice, if not what that sacrifice implies, the sacrifice of self. I believe no striving to serve is without its fruit, that in this life or in the life to come he who seeks shall find, that a man may learn faith by virtue, and that in due time faith may ripen with knowledge. I reverence the saints, even of Buddhism or of Islam, and still more those of the dark ages of Christendom, in whom I find that likeness of the future of Christianity. All the same, I hold it to be capable of proof that that likeness has never been so vivid and distinct as when it hath been a conscious reproduction of the Divine original, a true Imitatio Christi.
(Dean Plumtre, 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.