Beginning with chapter 12 and continuing through chapter 14, Paul’s subject is the gifts of the Spirit and the exercise of those gifts in the church. The apostle’s instructions regarding behavior in the church apply to all who have been redeemed and have grouped themselves into local assemblies of believers.
Spiritual Gifts (1Co_12:1-11)
In the churches of God spiritual gifts are given to individuals for the blessing of all. In Eph_4:8 we read, “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.” The Lord desires that His gospel should be preached, that His Word should be expounded, and that His people should be built up in their most holy faith, and it is to these ends that He has imparted certain spiritual gifts. He has not given the same gifts to everyone, but to everyone He has given some gift for the benefit of the whole company.
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren,” Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I would not have you ignorant.” Notice that the word “gifts” is in italics here, indicating that it was supplied by the editors of the King James version; perhaps they were justified, for the word appears farther on in 1Co_12:4. However, if it were proper to speak of “spirituals” in English, that would seem to be a more literal translation of what Paul wrote in 1Co_12:1. In proper English, the meaning of the Greek is “spiritual manifestations.” There are various ways in which the Spirit of God is manifested and we should not be ignorant of them. These manifestations are called gifts because they are bestowed freely by the ascended Christ for the edification of the church and the proclamation of the gospel.
The Corinthians in their unconverted days knew nothing of this gospel. “Ye were Gentiles,” Paul said, “carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.” The phrase “carried away” suggests Satanic power, and there is Satanic power behind all idolatry. “The things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God” (1Co_10:20). There is a terrible demonic power working in every idolatrous system, and nothing can deliver a man from this power but the gospel of the grace of God.
Our mission is to go “into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mar_16:15). We are not to go to antagonize people; we are not to go to find fault with their religions; we are to go to preach Christ and Him crucified. And as the gospel is preached, it delivers people from the Satanic power that is working in their false religious systems. There is something that absolutely distinguishes all those systems from Christianity: They have no place for Jesus Christ. They all unite in calling Him anathema, “accursed.”
“I give you to understand,” Paul wrote, “that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed.” Thus the apostle marked the clear dividing line between Christianity and every system of man’s devising. Christianity exalts Jesus Christ as Lord; the other religions deny His lordship and think of Him as accursed. Even Muhammad-anism, which recognizes Jesus Christ to a certain extent as a prophet of God, sees Him as the accursed one. Judaism and paganism have also counted Jesus Christ as an accursed one. Therefore people must be delivered from those systems if they would know the truth.
Paul added, “No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” It is by the Holy Spirit that we recognize His lordship. The apostle applied the title “Lord” to our Savior numerous times in 1 Corinthians. This is the Epistle of the lordship of Christ and in it we are called on always to recognize His lordship-that is, His absolute authority over our hearts and lives. When He speaks, we can only obey. It is not our place to question Him, reason with Him, or ask why. Our part is to do what we are commanded to do, for we are His servants and He is our Lord.
We read of the entire trinity in connection with the giving and using of gifts: the Holy Spirit in 1Co_12:4, the Lord Jesus Christ in 1Co_12:5, and God the Father in 1Co_12:6. Verse 1Co_12:4 says, “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.” The one Holy Spirit manifests Himself through the church of God in different ways. We do not all have the same gift; we are not all constituted alike even from the human and intellectual standpoint, and when it comes to spiritual matters, we do not all have the same ministry committed to us. A great many people in our day would be saved from the wildest fanaticism if they realized this. Fanatics urge everyone to seek certain gifts and they say that if a person does not possess these gifts, he does not have the Holy Spirit dwelling in him at all. But there is a diversity of gifts, though the one Spirit operates in every case.
Referring to God the Son, Paul said, “There are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.” The gifts of the Spirit of God within the believer are to be used in subjection to the lordship of Christ. If God has given me a particular gift, I am not to use that gift whenever and in whatever way I think fit; I am to use it as the Lord Jesus Christ thinks it should be used.
Some time ago I officiated at the funeral of the mother of one of our state senators in California. The mother had been a devoted Christian woman, but I did not know whether her son was a Christian or not. Many of his friends were present-perhaps seventy-five or more men from the legislature-and naturally I was anxious to use that opportunity to the best of my ability in subjection to God. I wanted not only to comfort those who were bereaved, but also to present clearly and definitely the precious gospel message, which had been the joy of the one who had gone home to be with the Lord, for I did not know if those politicians had ever heard the gospel.
I was told that the dear lady who had passed away had a number of friends given to the use of a gift that they called “speaking in tongues,” though it certainly was not that which the Bible refers to as the gift of tongues. They had a habit of going off into a semitrance condition and uttering strange sounds. Someone forewarned me, “Just as you stand up to preach, these women will immediately begin to exercise this weird gift of theirs. Their jaws will work in a peculiar way for a few minutes and after that they will start to babble.” I was concerned about the effect of this on the unsaved, so I said to the undertaker, “There are four women back there by the door. I wish you would keep an eye on them. If you see their jaws begin to work in an unusual way, you might suggest that they go outside and not remain for the funeral service.”
I began to preach and, sure enough, in a minute or two I saw the jaws begin to work. But the undertaker was on the job and immediately suggested to the four ladies that they leave. In a moment they straightened up, but answered with indignation, “This is a gift of God and we are free to use it where we will.” The undertaker replied, “Not here in my undertaking parlor,” and so they were quiet.
One might have a genuine gift of God, but that does not mean that he is at liberty to use it wherever he will. “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets,” Paul said in 1Co_14:32. If anyone is gifted by God, he is to use his gift in subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ and not make a spiritual nuisance of himself. Our Lord’s authority must always be recognized in the use of gifts.
Referring to God the Father, Paul wrote, “There are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.” There are different ways in which the Word of God is given out, but it is the same God who is at work. He may have given you a very modest gift. Your voice may never be heard in public, but you are to use your gift, in subjection to the Lord Jesus Christ, if only in the quiet place of your home, just as faithfully as you would if you were called to preach or to teach in an assembly.
Paul continued, “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” In other words, a spiritual gift is not given for show; it is not given so that a man may attract attention to himself; it is given for the edification of others. If God gives me any little gift at all, He gives it not that I may gather people about myself, but that it may be used for the blessing of others, for the salvation of sinners, and for the edification of saints.
In John the Baptist we have a lovely picture of what every gifted servant of Christ really ought to be. John declared, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord,” and, pointing to the Savior, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Joh_1:23; Joh_3:30). John found his delight in lifting up Christ, not in directing people’s attention to himself. All gifts are given that Christ may be exalted, and in that way others find blessing.
Paul went on to specify what some of the gifts are. We may not see them all in evidence today, and probably there are some that we will never see, but that does not mean that they are not in the church. There are commentators who insist that some of these gifts have absolutely disappeared, but I do not know of any Scripture portion that tells us that. I do not know of any passage that says that the age of miracles has passed and I would not dare to say that the sign gifts all ended with Paul’s imprisonment. I know from early church history that this is not true. As the early servants of God followed up the work of the apostles, gifts of healing and other signs were frequently demonstrated and marvelous help was given to the servants of God to preach in languages that they had never known before. Therefore I do not think it is correct to take the position that these sign gifts have necessarily disappeared from the church. I do, however, believe that many of the gifts are not often seen today, and I think there is good reason for that.
In 2Co_11:2 the apostle wrote, “I have espoused you… as a chaste virgin to Christ.” Paul was writing to a separated company, the affianced bride of the Lamb, and it was the delight of the blessed risen Lord to lavish upon her gift after gift. The Corinthians “[came] behind in no gift,” we are told in the first Epistle (1Co_1:7). However, it seems to me that we can see in the book of Acts that as time went on and the church began to drift a little, and as dissension and other things that grieved the Lord arose, there was more reserve on His part in bestowing gifts. That, I believe, explains the lack of many of these gifts today. The church has gotten so far away from what she should be and there is so much strife, division, worldliness, and carnality that the Lord no longer delights in lavishing His gifts as freely as He did in the beginning.
Let me give you an illustration. A young man is engaged to be married to a beautiful young woman and he seals that engagement by giving her an expensive diamond ring. Now suppose that he has to be away from her for some time before the marriage; we will say he is going abroad on business. When he has earned enough money to build a home for his bride, he will send for her. In the meantime, every once in a while it is a joy to him to pick out some lovely thing and send the gift back to her, and she in turn is proud and happy to know that she is constantly being remembered by him.
But then suppose that his absence, instead of making her heart grow fonder, makes her careless. She thinks, Well, he is going to be away from me for so long and he cannot expect me to forego the pleasures of the young folk, and so she allows other young men to take her out and to pay a great deal of attention to her. Eventually he hears, perhaps from his mother or his sister, “Your fiancee is not as true to you as she promised to be; you had better come home if you want to win her heart again.” Perhaps he cannot get home right away and he writes her a letter that provokes a rather indignant answer. He no longer finds the same delight in sending gifts to her as before when he believed her to be true to him. He loved to lavish his gifts on her once, but now he becomes more reticent in his own expressions of love and is more careful in what he spends on her. Likewise our Lord does not now give to His church all the sign gifts that He did when she was walking with Him in holiness and separation from this godless world.
Another reason for fewer gifts is that since we have the whole Bible, the New Testament as well as the Old, the sign gifts are not needed as they were at the beginning.
Let us now look at the spiritual gifts that Paul listed in 1Co_12:8-10. He began with “the word of wisdom” and “the word of knowledge.” Here are two gifts intimately linked together. What is the difference between them? Let me speak of knowledge first. The Lord gives to some the knowledge of His Word, a remarkable insight into the Holy Scriptures. I have known men who filled me with holy envy, for they seemed to know this Book from Genesis to Revelation; they could turn unerringly to almost any portion. I have prayed, “O Lord, make Thy Word to me what it is to them; give me the gift of knowledge.” I realize of course that one does not get this gift in a sudden miraculous way; if you and I want it, we must seek for it. Those who seek are in perfect accordance with the Word of God, for in Pro_2:1-5 we read:
My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.
The gift of knowledge is given to those who earnestly study the Word of God in dependence on the Holy Spirit. But one might have the gift of knowledge, yet lack the ability to use that knowledge correctly, and so there is the gift of wisdom. This gift enables one to use God’s revelation in a way that helps and blesses others. Many a person knows a little of the Word of God, but uses it in such a way that he drives people from him. Everything he says may be Scriptural, but Scriptural things can be said in such an unwise way that they upset people instead of helping them.
Of course I know there are some people who are upset no matter what we do. A lady came up to a preacher and complained, “I don’t like to hear you preach because you always rub the fur the wrong way.” He answered, “Not at all, sister; just turn around.” Very often no matter how carefully we use the Word of God, we seem to rub people the wrong way, but that is usually because they are going the wrong way. The gift of wisdom is the ability to use the Word of God wisely, so that people will be edified and built up instead of being driven away.
The next gift Paul mentioned is faith. This of course is not the faith by which we are saved; otherwise many might say, “I would like to believe in the Lord Jesus, but I have not the gift of faith and so cannot believe.” To such I would say, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom_10:17). To anyone who opens his heart when the Word is preached, God will give saving faith; 2Th_3:2 says “All men have not faith” only because some men turn from the Word of God. However, when God gives to His own people the spiritual gift of faith, it is a special faith for a special service.
George Muller, who carried on the work of the Bristol Orphan Houses, was, I believe, the outstanding man of faith in the nineteenth century. God called him to open an orphanage to care for homeless boys and girls, but he had no money and so he said to the Lord, “You will have to supply the means.” In the name of the Lord he went forward and spent every cent he received in opening the first building. The Lord sent more money, the children came, and the work went on. In fifty years he received $6,500,000 for that work, yet he never asked people for a penny. He did not beg for money; the Lord sent it in.
I have met a number of people who have told me that they were going to do the same kind of work as George Muller. Each of these people who talked to me started a home and announced that it was a faith work but, with one exception, their ventures ended in failure. Why? Because they were trying to do George Muller’s work without George Muller’s gift of faith. When God calls a person to do a work of faith, He gives him the gift of faith.
The same thing is true in connection with missionary work. When God raised up Hudson Taylor to start the China Inland Mission, he knew that he was to trust the Lord alone and not ask for money. Every once in a while someone else has declared, “I am going to start a mission and run it on faith like Hudson Taylor.” The mission has gone on for a time, but then there have been reports of starving missionaries and soon the whole work has gone to pieces. Such people have tried to do Hudson Taylor’s work without Hudson Taylor’s faith. This faith is a special gift for a special work.
Then we read of the gift of healing, which is the ability to lay one’s hands on the sick in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and call them back to life and health. I do not know whether any believers today actually have that gift. I have never seen it exercised. I have united with other Christians to pray for the sick and we have seen the Lord graciously raise them up, but it does not seem to me that anyone in those prayer meetings had the gift of healing. There have been reports of this gift being exercised today, but my investigations of some of those rumors have revealed that the people who were supposed to have been miraculously healed were either dead or worse than ever.
I thought at one time that a certain dear man of God had this gift-until one day I was with him when he was praying for a sick woman and she did not get healed. He turned on her, scolded her soundly because she did not have more faith, and told her that she must have some hidden sin in her life. If that brother had had the gift of healing, her faith would not have made any difference. If there are people with the gift of healing in the world today-and there may be-we can thank God for them. Personally I have never known such a person.
We read next that God gives to certain of His servants the ability to work miracles. A miracle is anything that cannot be accounted for by mere natural law. God has often wrought wonderful things not to be accounted for naturally. Here is an example: Once there was a terrible drought in Africa and the natives had cried and cried to their false gods, but no relief had come. A certain missionary felt called to bring them all together and say, “Now I am going to cry to the God of Heaven to give rain.” He stood before them and offered a prayer and as he began to pray the sky above him was cloudless, but he had not finished praying before there was a terrific clap of thunder. The thunder and lightning continued and in half an hour rain was pouring down. That was a miracle.
The gift of prophecy is bestowed on other servants of God. In its New Testament sense, “prophecy” does not refer to foretelling future events. Prophecy is preaching in the power of the Holy Spirit of God, preaching that meets actual needs.
Still another gift on the list we are considering is the “discerning of spirits,” the ability to see through people. That is a gift I fear I do not have. I am too apt to believe every story that anybody tells me, at least until I have proven it to be false.
Finally we read about “tongues.” The gift of “divers kinds of tongues” was the ability bestowed on some to preach the gospel in languages that they had never learned. Without having taken any course in school to learn the language, a person with this gift was able to stand up and preach in the power of the Spirit in a foreign tongue. Other people were given the ability to interpret a language that they had never learned. God gave those gifts in the beginning, but I have not heard evidence of their being in the world today.
“All these [gifts],” Paul said, “worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” If it is His will for us to have any of these gifts, He will give them to us; otherwise, He will not. Therefore it is folly for anyone to insist on having one or more of these gifts as the definite evidence of the indwelling of the Spirit of God. In Ephesians we read of certain gifts that will remain in the church to the end: teaching and preaching for the edification of the saints.
The Body of Christ (1Co_12:12-26)
In this passage Paul first emphasized the unity of the body of Christ and compared that unity to the unity of the human body. The human body has many different “members,” each one having a special function, yet the body is one; it has one heart, one circulatory system, and one mind dominating and controlling everything.
“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 the Christ.” The definite article is found in the original, although we do not see it in our King James version. When the apostle used the term “the Christ,” it was just the same as if he had said “the church,” for as the context shows, he was thinking of the entire church as linked with the Lord Jesus Christ, its Head in Heaven. As the human body is one, so also is the Christ.
“Christ” means “the anointed,” and our Lord Jesus is the anointed One. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power” (Act_10:38); that is why He is called Christ. But 2Co_1:21 speaks of all believers as being anointed, so we have been “Christed” by the same Spirit with whom God anointed Jesus. Therefore our risen Head in Heaven and the members of the body everywhere on earth constitute the Christ, the anointed One.
We cannot break the link that joins the believer to his Head in Heaven, “for by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” Notice, it is not by the possession of divine life that we become members of the body of Christ. All believers from Adam and Abel down to the end of time have life from Christ. (Adam believed God when the promise came that the seed of the woman would bruise the seed of Satan, and God declared His satisfaction in that faith by clothing Adam and his wife with coats of skin.) There is no other source of life, and no natural man (unbeliever) in any dispensation was ever a child of God. The only way a man can become a child of God is through a second birth, through the reception of divine life, and this is given when he believes the gospel.
I know that people sometimes say, “But we must have life first before we believe the gospel.” We have life before we believe a great many particulars in the gospel, but 1Pe_1:23-25 says that we are “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever…And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” Therefore men are born again by believing the gospel, whatever form it takes in the various dispensations; God’s message to man has differed in the various ages, but it has always had to do with Christ.
However, being born again is not the same thing as being baptized into the body of Christ. No one is baptized into the body of Christ until the Spirit of God dwells in him, and the Spirit comes to dwell only in people who have been born again. There is as much difference between being born by the Spirit and being indwelt by the Spirit as there is between building a house and moving into it. New birth is by the Word of God and the Spirit of God. The Holy Ghost builds the house, and then He comes to indwell the believer; He comes to take possession. In our dispensation there is no appreciable difference in time between a man’s being born again and his being baptized into the body of Christ, but there was a time when there were numbers of people who were born again by the Spirit, but were not indwelt by Him.
On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came to indwell believers and baptize them into one body. What took place then has been going on ever since. The Spirit of God now dwells within us and makes all believers one. That is what Paul meant when he wrote, “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” I like the good old translation of the word rendered “baptized” here; some people object, but I take the Greek word to mean “immersed.” With this rendering the sentence reads, “By one Spirit are we all immersed into one body.” We who were so many individuals before have now been immersed into one, and in this body there is neither Jew nor Greek.
Some used to be Jews and some used to be Gentiles before they were born of God and indwelt by His Spirit. Now they have lost their old standing in the flesh. When I meet my Hebrew Christian brothers, I do not think of them as Jews anymore; I think of them as fellow members of the body of Christ. And when they look at their Gentile brothers, they think of them not as unclean Gentiles, but as fellow members of Christ’s body.
In this body there are neither bond nor free. There are neither masters nor servants. In the world outside we meet one another on that basis; if I am employed by another, I am to render proper service to my master. But when we come into the church of God, we come together as fellow members of Christ’s body.
A Christian worker once told of her visit to the beautiful palace of an English duchess who was a very humble Christian. On the Lord’s day morning the duchess took the visitor to a meeting of a little group of Christian people gathered together around the table of the Lord, and as they sat there, a man got up and expounded the Word to them. The duchess whispered to the lady, “That is my coachman.” The Christian worker, being a little surprised that this lady would go and listen to her coachman expound the Word, said to her later, “Isn’t it hard on your pride to have to listen to your coachman open the Scriptures to you?” The duchess replied, “In the church of God there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free; we are all one in Christ Jesus.” All these earthly distinctions are wiped out in the presence of God.
“We…have been all made to drink into one Spirit,” the apostle added. Just as by water baptism a line of demarcation is drawn between the Christian and the world, by drinking into one Spirit we are definitely linked with the one body and enjoy fellowship in Him. As you enjoy spiritual fellowship with your brothers in Christ, you are enjoying fellowship with the Holy Spirit, who now indwells you.
We are all one in the Lord, but each of us has a position in the body of Christ. 1Co_12:14-17 warn against being discontent with that position. As men and women not yet glorified, we still possess the old carnal nature, and even though we have the new nature and are set apart to God in Christ, we often find envy and jealousy working within us. There is still the tendency to say, “Well, since I cannot do what so-and-so does, I will not do anything.”
Whenever you are tempted to make such a statement, remember that every member of your physical body has its own special function. Just imagine your foot going on strike. Some morning when you are getting out of bed, you want to put your foot on the floor and it says, “I do not like being a foot. I do not like always being covered up with a stocking and a shoe. I have just as much right to be free and uncovered as your hand has. I do not like it that the hand does all the writing, the painting, and the playing of the piano, while I have to be hidden away all the time. I am not going to function unless you train me to write, paint, and play the piano. I refuse to work any longer as a foot.” I have seen folks just like that foot, folks who won’t participate in anything unless they can do things that other people do.
Now a man born without arms can be wonderfully trained to hold a pen between his toes and write and paint with his foot, but normally that is not the case. A foot cannot do the work of a hand. When a foot is content to do its own work, it is a splendid thing, but what a failure a foot would be if it tried to do the work of a hand!
When every member of the body does its own work and does it well, the whole body is benefited. The same is true in the church or assembly of God. God does not gift everyone in the same way. Some are given special public ministries, while others are enabled to do quiet, private service for the Lord, but all are important.
I think that until I get to Heaven and stand at the judgment seat of Christ, I will never have the least inkling of how much I owe to quiet saints shut away in hidden places who have bowed down on their knees before God and asked His blessing on my ministry during the forty-three years that I have been preaching the gospel. I have been in the public place, but I am sure that the greatest amount of the credit for what has been accomplished belongs to those who have thought enough about me to bear me up in prayer that God might keep me from sin and use my testimony for the glory of His name. So let us be content to labor on in the place God has given us.
Now imagine an ear going on strike and saying, “I refuse to hear; if I cannot be an eye, I am not going to do anything.” What a foolish thing! And yet there are people like that ear. The apostle said, and I suppose he smiled as he said it, “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing?” Just picture a body that looked like a great big walking eye! Paul continued, “If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?” If the body were one immense ear, would it not be a peculiar thing? And so each member has his place, and each is to act for God in that place. Thus Paul warned against discontent.
There is no room for natural ambitions because “now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.” When I think, “I should like to do so much that I cannot,” it is comforting to realize that it is He who has set me right here where I am, that I am in the place where He has put me, and that He will give me grace to live for Him here.
While some are discontent, others cherish a disdain for other members of the body of Christ. Rebuking that disdain, Paul wrote, “But now are they many members, yet but one body. 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.” Our Christian fellowship would be ten thousand times more precious if we all would settle it with God that by His grace we will never let an unkind criticism of any of His people escape our lips. I find that the people who are the most sensitive to criticism are the most ready to criticize. Those who get all broken up and upset if someone makes the least derogatory remark about them are those who will speak in the most cruel, unkind, and critical way of others.
Preachers, I fear, are more guilty of this than anyone else. We often think and speak of one another in a most unkind way. Is it not a shame that men who have been set apart by God for the proclamation of His truth, who ought to stand shoulder to shoulder and be very jealous of each others’ reputations, should try to climb up on the failures of others? We who try to minister the Word should set an example for our brothers in Christ by covenanting with God that we will always say good, kind, and helpful things about our fellow servants. If we see faults in them, we should go to them personally and seek to help them.
I once saw a sign in a restaurant that read, “If you like our food, tell others; if you don’t, tell us.” I think that would be a good sign in a church of God. If you do not like something, tell the person responsible about it, and together seek to put things right. We need each other and we ought to be helpers of one another. The tongues of some of us are so vitriolic; we can say such unkind things and forget that the people to whom and about whom we speak are souls for whom Jesus died-He loves them that much. They are so dear to God that He gave His Son for their redemption.
Oh, that when Christians meet and part,
These words were graved on every heart-
They’re dear to God!
However wilful and unwise,
We’ll look on them with loving eyes-
They’re dear to God!
Oh, wonder!-to the Eternal One,
Dear as His own beloved Son;
Dearer to Jesus than His blood,
Dear as the Spirit’s fixed abode-
They’re dear to God!
When tempted to give pain for pain,
How would this thought our words restrain,
They’re dear to God!
When truth compels us to contend,
What love with all our strife should blend!
They’re dear to God!
When they would shun the pilgrim’s lot
For this vain world, forget them not;
But win them back with love and prayer,
They never can be happy there,
If dear to God.
Shall we be there so near, so dear,
And be estranged and cold whilst here-
All dear to God?
By the same cares and toils opprest,
We lean upon one faithful Breast,
We hasten to the same repose;
How bear or do enough for those
So dear to God!
“Those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble,” Paul wrote, “are necessary.” Sometimes perhaps we discount someone’s gift because it does not appeal to us, and yet that person may be God’s messenger to others. Years ago when I was in The Salvation Army, I knew a girl who was certainly imbued by the Spirit of God, but she had worked in the open air so much that her throat was affected. I remember listening to her once as she tried to sing a song, but she could not sing. I felt so sorry for her, and somebody standing next to me said, “Why does she make such a fool of herself by trying to sing?” But on the other side someone said to me, “Oh, it does me so much good every time I hear that girl sing; it comes from her heart and she is doing it for love for Christ.” Remember, the people whom you do not appreciate may be God’s instrument to reach other folk. Be careful that you do not do anything to spoil the effect of their testimonies.
I once visited in a home where the parents said to me, “We wish you would pray for our sons and daughter. We have tried to bring them to Christ. They do go to church with us, but they are becoming less and less interested.”
I said, “I am sorry; we must pray for them.” There had just been a change of pastors in their church, and I had come to help the new pastor in some meetings, so at the dinner table I said, “This new pastor of yours seems to be a fine godly man.”
The mother said, “I haven’t any use for him; he doesn’t know how to dress for one thing and he murders the king’s English.”
The father said, “Yes, we are most disappointed in him.”
Then the two boys and the girl, joining the discussion, commented to their parents, “We would like to know why you expect us to go to church.”
After the meal I said to the father, “How do you expect your boys and your girl to be interested in spiritual things when you tear the messenger of Christ to pieces at the dinner table?”
Let us be careful to value one another, even “those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable.” You may have visited a mission and heard a man testify whose grammar was so bad that you said, “Oh, I wish he would sit down.” But some poor wretch in that meeting listened and said, “What! Did God save a man like that? Maybe He can save me. I am about as bad as he was when God saved him.” The man who testified was not a handsome or brilliant member of the body, but you never could have reached that down-and-outer as he did.
“And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable,” Paul said, “upon these we bestow more abundant honor.” A woman who had a deformed ear bestowed more honour on that ear by combing her beautiful hair over it. Thus that uncomely part became most attractive. We too try to cover up the things in ourselves that we do not think are pleasing, and I wish we would learn to cover up the uncomely things in our brothers in Christ.
I have never seen a perfectly beautiful woman cover her face with a dark, heavy veil-unless she was about some nefarious business. “Our comely parts have no need,” Paul wrote, “but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body.” God desires that there be no divisions or strife in the body, “but that the members should have the same care one for another.”
Honestly now, if you had loved that brother or that sister as much as you love yourself, would you have made such a disparaging comment the other day? On one occasion a man came to the late Leon Tucker and started talking to him about another preacher. Mr. Tucker asked, “Is it because you love this brother so much that you are telling me this?” The man turned red and did not know how to answer. We can test ourselves with Paul’s words: do we “have the same care one for another”?
When there is “no schism in the body,…whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it.” This principle too can be illustrated with the human body. When you have an infected finger, do you say to yourself, “That affects only my finger, and I am not going to let the rest of the body bother about it”? Of course you don’t because you know that your whole body is affected. Let me say something serious and solemn: Your entire local assembly is affected if there is one member that is not living for God in it. Because we are so intimately linked together, the whole body of Christ is affected if there is even one member playing fast and loose with holiness and purity and righteousness.
We understand that we are to suffer with one another, but if one member is selected for some special recognition, how should we react? Should we be jealous of that one? No, for we also read that if “one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.”
The Best Gifts (1Co_12:27-31)
Someone writing on a political theme said, “It is important for us to remember, as Scripture says, we are all members of one body and therefore should work for the good of every nation.” But the Bible is not talking about nations when it speaks of members of the body of Christ; nor does it use the word “body” as we use that term to speak of a legislative body or a body of soldiers-that is, a collective company. The New Testament uses the term “body” in comparing the church of the living God, the body of Christ, to the human body. As the human body is one, but has many members, so also is the body of Christ; every member joined together and linked with the Head is to work for the good of the whole. And so it is Christians that the apostle had in view when he said, “Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”
In one sense we Christians have lost our former identities. We are not just so many units as once we were, having no special relationship to one another, for we are now united. We who are saved, who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, are thus baptized into one body. On the other hand, we have our individual responsibilities as members of that one body. Just as each of the various members of my human body has its part in the building up of the whole, so every Christian has his special responsibility for the blessing of the entire body of Christ. Each of us has a place to fill, so let each of us seek to fill his place to the glory of God.
God has given to the church special gifts which are for the edification of the body, and in these gifts we see Christ’s gracious provision for His church. In Eph_4:8 we read, “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.” In Eph_4:11 we are told what some of those gifts were: “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.”
Then in Eph_4:12 we are told why He gave them. The King James version gives the impression that there were three purposes. Notice the punctuation as you read: “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” From this translation you would gather that Christ had given these gifts (1) to perfect the saints, (2) to do the work of the ministry, and (3) to edify the body of Christ. But let me point out that the punctuation marks were put in by English editors, and have no real place in the Greek text.
Now read the verse omitting the punctuation marks. “For the perfecting of the saints for the work of the ministry for the edifying of the body of Christ.” God did not give these special gifts to certain ones so that they could do everything, and the rest could sit back and be perfected and helped and blessed through them. God gave these gifts so that the gifted ones might, through the ministry of the Word, perfect the saints, so that the saints might go out and do the work of the ministry and thus edify the body of Christ. It never was the intention of the Spirit of God to have any drones in the gospel hive.
In 1 Corinthians 12 the gifts some men most highly esteem are made to seem the least valuable. For instance we hear a great deal about the gift of tongues, and many people imagine that this is the most important gift of all. Often such individuals say to me, “Brother, do you have the Holy Spirit?”
I say, “Yes, I have. I believe the gospel, and that tells me that upon believing I was ‘sealed with that holy Spirit of promise’“ (Eph_1:13).
“Well then,” they say, “can you speak in tongues?”
“Well, I speak a little English, and a very, very little Chinese, but I had to study hard to learn those languages.”
“But that is not it,” they say. “Can you speak in tongues in the power of the Spirit?” They mean some strange language that I have never learned, and they tell me that speaking it is the supreme evidence of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
But notice the order in which the gifts are listed in 1Co_12:28 : “God hath set some in the church, first apostles.” And where do we have their ministry today? In the blessed Word of God. Their voices have long since been silenced, but the witness still goes on and through their written ministry they will abide in the church until the end of time. Linked with the apostles are the prophets and they too have long since been silenced in the primary sense. Luke and Mark (who were not apostles as Matthew and John were) were prophets who gave us their written ministry and went home to Heaven. And so we are told that the church of the living God is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.
Next observe that in the third place are teachers. The teacher is one of the special gifts that God has given to the church. If I could ask for only one gift, there are two that I would find very difficult to choose between. If the Lord were to say to me, as He did to Solomon, “Ask what I shall give thee”-if He were to say, “I am going to give you any gift that you want to use for the blessing of a needy world and the blessing of My people”-I would have difficulty in choosing between the gift of an evangelist and that of a teacher of the Word.
My heart yearns to be able to preach the gospel in a way that will grip dying men and women and bring them face to face with the realities of eternity. The gift of an evangelist is one of the greatest of all. On the other hand, when I see how the people of God are bewildered, misled, and “carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph_4:14), I realize how much they need careful, thoughtful Biblical instruction. My heart cries out, “O God, help me to feed Thy people; give me the gift of teaching in order that I may open Thy Word to Thy people.” After all, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Mat_4:4). And so I crave the gift of the teacher.
The teacher is not someone who gives men his own thoughts; he is not someone who makes up beautiful essays, which he calls sermons. He is someone who expounds the Word of God. Our Lord Jesus described the teacher in a wonderful way when He said, “Every scribe which is instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old” (Mat_13:52). The treasure house is the Word of God.
The other day I heard a widely-advertised man telling ministers how to preach. He is thought of as an outstanding religious leader, but although I listened carefully for nearly an hour, I did not hear him quote one verse of Scripture. Instead he quoted from Shakespeare, from George Bernard Shaw, and from a number of trashy novels, and he drew his illustrations from ancient and modern literature. If preachers have to listen to that kind of teacher, it is no wonder they deliver sermons that never could convert one poor sinner.
Scripture says, “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Psa_119:130). The apostle Paul, writing to Timothy, said, “Preach the word… For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2Ti_4:2-3). The teacher is the man who calls the people of God back to the Book and opens up the Word of God to them.
One of our well-known American pulpit orators stated that expository preaching is the poorest type of preaching in the world because it leaves so little scope for the imagination. Thank God for any kind of preaching that leaves little scope for man’s imagination, because the Word of God says, “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen_6:5). It ought to be the earnest desire of the real minister of Christ to subject himself to the Word so that all unholy imagining might be cast down and only the solemn serious truth of God be brought to bear on the minds of people. God give us teachers of the Bible!
Any minister who is troubled by empty pews ought to begin to dig into the Book and teach the Word, and then he will soon draw the people--just as a good cup of coffee will draw customers to a restaurant. I know two young ladies who, not knowing what to do to support themselves after they graduated from college, opened up a wee restaurant on a little side street in my old hometown of Oakland, California. The dining room was so small that only about seven people could sit down at one time. I went over to sample their cooking and found that their coffee was different from what most lunchrooms served, so I went back to my bookroom and said to the other workers, “If you want a good cup of coffee, go to such and such a place.” The next day people were standing outside waiting for the seven inside to finish their lunch. Soon the girls had to rent the place next to them. The last time I was in Oakland, they had a great big restaurant serving hundreds of people. The word had gone out: “You can always get a good cup of coffee and excellent things to eat there.” So if people can tell their friends, “You can always get the Word of God in that church, for that minister gives you the truth of God to refresh your soul,” there won’t be any problem with empty pews.
I heard a minister suggest to a group of pastors: “One thing that will help boost attendance is different colored lights; people will come from far and wide to see the special effects. Then you can do so much with rhythmic dancing. And movies will draw a crowd to your night service. Some of you may not approve of such modern ideas, but I say you have to take your choice between empty pews and up-to-date methods.” But he was wrong; we do not have to make any such choice. The church of God does not exist for the amusement of people. If the Book is presented in simplicity and in the power of the Holy Spirit, people will come, for they are ready to listen to the Word of God. Ministers should fill their own minds with the truth of God and then give it to others.
Having mentioned apostles, prophets, and teachers, Paul wrote, “After that miracles, then gifts of healings.” Some people may have expected the verse to read, “First of all, miracles,” but Paul said, “After that miracles.”
I am not a miracle worker and do not pretend to be. I have prayed with a great many sick people and some of them have been healed very quickly, but I do not possess the gift of healing. To pray for people is one thing; to have the gift of healing is another. If a lame man were here and I turned to him and said, “In the name of Jesus, rise up and walk,” and in a moment he sprang to his feet and became whole, that would be evidence of the gift of healing. That would be working a miracle. I have seen some people throw away crutches, but I have heard that they came back for them a week or two later. And so I say of the gifts of miracles and healing: the Lord may give such gifts, and if He does I will thank Him for them, but I do not know of anyone with these gifts at the present time.
The next gift, “helps,” is something we can all understand, and here it is linked with “governments.” Accordingly, other passages of Scripture imply that both these gifts are characteristic of the officers of the church-that is, its deacons and elders. A true deacon is a help; he is one who can help in all the temporal and business affairs of the church. A true elder is one who has spiritual discernment and can govern in the church of God. What a wonderful thing it is when a church is really gifted of the Lord with “helps” and “governments”! What a pitiful thing it is when a church is bereft of these gifts! The word deacon means “servant,” but there are too many deacons who are deacons in name only; they are not the ministering servants that they should be. There are too many elders who are elders in name only; they are not real guides and helps to the church of God.
Finally Paul mentioned “diversities of tongues.” He placed it last of all in this list of gifts, as though it is to be accounted of as least of all. And why is that? Because anybody with a little intelligence can learn a new language, and in most instances it is better for him to do that than to receive it miraculously. One may say the same about receiving the truth of God. God could give everyone a sudden illumination so that we might have amazing insight into His truth, but He does not choose to give it in that way. He says, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God” (2Ti_2:15). There are too many Christians today who would like to have everything predigested. They would like not to have to go to any trouble to get the truth into their inmost systems. But God does not want us to learn His truth in an easy way; He wants us to study His Word.
After listing the gifts, Paul asked a series of questions. “Are all apostles?” Admittedly, no. (I do not know of any apostles in the full sense today.) “Are all prophets?” Again the answer is no. (There may be prophets today, but they are very few, and as far as I know there are none in the full sense.) “Are all teachers?” Again the answer is no (but there are people whom God has thus gifted today). “Are all workers of miracles?” No. (I know of very few indeed, if any.) “Have all the gifts of healing?” No (and whether there are any who have the gift today, I cannot say). “Do all speak with tongues?” No (and none in the Biblical sense). “Do all interpret?” They do not.
We are not to be concerned if we do not have all these gifts, but we are to “covet earnestly the best gifts.” We are to seek those gifts that are for the edification of the church of God. But if it does not please God to give us any of these gifts, He will still show us the “more excellent way.” These final words of chapter 12 lead us right into the wonderful “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13. The greatest gift of all is to have the Spirit of God dwelling in us and shedding abroad the love of God in our hearts so that we reveal the love of Christ. There is something more excellent than signs and wonders, for “though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.” A poor little Irish boy started going to classes at a small mission near his neighborhood in the lower part of Manhattan in New York. He got a great deal out of the lessons and attended regularly. But by and by when his folks made more money, they moved from that section of the city. They said, “Now, Patrick, you must attend one of the more stylish churches,” and they enrolled him in a new Sunday school. The little fellow attended two times, but the third week he was found way down near the Battery sitting in the mission Sunday school. When he got back home, his folks said, “O Pat, why didn’t you go to the nice church?”
“I wanted to go back to the other Sunday school,” he said. “But why did you want to go back there?” He hesitated and they said, “Come, tell us why.” “Well,” he said, “they love a fellow down there.” Love is what brought him miles downtown to the simple little mission. It is a great testimony for any church, assembly, mission, or Sunday school when people can say not only that the Word of God is preached there, but also that “they love a fellow” there.
This divine love is not something that is pumped up out of the natural heart; it is divinely given. “The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom_5:5). When we confess our sins and put our hearts’ trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as our own Savior, we are born of God and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in us, and thus the love of Christ shines forth in our lives.