Gifts Principles and Responsibilities
Throughout the forepart of his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle has been dealing with fleshly activities; now he turns the attention to spiritual abilities. He says, “Now concerning spiritual gifts (spiritualities), brethren, I would not have you ignorant” (12:1).
There are three positive evidences of carnality referred to in the stern rebuke of the early part of the epistle: divisions in the assembly (chaps. 1-4), sensuality in the individuals (chaps. 5-7), and undue licence in social and church relationships (chaps. 8-1 1).
The section of the epistle we are now considering; namely, chapters 12-14, presents a corrective ministry from the apostle Paul which, if accepted, would result in the proper adjustment of these evils. In the twelfth chapter, the unity of the Body of Christ is a rebuke to the spirit of schism in the Church. According to chapter thirteen, the purity of the love of Christ exposes the depravity of sensuality. The fourteenth chapter deals with Christian liberty in contrast to fleshly licence. It is in the first of these three important truths, that we are at present interested; namely, the oneness of the Body of Christ. Let us consider certain features of this matter:
The Blessedness Of Unity:
The unity of the Godhead, of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is set forth in the first part of chapter twelve (1-11); whereas, the unity of the mystical Body of Christ, the result of the divine affinity which binds one member to the other, appears in the remainder of the chapter (12-31). Unity, expressed in this twofold manner, is mentioned by Christ in His high-priestly prayer (John 17), and by the apostle through the Spirit in his Ephesian letter (4:4-7). The unity of the Godhead is from Eternity; that of the Church, since Pentecost. The unity of the Godhead is fully revealed in heaven; that of the Body of Christ ought to be expressed on earth.
The Testimony Of Unity:
The ultimate source of all spiritual gift lies within the Godhead (4-6); in the same Spirit, the same Lord (Jesus), and in the same God (the Father). Every gift, imparted to man by God, has as its final objective, the acknowledging of Christ as Lord (3), At the same time, in a secondary way, the solemn duty of each gift is the profit and common welfare of every believer (7).
The heavenly endowments referred to in this Scripture, provide the equipment by which the Church edifies herself in love, and by which she proclaims the gospel entrusted to her. In the portion, vv. 4-6, mention is made of “gifts,” “administrations,” and “operations.” These may be defined thus; “gifts” in their variety, are the divinely imparted capabilities for service; “administrations,” the opportunities afforded the saints to serve God; “operations,” the different methods employed in Christian service. God, in His wisdom, fits men by personality, ability, and the grace of His Spirit, to perform the very work He has assigned to each one.
There are nine spiritual gifts contemplated in verses 8-10, and these are arranged in groups of three. The first group of three is connected to the unfolding of the truth of God. “Wisdom” is the art of applying the truth. What blunders are made without it. “Knowledge” is the accumulation of truth in the mind and heart. “Faith” is confidence in the infallibility of divine truth. There may be a suggestion that the gift of the pastor is linked with “wisdom”; that of the teacher, with “knowledge”; and, that of the evangelist, with “faith.” The second group treats of the spectacular display of God’s power in “healings,” “miracles,” and “prophecies.” Power that is delegated to the Church is done so through the Holy Spirit, and such power may change its means of manifestation according to the necessity in the purpose of God. The last of these groups speaks of the divine enlightenment imparted to saints to discern both truth and error, and to differentiate between the work of the Spirit and the lustings of the flesh.
The Principles Of Unity:
There are four purposeful principles to control the relationship of the believer with all other believers. When these are fully acknowledged, there will be a clear expression of the unity of the Body of Christ.
(a). The first of these principles is the sense of responsibility devolving upon each gifted saint to function within the sphere that corresponds to his gift (15-16). The acceptance of this responsibility is a protection against negligence, and places upon all a particular ministry to discover and to perform.
(b). There is a blessed variety existing within the unity which characterizes the Church of Christ; This presents the second principle to be discussed. We read, “Now are they many members (foot, hand, or eye), yet but one body.” (17-20; 28-30). There is no gift that performs every function essential to the well being of the Body, but every function is executed by the combined action of every separate gift operating within its own sphere. The understanding of this second principle produces a rebuke to the spirit of jealousy.
(c). The third principle may be summed up thus: The organic oneness of the Body of Christ is such, that there is an interdependence among all the several members. Such is the divine cohesion, that each member functions within its own sphere; nevertheless, all the several functions are perfectly co-ordinated (21-25). In government, each local church stands independent the one from the other, wholly responsible to the Lord; in the fellowship of the body, the saints are so interdependent, that independency finally results in poverty of soul. When one member says to another, “I have no need of thee,” (21) a schism is formed in the Body. Many of God’s beloved saints are hidden behind human walls, nevertheless, there is a mysterious unity that reaches beyond these, so as to provide enrichment for each and to spread the gospel through them in the world. In this manner the Lord’s prayer (John 17) is partly fulfilled. How poor would be the Church of the present time without the ministry of Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, Darby, Kelly, Fanny Crosby, Donald Ross, and a host of others!
(d). The last of these principles embraces acts of sympathy and selflessness for, “If one member suffer, all members suffer with it; or if one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it” (26). Suspicion affects the spirit of the Christian, destroying that mutual peace and joy which arise from the presence of mutual confidence. Oh, for a larger heart to feel the sorrow of the saints in order that we may comfort them! (2 Cor. 1:14), a heart unselfish enough, to rejoice in the success and honour of another.
Although the apostle was particularly writing to the local church at Corinth, his vision included the whole Church of which the one at Corinth was in character a miniature (27-28). The presence of great gift demands the exercise of great grace in order that each of these principles operate to the desirable end -- the expulsion of the dreaded carnalities: indolence, jealousy, aloofness and suspicion.
* * *
We peer through the gloomy darkness of the night, between the confused masses of dense clouds, for the gleaming of The Morning Star; for there is nothing so sure as that He will come, save it be, that since He took our place upon the cross, He will give us His place upon the throne.
-S of M.