The Spiritual Gifts Of The Members - 1 Cor. 12, 14
H. Beattie, Bury St. Edmunds
THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS OF THE MEMBERS, 1 COR. 12, 14
Baptism in the Spirit forms the One Body.
The definite association of individual believers with the Risen Head of the Church was brought about on the day of Pentecost. About one hundred and twenty believers, all together in one place, Acts 1. 15; 2. 1, were baptised by the Lord Jesus in the Holy Spirit. They were also filled with the Spirit. A new unity had been created where only individual believers had existed before. The one hundred and twenty had become “one in Christ Jesus”, Gal. 3. 28.
Peter, in his message, envisaged additional developments: “For to you is the promise, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call unto him”, Acts 2. 39 R.V. Various other categories of redeemed men and women were to be officially and manifestly added to these Jews living in Jerusalem, in order to show to them the universal character of the Body. The Samaritans received the Holy Spirit through the intervention of Peter and John, Acts 8. 17. Then the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius, as Peter preached the gospel to them, Acts 10. 44. The Jews of the dispersion were included through Peter’s and Paul’s ministry, Acts 2. 5; 19. 6.
The Samaritans, the Gentiles and the Jews of the dispersion had now been clearly linked up with those Jews dwelling in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. And Paul can write, “For in one Spirit were we all baptised into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit”, 1 Cor. 12. 13 R.V. The full implications of the teaching of John concerning the baptism by Jesus in the Holy Spirit had been realised. From then, believers have entered into the good of the initial experience at the moment of conversion. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “know ye not that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God?”, 6. 19 R.V. marg. And to the Ephesians he explains, “in whom, having also believed, ye were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise”, Eph. 1. 13 R.V. What a wonderful thing the Lord did on the day of Pentecost! How we should look back with heartfelt gratitude to the initial forming of the Body of Christ! How we should, through the continual filling of our hearts and lives by the Spirit seek to express what this baptism brought about.
Recognising False Inspiration.
Prior to conversion the Corinthians had been plunged in another totally different environment, namely that of demon possession, 1 Cor. 12. 2. Their idols were voiceless, but their oracles could express heinous blasphemies like “Anathema Jesus”. They could not, and would not, pronounce the wonderful words that attribute universal dominion to the Son of God, “Lord Jesus”. The difference between these two expressions was to be the touchstone enabling the believers to distinguish between those who were exercising authentic gifts in the power of the Spirit of God and those who were demon inspired. False teaching, from early Romish error of pagan origin to more recent Russellism, refuses to acknowledge the supreme and unique Lordship of Christ. The Spirit-filled believer, emulating Thomas, falls at His feet, to cry from the depths of his being, “My Lord and my God”. John, warning later believers against the influence of the antichrists, underlines the same thought: “ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all things”, 1 John 2. 20 R.V. The Spirit of God would enable them to recognise demonically inspired teaching that denied the eternal existence of Jesus or sought to rob Him of His unique mediatorial position.
One Spirit - Many Gifts.
Developments in Christendom across the centuries have certainly moved far from the teaching of 1 Corinthians 12. 4-7, and the exercise of gift by several Spirit-prompted members of a local church has been paralysed by one person monopolising all. This has led to increasing atrophy of the members of the body. Paul sees the ideal church energised in all its varied activities by the life and power of the one God. He sees all the members in many varied ways serving the One Lord. He sees the One Spirit expressing Himself through the diverse gifts accorded. There is a definite monopoly, but it is that of the Trinity; it is divine and not human. This is a picture of the ideal church body, and it is always a cause for deep regret when it is smeared either by a self-willed Diotrephes or by a group of believers who have not learned to recognise clearly their individual gifts. “The gift whereby the Spirit becomes manifest is given to each for the profit of all, v. 7”, Conybeare. Preaching is but a small part of the diverse expressions of the power of the Spirit of God in the life of a local church.
In the lists of gifts given in verses 8 to 10 and in verse 28, many are linked with the elementary development of the Church at the beginning of the dispensation. Apostles and prophets are definitely foundation gifts and ministries, Eph. 2. 20. Then there is the mention of miracles (works of power). We think of Paul’s blinding of Elymas, Acts 13. 11, and the shaking of the poisonous snake from his hand, 28. 5. These were clearly operations of supernatural power, which do not occur by command today.
The gift of healing is mentioned. What a wonderful demonstration of the power of God to heal instantaneously was given at the gate of the temple when the lame man rose up and moved about normally, Acts 3. 6, or in the streets where the crowds of sick people were instantly cured as Peter’s shadow fell on them, 5. 15. Here is the exercise of the precise New Testament gift of healing. No question of repeated efforts, or of a percentage of success - they were healed every one. Even the dead one was raised, 9. 40. Did these extraordinary manifestations continue throughout the apostolic age? Later epistles seem to prove the contrary. Paul’s thorn in the flesh, 2 Cor. 12. 7; Epaphroditus, Phil. 2. 27; Timothy, 1 Tim. 5. 23; Trophimus, 2 Tim. 4. 20, clearly show a cessation of this gift, and do not bear out the modern doctrine that perfect health is comprised in Christ’s atonement. Some have taught that this gift was only to be exercised on unbelievers, but Dorcas was a very worthy saint, Acts 9. 40, and Saul of Tarsus was already a believer when his blindness was cured. 9. 18.
An analogy of this elementary revelation of spiritual power at the beginning of a new period is found in the ministry of the prophets. Elisha raised the Shunammite’s son from the dead, 2 Klings 4. 35. Later, Isaiah will counsel a poultice of figs for Hezekiah’s illness, 2 Kings 20. 7. The need to authenticate the new ministry of the prophets had by then disappeared. It was their work and their word that mattered.
The Lord can, and does, heal His people in answer to prayer, as in the case of Epaphroditus. God had mercy on him, Phil. 2. 27. But nowhere in Scripture are we taught that bodily healing for all is comprised in the atonement. That would be a seriously depressing doctrine for multitudes who, in weak and ailing bodies, are truly worshipping the Father and serving the Lord Christ. For them, as for the great apostle, His grace is sufficient.
The Reasons for Speaking in Tongues.
The first reason is in Acts 2. 11, where God’s servants announced to a vast cosmopolitan crowd His wonderful works. The message was understood by men of many language groups. They heard in their own tongue. The second one we find in 1 Corinthians 14. 2, where those speaking to God in prayer were used by the Spirit of God to reveal, through its interpretation, some unrevealed message to the early Church, some “mystery”.
The sign-gift of speaking in tongues was destined as a special witness to Israel: “With men of other tongues and other lips will I speak unto this people; and yet for all that will they not hear me”, 1 Cor. 14. 21. The activity in Corinth was largely amongst Jews at the outset, Acts 18. 2, 4, 7, 8, 12, 17, 28, hence the preponderance of this sign-gift, only mentioned in this Epistle. In spite of all the tongue speaking, the Jews did not receive the witness. Contrast the willing reception of the gospel message by the Gentiles, “they will hear it”, Acts 28. 28.
No one, in recent centuries, has been able to preach a gospel message in the open-air in a language he had not learned. No one has been able to reveal an extra-Biblical mystery to the people of God. Evangelists, shepherds and teachers have been busy in the great work of evangelisation and edification of the Church of God.
In Hebrews 2. 3-4, the writer speaks of these sign-gifts being exercised by those who had heard the Lord. This was the visible and audible confirmation of apostolic teaching. The writer, however, does not seem to have exercised these gifts. The word “confirmed” speaks of a definite past as to their inherent usefulness. Just as John the Baptist continued his line of things and did not leave those transitory elements in order to find perfection in Christ, so do some Christians cling to these elementary phases, even when their manifestation is decidedly more psychic than spiritual.
Teaching, Helping and Guiding.
Through the word of knowledge, the word of wisdom, and definite teaching in the Corinthian assembly, the Holy Spirit was to fulfil the promise made by our Lord in John 16. 13, “when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth”.
Helpers, inspired by the Spirit of God, were to be found in every department of the work and witness of the assembly. What a source of consolation this little word has been to countless generations of willing-hearted believers, not wholly persuaded as to the true nature of the gift accorded, but wanting to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God”, 1 Pet. 4. 10. Unclassified - but helping everything forward! Helps, through the Spirit’s mighty enabling!
The word “governments” can be translated “steersmen”. The experiences of Paul, Silas and Timothy in Acts 16. 6-10 depict happenings in the service of those who were leaders in the work. Everything depended on the Holy Spirit’s direction of affairs through them. How solemn and blessed to be a Spirit-directed steersman!
Lessons from the Human Body.
In 1 Corinthians 12. 14-26, the teaching constitutes a series of lessons in Christian care and unity drawn from the human body. This is where genuine Christianity is so different from any organised unity of man’s fostering. There is a vital spiritual link between true believers quite unlike anything else in this world. If one member suffer - all the members suffer with it. If one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Is this true of your assembly? who visits the sick? Do all suffer with them? Such outward love and care demonstrate the reality of the inner experiences of the heart.