CHAPTERS 12-14 OF 1 CORINTHIANS continue Paul’s instruction to the believers at Corinth regarding the nature and order of their church meetings ‘when they came together’, 14. 26.
Chapter 12 introduces the section with the words, ‘Concerning spiritual gifts’. The Greek word, pneumatikos, here translated ‘spiritual gifts’, also in 14. 1, 12, is in fact a single word and simply means ‘things of the Spirit’. (The word translated ‘gifts’ in 12. 4 - ‘diversities of gifts’ – is charisma meaning ‘grace’; it is used only in connection with the gifts of healing, 12. 9, 30, and not at all in chapter 14!
The emphasis in these chapters is not so much on the right and wrong use of any gifts that a believer may possess but upon the sovereign activity of the Father and the Son directing the affairs of the church through the Holy Spirit, 12. 4-11.
The Christians at Corinth were unspiritual, 3. 1; they were fond of their popular preachers and loved a display of human wisdom and oratory, 1. 12; 3. 4; 4. 19; 2 Cor. 10. 10. More serious still, they were under attack by satanic powers: Satan was beguiling them as he had beguiled Eve, 2 Cor. 11. 3; deceiving spirits were operating in their midst, 12. 3; in eating meat offered to idols some were having fellowship with demons, and partaking of their ‘cup’ and ‘table’, 10. 20, 21.
Over against this the apostle writes to instruct them concerning the ‘things of the Spirit’, that is, concerning the sovereign activity of the Holy Spirit in the church in carrying out the will of the Father and the Son, 12. 4-11. The ‘things of the Spirit’, 2. 14, include all teaching and doctrine concerning Christ and the gospel that is revealed to the church in this present age of grace, 2. 10, 15.
The three chapters may be viewed as follows
The Godhead is one, 12. 4, 5, 6; Christ is ‘one’, v. 12; the Spirit is ‘one’, v. 13; the body is ‘one’, v. 12. From the Godhead came ‘gifts’, v. 4 - (charisma, grace); ‘administrations’, (diakonia, service-ministries), and ‘operations’ (energomai, power), vv. 5, 6. Like the Hebrews who were ‘baptized unto Moses in the cloud and the sea’, 10. 2, so all believers are baptized into union with Christ (and each other) in the Holy Spirit’, 12. 13; but they are only vessels or instruments through whom the Godhead works.
These various activities or ministries of the Holy Spirit come under three categories -
(1) The Spirit’s ministry in laying the foundation of the church.
In this He used the apostles and prophets, v. 28; Eph. 4. 11. To them He entrusted the privilege and responsibility of laying the doctrinal foundations upon which the whole church is built, 3. 10; Eph. 2. 20; 3. 5. They have long since passed off the scene but they laid the foundation well – let all take heed how they build upon it, 3. 10.
(2) The spirit’s continuing ministry for the growth and edification of the church.
In this He uses the evangelists, teachers, shepherds, elders, labourers, builders etc., v. 28; Rom. 12.„ 6-8; Eph. 4. 11 ; Acts 20. 28; 1 Cor. 3. 6-8, – men with knowledge and wisdom, v. 8, able to instruct and edify the church, 14. 3; and guard against deceiving spirits, 12. 10.
(3) The Spirit’s special ministry of demonstrating the ‘power’ of Christ in resurrection life
Here we have the evidential signs of Mark 16. 15 – healings, miracles, tongues, wonders etc., 12. 8, 10, 28. These particular gifts or graces of the Spirit are introduced with the words ‘after that’, v. 28, indicating that they were in a special class of their own, to confirm to the Jews the place of authority and power that God has given to Christ, their Messiah, Mark 16. 20; Heb. 4. 3; Acts 4. 30; 19. 11; 1 Cor. 14. 22.
There are four basic factors to bear in mind concerning the various service-ministries of the Holy Spirit outlined in chapter 12.
(1) The possession of gifts, in themselves, was no evidence of personal spirituality or maturity.
The Christians at Corinth were ‘enriched in all utterance and knowledge, coming behind in no gift’, 1 Cor. 1. 5, 7. Yet in behaviour they were carnal and babes in Christ, 3. 1; puffed up, 4. 6, 18, 19; 8. 1, 2; condoning sin, 5. 1, 2; divided, 1. 11; 3. 3; 11. 18. Their meetings were characterized by confusion, 14. 33, outward show and shameful behaviour, 11 . 21, 22, 29, 30.
In chapter 13. 1-3 Paul states that it is possible to preach in the language of men and angels, to understand all mysteries, prophecy and knowledge, to sacrifice one’s life, and yet be nothing – a person of no importance by divine estimation, Matt. 7. 22.
(2) All gifts were not the common possession of all believers.
As part of their inheritance in Christ they could not be claimed ‘in faith’. Gifts were special ministries given individually to prepared people by God for the welfare of the church and for His glory alone, 12. 6; each was responsible to ascertain what his particular ability may be and to exercise it, 12. 6, 18, 28-30; Rom. 12. 6-8; 1 Tim. 4. 14.
(3) Gifts were concerned with the welfare of the church on earth and could not adequately convey the ultimate perfection of believers in heaven.
God in His goodness has, by the Holy Spirit, the written word, and the ministry of His servants, revealed to us a great deal of knowledge concerning Himself and the life to come, but Paul, even with the revelations given to him, 2 Cor. 12. 1-7, had to say ‘we (including himself) known in part, prophecy in part … see through a glass darkly’, vv. 9-12.
It is quite impossible for any believer to attain to a state of perfection as long as he lives in the flesh and in the world. The natural cannot penetrate into the spiritual, nor the earthly into the heavenly. Not until a believer dies, or the Lord comes, will perfection come, and he will then know as he is known, vv. 10-12.
(4) Gifts could, and would, be withdrawn as their particular function was fulfilled
The Holy Spirit will, of course, exercise His ministry in the church as long as it is on earth, but the churches of New Testament times needed a special activity of the Spirit until such a time as they were firmly established in the faith and the scriptures complete.
The apostolic ministry ceased with the death of John, and the special revelatory gifts as tongues, prophecy and knowledge would, says Paul, similarly fail, cease and vanish away, 13. 8. With the Jews’ final rejection of a resurrected Christ, the purpose of the sign-gifts was nullified and their continuance became unnecessary and unwarranted, Matt. 12. 39, 40.
Passing from the temporary nature of the ministry-gifts of chapter 12, Paul, in chapter 13, leads on to things that are ‘more excellent’; that is, to the basic, abiding state of the believer’s personal character and spirituality rather than his public service in the church. He is concerned with what a believer IS, rather than what he DOES. He emphasizes those things that lie at the heart of all Christian life and experience, and that apply to all believers, namely, faith, hope and, greater than these, LOVE.
It is by faith that a believer is saved, Eph. 2. 8; forgiven, Acts 13. 38; justified, Rom. 5. 1; receives the Holy Spirit, Gal. 3. 2; becomes a child of God, Gal. 3. 26; lives, Gal. 2. 20; and dies, Heb. 11. 13.
Faith, in turn, is sustained by hope because all our inheritance in Christ is in the future, Tit. 2. 13; Acts 24. 15; Rom. 5. 2; 8. 24. But when we arrive on the other side, faith and hope will be things of the past, and the only thing that a believer will take into eternity with him is his personal love to God, Christ, and His people. Love never fails.
The object and purpose of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in the church is to transform believers into the likeness of Christ, 2 Cor. 3. 3, 18; 4. 11; Gal. 2. 20; 4. 19; Eph. 4. 13: this He does by reproducing in their lives His own fruit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, meekness, humility, patience etc.: these are the marks of true spirituality and charisma.
And yet, in spite of all these plainly revealed facts, there are tens of thousands of professing and true believers in the world today who see in the power gifts of the Spirit the goal of all Christian experience, the pinnacle of perfection, the summit of spirituality. How childish can the church of God become!
Christians in any given locality in New Testament times gathered regularly as local assemblies; they met at any agreed place or time, Acts 2. 44. Sometimes they gathered to ‘break bread’, Acts 2. 42; 20. 7; sometimes they gathered for prayer, Acts 4. 31; 12. 12; 13. 2; 1 Tim. 2. 1, 2, 8; sometimes to hear reports concerning the Lord’s work, Acts 11. 4; 14. 27; sometimes to hear ministry and exposition of the scriptures from teachers, evangelists, elders, visitors, etc., Acts 6. 4; 11. 22, 23, 26; 18. 11, 25, 26; 3 John 7; sometimes they combined with other assemblies for conferences, Acts 15.
It seems, however, that apart from these ‘special purpose’ gatherings, all the various assemblies observed at least once a week, 1 Cor. 16. 2; Acts 20. 7, a general, open gathering in which all believers met as priests for the observance of the Lord’s Supper, praise, prayer and teaching. Chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians is the only chapter that deals specifically with this meeting and it contains plain and clear ‘commands’, v. 37, from God as to how it should be conducted and the things of the Spirit rightly controlled so that all things may be done decently and in order, v. 40, and confusion avoided, v. 33.
The main guidelines for the orderly conduct of the meeting are –
(1) The goal of all activity must be for the edification, comfort, and well being of the whole church, vv. 3, 4, 5, 12, 19, 31
‘Seek that you may excel to the edifying of the church’, v. 12. The open church gathering was not the place for individuals to seek their own edification, v. 4.
(2) All teaching, prayer, and thanksgiving must be in a language that is understood by those present
This is the main thrust of almost the whole chapter. A man speaking or praying in a language known only to himself may speak mysteries (spiritual truths now revealed in the gospel) in his own heart, and thus edify himself, vv. 2, 3, 14, 17, but such behaviour is childish in the church if others do not understand what he is saying, v. 20.
Any wishing to speak in a foreign language must be sure an interpreter is present, vv. 27, 28. As Corinth was an active sea port and trade centre people from numerous nations, speaking various languages, could well be present at the gatherings.
The Pentecostal phenomenon of tongues is plainly stated to be a sign to this people, i.e. to the nation of Israel, vv. 21, 22; Isa. 28. 11, 12, and was never meant to be used for the edification of the church: better to speak five words in the church that can be understood than ten thousand that are not, v. 19.
(3) Those taking part in the meeting must have full control of their own spirits, v. 32
Speakers must be able to stop at will and give place to others when necessary, v. 38. Ministry and prayer must be with understanding, vv. 14, 15, 16, 19, 20; the believers must act like men, not children, v. 20.
(4) Any spiritually minded men were free to take part in the meeting, v. 26,3. 7
It was expected that they would have something to say in the way of doctrine, knowledge, revelation, etc., vv. 6, 26. This does not mean that the Spirit revealed fresh unknown truths in the meeting (this was the prerogative of the apostles and prophets only, 12. 28. It is more likely their knowledge came from private study of the Psalms, v. 26, and other, scriptures, 2 Tim. 3. 16. The Holy Spirit would give spiritual understanding and enlightenment, 2. 9-13; Col. 1. 9; 1 John 2. 20.
The advantage of the regular ‘open’ meeting was that it gave opportunity for all brothers to express their particular service in the church, and at the same time permit a varied ministry not possible when a single pastor was in charge of the assembly.
Those participating were restricted to the male members of the congregation v. 27, 37. Sisters were to remain silent and ask questions at home if they desired, vv. 34-35; 1 Tim. 2. 11-12. The reason for this involves the whole principle of headship as seen in chapter 11, and in the place of women in creation and the fall, 1 Tim. 2. 13, 14. The expression as also says the law, v. 34, may be a reference to Genesis 3. 16, ‘thy desire shall be to thy husband and he shall rule over thee’: or it may be an allusion to the fact that women did not take part in either the priestly or prophetic ministries in Old Testament times. There are numerous incidents and references in the New Testament indicating that sisters were involved in other ministries in the church that did not involve the responsibility of official doctrine and teaching.
There are three basic thoughts to bear in mind regarding these church or assembly gatherings: (a) It was obligatory on all local believers to attend them wherever and whenever they took place, Acts 2. 44; Heb. 10. 25; (b) Absolute prominence was always given to the ministry of the word; (c) Final rule and control over all meetings and activities were in the hands of the local elders. They were to be respected by all and their advice and decisions accepted in love, 2 Tim. 5.17; Heb. 13. 7,17, 24; 1 Thess. 5. 1214; 1 Pet. 5. 5.