In the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians, the Apostle takes up the subject of the provision of spiritual gifts and their exercise, with special reference to the local church. The source, the distribution and the operating power are divine, not human: “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of ministrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of workings, but the same God, Who worketh all things in all”(verses 4 to 6).
The essential element of harmony and unity is pointedly stressed by a sevenfold mention of “the same,” first as to the Tri-unity of the Godhead, “the same Spirit … the same Lord … .the same God,” and then a fourfold repetition of “the same Spirit,” in verses 8 to 11.
There is a threefold diversity, first as to possession of the gifts, then as to forms of service, and then as to their exercise: – diversity of “gifts,” of “ministrations,” of “workings.” Firstly, the differing gifts are distributed to be possessed according to the individual capacity as divinely prepared. Secondly, there are the varying kinds of ministration or service.
Two enumerations of gifts follow, one immediately, in verses 8 to 10, the other in verse 28. The former has to do with the functions discharged, the latter more particularly with the persons who exercise them. The order sets forth, to some extent, their comparative importance, but the great object for which they are mentioned is to keep before us their divine origin, and the purpose for which they are bestowed. “To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit withal” (verse 7). Their rightful exercise gives evidence of the power of the Spirit of God acting through the human channel. This again, in each case, is for the profit both of the one who possesses the gift and of the other members of the church. They are given not for the display of human abilities but for the glory of God in the edification of the saints. They are given not to be characterised by an atmosphere of mystery, but that the Spirit’s power may be manifest.
THE TEMPORARY AND THE PERMANENT.
They are mentioned just as they were in operation in the churches in apostolic times. Some were designed for the temporary and special purposes of that period, others were for permanent functioning. This is made clear in the next chapter. The personal gifts of apostles and prophets, for instance, were bestowed for the immediate purposes of the time. They laid the foundation of the truths of the faith by the revelations divinely imparted to them, and laid it completely. No foundation doctrine remained to be added. The special work of apostles and prophets ceased with the completion of the inspired Scriptures.
TONGUES AND PROPHESYINGS.
As with the temporary character of the ministry just mentioned, so with other gifts imparted for the particular purposes of the apostolic period. “Tongues” were “for a sign” and especially to unbelieving Jews (1 Cor. 14. 21, 22): the Apostle makes this clear by basing the fact that they were for a sign upon the quotation from Isaiah 28. 11, 12, wherein God declared that “by men of strange tongues …‘He would speak’ unto this people,” that is to say, to Israel. This testimony, the rejection of which was likewise foretold, continued while God maintained relations with His earthly people, and ceased with the termination of those relations.
So, again, with the miraculous “gifts of healings”; these were designed for the same period of apostolic testimony. The limitations of the gifts of healings as sign-gifts are shown by the fact that Timothy, Trophimus, Gaius, and others were not healed of their physical infirmities. Yet these were certainly Spirit-filled men. Moreover, in the same period the supernatural power was imparted of raising the dead (Acts 9. 40; 20. 9, 10), all attempts at which since have been unsuccessful. Undeniably God does heal the sick in answer to prayer and such ministry as is enjoined in James 5. 14, 15, but the distinction between that and the supernatural gifts temporarily bestowed in the churches in the times of the Apostles, is clear from the Scriptures themselves.
The Apostle lays it down as a general principle that “when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away” (1 Cor. 10). Wherever the principle holds good it is applicable. It will be applicable at the coming of the Lord, after the completion of the Church. It was primarily applicable when the sacred Volume, consisting of the Scriptures of truth, the written word of God, was complete.
The professed possession of supernatural power is always; attractive to the mind of man, and imparts a glamour to any so-called “Movement” which claims to use such powers and even performs supernatural deeds.