For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

12:1  “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.”

It seems advisable to note at the beginning that a spiritual gift is that endowment of the Holy Spirit which equips each believer to properly fulfil his function in the Church which is the body of which Christ is the Head.  As the Apostle goes on to explain, each believer’s place in that mystical body corresponds to the place occupied by each member of our physical bodies, and as each member of the natural body is essential to the wellbeing of that body, so is every believer essential to the wellbeing of the spiritual body the Church.  And just as a knowledge of the relationship of each member to another in the literal body is necessary for the good of all the members, so also is similar knowledge needful to maintain the health of the spiritual body.

Another point that must be considered is the time when each believer receives his spiritual gift, and in the absence of any Scriptural evidence to the contrary it seems that the moment of conversion is the instant when the gift is given.  One further point is to be noted.  It is clear that it is only subsequent to his conversion that each believer becomes aware of what gift he has been given, and even then only if he has been exercising his gift, for, like natural gift, spiritual gift must be developed, otherwise it will lie dormant, the man himself and others being unaware that he has a gift.  Note in this connection Paul’s admonition to Timothy, “Neglect not the gift that is in thee” (I Tim 4:14), and again, “... stir up the gift of God, which is in thee....” (2 Tim 1:6).

But that prompts the very legitimate question, How can I exercise my spiritual gift when I don’t know what it is?  Again, the natural realm furnishes instruction.  The gifted child soon begins to display, not only natural talent in some area, but also a desire to exercise that talent.  For example, the child with the potential to become a great painter will display an early interest in drawing and painting; the potential pianist, an interest in music; the potential mathematician, an interest in mathematics.  The development of the gift to full potential, however, requires years of work, and without that work the man will remain at best mediocre, or even live his life without its ever being evident that he even had any talent.  It is the same with spiritual gift.  The man will display some ability in a particular area of spiritual activity: for example, he may be fond of Bible study, and be able to pass on to others the result of his studies, but unless he is willing to devote himself wholeheartedly to that activity, he too will remain mediocre, or live his life without its ever being evident that he had any special gift.  The same inescapable reality relates to spiritual as well as natural gift: without hard work the gift will lie dormant and therefore wasted, or will at best be but imperfectly perceived.  See Ro 12:6-8 relative to the need for each to give himself wholeheartedly to the development and exercise of his spiritual gift.

Natural gift is never to be confused with spiritual gift.  A man’s ability to speak doesn’t make him a preacher, nor does one’s penchant for study make him a teacher.  Paul, for example, probably the greatest preacher next to the Lord Himself, doesn’t appear to have had any natural ability as an orator, he himself having recorded what others thought of him, “his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible” (2 Co 10:10).

Experience reveals that as we are willing to do what needs to be done, God will gradually narrow down the sphere of our service, focusing it on that for which we have been given our spiritual gift, and gradually it becomes apparent, almost invariably to others first, what our spiritual gift is.

As to whether believers are given more than one spiritual gift, Scripture is unclear, but experience offers little evidence of a believer’s being given more than one, the Apostles, of course, being the exception.

The indifference of the professing church towards the subject of spiritual gift is rebuked by Paul’s statement here in this first verse, “I would not have you ignorant,” and a question that deserves an answer is, Why is there this indifference?  There are several reasons, but an obvious one is that Christendom’s almost universal use of the unscriptural clerical system has left neither room nor perceived need for the spiritual gifts through which alone, God says, the Church is to receive her ministry.

Another reason is that which has, in fact, produced the clerical system.  Even before the end of the Apostolic age, the pursuit of the world’s wealth, pleasure, ease, etc., had lured many away from the pursuit of the things that belong to the kingdom of heaven, with the result that spiritual gift lay neglected.  But human ingenuity has always been quick to produce a facsimile of the Divine reality, a truth typically displayed in Rehoboam’s replacement, with brass replicas, of the golden shields carried out of the temple by Shishak king of Egypt (1 Ki 14:25-28).  The clerical system is man’s miserable substitute for the God-ordained ministry of the evangelists, elders, and teachers.

It is necessary to note also what is written in Ep 4:8-12.  There we learn that the risen Christ has not only bestowed five special gifts, but has then given those endowed men as gifts to the Church.  Two such men, the apostles and prophets, were for the early Apostolic age only, but the other three, the evangelists, elders, and teachers are for the duration of the Church age, and it is instructive to note that the order in which they are listed in Ep 4:11 is the order in which their ministry is given to the Church.  The evangelist comes first, for his work is to bring the Gospel to the unconverted.  Without his ministry there would be no converts, and therefore no local church.  His work is done when he brings the converts into the fellowship of a local church where the ministry of the elders (shepherds) begins, their principal work being to feed (teach) these new believers.  The teaching of the elders is usually confined to the teaching of the basics of Christianity, though this doesn’t mean that the elders are incapable of giving advanced teaching.  Many of them are.  It is just that the very nature of a local church requires continual teaching of basic doctrine.  But as believers mature they need more advanced teaching, and that is the work of the teacher.  This, however, does not imply that he is superior to the elders.  He isn’t.  Apart from the teaching given by the elders there would be no basic knowledge for the teacher to build on.  His teaching would be over the heads of his hearers, the situation being similar to that of someone trying to teach calculus to those who had no knowledge of mathematics.

12:2.  “Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.”

It may well be asked what their former state had to do with their need of instruction relative to spiritual gifts, and at first it may seem that the answer ought to be, Nothing.  It is relevant, however.  As heathen (and that’s what the Gentiles were), they had been involved with idolatry, and just as the Holy Spirit is the One by Whose power the Church functions, so is Satan the evil spirit controlling every form of heathen religion.  As Satan uses human instruments to lead men astray, and into these idolatrous associations, so does the Holy Spirit also use human instruments to lead men to Christ, and then into truth as to their worship, walk, and work.

It is clear that many of those who function as priests in heathen religions are demon-possessed men, and the votaries also either demon-possessed or demon-controlled at least in connection with the rites associated with the worship of their idols.  These former heathen now addressed by Paul must understand that Christianity, though seeming to be similar in many ways to their former heathen religions, was very different.  There is all the difference in the world between the activity of Satan and his evil spirit minions, and that of the Holy Spirit who indwells and empowers believers.  The man possessed or controlled by a demon, speaks and acts involuntarily.  The Holy Spirit never bypasses the man’s will.  His control is always through the written Word, and is never apart from the individual’s volition.  The man is always in control of his own speech and actions, what he says and does being in willing obedience to the mind of the Holy Spirit as revealed in the written Word. 

In their heathen state they had been led by evil men, and in some cases also by evil spirits, to worship idols, which was in reality to worship Satan.  Now as believers they were to follow Paul’s teaching because He followed Christ, and spoke as the instrument of the Holy Spirit.  There might at first glance seem to be little difference between the activity of the Holy Spirit and that of Satan’s unclean spirits, but Paul was about to show them that the one was as different from the other as day is from night.

It must be remembered that in the early Apostolic age there were things connected with Christianity which outwardly would have seemed little different from the religions of the heathen.  What difference, for example, was there outwardly between the utterances of the NT prophets, and those of the heathen priests?  Or again, what discernible difference was there between what was said by believers using the gift of tongues, and what was said by those speaking in an unknown tongue at the impulse of a demon?

Paul’s teaching relative to spiritual gifts would put things in perspective, and enable believers to distinguish between what was of Satan, and what was of God.

12:3.  “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.”

Vine informs us that there was at least one Gnostic sect which required those seeking membership to say publicly

“Anathema Jesus.”  This a believer would never do.  As for Paul’s assurance that only believers would acknowledge the Lordship of Christ, this provides the test by which to measure the reality of those who might not outwardly oppose Christ, but who are nonetheless His enemies.  An obedient life is one of the evidences of a genuine conversion, proof that Jesus is indeed Lord.

12:4.  “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.”

Many different gifts are necessary for the well-being of the Church, but the unifying power which makes them effective lies in the truth that it is the Holy Spirit Who not only bestows them, but Who also controls their use.  Were it otherwise there would be chaos, hence the need for each of us to be careful that we not only know the Spirit’s will, but that we do it, being careful above all things not to act in self-will.

12:5.  “And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.”

It is universally accepted that administrations is a wrong translation, the correct rendering being ministrations or forms of service.  Administration implies the presence of an administrator, and Scripture offers no hint of there being such a function or person authorized by God relative to the Church, the Holy Spirit being the only One capable of exercising that function.  No one, not even an elder, is permitted to assign another believer his work.  That is the exclusive prerogative of the Holy Spirit.  The idea of human administration in the Church is inimical to the teaching of Scripture.  It goes without saying therefore, that an organization has no place in the Church, for inherent in every organization is the idea of human control.

“... but the same Lord” means simply that it is the one Lord Who is served or ministered to.

12:6.  “And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.”

“...diversities of operations” might be translated “varieties of activities,” e.g., in the sphere of evangelism, one’s gift may equip him to address very large audiences; another’s, to function better one-to-one, or in a small group.  Both are evangelists, but their methods of operation are different; and so also with teachers.

An alternative rendering of “... the same God which worketh all in all,” is that given by Phillips, “but it is the same God who achieves his purposes through them all.”

12:7.  “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.”

Manifestation is literally a bestowment, so clearly every believer is given a spiritual gift, and as it is used it reveals the power of the Spirit working in the user.  And profit attends use of the gift, not just the profit of those ministered to, but also that of the user, for the former are built up, while the latter will not only be recompensed at the Bema for his ministry, but here on earth there is profit: he enjoys the peace which is the portion of every obedient believer, and he has the satisfaction of seeing his gift develop so that his ministry becomes increasingly effective.

12:8.  “For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit:”

The basic difference between wisdom and knowledge is that knowledge consists of the understanding of facts, but wisdom is the ability to use that knowledge wisely.  Not everyone possessed of knowledge uses it wisely.

The fact that knowledge and teaching are two separate gifts makes it difficult to determine just exactly what was involved in the gift of knowledge, for since teaching is the ability to understand what the prophets have written, knowledge cannot then, refer to that same ability, but since it was a temporary gift for use only in the early Apostolic age (13:8), there is no need for us to understand its exact nature.

Some, including Vine (see 13:8), suggest that wisdom and knowledge were not sign gifts, the same writer pointing out that understanding is a capacity for interpreting the details of our daily lives, while prudence is a capacity for choosing a right means to a right end.”

12:9.  “To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit;”

It is necessary to distinguish between the faith which brings salvation, and the faith which ought to govern the life thereafter.  Every believer has saving faith, but when it comes to trusting God’s love and wisdom relative to the affairs of life, there are varying degrees of faith, and accordingly, varying degrees of enjoyment of peace.  The faith referred to here as being a spiritual gift appears to be that possessed by the very few who appear to be able to rise above every circumstance of life, the saint having implicit faith to believe that “All things do work together for good, to them that love God.”

The gift of healing clearly refers to that Spiritual endowment which enabled the possessor of the gift to effect instant healing by a touch.  This was one of the temporary sign gifts given only in the early Apostolic age, and like the others mentioned in 1 Co 13:8, ceased with the completion of the canon of Scripture.  There is no valid evidence that this gift exists today, or has existed after the early first century.  Note for example that neither Timothy nor Trophimus was healed. 

It is not that God is any less able to heal today: it is just that He has obviously chosen not to do so through the medium of spiritually gifted individuals, as in the early Apostolic age.  In praying for the healing of ourselves or anyone else, we must be careful to recognize that healing isn’t always God’s will, in which case continued importunity may become simply rejection of His will.  It is wiser to conclude all such petitions with the condition, “If it be Thy will.”  We should remember too, that sickness may be chastisement designed to produce repentance, it not being God’s will to heal until that repentance comes.

12:10.  “To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues;”

All the gifts mentioned in this verse were temporary, given only for the early Apostolic age.  There is nothing in Scripture, or in Church history, to even suggest that the working of miracles continued beyond that early era; and the need of prophecy very obviously ceased with the completion of the canon of Scripture.  All that God has to reveal of Himself is contained in the Scriptures, that revelation being complete when John penned the last word of the book of Revelation.  The gift of discerning of spirits likewise ceased at the same time, that discernment now being made by means of Scripture itself.

Tongues is declared in 13:8 to have been another temporary gift, there being nothing in Scripture or in Church history to even hint that it continued beyond the early Apostolic age, and obviously with the passing of that gift, the gift of interpretation became redundant.  In connection with tongues it must be remembered that even when it was a valid spiritual gift, its use was strictly regulated by Scripture, and the spurious character of what today purports to be the use of the gift of tongues is certified by the flagrant disregard of those proscriptions.  For example, those possessing the gift were to speak in turn, not simultaneously (14:27-28).  Women are commanded to be silent in the church (14:24), yet they are today’s foremost practitioners of the so-called “gift.”  One has aptly observed that if women were taken out of the tongues movement, it would cease to move!  The gift was not to be used unless an interpreter were present (14:28), a command virtually ignored by those now professing to exercise the “gift.”

12:11.  “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.”

This verse makes it clear that the Holy Spirit not only bestows the gifts, but also controls their use, though it is to be remembered that each man is responsible to develop his gift.  In proportion as the man does develop his gift, and submits himself to the Holy Spirit’s control, so will be the Spirit’s use of that man and of the spiritual gift given him.  That knowledge ought to impel more diligence in the development of our spiritual gift, and a fuller measure of obedience to the Holy Spirit.

12:12.  “For 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 Christ.” 

Vine declares that whereas in Ephesians the reference is to the Church universal, here it is to the local church, the parallel with the natural body being drawn from the fact that as the many members of the natural body share a common life, so does the local church, every member being indwelt by the same Christ through His Holy Spirit.

12:13.  “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

It is the indwelling Holy Spirit Who constitutes the individual members one body, the reference to baptism appearing to be to that of the Holy Spirit rather than of water.  In what way we “have been all made to drink into one Spirit” is unclear, unless the reference is to our having drunk in the truth of the Gospel.

12:14.  “For the body is not one member but many.”

This appears to be designed to stress the importance of each individual member of the body, the local church.  No member is to be despised.  None is unnecessary for the wellbeing of the body.

12:15.  “If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?”

The members have a mutual dependence.  None can say that he has no need of the others, and the other side of that coin is that none should hold such a low view of himself as to think that the others have no need of him.  There may be also here a subtle rebuke of the spirit of envy.  How many consider themselves unnecessary simply because they haven’t been given a gift whose use brings the possessor into the limelight!  Some, lacking such a gift, petulantly refuse to do anything, with the result that the whole body suffers just as would the natural body were the foot to refuse to function just because it couldn’t do the work of the hand.

The foot speaks of the walk or manner of life, as the hand speaks of service.  It may be that God is here teaching the close link between our manner of living and our service.  The service will be of little use if the lifestyle is incompatible with the holiness which God enjoins.

12:16.  “And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?”

The ear would speak of obedience; and the eye, of understanding.  There is to be obedience to what we learn of God’s Word, and the obedience is to be no less willingly offered when another has to instruct me relative to what I haven’t been able to see (understand) from my own reading or study.

12:17.  “If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing?  If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?”

What chaos there would be if there were merely understanding without the necessary obedience!

Smelling appears to speak of discernment, and the need of discernment relative to what we read or hear, is demonstrated by the fact that knowledge itself isn’t enough: there must be the wisdom to use knowledge wisely, for it is all too apparent that many who possess knowledge misuse it.  They lack wisdom, apart from which knowledge is worthless or dangerous.

12:18.  “But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.”

It is according to His perfect wisdom that God has set each member of the physical body in its proper place; nor has He been less wise in assigning each member his place in the local assembly.  To be dissatisfied with my own gift, or envious of the gift given another, is to be critical of God’s wisdom  - a very serious offense.

12:19.  “And if they were all one member, where were the body?”

Obviously, if each member of a local assembly had been given the same gift, there couldn’t be an assembly at all.  For example, if all were evangelists, who would shepherd and teach the new converts?  If all were shepherds (elders), who would evangelize and teach?  If all were teachers, whom would they teach without the work of the evangelists and elders?

12:20.  “But now are they many members, yet but one body.”

This continues to stress the unity of the local assembly, and the mutual dependence of the members.

12:21.  “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.”

As already noted, the eye appears to speak of understanding, as the hand does of service, so that the lesson is against the temptation of those who have been given insight, despising those whose service calls for what men might mistakenly call a lower sphere of ministry.  There is no such thing in God’s sight.  Every member of the body has an essential place, a necessary work to do.  No member of the body is to be despised.

The head continues to speak of what might be deemed a superior gift; and the feet, of an inferior endowment.  Each is to remember that the omniscient God has given the gifts according to His own perfect wisdom.  All are necessary for the accomplishment of His purposes in the local church.

12:22.  “Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:”

Only distorted human perception will despise another believer, or the work God has given another believer to do.  There isn’t one who isn’t essential to the utmost good of the assembly.  That being so, it is incumbent on every member that he be obedient, for disobedience mars development and use of spiritual gift, and therefore robs the assembly of what is essential to its wellbeing. 

12:23.  “And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.”

It is generally considered that the reference is to the arrangement of the clothing in relation to the different members of the natural body.  Some parts, the face and hands, for example, are not covered at all; others may be partially covered; while yet others are always completely covered.  That special care given relative to clothing is to be a picture of the measure of care given to those in the assembly whom we might tend to view as relatively unimportant.  That extra care or consideration given them will encourage them, and make for harmony in the assembly.

12:24.  “For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked.”

The “comely parts” portray those whose gifts bring them into the public eye.  They have no need of special care relative to the value of their gifts.  That value is generally known, and their concern should be that they be preserved from pride.

It is difficult to see just how God has given more abundant honor to those whose gifts would be generally despised, unless the reference is to the honor that will be given at the Bema to those who have served well even in obscurity, and when their gift was considered as being of little worth.

12:25.  “That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.”

Paul is declaring this truth so that there will be no strife or divisions in the assembly, and to encourage that mutual respect and care that will foster unity.  The divisions in the Corinthian assembly reveal how much the teaching was needed.  It is no less needed today amongst God’s people world wide.

12:26.  “And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.”

There is to be that mutual love for one another which will cause all to suffer when one member suffers, and that will cause all to rejoice when one is honored.  How little of that spirit is seen in the Church today!

12:27.  “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”

This declares the closeness of the relationship between Christ and believers.  No figure could more dramatically demonstrate the impossibility of a believer’s being separated from the Lord, for as a natural body would be marred by the removal of one member, so would Christ be marred could one believer be lost; but the impossibility of that is further declared by Paul, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword .... For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall abe able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ro 8:35-39).

12:28.  “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.”

Since it is God Who has appointed each his place in the local assembly, a believer’s dissatisfaction with his appointed place is nothing less than criticism of God’s wisdom, and the fact that it is He Who has appointed each his place ought to be the safeguard against either envy or disparagement of another’s gift or work.

The Apostles were used to lay the foundation of the Church, and with that work done they have passed from the scene.  They were for the early Apostolic age only.

The prophetic office was also only for the early Apostolic age, and with the completion of the canon of Scripture, they too passed from the scene, for it was to the prophets that God revealed miraculously what now constitutes our Bible, and since the Bible is the complete revelation of God Himself it is obvious that no further revelation is needed.  The teacher has taken the place of the prophet (see 2 Pe 2:1), though it must be emphasized that the teacher’s work is different from that of the prophet, it being his function, not to receive additional revelation, but rather, to explain what the prophets have written.

Miracle-workers and healers were also only for the early Apostolic age, there being, as Vine points out, no reference whatsoever to the use of the miraculous gifts beyond the end of a period of 12 years that began on the day of Pentecost, the same writer pointing out that in every recorded instance of the use of the miraculous gifts Jews were present, for it was to convince the Jews that those gifts were given, see e.g., 1 Co 14:21-22, and it must be remembered that in those early days God was still dealing with Israel and offering them the millennial kingdom.

Just exactly what was done by those gifted as helpers isn’t known, nor can we, because of the vague nature of the gift, easily determine whether it too was only for that early age.

“Governments” is a word related to guiding, steering or piloting a ship, and again the vagueness of the term makes it impossible to determine whether this gift is extant.  Attempts have been made to define it as administrators, organizers, managers, etc., but clearly this is based, not on etymology, but on the unscriptural order that has governed the professing church for so long that it has become accepted as scriptural.  That such meanings are wrong is obvious by the fact that Scripture is silent relative to any such persons in the Church, for not even the elders have been entrusted with such authority.  The Holy Spirit is the sole Administrator in the Church, nor has He delegated even to elders the right to assign or control the work of any believer.

In 13:8 it is specifically declared that tongues would cease, and again, what applies to the other miraculous gifts applies also to tongues and the interpretation of tongues.  There is no hint in Scripture of the use of these gifts beyond the first twelve years of the Church age.

12:29.  “Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?”

12:30.  “Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?”

The answer to all of these questions is No!  Each, instead of envying the gift given another, should be satisfied with his own God-given gift, and should seek to use it to the full for God’s glory, and the edification of the assembly.

12:31.  “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”

Since it seems that each believer is given his spiritual gift at the time of his conversion, we have to dismiss the idea of a believer’s desiring to have his gift changed, and understand this rather as being the command to pray that God will raise up in the assembly men to whom He has given “the best gifts.”

Since all the gifts are essential to the wellbeing of the church, the question may well be asked, What are the best gifts?  If the order of mention in Eph 4:11 is based on the worth of the gift, and since the Apostles and prophets were only for the early Apostolic age, then evangelism would seem to be the best, followed by that of shepherding, and then teaching.  It is to be remembered that without the work of the evangelist there would be not converts, and therefore no church, and therefore no need of elders and teachers.

The “more excellent way” is discussed in chapter 13.

[1 Corinthians 13]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough