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6

Verse 6

6.Having gifts, etc. Paul speaks not now simply of cherishing among ourselves brotherly love, but commends humility, which is the best moderator of our whole life. Every one desires to have so much himself, so as not to need any help from others; but the bond of mutual communication is this, that no one has sufficient for himself, but is constrained to borrow from others. I admit, then that the society of the godly cannot exist, except when each one is content with his own measure, and imparts to others the gifts which he has received, and allows himself by turns to be assisted by the gifts of others.

But Paul especially intended to beat down the pride which he knew to be innate in men; and that no one might be dissatisfied that all things have not been bestowed on him, he reminds us that according to the wise counsel of God every one has his own portion given to him; for it is necessary to the common benefit of the body that no one should be furnished with fullness of gifts, lest he should heedlessly despise his brethren. Here then we have the main design which the Apostle had in view, that all things do not meet in all, but that the gifts of God are so distributed that each has a limited portion, and that each ought to be so attentive in imparting his own gifts to the edification of the Church, that no one, by leaving his own function, may trespass on that of another. By this most beautiful order, and as it were symmetry, is the safety of the Church indeed preserved; that is, when every one imparts to all in common what he has received from the Lord, in such a way as not to impede others. He who inverts this order fights with God, by whose ordinance it is appointed; for the difference of gifts proceeds not from the will of man, but because it has pleased the Lord to distribute his grace in this manner.

Whether prophecy, etc. By now bringing forward some examples, he shows how every one in his place, or as it were in occupying his station, ought to be engaged. For all gifts have their own defined limits, and to depart from them is to mar the gifts themselves. But the passage appears somewhat confused; we may yet arrange it in this manner, “Let him who has prophecy, test it by the analogy of faith; let him in the ministry discharge it in teaching,” (386) etc. They who will keep this end in view, will rightly preserve themselves within their own limits.

But this passage is variously understood. There are those who consider that by prophecy is meant the gift of predicting, which prevailed at the commencement of the gospel in the Church; as the Lord then designed in every way to commend the dignity and excellency of his Church; and they think that what is added, according to the analogy of faith, is to be applied to all the clauses. But I prefer to follow those who extend this word wider, even to the peculiar gift of revelation, by which any one skillfully and wisely performed the office of an interpreter in explaining the will of God. Hence prophecy at this day in the Christian Church is hardly anything else than the right understanding of the Scripture, and the peculiar faculty of explaining it, inasmuch as all the ancient prophecies and all the oracles of God have been completed in Christ and in his gospel. For in this sense it is taken by Paul when he says,

“I wish that you spoke in tongues, but rather that ye prophesy,”
(
1 Corinthians 14:5;)

“In part we know and in part we prophesy,”
(
1 Corinthians 13:9.)

And it does not appear that Paul intended here to mention those miraculous graces by which Christ at first rendered illustrious his gospel; but, on the contrary, we find that he refers only to ordinary gifts, such as were to continue perpetually in the Church. (387)

Nor does it seem to me a solid objection, that the Apostle to no purpose laid this injunction on those who, having the Spirit of God, could not call Christ an anathema; for he testifies in another place that the spirit of the Prophets is subject to the Prophets; and he bids the first speaker to be silent, if anything were revealed to him who was sitting down, (1 Corinthians 14:32;) and it was for the same reason it may be that he gave this admonition to those who prophesied in the Church, that is, that they were to conform their prophecies to the rule of faith, lest in anything they should deviate from the right line. Byfaith he means the first principles of religion, and whatever doctrine is not found to correspond with these is here condemned as false. (388)

As to the other clauses there is less difficulty. Let him who is ordained a minister, he says, execute his office in ministering; nor let him think, that he has been admitted into that degree for himself, but for others; as though he had said, “Let him fulfill his office by ministering faithfully, that he may answer to his name.” So also he immediately adds with regard to teachers; for by the word teaching, he recommends sound edification, according to this import, — “Let him who excels in teaching know that the end is, that the Church may be really instructed; and let him study this one thing, that he may render the Church more informed by his teaching:” for a teacher is he who forms and builds the Church by the word of truth. Let him also who excels in the gift of exhorting, have this in view, to render his exhortation effectual.

But these offices have much affinity and even connection; not however that they were not different. No one indeed could exhort, except by doctrine: yet he who teaches is not therefore endued with the qualification to exhort. But no one prophesies or teaches or exhorts, without at the same time ministering. But it is enough if we preserve that distinction which we find to be in God’s gifts, and which we know to be adapted to produce order in the Church. (389)

That is was a distinct function from that of apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, is evident from Ephesians 4:11; and from the interpretation of tongues, as it appears from 1 Corinthians 12:10; and from revelation, knowledge, and doctrine, as we find from 1 Corinthians 14:6. It also appears that it was more useful than other extraordinary gifts, as it tended more to promote edification and comfort, 1 Corinthians 14:1. It is hence most probable that it was the gift already stated, that of interpreting the Scriptures, especially the prophecies of the Old Testament, and applying them for the edification of the Church. “Prophets” are put next to “apostles” in Ephesians 4:11. — Ed.

But what are we to think of those mentioned in the following clauses? [Stuart ] thinks that they were not public officers, but private individuals, and he has sustained this opinion by some very cogent reasons. The form of the sentence is here changed; and the Apostle, having mentioned the deaconship, cannot be supposed to have referred to the same again. The word that seems to stand in the way of this view is what is commonly rendered “ruler,” or, “he who rules:” but ὁ προϊστάμενος, as our author shows, means a helper, an assistant, (see Romans 16:2,) as well as a ruler; it means to stand over, either for the purpose of taking care of, assisting, protecting others, or of presiding over, ruling, guiding them. Then ἐν σπουδὣ, with promptness or diligence, will better agree with the former than with the latter idea. The other two clauses correspond also more with this view than with the other. It has been said, that if a distributor of alms had been intended, the word would have been διαδιδοὺς and not μεταδιδοὺς. See Ephesians 4:28. The expression ἁπλότητι, means “with liberality, or liberally.” See 2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 9:11; James 1:5. — Ed.

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