Verse 27: The solidarity and individuality of the members of the local assembly
Having detailed some of the features which mark the human body, the apostle now asserts emphatically that the Corinthian assembly was the body of Christ. It is not possible to indicate in English the absence of the article here by simply omitting it, but rather we have to use an expression such as, "Ye are body-like, and that as belonging to Christ".
We have already seen that there are marked differences between the church which is Christs body and the local church, despite the fact that the same name is given to both. When the apostle describes the local assembly at Corinth as body-like he means to compare them to the human body he has been using as his illustration from v.12 onwards. The Corinthians are to apply these lessons to their local situation. They should remember as they do this that as a local company they belong to Christ and He therefore has a deep and personal interest in them. There needs to be the cultivation of loyalty to ones own local assembly in response to that deep interest on the part of Christ. Assembly testimony is greatly weakened when this loyalty is absent.
However, an awareness of these truths with regard to the local assembly should not minimise the importance of each member, for we are "members in particular", each one being part of the whole, and recognised as such. So as far as representing and manifesting Christ in Corinth was concerned, the assembly at Corinth was the body: not all believers that lived in Corinth necessarily, but all in fellowship in the assembly in Corinth. So their solidarity as a body-like company did not negate their individuality as members thereof. How solemn is the responsibility to represent Christ in a locality during His absence. How circumspect we should be, not just when we are together but at all times.
Verses 28-30: The priority of the gifts of some members of the church which is Christs body
Having reached, in v.27, the climax of the teaching of the chapter, the apostle now prepares the way for the teaching of ch.14. He does this by showing that there is an order of importance in regard to gift. We must remember he is now going to speak of the church as the body of Christ, as in v.13. We have a responsibility to all believers. Zeal for the local assembly should never cause us to be insular - we are linked to all the members by the Spirit joining each to the Head, and by the common possession of eternal life. Our responsibility is best discharged, however, in the context of the local assembly, which is Gods means of setting forth the person of His Son in a locality. The Apostle John is clear that "we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments" (1 Jn 5.2). That is not Christian love which compromises the truth.
That there is an order of importance in regard to gift is seen in the use of the words "first", "secondarily", "thirdly", and also by the two expressions "after that", and "then" which indicate the same idea (v.28). Thus the list is divided into five sections as follows: apostles; prophets; teachers; miracles; then, in a group together, gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. This is highly significant and greatly helps the argument of the apostle as he prepares the way for the teaching of ch.14. He will contend there for the primacy of prophecy and teaching, and will show their superiority to the speaking in tongues. Very pointedly, then, he lists various gifts in order of importance, and puts teaching gifts first, and the speaking in tongues last. He begins with apostles to establish their authority, then continues with prophets and teachers, those given by Christ to His people that they might be taught. He then mentions miracles. This may seem strange, until we remember that the miracles of the Lord Jesus were support for what He taught. He appealed to His disciples to "Believe me or else believe me for the very works sake" (Jn 14.11). Here, however, miracles are distinguished from gifts of healings. This suggests that the miracles referred to here are works of power, such as the measures of judgment carried out by both Peter and Paul in Acts. What great fear came upon all when Ananias and his wife were struck dead (Acts 5.1-11), or when Elymas was rendered blind (Acts 13.8-12). These were dramatic events and served to show that the apostles had great power and authority. This, in turn, would support the doctrine they taught. It is no surprise to learn that after Elymas had been smitten with blindness Sergius Paulus the deputy, when he saw what was done, believed, being astonished, not at the miracle but at the doctrine of the Lord. The act of power drew attention to the doctrine preached, and emphasised the authority of the one who preached it.
So it was also with the healings, as will be seen by reference to Acts 3.11-12 with 4.14; 8.5-8; 9.32-35; 36-42. The result of these miracles was a taking note of the word preached by the miracle worker. It is clear, then, that the apostle is emphasising in v.28 the great importance of the Word of God. Even helps and governments are mentioned before speaking in tongues, for these two gifts also serve to further the interests of the Word of God.
When Pauls ship was in danger of breaking up, the mariners used a common device of the day to stop the timbers separating (Acts 27.17). They ran thick ropes round the ship, and then tightened them, so that the vessel was kept together. This is what is signified by the word "helps". There are those in the assembly that are especially gifted to keep things together, encouraging those who want to give up, and seeing to it that the assembly continues to function. They have an optimistic spirit, and are not swayed by the pessimistic faint-hearts around them. Then there are those with the gift of governments, able to keep the assembly going forward in a spiritual manner, so administering affairs in the assembly that the Word of God is honoured.
It is not until the apostle has mentioned these gifts that he brings in the gift of tongues. This is not to minimise the importance of tongues, especially in those early days. In fact, it was as a result of men speaking in tongues on the Day of Pentecost that the people gathered to hear Peter preach and 3,000 souls were saved. It does, however, put tongues in their proper perspective.
The apostle now asks a series of questions which admit of only one answer. Are all apostles? The answer is clearly in the negative and does not need to be stated. So for the other gifts mentioned. There are echoes here of his teaching about the diversity of gifts in the local assembly, and this prepares the way for the instruction to be given in ch.14, where the Corinthians love of speaking in tongues was tending to make everyone want the gift. Just as not everyone could be an apostle, so not everyone could speak with tongues; nor should they wish to.
There is a great need in our day for the accurate teaching of the Word of God. In Acts 2.42 we read of those things in which the early believers continued steadfastly. Perhaps if we had listed their activities we would have put the Breaking of Bread first. Not so, for of primary importance is the doctrine of the apostles, the basis of all Christian conduct. We shall not be able to Break Bread effectively if we are not well versed in doctrine. We need the systematic and in-depth teaching of the Word of God by those who are gifted to give it. Only so will the saints be built up on their most holy faith, and able to function in a manner which glorifies God.
Are there no young men who will respond to the need of the hour, and give themselves to the study of the Word so that their fellow-believers may be instructed and encouraged?
Verse 30: Charity to the members of the church which is Christs body
Now if vv.28-29 are a preparation for ch.14, then v.30 is a preparation for ch.13. It is important for an assembly to seek the Lords face in earnest prayer that He would supply them with believers with the better gift of teaching. Yet there is a still better way of functioning as an assembly, and this is the way which exercises these better gifts in an atmosphere of fervent charity. This charity is of such abiding, and indeed eternal, value that it will remain even when prophecies and tongues have ceased. Charity plus teaching gifts will build eternally abiding principles into the members of the assembly, so that all are edified, and Christ is manifested and glorified.