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1 Corinthians 12:31

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

But covet earnestly - To covet signifies to desire earnestly. This disposition towards heavenly things is highly laudable; towards earthly things, is deeply criminal. A man may possess the best of all these gifts, and yet be deficient in what is essentially necessary to his salvation, for he may be without that love or charity which the apostle here calls the more excellent way, and which he proceeds in the next chapter to describe.

Some think that this verse should be read affirmatively, Ye earnestly contend about the best gifts; but I show unto you a more excellent way; i.e. get your hearts filled with love to God and man - love, which is the principle of obedience, which works no ill to its neighbor, and which is the fulfilling of the law. This is a likely reading, for there were certainly more contentions in the Church of Corinth about the gifts than about the graces of the Spirit.

  1. After all that has been said on the different offices mentioned by the apostle in the preceding chapter, there are some of them which perhaps are not understood. I confess I scarcely know what to make of those which we translate helps and governments. Bishop Pearce, who could neither see Church government nor state government in these words, expresses himself thus: "These two words, after all that the commentators say about them, I do not understand; and in no other part of the New Testament is either of them, in any sense, mentioned as the gift of the Spirit; especially it is observable that in 1 Corinthians 12:29, 1 Corinthians 12:30, where the gifts of the Spirit are again enumerated, no notice is taken of any thing like them, while all the other several parts are exactly enumerated. Perhaps these words were put in the margin to explain δυναμεις, miracles or powers; some taking the meaning to be helps, assistances, as in 2 Corinthians 12:9; others to be κυβερνησεις, governments, as in Romans 8:38; and from being marginal explanations, they might have been at last incorporated with the text." It must, however, be acknowledged that the omission of these words is not countenanced by any MS. or version. One thing we may fully know, that there are some men who are peculiarly qualified for governing by either providence or grace; and that there are others who can neither govern nor direct, but are good helpers. These characters I have often seen in different places in the Church of God.
  • In three several places in this chapter the apostle sums up the gifts of the Spirit. Dr. Lightfoot thinks they answer to each other in the following order, which the reader will take on his authority.
  • Verses 8, 9, and 10

    1 Corinthians 12:8.

    Is given

    The word of Wisdom;

    The word of Knowledge.

    1 Corinthians 12:9.

    Faith;

    Gifts of Healing.

    1 Corinthians 12:10.

    Working of Miracles;

    Prophecy;

    Discerning of Spirits;

    Divers kinds of Tongues;

    Interpretation of Tongues.

    Verse 28

    1 Corinthians 12:28.

    God hath set some

    First, Apostles;

    Secondly, Prophets;

    Thirdly, Teachers;

    After that, Miracles;

    The Gifts of Healings;

    Helps;

    Governments;

    Divers kinds of Tongues.

    Verses 29, and 30

    1 Corinthians 12:29.

    Are all Apostles;

    Prophets;

    Teachers;

    Miracles;

    1 Corinthians 12:30.

    Gifts of Healing.

    Speak with Tongues;

    Interpret.

      If the reader think that this is the best way of explaining these different gifts and offices, he will adopt it; and he will in that case consider,

  • That the word or doctrine of wisdom comes from the apostles.
  • The doctrine of knowledge, from the prophets.
  • Faith, by means of the teachers.
  • That working of miracles includes the gifts of healing.
  • That to prophecy, signifying preaching, which it frequently does, helps is a parallel.
  • That discernment of spirits is the same with governments, which Dr. Lightfoot supposes to imply a deeply comprehensive, wise, and prudent mind.
  • As to the gift of tongues, there is no variation in either of the three places.
  • It is strange that in this enumeration only three distinct officers in the Church should be mentioned; viz. apostles, prophets, and teachers. We do not know that miracles, gifts of healing, helps, governments, and diversity of tongues, were exclusive offices; for it is probable that apostles, prophets, and teachers wrought miracles occasionally, and spoke with divers tongues. However, in all this enumeration, where the apostle gives us all the officers and gifts necessary for the constitution of a Church, we find not one word of bishops, presbyters, or deacons; much less of the various officers and offices which the Christian Church at present exhibits. Perhaps the bishops are included under the apostles, the presbyters under the prophets, and the deacons under the teachers. As to the other ecclesiastical officers with which the Romish Church teems, they may seek them who are determined to find them, any where out of the New Testament.
  • Mr. Quesnel observes on these passages that there are three sorts of gifts necessary to the forming Christ's mystical body.
  • Gifts of power, for the working of miracles, in reference to the Father.
  • Gifts of labor and ministry, for the exercise of government and other offices, with respect to the Son.
  • Gifts of knowledge, for the instruction of the people, with relation to the Holy Ghost.
  • The Father is the principle and end of all created power; let us then ultimately refer all things to him.

    The Son is the Institutor and Head of all the hierarchical ministries; let us depend upon him.

    The Holy Ghost is the fountain and fullness of all spiritual graces; let us desire and use them only in and by him.

    There is nothing good, nothing profitable to salvation, unless it be done in the power of God communicated by Christ Jesus, and in that holiness of heart which is produced by his Spirit. Pastors are only the instruments of God, the depositaries of the authority of Christ, and the channels by whom the love and graces of the Spirit are conveyed. Let these act as receiving all from God by Christ, through the Holy Ghost; and let the Church receive them as the ambassadors of the Almighty.

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    Contempt, hatred, envy, and strife, are very unnatural in Christians. It is like the members of the same body being without concern for one another, or quarrelling with each other. The proud, contentious spirit that prevailed, as to spiritual gifts, was thus condemned. The offices and gifts, or favours, dispensed by the Holy Spirit, are noticed. Chief ministers; persons enabled to interpret Scripture; those who laboured in word and doctrine; those who had power to heal diseases; such as helped the sick and weak; such as disposed of the money given in charity by the church, and managed the affairs of the church; and such as could speak divers languages. What holds the last and lowest rank in this list, is the power to speak languages; how vain, if a man does so merely to amuse or to exalt himself! See the distribution of these gifts, not to every one alike, ver. 29,30. This were to make the church all one, as if the body were all ear, or all eye. The Spirit distributes to every one as he will. We must be content though we are lower and less than others. We must not despise others, if we have greater gifts. How blessed the Christian church, if all the members did their duty! Instead of coveting the highest stations, or the most splendid gifts, let us leave the appointment of his instruments to God, and those in whom he works by his providence. Remember, those will not be approved hereafter who seek the chief places, but those who are most faithful to the trust placed in them, and most diligent in their Master's work.
    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible

    But covet earnestly - Greek “Be zealous for” Ζηλοῦτε ZēlouteThis word, however, may be either in the indicative mood (ye do covet earnestly), or in the imperative, as in our translation. Doddridge contends that it should be rendered in the indicative mood, for he says it seems to be a contradiction that after the apostle had been showing that these gifts were not at their own option, and that they ought not to emulate the gifts of another, or aspire to superiority, to undo all again, and give them such contrary advice. The same view is given by Locke, and so Macknight. The Syriac renders it, “Because you are zealous of the best gifts, I will show to you a more excellent way.” But there is no valid objection to the common translation in the imperative, and indeed the connection seems to demand it. Grotius renders it, “Pray to God that you may receive from him the best, that is, the most useful endowments.”

    The sense seems to be this, “I have proved that all endowments in the church are produced by the Holy Spirit; and that he confers them as he pleases. I have been showing that no one should be proud or elated on account of extraordinary endowments; and that, on the other hand, no one should he depressed, or sad, or discontented, because he has a more humble rank. I have been endeavoring to repress and subdue the spirit of discontent, jealousy, and ambition; and to produce a willingness in all to occupy the station where God has placed you. But, I do not intend to deny that it is proper to desire the most useful endowments; that a man should wish to be brought under the influence of the Spirit, and qualified for eminent usefulness. I do not mean to say that it is wrong for a man to regard the higher gifts of the Spirit as valuable and desirable, if they may be obtained; nor that the spirit which seeks to excel in spiritual endowments and in usefulness, is improper.

    Yet all cannot be apostles; all cannot be prophets. I would not have you, therefore, seek such offices, and manifest a spirit of ambition. I would seek to regulate the desire which I would not repress as improper; and in order to that, I would show you that, instead of aspiring to offices and extraordinary endowments which are beyond your grasp, there is a way, more truly valuable, that is open to you all, and where all may excel.” Paul thus endeavors to give a practicable and feasible turn to the whole subject, and further to repress the longings of ambition and the contentions of strife, by exciting emulation to obtain that which was accessible to them all, and “which, just in the proportion in which it was obtained,” would repress discontent, and strife, and ambition, and produce order, and peace, and contentedness with their endowments and their lot, the main thing which he was desirous of producing in this chapter. This, therefore, is one of the “happy turns” in which the writings of Paul abounds. He did not denounce their zeal as wicked. He did not attempt at once to repress it. He did not say that it was wrong to desire high endowments. But he showed them an endowment which was more valuable than all the others; which was accessible to all; and which, if possessed, would make them contented, and produce the harmonious operation of all the parts of the church. That endowment was love.

    A more excellent way - See the next chapter. “I will show you a more excellent way of evincing your “zeal” than by aspiring to the place of apostles, prophets, or rulers, and that is by cultivating universal charity or love.”

    Ellen G. White
    Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 2, 786.2

    Talents in trust are a sacred responsibility. No man need to covet talents unless through earnest prayer for that wisdom from above—which will ensure the right appropriation of all his God-given capabilities—he decides to honor and glorify God with the talents which are granted. To receive and to believe the sacred light God has given, and to impart to those who are in darkness of error, is a wonderful matter; for if it is unselfishly and interestedly imparted to help and bless and save perishing souls, it realizes to the faithful worker heavenly treasures which make him more than a millionaire in heaven. He is heir of God, joint heir with Jesus Christ, to a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.—Manuscript 63, 1900. 2MCP 786.2

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