GOD’S WORD FOR YOU
1 CORINTHIANS 12:28
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28 Now, God appointed some in the church to be, first of all, apostles, second prophets, third teachers. Then workers of miracles, healers, helpers, leaders, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.
Now Paul lists some of the parts of the body of Christ. These are members with specific spiritual gifts, but the list isn’t complete. We should notice that Paul picks out three gifts: apostles, prophets and teachers, and numbers them “first, second, third.” The last five fall under “then….” Paul’s message to the Corinthians, who seem to be hung up over speaking in tongues, is that speaking in tongues is nowhere near the most important gift to the church. We’re going to see later that speaking in tongues isn’t even a gift that edifies the church, or rarely does, but is a miraculous tool for the benefit of certain outsiders to the church.
By “apostles” we should think of the original Twelve, or of that group with Matthias who was called to replace Judas. These were the men who traveled with Jesus and were instructed by him personally. Prophets, men who received a special message from God and were commanded to deliver it, had a similar ministry but they were considerably limited because of the singularity of their prophecy. An example of such a prophet is Agabus who foresaw a famine during the time of Claudius (Acts 11:28). This same Agabus made a prophecy about Paul’s arrest by the Jews (Acts 21:10-11). Paul says that the church is built “on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20), meaning their teaching, not their titles or offices.
The teachers (and preachers, Ephesians 4:1) who come next are all of the men who proclaimed the gospel message of Jesus in accord with the words of the apostles and prophets. When there was an error in someone’s teaching or application, they were corrected, and their ministry continued. We see such things when Peter got off base in Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14) and when Apollos was not fully instructed (Acts 18:24-28).
The rest are mostly self-explanatory: miracle workers, healers and helpers are all tasks we understand, even if working miracles is not a gift we have been given or even seen since the early days of the New Testament. To be a helper is more than a minor gift; it’s one of David’s favorite titles for the Lord (Psalm 10:14; 27:9; 118:7). The Lord even uses “helper” as a title for himself (Hosea 13:9).
The word “leader” (cybernesis) is also a sailing term for a ship’s helmsman, the one who steers a ship and keeps it on course. In the church these are men who are organizers and other leaders. It is not easy to steer the ship of the church according to the will of God.
Finally, those who speak in tongues are brought up. This was a big question in Corinth. Does speaking in tongues show a special blessing or a special grace? Does God reserve this gift for especially blessed people? Who could understand someone who is speaking in tongues? Is it meant to benefit the church, or to be more of a neon sign: “There is a church here!”
This verse uncovers and exposes sins of arrogance and pride, and it reminds us that some Christians might feel small and worthless if the gifts they have are not the greater or more public gifts. But just as the ear should not say, “I don’t belong if I’m not an eye” (v. 16), so also a Christian should not say, “I don’t have any role to play if I’m not an apostle, of if I do not speak in tongues.”
We should also notice the word “some” at the beginning of the verse. Not everyone is given every gift. In fact, nobody has all the gifts. If I have one but not another, then I can rejoice that someone else has another and not my one. God gives us what we need.
But this verse also shows us the gospel, because God does not grant these gifts to anyone except those in the church; those who have faith and are saved from their sins. So while I am warned not to be overly proud of any gift I may have, I am also shown mercy if I have stepped over that line. What a good and gracious God we have!
Pastor Timothy Smith
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Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota
God’s Word for You – 1 Corinthians 12:28 Some to be apostles…