Verse 31. "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 neighbour, 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 ver. 29, 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 dunameiv, miracles or powers; some taking the meaning to be helps, assistances, as in 2 Cor. xii. 9; others to be kubernhseiv, governments, as in Rom. viii. 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.
2. 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.
Is given The word of Wisdom; The word of Knowledge.
Faith; Gifts of Healing.
Working of Miracles; Prophecy; Discerning of Spirits; Divers kinds of Tongues; Interpretation of Tongues.
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.
Are all Apostles; Prophets; Teachers; Miracles; Ver. 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, 1. That the word or doctrine of wisdom comes from the apostles. 2. The doctrine of knowledge, from the prophets. 3. Faith, by means of the teachers. 4. That working of miracles includes the gifts of healing. 5. That to prophecy, signifying preaching, which it frequently does, helps is a parallel. 6. That discernment of spirits is the same with governments, which Dr. Lightfoot supposes to imply a deeply comprehensive, wise, and prudent mind. 7. As to the gift of tongues, there is no variation in either of the three places.
3. 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.
4. 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. 2. Gifts of labour and ministry, for the exercise of government and other offices, with respect to the Son. 3. 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.