The apostle Paul, in the 12th chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians, directs their exercise of spiritual gifts which they had asked him about (among other things and emergencies). Here are the fixed words with which he prefaces his whole discourse: Verse 1, “Now, concerning spiritual gifts,” — pneumatika, or charismata as his ensuing declaration shows. The imagination of some, that spiritual persons are meant here — contrary to the sense understood by all the ancients — is inconsistent with the context.
Because the church had consulted with Paul about spiritual gifts and their exercise, the whole series of his ensuing discourse is directed toward this. Therefore, at its close, he summarizes the design of the whole as he advises, “Covet earnestly the best gifts,” — namely, among those which he proposed to address, and had done so accordingly, verse 31. The ta pneumatika of verse 1 are the the charismata of verse 31; as it is expressed in 1 Cor 14.1, “‘Desire spiritual gifts,’ whose nature and use you are now instructed in, as first proposed.” That church had received an abundant measure of these gifts, especially those that were extraordinary, and tended to convict unbelievers. For the Lord having “many people in that city,” whom he intended to call to the faith, Acts 18:9-10 encouraged our apostle, against all fears and dangers, to begin and carry on the work of preaching there; he continued in this “a year and six months,” verse 11. But the Lord also furnished the first converts with such eminent, and for some of them, such miraculous gifts, that they might be a prevalent means to the conversion of many others. For the Lord will never fail to provide instruments and suitable means to effectively attain any end that he aims at. In the use, exercise, and management of these “spiritual gifts,” that church (or a number of its principal members) had fallen into multiple disorders. They had abused their gifts, using them for their own aspirations and ambition. And from these, other evils ensued — just as the best of God’s gifts may be abused by the lusts of men, and the purest water may be tainted by the earthen vessel into which it is poured. Upon receiving this information, some who loved truth, peace, and order, were troubled at these miscarriages. In answer to a letter from the whole church, written to Paul about these and other occurrences,he gave them counsel and advice to rectify these abuses. First, he advised them to rightly prepare themselves with humility and thankfulness, which becomes those who were entrusted with such excellent privileges as they had abused (and without which they could not receive the instruction which he intended for them). To do that, he reminded them of their former state and condition before their calling and conversion to Christ. “You know that you were Gentiles, carried away with dumb idols, even as you were led.”
With violent impressions from the devil, they were hurried into the service of idols. Paul does not mention this to reproach them, but to let them know what frame of mind, and what fruit of life, might be justly expected of those who received such an alteration in their condition. Particularly (as he tells them elsewhere), if they did not make themselves different from others, and if they only had what they received from another, then they could not boast or exalt themselves above others, as though they had not received it. For it is a vain thing for a man to boast in himself of what he freely received from another, and never deserved to receive, just as it is with all those who have received either gifts or grace from God.
He further declares to them this alteration of their state and condition by their effects and author:
“For this reason I give you to understand that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed; and no man can say that Jesus is the Lord except by the Holy Ghost.”
The great argument that was then in the world, concerned Jesus, who was preached to them all. Unbelievers, who were still carried by an impetus of their mind and by their affections for “dumb idols,” were led and moved by the spirit of the devil to blaspheme. They said Jesus was anathema, or “one accursed.” They looked at him as a person to be detested and abominated as the common odium of their gods and men. Hence, at his mention they used to say, “Jesus anathema.” He is, or let him be, “accursed, detested, destroyed.” And the Jews continue in this blasphemy to this day, hiding their cursed sentiments under a corrupt pronunciation of his name. For instead of Yeshua, they write and call him Yeshu (ysv), the initial letters of yimmach shemo vezikhro — that is, “Let his name and memory be blotted out;” the same as “Jesus anathema.” And this blasphemy of pronouncing Jesus accursed was what the first persecutors of the church tested the faith of Christians with, as Pliny said in his epistle to Trajan; Justin Martyr with other apologists agree. As the apostle says, those who did this did not do it “by the Spirit of God;” and so he means they did it by the action and instigation of the devil, the unclean spirit, which ruled in those children of disobedience. And this was the condition of those Corinthians themselves to whom he wrote when they were carried away with “dumb idols.”
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