Expositions on Spiritual Endowments
Rooted and Grounded in Love
THE transcendent nature of the present outflow of God’s favor corresponds with the exaltation of Christ among the celestials. Because He is “up above all the heavens” (Eph. 4:10). We are raised to the heights supreme. It is not, indeed, as the English may suggest, that He is located in space at a point outside of and beyond the universe, for that is a palpable absurdity. As to space, the universe is made up of the earth and the heavens. The more accurate Greek makes it of the heavens, for He is the highest of the celestial hosts, not as to space, but as to dignity and glory. There can be no higher exaltation. He completes the universe (Eph. 4:l0).
He Who descended into the lower parts of the earth has now ascended to the highest heavens. Just as the celestial aspect of the mystery of Christ is the basis of the secret economy, so now also, the completeness of Christ’s sweep of all creation is the basis of our maturity. A complete revelation raises us to the plane of adults. Being associated with Christ in His headship of the whole universe the believers now have attained their majority.
The inauguration of the present administration of God’s grace brought many changes with it. This called for an adjusting of the saints, in the language of inspiration (Eph. 4:12). It is figuratively presented as the change from minority to manhood (Eph. 4:13; 1 Cor. 13:10). The new celestial destiny severed the saints from earthly, physical blessing, which they had enjoyed as guests of Israel’s covenants. The new status of the nations demanded that their spiritual growth be completed, so that they may truly be the complements of Christ among the celestials.
The spiritual manifestations of so-called “gifts” give us a graphic illustration of the changes involved. The twelfth chapter of first Corinthians shows what the nations had before the mystery was revealed. The fourth of Ephesians tells us what gifts are ours today. There are great changes. Most of the early gifts were dropped in this adjustment. They are no longer needed. Two new ones were added. Three are carried over. Of the gifts which enter this administration, apostles, prophets, and teachers were known before. They link us with the past. Evangelists and pastors are unique, for they had not been classed as gifts before.
The accompanying lists of the spiritual endowments given in Paul’s ministry will help us to compare and study these “gifts.” First, we have the nine gifts which were temporary expedients during the transitional era between the Pentecostal administration and the present. These are individual manifestations of the spirit. Next, we have eight corporate endowments, connected with membership in the body of Christ. These are arranged in the order of their rank. Note particularly that the first three—apostles, prophets, and teachers—are found again in Ephesians. Then we have a special list of those which were to be discarded by the incoming of maturity. The last column gives us the facts in Ephesians. First, we have the list of those given for adjusting the saints. Finally, we find that two of these are confined to the foundation. This leaves three spiritual endowments today—evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
It is worth every effort needed to clear up the relation between the gifts in first Corinthians and Ephesians. Two extreme and opposing positions are based on untenable views of this relation. A large number of zealous believers claim that all of the gifts may still be appropriated by faith and that many are in exercise today. As in Corinth, they emphasize the gift of “tongues.” Healing is also pressed. On the other hand, some cut off Corinthians entirely, claiming that we have absolutely no connection with them. We are told that the dispensation of the mystery is unique, and is neither a blend nor a development of Corinthians, but a newly created thing, far above all. In contrast with both of these positions, the Scriptures, both in Corinthians and Ephesians, illustrate the relation between the two by the figures of minority and maturity. This is the key to the subject.
This figure avoids both extremes. It is in harmony with the fact that some of the gifts were present in the past which are ours today. It agrees with the setting aside of the lesser gifts and the retention of the greater. It accords with the character of the gifts which have been retained and those which have been repudiated. Paul and others were apostles and teachers in Corinthians and remained such in Ephesians. They were not reappointed, as though their previous services were not recognized. The figure of a new creation is not in point here. A man is not recreated when he reaches maturity. Some things remain as they were. Others are dropped because they are suited only to minority.
The believers among the nations had been enjoying some things, as the guests of Israel’s promise covenants, which find no appropriate place among the spiritual, celestial blessings which characterize the present grace. Perhaps if such a change should be brought about in these days we would call it a reorganization. If a great business should change the sphere of its operations and the character of its products, some of its machinery would become useless and be discarded. Its system of doing business would be revised to suit the new conditions. So it was when this charter of our faith was first given. Some things were entirely dropped, others merely modified. Physical benefits vanished. Earthly disabilities disappeared. In Paul’s preparatory epistles, the believers are seen in the period of adolescence. They verge upon manhood. Some of the gifts given to them at that time were the relics of childhood. Others were intended to develop them into manhood. The youth learns to talk and to care for his physical frame. These are represented by the gifts of healing and “tongues.” The principal task of adolescence is the schooling and training for the duties of life. It is concerned with self-development, not with the care of others or the duties of maturity.
GIFTS FOR EXPEDIENCE
The manifestations of the spirit, given to the Corinthians, were expedients (1 Cor. 12:7). Let us not miss this inspired characterization, which assures us that they were not ideal, permanent endowments, but only temporary measures to fill a lack which has since been supplied. “Now to each one is being given the manifestation of the spirit, with a view to expedience.” The Authorized Version rendering, “profit” is misleading, though of course, it is not untrue. Expedients are resorted to because they are profitable or helpful for a time. This word, sumpherO, they translate profit seven times, and seven times expedient. Another word, oninemi, means profit. The loss of an eye or a hand can hardly be called profitable, though it may be expedient (Matt. 5:29,30). It was expedient for the Lord to go away (John 16:7). Absence is not His permanent condition. All is allowed us, but not all is expedient (1 Cor. 6 32). In every occurrence, there is but a transient advantage gained by expedience.
This is confirmed by the fact that none of these endowments are reaffirmed in Ephesians. They are suited to the times of transition which introduced the present grace. It is put beyond all question by the further fact that all three of the gifts which are definitely discarded are found in this list of expedient spiritual endowments (1 Cor. 12:7-10). These are prophecy, languages, and knowledge (13:8). They were necessary at that time, but such expedients are no longer needed since the present administration has been fully established. Instead of giving a few individuals supernatural fragments of information, God has completed the whole circle of knowledge in His latest revelation. This is open to all. Now each believer has access to all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, in Christ.
The more we know of the transitional era which accompanied Paul’s early ministries, the more we see the necessity of temporary spiritual manifestations to tide the believers over into the present grace. Although we now have a record of this period in Paul’s earlier epistles, as well as the full revelation which closed it, how few of the believers are really clear about it! Since early times the church has found this period prolific in confusion, for few understood that it was not a permanent part of the present. If this is so, how difficult must it have been for those who lived in those changing times to keep in step with God’s operations! There was no finally formulated system of truth, as we now have it in Ephesians. God was still occupied with Israel. If we lived in an era in which God was winding up one system of truth while He was unfolding another, there would be more excuses for confusion than there is. They needed temporary help to tide them over the time of transition.
The expedients are of two different kinds. Some linked them on to the kingdom and the powers of the coming eon. These were powerful deeds, healing, languages, and translation. These will find their fullest fulfillment in the millennium. Humanly speaking, if Israel had not rejected the Messiah in Acts, these gifts would have flourished more and more, yet they would be exercised only in subordination to Israel. They could not continue when Israel was set aside. The other gifts linked them to the approaching change, when Israel should be rejected. Without knowing what was in store for them, they would naturally fall into folly and ignorance. Hence some were specially endowed with knowledge and wisdom. Their faith would fail, as did that of so many in Israel, as the kingdom receded. There was need of the gift of prophecy, to receive direct word from God. Spirits must be discriminated, lest they be led contrary to God’s intention. All of these gifts are displayed in Paul’s epistles to them. All of the other group were found exemplified in the narrative of Acts, which begins with a special exhibition of “tongues” and ends with a notable example of healing (28:8).
But do we not need all of these things today? As our blessings are spiritual, among the celestials, we cannot claim the physical endowments of the coming eon. Instead of healing we are given grace for our infirmities. Instead of power we are promised weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). Languages are directly denied to an era of maturity (1 Cor. 13:8). Wisdom and knowledge, faith, and prophecy, and the discrimination of spirits may be greatly needed today, but they are no longer individual gifts. All the wisdom and knowledge we need is found in the secret now revealed. That is God’s final word to us. No gift of prophecy is needed (1 Cor. 13:8). And by this completed revelation we may test all spirits. The dispensation in which we now live abrogates all of the spiritual manifestations which the apostle so carefully labeled expedients.
We are not aware that this point has been pressed before. Hence we wish to urge it upon all who believe God. Many lines of reasoning may be developed to show that these gifts are no longer with us, but none should appeal to the man of God as the word here used by the holy Spirit. Before we are even told that these gifts existed, their temporary character is asserted. This will be enough for everyone who wishes to believe God. We do not doubt that there are spiritual manifestations today which seem to correspond to the lesser gifts. Such there were even in those days. A special gift was needed to discriminate the spirits. If this endowment existed today it would unhesitatingly class all of these as the work of deceiving spirits. It is an effort to engross the believers with the things of minority in order to keep them from attaining majority, which is the primary object of the real gifts we have today.
Let us note carefully the opposite effect, the direct contrast, between the modern “gifts”— healing and tongues — and those given us by God. The former drag us back to childhood; the latter bring us to manhood. Pastors, evangelists, and teachers are given “toward the adjusting of the saints for the work of dispensing, for the upbuilding of the body of Christ, unto the end that we should all attain to the unity of the faith and of the realization of the son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature of Christ’s complement, that we may by no means still be minors, surging hither and thither and being carried about by every wind of teaching . . .” (Eph. 4:12-14). Languages are listed by God as the least of all the gifts of minority. True pastors, evangelists, and teachers lead in the contrary direction, toward maturity. That is their special function if they are faithful.
There are many methods of testing God’s servants today which are without warrant in the Word. Success sometimes signifies failure in God’s sight. Here, however, we have God’s standard. Here He tells us what He expects. The test we should apply is found in this passage. Do they dispense that which edifies the body of Christ, so that all have one faith and realize their sonship and maturity in Christ? Alas! The very idea of maturity is unknown to many and their ministry is more calculated to make infants out of full-grown believers than to make mature saints out of minors. Let us note that the prime object of the gifts we now possess is to lead the saints beyond the lesser gifts which characterized minority. We are mature in Christ! Let us not relapse into infancy!
The eight spiritual endowments placed in the ecclesia by God are not introduced as expedients, hence we find that three of them enter the present administration. The notable point is that these three are expressly put at the head of the list and numbered, lest they should be misplaced. “First, apostles, second, prophets, third, teachers, thereupon . . .” (1 Cor. 12:28). Furthermore, the other gifts are discounted by the exhortation, “Be zealous for the greater graces.” This is followed by a statement which practically repudiates the lesser gifts. In confirmation of this, we read that the last and least—languages—is to cease (1 Cor. 13:8). The five unnumbered gifts, powers, healing, supports, pilotage, and languages, are not suited to the present era of transcendence (1 Cor. 12:31).
ABROGATED BY MATURITY
Prophecies, languages, and knowledge are the gifts which are expressly discarded in the thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians. All three are found in the first series which are expedient, and one—languages—is also the last of the second group, which is arranged according to rank. The gift of “tongues,” therefore, is the least of all the gifts. But the path of transcendence which we now tread does not merely discard the signs of the coming eon, as languages and powers and healing, but also abrogates prophecies and the gift of knowledge. The reason given is that these were but installments and, in the impending era (in which we now dwell), such fragmentary revelations will be unnecessary because God will have given a full-orbed prophecy embracing all knowledge. Such we have in this Ephesian epistle.
The fact that the gift of prophecy has been abrogated is evident from the many modern attempts to supplement God’s revelation. All who have sought to add to God’s Word have only manifested their ignorance of what He has already revealed. I would advise those who imagine that they have a direct message from God to get a grasp of the Ephesian letter. They will find His Word final and complete. It is sufficient for every present need. The gift of prophecy, or the power to speak as the mouthpiece of God, has been abrogated. The only prophets in this economy are in the foundation, and all that they might reveal is already spread out before us in the epistles of Paul, the greatest prophet of them all.
A distinction should be maintained between the gift of prophecy, as one of the spirit’s manifestations, which was given for individual exercise in the ecclesia, and the office of prophet, as given to the ecclesia to complete the Word of God. Paul was the great apostle and prophet through whom the truth was given in permanent form and incorporated in the Scriptures. The fragmentary prophecies were temporary expedients, but the gift of prophecy remains with us, in spiritual form, in the sacred scrolls. The prophet is found in the foundation. His prophecies, unlike those earlier manifestations of which we have no record, are written for all to read.
In the Corinthian letter, we notice that some gifts are discounted, though not forbidden. The gift of languages, or “tongues, ” together with interpretation is last on the lists, and is discouraged. The apostle declares he would rather speak five words with his mind, to instruct others, than ten thousand in a language which they could not understand (1 Cor. 14:19). He gives notice that it is only a temporary endowment, for it would cease (1 Cor. 13:8). It is not included in the latest list, given in Ephesians (Eph. 4:1). It is beyond question that the “gift of tongues” is the least adapted to maturity.
The testimony of the Scriptures is sufficient, and I am not adding what follows to confirm it. It may, however, be helpful to those who do not clearly see that this gift has ceased, and who appeal to its presence as a fact. I have lived for about a score of years at the very center of the tongues movement and have had ample opportunity to hear it exercised. I have listened most carefully, each time I have heard, in order to determine if the utterance had the characteristics of language. It never has. There is usually a tell-tale repetition of sounds, such as one who is imitating a foreign tongue would use, after a slight acquaintance with it. No one who has a knowledge of a variety of languages has any reason to suppose that the “gift of tongues” today is a real language at all.
We do not need to turn to Ephesians to prove that most of the gifts were temporary and unsuited to the present economy. That is the burden of first Corinthians. Not only does the thirteenth chapter definitely name some which were to be abrogated, or cease, but the twelfth chapter, in which they are cataloged, just as definitely labels them as expedients, or turns us from some of them to a path suited to transcendence (1 Cor. 12:31). Is it not remarkable that these two warnings, one before and one immediately following the lists of the gifts, should have been so insistently ignored or obliterated by mistranslation and misinterpretation, that the object of God’s spiritual endowments has been actually reversed? Almost everywhere the believers are enticed back to babyhood instead of being built up into Christ.
It is commonly supposed that the thirteenth of first Corinthians contrasts our present experience with our future glory in resurrection. Now we are supposed to see in a glass darkly, but then face to face (1 Cor. 13:12). Then we shall know as we are known. This popular and erroneous interpretation has practically robbed us of the true teaching of the chapter. The apostle is not comparing our experience in this life with that in the next. He is comparing the dispensation before it with that of the present. That was minority. This is maturity. Then matters were dimly seen which now are clear and plain. Now knowledge is not being doled out in installments. We have a full revelation since the mystery has been revealed.
The fourth of Ephesians gives us the gifts for the present. The mere fact that most of the endowments listed in Corinthians are not repeated here does not prove that they are abrogated. That would not be sufficient ground for discarding them. We must intelligently consider what is said about them in Corinthians. We must recognize the fact that the time of maturity has come. Then we will see why it is that the lesser gifts cannot enter this era of transcendence. Then we will exult in their disappearance. We will thankfully take our place as mature men, and refuse even the appearance of immaturity.
APOSTLES AND PROPHETS
Of the five gifts which belong to this administration, three have continued and two are in the foundation. Apostles and prophets were imperative needs for its inauguration. God’s mind must be made known by His spokesmen, and it must be accompanied with all the authority of God’s commissioner. Since Paul, the greatest of all the prophets and apostles of this economy, has made a permanent record of the new revelation in his epistles, these have served the purpose of prophets and apostles. They remain with us, in spirit, in these writings. The evidence for their absence among us is not merely the lack of accredited men, but the statement that these gifts are confined to the foundation (Eph. 2 20). A prophet who could not add to Paul’s epistles would be useless. All who have tried it have proven to be false.
EVANGELISTS, PASTORS, TEACHERS
God’s gifts today are three in number, the evangelist to preach to the world, the pastor to care for the saints, and the teacher to edify the body of Christ. The great weakness in Christendom today lies in the attempt to combine all three in a single cleric, who must entertain and shepherd saint and sinner alike, who seldom is gifted in more than one way, and often in none. With a rising tide of spirituality, there has usually followed a separation of these ministries. Evangelists leave all else for their message to the unbeliever, and teachers arise and conventions are held for the one purpose of edifying the saints. In seasons of spiritual refreshing these divine manifestations come to the front.
In these last days, the special need is for teachers who are themselves mature and who can establish the saints by dispensing the grace which has come to them by the revelation of the mystery. Alas! most of those who are giving religious instruction today are bringing their hearers into the bondage of law and ceremony, or occupying them with the affairs of minority, and are thus dragging the believers down when they should be building them up. Here we have the divine test of the true teacher. Does he correspond to Ephesians 4:12-14? Is he adjusting, dispensing, upbuilding, unifying, giving the realization of sonship, maturity, and adultness? These are the seven signs of the ideal teacher.
Most of the believers today need adjusting quite as much as those to whom Ephesians was addressed. Their doctrine and experience is limited to the teaching of our Lord while on earth, or his apostles in the book of Acts. Under the false impression that “the church began at Pentecost, ” they seek to utilize the varying presentations which follow it to determine their creed and practice. Others go further and seek to include some of the teachings of Paul’s earlier epistles, notwithstanding the grave differences between the two. How few go to Paul’s final presentations and modify even his previous ministries to accord with these transcendent truths! This is the task of the true teacher today. He must, first of all, be an adjuster.
He must also be a dispenser. Much of the teaching we hear fails to emphasize the grace of God and the gratuitous character of His gifts. He is not running a bargain counter or a commercial enterprise, but a free dispensary. Very few believers even know what He has for them. It is the duty of the teacher to put them into possession of their riches in Christ Jesus.
He must edify, or build up, the body of Christ. This is a vastly different matter from entertaining the members of a church or the adherents of a denomination. The teacher who merely recognizes the fact that there is a spiritual organism to which all believers belong, irrespective of creed or affiliation, is edifying or building up the body of Christ. The teacher who ignores it or displaces it by human organizations is demolishing the one body. He who discounts human associations, and presses upon the believers their place in that marvelous organism of which Christ alone is Head, is a God-given gift, fulfilling the work of building up the body.
Many are the attempts which have been made to unite the saints. The true basis of such a unity is the one faith which we have today, which is set forth in this epistle. The cause of the divisions is the multiplicity of beliefs resulting from ignorance of this consummating revelation. If it were God’s intention to make us all one before Christ comes again, He would probably call for teachers to make known the truths of this economy. This is a test of the ideal teacher. Does his message lead to the unity of all in Christ? Or does it divide the believers into classes? Especially, does it form a special, superior clique of all who heed his teaching? Let us remember that, if we all believed God we would be one in fact as we are in truth.
Sonship is a much higher thought than that conveyed by the figure of the new birth. Indeed, Paul leaves that illustration to the kingdom proclamation. He makes us a new creation, rather than a regeneration. Sonship is not necessarily based on birth. It may be obtained by adoption. It does not figure mere relationship, but the honors granted only to the heir when he comes of age, and is invested with the highest dignities which his father can bestow. It is vastly more to be a son of God than a child. A teacher in this economy should press this point, so that the saints may realize their sonship (Eph. 4:13).
The crowning result of true teaching today has already been elaborated. It brings the believers to mature manhood, to the adult stature of Christ’s complement (Eph. 4:13). This can be accomplished only by showing them the immature character of previous economies, and the fullness which is theirs in Christ in this transcendent administration. It is only as they realize that they have outgrown much that God once gave, and that, in Christ, they have attained their full stature, that they are fitted to stand steadfast in the midst of the turmoil in which they find themselves. False teaching carries them about (Eph. 4:14), the true establishes them in grace.
The phrase “systematizing of the deception” (Eph. 4:14) is a most apt description of modern methods of maintaining error. Isolated departures from truth are difficult to promulgate. They must be worked up into a philosophic system in order to become popular. The great theologies are systematized to agree with their main position, which may be a half-truth. Many of the movements of the day which appeal to the Bible for support, have so systematized their deceptions that they appear to rest on divine revelation. They seem to have enough contacts in the Scriptures to give them the appearance of truth. However, the mature believer will not be deceived by them.
The path of transcendence is the way of love, as the apostle shows in the thirteenth of first Corinthians. So it is in Ephesians (4:15,16). It is further figured by the human frame, all parts of which are in loving sympathy with all the rest, through the head. Christ is Head of the body now, and the believers are its members. There is a vital union, which makes us one with Him and with every other member. All real growth and service in the church today has this for its basis. Its motive is love. Its impuIse is from the Head. Its end is the upbuilding of the body.
In this meditation, we have found that the revelation of the Ephesian secret was accompanied by the incoming of maturity. Minority prevailed before, even among the Pauline ecclesias. Hence many of the gifts are discarded and only a few enter this economy. Teachers are specially given to lead the believers into a realization of the fact that they have outgrown the immaturities of past eras, and are now mature in Christ. It is our privilege to tread the path of transcendence. May God grant that many who read these lines will enter that path in conscious appreciation of the privileges of their majority.
A. E. Knoch
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