Having then gifts differing, etc. - As the goodness of God, with this view of our mutual subserviency and usefulness, has endowed us with different gifts and qualifications, let each apply himself to the diligent improvement of his particular office and talent, and modestly keep within the bounds of it, not exalting himself or despising others.
Whether prophecy - That prophecy, in the New Testament, often means the gift of exhorting, preaching, or of expounding the Scriptures, is evident from many places in the Gospels, Acts, and St. Paul's Epistles, see 1 Corinthians 11:4, 1 Corinthians 11:5; and especially 1 Corinthians 14:3; : He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort. This was the proper office of a preacher; and it is to the exercise of this office that the apostle refers in the whole of the chapter from which the above quotations are made. See also Luke 1:76; Luke 7:28; Acts 15:32; 1 Corinthians 14:29. I think the apostle uses the term in the same sense here - Let every man who has the gift of preaching and interpreting the Scriptures do it in proportion to the grace and light he has received from God, and in no case arrogate to himself knowledge which he has not received; let him not esteem himself more highly on account of this gift, or affect to be wise above what is written, or indulge himself in fanciful interpretations of the word of God.
Dr. Taylor observes that the measure of faith, Romans 12:3, and the proportion of faith, Romans 12:6, seem not to relate to the degree of any gift considered in itself, but rather in the relation and proportion which it bore to the gifts of others; for it is plain that he is here exhorting every man to keep soberly within his own sphere. It is natural to suppose that the new converts might be puffed up with the several gifts that were bestowed upon them; and every one might be forward to magnify his own to the disparagement of others: therefore the apostle advises them to keep each within his proper sphere; to know and observe the just measure and proportion of the gift intrusted to him, not to gratify his pride but to edify the Church.
The αναλογια της πιστεως, which we here translate the proportion of faith, and which some render the analogy of faith, signifies in grammar "the similar declension of similar words;" but in Scriptural matters it has been understood to mean the general and consistent plan or scheme of doctrines delivered in the Scriptures; where every thing bears its due relation and proportion to another. Thus the death of Christ is commensurate in its merits to the evils produced by the fall of Adam. The doctrine of justification by faith bears the strictest analogy or proportion to the grace of Christ and the helpless, guilty, condemned state of man: whereas the doctrine of justification by Works is out of all analogy to the demerit of sin, the perfection of the law, the holiness of God, and the miserable, helpless state of man. This may be a good general view of the subject; but when we come to inquire what those mean by the analogy of faith who are most frequent in the use of the term, we shall find that it means neither more nor less than their own creed; and though they tell you that their doctrines are to be examined by the Scriptures, yet they give you roundly to know that you are to understand these Scriptures in precisely the same way as they have interpreted them. "To the law and to the testimony," says Dr. Campbell, "is the common cry; only every one, the better to secure the decision on the side he has espoused, would have you previously resolve to put no sense whatever on the law and the testimony but what his favourite doctrine will admit. Thus they run on in a shuffling, circular sort of argument, which, though they studiously avoid exposing, is, when dragged into the open light, neither more nor less than this; 'you are to try our doctrine by the Scriptures only; but then you are to be very careful that you explain the Scripture solely by our doctrine.' A wonderful plan of trial, which begins with giving judgment, and ends with examining the proof, wherein the whole skill and ingenuity of the judges are to be exerted in wresting the evidence so as to give it the appearance of supporting the sentence pronounced before hand." See Dr. Campbell's Dissertations on the Gospels, Diss. iv. sect. 14, vol. i, page 146, 8vo. edit., where several other sensible remarks may be found.
Having then gifts - All the endowments which Christians have are regarded by the apostle as gifts. God has conferred them; and this fact, when properly felt, tends much to prevent our thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, Romans 12:3. For the use of the word rendered “gifts,” see Romans 1:11; Romans 5:15-16; Romans 6:23; Romans 11:29; 1 Corinthians 7:7; 1 Corinthians 12:4, 1Corinthians 12:9,1 Corinthians 12:28, etc. It may refer to natural endowments as well as to the favors of grace; though in this place it refers doubtless to the distinctions conferred on Christians in the churches.
Differing - It was never designed that all Christians should be equal. God designed that people should have different endowments. The very nature of society supposes this. There never was a state of perfect equality in any thing; and it would be impossible that there should be, and yet preserve society. In this, God exercises a sovereignty, and bestows his favors as he pleases, injuring no one by conferring favors on others; and holding me responsible for the right use of what I have, and not for what may be conferred on my neighbor.
According to the grace - That is, the favor, the mercy that is bestowed on us. As all that we have is a matter of grace, it should keep us from pride; and it should make us willing to occupy our appropriate place in the church. True honor consists not in splendid endowments, or great wealth and function. It consists in rightly discharging the duties which God requires of us in our appropriate sphere. If all people held their talents as the gift of God; if all would find and occupy in society the place for which God designed them, it would prevent no small part of the uneasiness, the restlessness, the ambition, and misery of the world.
Whether prophecy - The apostle now proceeds to specify the different classes of gifts or endowments which Christians have, and to exhort them to discharge aright the duty which results from the rank or function which they held in the church. “The first is prophecy.” This word properly means to predict future events, but it also means to declare the divine will; to interpret the purposes of God; or to make known in any way the truth of God, which is designed to influence people. Its first meaning is to predict or foretell future events; but as those who did this were messengers of God, and as they commonly connected with such predictions, instructions, and exhortations in regard to the sins, and dangers, and duties of people, the word came to denote any who warned, or threatened, or in any way communicated the will of God; and even those who uttered devotional sentiments or praise. The name in the New Testament is commonly connected with teachers; Acts 13:1, “There were in the church at Antioch certain prophets, and teachers, as Barnabas, etc.;” Acts 15:32, “and Judas and Silas, being prophets themselves, etc.;” Acts 21:10, “a certain prophet named Agabus.” In 1 Corinthians 12:28-29, prophets are mentioned as a class of teachers immediately after apostles, “And God hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets; thirdly teachers, etc.”
The same class of persons is again mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14:29-32, 1 Corinthians 14:39. In this place they are spoken of as being under the influence of revelation, “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If anything be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets;” 1 Corinthians 14:39, “Covet to prophesy, and forbid not to speak with tongues.” In this place endowments are mentioned under the name of prophecy evidently in advance even of the power of speaking with tongues. Yet all these were to be subject to the authority of the apostle. 1 Corinthians 14:37. In Ephesians 4:11, they are mentioned again in the same order; “And he gave some apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors, and teachers, etc.” From these passages the following things seem clear in relation to this class of persons:
(1) They were an order of teachers distinct from the apostles, and next to them in authority and rank.
(2) they were under the influence of revelation, or inspiration in a certain sense.
(3) they had power of controlling themselves, and of speaking or keeping silence as they chose. They had the power of using their prophetic gifts as we have the ordinary faculties of our minds, and of course of abusing them also. This abuse was apparent also in the case of those who had the power of speaking with tongues, 1 Corinthians 14:2, 1Corinthians 14:4,1 Corinthians 14:6, 1 Corinthians 14:11, etc.
(4) they were subject to the apostles.
(5) they were superior to the other teachers and pastors in the church.
(6) the office or the endowment was temporary, designed for the settlement and establishment of the church; and then, like the apostolic office, having accomplished its purpose, to be disused, and to cease. From these remarks, also, will be seen the propriety of regulating this function by apostolic authority; or stating, as the apostle does here, the manner or rule by which this gift was to be exercised.
According to the proportion - This word ἀναλογίαν analogianis no where else used in the New Testament. The word properly applies to mathematics (Scheusner), and means the ratio or proportion which results from comparison of one number or magnitude with another. In a large sense, therefore, as applied to other subjects, it denotes the measure of any thing. With us it means analogy, or the congruity or resemblance discovered between one thing and another, as we say there is an analogy or resemblance between the truths taught by reason and revelation. (See Butler‘s Analogy.) But this is not its meaning here. It means the measure, the amount of faith bestowed on them, for he was exhorting them to Romans 12:3. “Think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” The word “faith” here means evidently, not the truths of the Bible revealed elsewhere; nor their confidence in God; nor their personal piety; but the extraordinary endowment bestowed on them by the gifts of prophecy.
They were to confine themselves strictly to that; they were not to usurp the apostolic authority, or to attempt to exercise their special function; but they were to confine themselves strictly to the functions of their office according to the measure of their faith, that is, the extraordinary endowment conferred on them. The word “faith” is thus used often to denote that extraordinary confidence in God which attended the working of miracles, etc., Matthew 17:26; Matthew 21:21; Luke 17:6. If this be the fair interpretation of the passage, then it is clear that the interpretation which applies it to systems of theology, and which demands that we should interpret the Bible so as to accord with the system, is one that is wholly unwarranted. It is to be referred solely to this class of religious teachers, without reference to any system of doctrine, or to any thing which had been revealed to any other class of people; or without affirming that there is any resemblance between one truth and another. All that may be true, but it is not the truth taught in this passage. And it is equally clear that the passage is not to be applied to teachers now, except as an illustration of the general principle that even those endowed with great and splendid talents are not to over-estimate them, but to regard them as the gift of God; to exercise them in subordination to his appointment and to seek to employ them in the manner, the place, and to the purpose that shall be according to his will. They are to employ them in the purpose for which God gave them; and for no other.
God gives to every man his work, and with the imparted commission He gives to His messengers a measure of power proportionate to their faith. He is constantly unfolding to the heart the riches of His grace. Light will shine forth in clear rays from those who receive light from the Word of God.... RC 112.2Read in context »