Tuesday, January 10, 2012
The "charismata" of Romans 12:6-8
I preached last Sunday on Many Members in One Body (Romans 12:3-8). I summarized the core meaning of the text as follows: that it is necessary and central for a Christian to be rightly joined to a body of believers where spiritual gifts and spiritual offices are being exercised to the glory of God and to the blessing and benefit of man.
The most intriguing aspect of interpreting this text is understanding the seven "gifts" (charismata, v. 6) listed in vv. 6-8: prophecy, ministry, teaching , exhortation, giving, rule, and mercy.
In the introduction I noted:
This passage is one place (along with 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4) in Scripture where we find a listing of spiritual gifts (charismata, v. 6). The modern tendency is to focus on such gift lists as potentially applying to all Christians generally. We create spiritual gifts inventories and use them like evangelical Myers-Briggs personality assessment instruments (I’ve even used such myself a few times earlier in my ministry) to figure out which gifts we possess. But as I read through our passage this week, I was struck by the fact, however, that this passage must be understood in the context of the Biblical church and its government. As we shall see, when Paul lists these gifts I believe he was thinking primarily about spiritual qualities that the officers of the church were to possess and exercise with the body for its edification, rather than about the distribution of these gifts within the body at large.
I later added:
This list is one of those places where you see a divide in interpretation between modern commentaries and “old school” (Reformed Fathers, Puritan, or old path) commentaries. Modern interpreters tend to take this list and apply it to all believers. The old men, however, seem to be united in saying that Paul is speaking here about the particular gifts that are to be possessed and exercised by the officers of the church (namely the elders and deacons).
In favor of the old school interpretation is the fact that in the other two places where there is an emphasis on spiritual gifts it is associated with church officers. Compare 1 Corinthians 12:28-31 and, especially, Ephesians 4:8-11 where the "gifts" (here domata) given by Jesus are the offices themselves (both extraordinary, like apostles, prophets, and evangelists [I take the office of evangelist to be extraordinary as it composed the apostolic associates including those who would write Gospels like Mark and Luke]) and ordinary (like pastors and teachers).
To confirm this distinction between modern and old school interpretations of this passage, just compare the comments on this passage in standard evangelical commentaries (like MacArthur's or the ESV) and then contrast it with the view taken by the old commentators like John Calvin, Matthew Poole, or Matthew Henry.
Here is how I summed up my exposition of the seven "gifts":
Having looked at these seven gifts more closely, we can see who each one of them corresponds to the special functions of the church officers:
The Elders, in particular, are to be engaged in prophesying (preaching), ministering (diakonia) the word, teaching (didasko), exhorting (parakaleo), and ruling (proistemi).
And the deacons in the ministry (diakonia) of the tables, in giving, and in mercy.
These offices are gifts that God has given to his church for their care and edification.