A spiritual gift may be defined as a ministry or function enabled by the Spirit and exercised by grace for the benefit of the body of Christ. We have a handful of “gift lists” in Romans 12:6–8, 1 Corinthians 12:8–10, 28–30, and 1 Peter 4:10–11. (Ephesians 4:11 speaks of people, not ministries or functions.) In two of these passages, we find what many call “the spiritual gift of leadership.” What follows below briefly look at two verses that identify this gift.
1 Corinthians 12:28
And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. (ESV)
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul lists several offices and ministries in the church to stress a diversity of service in a unified church (1 Cor 12:28–30; cf. 12:12–27). One ministry is “administrating” (kybernēsis), or, as the NET Bible puts it to bring out its plural form, “gifts of leadership.” However one translates this term, the NT uses it only here. The Greek translation of the OT uses this term when referring to guidance (Prov 1:5; 11:14; 24:6), and a related word (kybernētēs) refers to the pilot or helmsman of a ship (Acts 27:11; Rev 18:17; cf. Prov 23:34; Ezek 27:8, 27, 28).
In Paul’s day, this nautical term was a metaphor for leadership in the political arena and Paul’s metaphor for polity in the church as well, perhaps specifically identifying the role of an elder to keep unity in the church.1Margeret M. Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation: An Exegetical Investigation of the Language and Composition of 1 Corinthians (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox, 1991), 163–64. If so, the spiritual gift of leadership speaks to the leader’s ability to avoid the “rocks and shallows” of division within the church or difficulties in general.2David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 599–600; Anthony C. Thistleton, 1 Corinthians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 1021; Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. … Continue reading
The one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (ESV)
Similar to 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 speaks of unity among the body while having a diversity of spiritual gifts (Romans 12:4–5). In listing these gifts (Romans 12:6–8), Paul identifies “the one who leads” and how to lead, “with zeal” (Romans 12:8).
The Greek term behind “the one who leads” (prohistēmi) likely accords with its usage describing the function of pastors elsewhere. Paul uses it to speak of elders who “have charge” over the flock (1 Thessalonians 5:12), the overseer who must “manage” his household well (1 Timothy 3:4, 5), and elders who “rule” well (1 Timothy 5:17).
That the leadership should be characterized “with zeal” indicates that this leadership should be carried out eagerly and with diligence, a notion similar to Peter’s exhortation to elders to “shepherd … eagerly” in 1 Peter 5:2.
Like 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul likely has elders in mind in Romans 12:8.3John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (trans. by John Owen; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 463. If so, Paul again identifies a spiritual gift given to elders for the purpose of governing the body of Christ.
In both 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Romans 12:8, leadership is one of several gifts that the Spirit may grant to a Christian. Given the nature of this gift, it is certainly required of elders. Elders should maintain a Word-centered unity in the church and do so with zeal. May Christ help all of us as the shepherds of his flock to govern as gifted by the Spirit.
|1||Margeret M. Mitchell, Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation: An Exegetical Investigation of the Language and Composition of 1 Corinthians (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox, 1991), 163–64.|
|2||David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 599–600; Anthony C. Thistleton, 1 Corinthians (NIGTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 1021; Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First letter to the Corinthians (PNCT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 614.|
|3||John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (trans. by John Owen; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), 463.|
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