28 And <kai> <hos> God <theos> hath set <tithemi> some <men> in <en> the church <ekklesia>, first <proton> apostles <apostolos>, secondarily <deuteros> prophets <prophetes>, thirdly <tritos> teachers <didaskalos>, after that <epeita> miracles <dunamis>, then <eita> gifts <charisma> of healings <iama>, helps <antilepsis>, governments <kubernesis>, diversities <genos> of tongues <glossa>. (KJV)
28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues. (RSV)
When writing an essay upon the 'gift of administration' it is worth first noting that the Bible discusses no such thing. In the KJV the word administrator is entirely absent; within the RSV it appears only once in 1 Co 12:28. However there are two words used in verse 28 that appear here only in the Bible and the purpose of this essay is to ascertain what they correspond to.
First though a comment on the issue of gifts: Verse 28 is quite explicit that the list given here is a list of appointments; it does not actually state whether or not any particular ability went with the office other than in the case of healings. Later in verses 30 onwards both helps and government are excluded when gifts are discussed and believers are encouraged to desire the best gifts. It is interesting too that in the parallel passage in Eph 4:11-12 when a clear element of gifting is suggested that the elements of helps and government is left out. I suggest therefore that the burden of verse 28 is not a list of gifts that you should be coveting so much as a description of some roles that were being filled to build the body of Christ at this time.
The commentators offer differing insights as to the various roles of helps and government in 1 Co 12: -
Adam Clark notes that Dr Lightfoot considers the helps to be assistants to the apostles performing baptisms and acting as ambassadors for them in distant places. The 'government' according to Lightfoot does not pertain to any form of rulership but to those with deep spiritual understanding; probably those elsewhere described as 'discerners of spirits'.
Albert Barnes also considers that helpers may have been apostolic assistants but also that it may have meant more generally those that tended the poor and sick, in other words those that functioned as deacons. Barnes also considers that the term may not refer to an office as such so much as a tendency amongst many believers. Barnes then notes that the 'government' is a really a word used of steering a ship although he again doubts this is an office. He suggests rather that the 'government' denoted those with skill in deliberation and leadership. He notes that many of the offices in the list were transient and that therefore helps and government were too.
The family Bible notes concur that the helps were to visit the sick and suggest government related to the outward order of the church.
The Jamiesson Fausset Brown commentary gives helps and government as lower and higher orders of the same thing. The former is the practical aspect of ministration, the latter is again the issue of 'guiding the helm' and pertains to the outward order of the church.
John Wesley sides with Barnes in his belief that neither of these words pertain to a particular office but merely a tendency or theme within members of the congregation. The Peoples New Testament Commentary and William Burkitt go the other way and confine these roles within the deaconate and presbytery respectively.
To me the most useful insight is actually granted by Robertson when he suggests that in a list of 'those that have been set in the church' the two most notable omissions, deacons and elders, are actually the two we have functioning today.
I think that to fully understand what this passage is teaching we need to remember when it was written and to whom. It is an early epistle written to a church that highly valued the sign gifts. We do not read of it having any particular structure and if it did then it clearly wasn't effective. That Timothy was being told to appoint overseers some years later, albeit in a different church, suggests that the raising of an effective oversight and deaconate takes time: as you would expect.
Thus what we see here is a list of roles the Lord raises up within a church; two of these are helps and government. We clearly know from Acts 6 that helping the sick and poor was done in an ad-hoc fashion and that controversy arose. Thus deacons were appointed to end the confusion.
I therefore suggest that 'helps' is a generic term that can apply to anyone but that God raises up within a church those with a gift of 'secular administration' that can ensure the smooth running of the practical aspect of a church.
Government means 'to lead' and this was of necessity ad-hoc in the early days of the church because, I suggest, the key to Christian oversight is doctrine and the word of God. 1 Tim 5:17 says that those in an oversight position should be noted for spiritual insight based upon the word of God and Gal 6:6 suggests that anyone that seeks to draw income from his spiritual position needs to be in a teaching position. One of the qualifications for an elder is 'apt to teach'. Thus in the early days, before scripture was complete, we see government almost aligned as a gift but once the 'rule book' was there it became something that could be labored towards.
Put simply a successful Christian church needs two forms of administration, practical and spiritual. These are split into two bodies primarily to prevent the elders from being distracted by secular matters.
In closing I will note that the start of this letter to the Corinthians commences with an admonition that true spiritual function can only occur in the absence of human logic and wisdom, which are antithetical to God's ways. It then proceeds to warn that we must be careful how we build the church of Christ. In particular are told that there are materials drawn from the earth (wood, hay, stubble) that can give quick structural results but that which ultimately must be destroyed.
The head of the Church is Christ. All legitimate authority within the church comes from Christ and the appointment of the Holy Spirit. All legitimate methods within the church are described in his word that is an inerrant and all sufficient 'manual' for his people. The secular world is propelling itself away from God and towards Hell as rapidly as it can. We 'ape' their methodologies at our own peril.
Isa 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.