The Greater Gifts


Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.
(1 Corinthians 12:27 NASB)
And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.
(1 Corinthians 12:28 NASB)
All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they?
(1 Corinthians 12:29 NASB)
All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?
(1 Corinthians 12:30 NASB)
But earnestly desire the greater gifts.
(1 Corinthians 12:31 NASB)



The church in Corinth was going through a time of great difficulty for there were those who were displaying spiritual gifts that were creating division in the church. It was the more flamboyant gifts that were getting the attention of the people. Suddenly there were those through whom God was performing miracles and they were seeing a great many people healed. There were those also who were speaking in "tongues" and there continues to be much argument to this day over what exactly Paul was talking about in the use of this word. Most commentators that I read say that he meant diverse languages. In the cosmopolitan city of Corinth, at a crossroads with much of the world, the ability to speak in multiple languages would indeed be a gift, and the ability to interpret carried with it power for those without the gift were dependent upon their translators. (Believe me -- I've been there!). Or it could have been that he was referring to those who were practicing speaking in "unknown" tongues, or a language of angels, and we simply cannot say for sure. However, this we do know. Those who had the more outwardly "exciting" gifts were using them to say that they were more spiritual than others in the church. The result was a church which was divided and at odds with one another.

Paul decides that he has to bring some order to this chaos which the church is experiencing in Corinth. Several times in this chapter he refers to different people with different gifts and finally, here at the end he lists a type of hierarchy for authority and/or structure within the church. There end up being three groupings, if you will, regarding the gifts and authority. He wants to make it clear that outward acts doesn't necessarily bring with it greater authority. The first category of leadership comes from Apostles, Prophets and Teachers. The Apostles were those original twelve, and then the sent seventy and also included people like Paul and Barnabas, Andronicus and Junia. Those who had actually seen Christ and were carrying the news about him to the world. Also included in this category were the prophets, or the preachers. Those who had not seen Christ but were preachers and champions of the gospel. This would include individuals like Apollos, the daughters of Philip and others who was traveling the known world and preaching about Christ. But even Apollos had some issues with his theology and had to come under the authority of some teachers -- like Priscilla and Aquilla who had to help him understand that sometimes his preaching wasn't always right. These would all be found in the first category and Paul was saying that while you may not be seeing charismatic gifts from these leaders -- they are the leaders and they are the ones whom God has placed into authority and this is their gifting. Just because they don't have the other gifts does not mean that they are not spiritual people.

Next in his list came those who could do miracles and gifts of healing. Obviously this was happening in the life of the church and God was giving this gift to a number of individuals. This was exciting to see that God was pouring out his Spirit and working in this way and I'm sure that the crowds gathered around to watch those who had these spiritual gifts. However, with the crowds would come a temptation to believe that they were more popular and more spiritual than the ones who were gifted with the leadership. They may have begun to take on the leadership of the church, we don't know for sure, but we know that they were boasting about what was happening and Paul had to respond.

The final category included helps, administrations, and various tongues. These would have been those with the practical skills to be helping out in the church. These are the worker bees, the ones who are organized, the church treasurers, etc. They love to keep all the pieces of things together and going and there are times when the prophetic types and/or the miracle types drive them up the wall! Why? Because the movement of the Holy Spirit is such a messy thing -- can't we get it organized and planned out a little better!

Paul is telling them that all of these things matter to God. They are all important in the church, but that there is a way in which God wants it all to function in an orderly manner. But he doesn't end there. This chapter ends by saying that this is all good, but now, he's going to tell us about something much more excellent....



I believe that Christianity is deeply desiring a movement of God's Holy Spirit. We realize that in many ways we are in desperate times and that the only solution is the Lord. In our desperation we want to see God work and move. We are looking for the flamboyant answers because there we can really "see" God. There is nothing wrong with this. This is how God works and he wants to work, but Paul says don't get hung up there. There is more to the whole body of Christ. This is just one part, and especially don't ignore the fact that God has gifted Apostles, Prophets and Teachers. I'm afraid that within American Christianity a chasm has been developing between the first and second categories, just like it was in the days of Paul. The Apostles, Prophets and Teachers should not be afraid of the ones who are able to perform miracles and heal, while at the same time those with those gifts should not look down on the ones with the gifts of leading, preaching and teaching. They are all gifts and we need them all. Just as in Paul's day, these gifts need to be drawn together and bound together for God's use in the whole body of Christ. And the only way that they will be bound together is in the same way that Paul explains to us in Chapter 13, the great love chapter. The more excellent way has nothing to do with these spiritual gifts, but with love which pours over us as a holy anointing oil which unites us and makes us one strong body of Christ. There can be no time for envy and strife. There can be no time to argue over who is more spiritual than the next person. We must all unite together to pray that God's love be poured over us and the world in a mighty revival of God's interaction in the world today.



Lord, I pray for your love which unifies to be poured out upon your people today. Amen.


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