By Brooke Holt
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 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. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” - 1 Corinthians 12:27-31
Do you desire the higher gifts? Do you even know what those higher gifts are? That determination probably varies between denominations, churches, and even individuals today. However, in Paul’s day, at least in the Corinthian church, there seemed to be a pecking order. The Corinthians were very interested in the spiritual gifts and especially interested in those higher gifts. For them, the higher gifts were the ones that brought glory, honor, and applause. You could think of them as the showy gifts.
Paul lists those showy gifts in this portion of his letter: the apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healing, helping, administrating, and speaking in tongues. What the Corinthians seemed to forget was that every gift was given to glorify Jesus and to edify the church, not the individual exercising the gift. This list is by no means exhaustive of the gifts and appointments of the Lord. It is the higher list of gifts according to the Corinthians and even according to Paul.
That leads to a question. Did Paul also see a pecking order in the church and in the exercise of gifts? Apostles, prophets, and teachers proclaimed the word of the Lord so that others could grow in their faith. Those who worked miracles and healings demonstrated that God’s power was still active today. They conveyed that the Lord saw his people, understood their pain, and intervened to display his love, care, and power. Those who had the gift of helping and administrating activated the work of Christ through compassion and organization. They are the people who can mobilize the body of Christ effectively. Lastly, speaking in tongues was a prayer language that typically blessed the individual but could bless the greater body if there was an interpreter. Paul answers that question with his admonition: “But earnestly desire the higher gifts” (v. 31).
Even more important than that pecking order was the motivation behind the gift. The highest gift is the gift that is done to exalt the name of Jesus Christ and to edify the body of Jesus Christ. And now Paul will move beyond the gifts and teach the more excellent way—the way of love.
Do you consider certain spiritual gifts to be higher or more important than others? If so, do you eagerly desire those higher gifts? More importantly, how can you continue to use Paul’s spiritual gift test: does it glorify God and does it edify the body? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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