(1 Corinthians 12:26-31)
The modern church for the most part has watered down the ministries of the new covenant to the point where most of the gifts of ministry have ceased to exist. This is especially true of the miraculous and spiritual gifts of God that He gave to the church for the express purpose of building up the church so that it could stand in the face of opposition.
Now I am the first to point out that the gifts are not going to bring anyone to salvation. You do not need to be able to perform miracles, walk on water, speak in tongues, prophesy by the spirit, carry out miraculous hearings or cast out demons to be saved. None of these things are necessary for salvation.
However, the gifts have been provided to the church to help us as we walk with Christ. They are meant to provide insight, spiritual help and guidance as we walk in the faith that will bring us to salvation in Jesus Christ. Thus Paul says here in verse 31,
But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. – (1 Corinthians 12:31)
The Higher Gifts
We are encouraged by Paul to seek and desire the higher gifts. We cannot take them for ourselves, but we can certainly ask for them from God. We can ask Him to provide us with the gifts of the spirit and the gifts to the church for the purpose of helping in the work of the church.
The gifts of the spirit and the ministry gifts given to the church are not given to us for our own benefit. They are given so that we can better serve the body of the church. And in Jesus Christ that is the whole purpose: to serve.
Consider the gifts that Paul mentions in this section of scripture.
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. – (1 Corinthians 12:28)
When we look at these gifts it is evident that none of them are personal gifts. They are not given to anyone to benefit themselves, but rather to benefit the church or the body at large.
An apostle is sent out to preach the word of God to others and to establish new churches. A prophet prophesies so that others may learn the will of God. A teacher teaches others so that they may learn, grow and mature in Jesus Christ. Healers heal others who are sick and suffering. Helpers and administrators work in the church to ensure the proper running of the church and to ensure whatever work needs to be done is carried out.
All of these are ministries given for the purpose of building up the church, not for building up an individual. And so because we are called to serve, it is useful and valuable to “earnestly desire the higher gifts” so that we can better serve the church and the people of God using the power He provides in the gifts He gives.
Tongues In The Church
Now there is one odd gift among those mentioned by Paul and it is the last and the least of all the gifts. The gift of tongues in the church.
We must be very clear about this particular gift because it is not the same as the gift of tongues given to an individual as the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. If you look back at my last few posts, particularly the one titled “Manifestation of the Spirit” you will note that tongues is a gift given to make the Holy Spirit known to those who have received the Holy Spirit. This is quite a different gift to the gift of speaking in tongues in the church.
Let me briefly address the distinction between the two.
The gift of tongues as the manifestation of the Holy Spirit is given to every person who receives the Holy Spirit as a personal gift. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in the individual to do the work of transformation into the image of Jesus Christ. The purpose of tongues in that situation is for personal prayer and to exercise the walking in the spirit ministry to be able to overcome sinfulness and the passions of the flesh that would lead to sin. It is a powerful gift, but should be exercised privately, not publicly, and is to be greatly desired by all who seek to lead a life of victory and overcoming in Jesus Christ.
However the gift of tongues spoken of here in 1 Corinthians 12:28 is not a gift to the individual but a gift to the church. Of all the gifts to the church Paul identifies in this section, tongues is the last and the least important. The reason for this is that the use of tongues in a church setting, that is in a public setting, is virtually useless because no one can understand the tongues. It would be as if you were in a foreign country where you did not speak the language and could not understand anything that is said by the locals.
Paul further emphasises the futility of speaking tongues in public, in church in this scripture.
16 Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? 17 For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. 18 I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. 19 Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. – (1 Corinthians 14:16-19)
Note the last verse of this section. Paul says he would rather speak five words with his mind, that is, words that both he and the congregation can understand, than ten thousand words in tongues that no one, himself included, can understand.
So why is there a gift of tongues in the church? Well Paul clarifies this in the section we are studying as well as in the verses just prior to those I have just quoted above.
Speaking in tongues in the church is of little use unless there is someone with the gift of interpretation from the Lord. Interpretation is also one of the gifts given by the spirit and if someone has a gift of tongues for use in the church then there must also be someone with the gift of interpretation.
In the section we are studying we see Paul mention the need for interpretation. But he also strengthens that need in the following verse.
Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. – (1 Corinthians 14:13)
It is my experience that generally, though not always, the person who has the gift of tongues for use in the church is usually the same person who receives the gift of interpretation of tongues. The two go hand in hand and when there is an interpretation of the tongues used in church, then the whole body understands and is built up by the words from the Lord.
Seek The Higher Gifts
But it is the higher gifts that we should seek for the building up of the church.
The church needs apostles, prophets and teachers especially. It is these ministry gifts from God that work to build up the body and to strengthen it. These are the preaching and teaching works given by God and these the gifts that support and sustain the church as it grows and goes through the turmoil of growth.
Consider the work of Peter, James, John and Paul in the early church. These men along with the rest of the twelve and others also who had received the gifts of apostles hip, preaching, teaching and prophecy to develop and build the fledgling church.
These are the important gifts, the higher gifts, the gifts of service to the church that will build and develop it. These gifts are also the ones that will help protect the church against the attacks of the devil.
These gifts are most important and I believe it is why Paul listed them as the highest in the order of gifts in this section of scripture.
The others such as working healing and miracles are powerful in a different way. They are works that the Lord provides and allows the church to carry out, primarily for the purpose of bearing witness to the truth of the gospel as he showe in Mark 16.
And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs. – (Mark 16:20)
But it is the higher gifts of apostles, prophets and teachers who do the work of teaching, preaching and spreading the gospel to build the church. That is why these are of greater importance. These gifts lead to growth and help the church and the individuals in the church come to maturity in Christ Jesus.
And that is why the church needs to seek and look diligently for these higher gifts. The modern church has ignored many of these gifts for too long. It is time now to rekindle the flame of the truth and to seek these gifts so that the message of the gospel goes out once more based on the truth of the new covenant rather than some watered down and often false version of what the bible teaches.
And as Paul related in the very last verse of 1 Corinthians 12, there is still a higher way. There is a more excellent way that we must learn to find the fulness of all the God has given us. It is the way of love. Not man’s love but the love of God, which we will cover in the next few posts.
But I must stress as Paul did also, we should earnestly desire and seek the higher gifts. Love is the end game and to get there the church will need the gifts, especially those of the apostles, prophets and teachers to find the way of God’s love.