But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.1 Corinthians 12:31(NASB)
Spiritual gifts can be over-exaggerated by some Christians while being understated by others. While some elevate the importance of spiritual gifts above their great salvation, others can diminish the tremendous benefits that are ours through the spiritual gifts we receive from the Lord. But it is important that spiritual gifts are used as God determined. They are not to be abused, or used for self-gratification. Nor should someone exploit their gift, by trying to demonstrate their own superior spirituality!
In this passage, Paul is seeking to bring us a balanced understanding of the gifts of the Spirit. We who are born from above should make it a priority to learn and discern all we can, in connection with spiritual gifts. We are instructed to use them wisely, as directed by the Holy Spirit, and to develop our giftings, for the collective benefit of the Body of Christ, and to the glory of God.
Spiritual gifts are sovereignly bestowed, to enable us to carry out the good work God has prepared for us to do. We all receive a spiritual gift, or gifts, but we do not choose our preferred spiritual gifts, from a heavenly catalog of options. Paul teaches that it is the same Holy Spirit, Who works all these things together, Who distributes to each one individually just as He wills. It is not our place to ask for a spiritual gift but to discover the gift He has given us.
One important principle, which the Corinthian Christians disregarded, was that gifts are for the edification of the whole Body of Christ and for the glory of God. They are not given for selfish reasons, but to equip God's people for their work of service and to build-up Christ's body. The gifts and graces we receive from the Spirit should function together, for the common good of all God's people, and not for the self-gratification of an individual, as was taking place in the Church at Corinth.
The spiritual gifts in this chapter are listed in descending order of importance and differ from other lists of spiritual gifts. We read, "there are first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues." However, there are other passages that list different spiritual gifts, all of which should be exercised collectively, for the edification and improvement of all.
In Ephesians, Paul explains that... since there is a variety of gifts, given collectively to the Church.. and since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, we are to exercise them accordingly. Paul makes it very clear that different gifts are bestowed on different people, but when exercised as God intended, everyone should benefit from the gifts bestowed on the whole congregation.
To each member is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good, so that each believer contributes to the collective edification of the body, through the exercise of the spiritual gift with which they have been endowed. Paul pointed out that not everyone has the same gift and throughout the chapter, he emphasised the great diversity of gifts. "All are not apostles, are they?" He asked. "All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?" Though we all have the same gift of Salvation, the spiritual gift/s we receive are specifically bestowed in an individual believer for the benefit of the entire Church of God.
It is as Paul finalises his teaching on spiritual gifts that he encourages us to, "earnestly desire the greater gifts." We are to covet, earnestly, the best gifts. We are to keep on desiring the better gifts and zealously cultivate the greatest and best spiritual gifts and graces - not for our own edification, but for the collective benefit of the whole Body.
Sadly, this important admonishment from Paul has been misunderstood. It has caused many believers to seek after spiritual gifts for their own, individual gratification rather than recognising that, "earnestly desiring the greater gifts," is a corporate command. Every Church and each fellowship of believers should collectively, "earnestly desire the greater gifts," so that the whole Body of believers is spiritually equipped for the benefit of all.
Paul's instruction was to the WHOLE Body of believers. The Church collectively were to earnestly desire the greater gifts, so that ALL believers would be edified. Paul was not instructing individual believers to seek after the gifts they would like to manifest in their own lives. He was teaching that through the ministry of the corporate Body - especially through the teaching of the Word, every member would be increasingly edified and grow in grace and in a knowledge of our Lord and Saviour.
The greater gifts in Paul's list of spiritual giftings, were apostles and prophets followed by pastors and teachers. By God's grace, Christ's chosen apostles and prophets laid the foundation of our common faith in Christ, through the writing of Scripture. The Bible must remain the one and only source for truth. It is the plumb-line that exposes error. Those who proclaim to be 'modern-day apostles and prophets' are adding to Scripture should be firmly rejected. God's Word makes it clear that the Bible is His final Word to humanity - through Jesus Christ the living Word.
Today it is the gift of pastors and teachers for which we should earnestly pray, so that the men who are gifted to teach, are raised up within the Body, and empowered by the Spirit to exegete the Scriptures and teach the truth of God's Word to the wider congregation. Like all believers, they are to use these greater gifts of pastor and teacher, for the benefit of all.
Instead of recognising it is a command to the collective Body of Christ, there are many believers today, who set about crying to God to receive the spiritual gift they particularly desire. They earnestly desire their preferred gift for self-edification and miss the whole point of Paul's teaching on the unity of the Spirit being manifested through the diversity of gifts in the universal Church.
Perhaps the greatest spiritual gift we ALL have is the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit, Who was sent at Pentecost to be our Guide and Comforter - our Teacher and Trainer, Who corrects us, empowers all who believe, and guides us into all truth. May we determine in our hearts to earnestly desire the greater spiritual gifts within the Body of Christ, so that together we may grow in grace and learn to LOVE others as Christ loved us - which is the more excellent way to live our Christian life, as we wait for the any-day return of the Lord Jesus.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the gifts of the Spirit and the wide diversity of gifts and graces that You graciously bestow on Your all children. Thank You that I am a member of the Body of Christ and that together, our diverse spiritual gifts can be exercised for the greater benefit of the whole Body. May we all grow in grace and in a knowledge of Jesus, and be enabled to provide edification for one another, as well as being edified by them. Thank You that we are not meant to live in spiritual isolation from other believers, but are a collective Body, that is being built up into the Temple of God. Enable me to exercise the spiritual gift with which I have been endowed, for the greater benefit of the wider Body of Christ. This I ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.