Paul is now transitioning to what is famously known as “the love chapter” of his first letter to the Corinthians. I want us to pay attention to the wording in this passage. It is congruent with other pieces of scripture that talked about order and assignment. Remember, he JUST finished telling us that no specific person is more important than the other, as we all are uniquely gifted for specific purposes to work together for the better good of the whole.
1 Corinthians 12: 28-31
28 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. 29 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? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.
Is anyone confused? Paul just said that nobody is more important than others, yet now he is giving us a priority list based on giftings! I constantly find Paul doing this throughout his letters. It might seem like a contradiction, but that is only because we want to read it that way. Some of you who are opposed to counting scripture as fact or truth will take this stance. Let us, however, read this for what it is saying.
I earnestly contemplated cutting more of this letter out to include in this passage, yet I probably would have included the entire next chapter. Paul’s ending of this chapter, I show you a still more excellent way is the key for his transition into the importance of love. He is going to repeat again later the order of “importance” of spiritual gifts. The points we cannot miss are:
There are some gifts that are more powerful and important than others
That we can strive for any and all of the gifts
That their presence is dictated by God
As we read previously, we cannot simply invoke a spiritual gift. If we could, they wouldn’t be necessarily a spiritual gift more than it would be a manipulation of spirits. We wouldn’t need any outside help if we could make it happen on our own. The question that sticks out the most to me in this passage is: why are they ordered in importance this way? Too often we look at importance and order as a gauge for our own self worth. Instead, we need to look at these gifts as importance in regards to the Kingdom of God. The issuance of spiritual gifts isn’t because one person is better than the other. The issuance of spiritual gifts is to fulfill God’s will in a specific place at a specific time. It’s not about us, it’s about God’s will! If we look past ourselves and look at the list of gifts as they are, it is easy to see why some are considered more important than others.
Apostleship is the most important because it is how groups of people are organized into parts of the church body. Apostles plant churches, organize church leadership, and stimulate growth. Prophets proclaim the truth of God. Sometimes we think this is all about foretelling the future but realistically it is the gift of appropriately applying the truth of God in any situation. Teaching is extremely important because we must be educated to appropriately apply the Word of God in our lives both inside and outside the church building. The rest of the spiritual gifts, the ones that everyone is “wowed” by, are the lesser important gifts. Without the first three, the remaining gifts wouldn’t mean much because they are designed to point others towards the place where they can receive the word of God. I was all about seeking the presence of speaking in tongues in my life until I discovered that it is considered the least important spiritual gift. Again, this isn’t to mean that the people who speak in tongues are less important, rather that in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t accomplish as much as apostleship, prophecy, and teaching.
What spiritual gifts do you possess? Which ones are you striving for?