Paul left a cliffhanger right in the middle of his first letter to the Corinthians. Although he didn’t divide his letter into chapters, the early fathers who assembled the text did so for ease of reference, I can see in my mind’s eye Paul arranging his scroll, writing in such a way as to compel the reader to unroll it just a little bit more to see what was next.
Covet the best gifts. Which ones are they? Healing? Prophecy? Speaking in tongues? Paul lists the hierarchy:
1 Corinthians 12:28 “28 And God hath
set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets,
thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings,
helps, governments, diversities of tongues.”
There needs to be an administrative order so that the physical church can function effectively. There has to be a leader, someone who makes the decisions. Then the other offices below that.
The apostles are not better than the prophets, nor anyone else farther down the chain. They are greater in that they hold a higher position, and they may be better, more adept at performing a function, but they are not intrinsically better than anyone else.
People have asked me which telescope they should buy. They’ve developed an interest in astronomy and want to explore the universe. I answer, “Buy the one that you will use.” I tell them that because if it just sits around looking impressive and doesn’t get used, it’s a waste of money and effort. It has no worth, no value, unless it is used as it was designed to be used.
Don’t let your gifts sit around collecting dust. I know that I’ve been guilty about doing that. I’m working on it. Use you gifts, grow them, make them valuable for the Kingdom of God and your brothers and sisters.
God knows which gifts are best suited to each individual. He knows how you will used them and in what measure they will be most effective. He knows what you are capable of doing. Trust Him to use you and let yourself be a tool in His hands.
All of the spiritual gifts are necessary for the life of the church, the same as all parts of the body are necessary for life of the body. The eye is not better than the middle toe. The ear is not better than the hair. Some parts may have a greater position, but they are not better than the others. Every part of the body has its use. It was specifically designed to work a certain way and do a particular thing. For the most part, we all have all of those parts. If not, we miss them, and our entire body is affected by the loss. Some posses certain traits to a greater extent than others, and some more talented in using them than somebody else. With practice and discipline, however, we can learn new skills and enhance the parts of the body we want to improve.
The gifts of the Spirit are the same. You may have been born with one or more gifts, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask for others. Strive after them. Pursue them. Desire them. Pray for them.
We each have our own gifts. Some seem to be more full of the Holy Spirit and are capable of using their gifts more effectively than others. But with practice and discipline, your gifts can also grow and be more useful.
Whether you have one gift or all of them, you are vital, necessary, and loved. No matter how seemingly insignificant your gift may appear to be, no other gift is better. All are inarguably necessary.
1 Corinthians 12:21-26 “21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand,
I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet,
I have no need of you. 22 Nay, much more those members of the body,
which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: 23
And those [members] of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour;
and our uncomely [parts] have more abundant comeliness.
24 For our comely [parts] have no need:
but God hath tempered the body together,
having given more abundant honour to that [part] which lacked:
25 That there should be no schism in the body;
but [that] the members should have the same care one for another.
26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it;
or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.”
Those who are taken to be lesser parts of the body are to be held in greater esteem for their part. God will honor you more for your sacrifice. The greater parts have already received their recognition.
But there is one thing that is more excellent than all of those. One thing that the lowliest pauper may possess to the highest attainable degree that could, and should, cause him to be held in higher esteem than the most popular evangelist who goes from town to town healing, prophesying, speaking in tongues, and raising churches. Something that sets him apart, other than his dirty skin, ragged clothes, and “Will Work For Food” cardboard sign. Something that binds all of the gifts together, and without, causes the gifts to be useless and ineffectual.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 “1 Though I speak with the tongues
of men and of angels, and have not charity,
I am become [as] sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2 And though I have [the gift of] prophecy,
and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge;
and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains,
and have not charity, I am nothing.
3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor],
and though I give my body to be burned,
and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.”
It’s what draws us together and gives us reason and purpose. It is both the easiest and the hardest to express, but it is the most important thing. It should be behind everything we do and everything we say. It should be our primary motivation and our first response.
1 Corinthians 13:8 “8 Charity never faileth:
but whether [there be] prophecies, they shall fail;
whether [there be] tongues, they shall cease;
whether [there be] knowledge, it shall vanish away.”
Love is enduring. It will outlast all of the gifts of the Spirit. Love will still be there at the end of all time. The gifts will no longer be necessary, they will fade away. But not love. It will become pure and all encompassing. We will know it completely. Unlike the spiritual gifts, which some are granted to a person and others not, love is available to all. Nobody is excluded.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 “4 Charity suffereth long, [and] is kind;
charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself,
is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly,
seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7 Beareth all things, believeth all things,
hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
Paul spends the some time telling us what love is and is not. I know that I fail in some of these from time to time. Others, a bit more often. But recognizing where we fall short not only convicts us, it empowers us to change; to become better than we are.