Desire The Higher Gifts
There is an interesting paradox found in Paul’s instructions to those in Corinth regarding the spiritual gifts. In Chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians Paul begins to address the spiritual gifts and points out clearly that there is one spirit and yet a variety of differing gifts.
Paul then, beginning in verse 12, gives an illustration of one body having many differing members. In this illustration of the body Paul points out there are two different mindsets that they were to be on guard against.
(1) I’m Not Important or Needed
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. (1Co 12:12-20)
I think of the two mindsets we find ourselves struggling with this more. We sometimes struggle to see where we fit in. We sometimes don’t see the worth of our efforts. There is always someone out there that we see who is better at something than we are and we feel inadequate. The easy thing to do is to fade back and do less. The easy path is to say to ourselves, “They’re so much better at it, they will take care of it.”
Because people don’t see their worth or value themselves lower than others who are striving to use their gifts to God’s glory as well they find themselves doing less and less until they reach the conclusion they aren’t truly needed. Paul said that’s not the case and shows logically and rationally why that’s not true.
(2) I’m Important and Don’t Need Others
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1Co 12:21-27)
Paul then turns the tables to the other possibility of those who esteem themselves and their gifts too highly. Like it or not I think we find ourselves in this mindset to often as well. It’s easy to talk about those “weak” members within our numbers. While it may be reality Paul’s point, I believe, is to remind us that everyone is important, vital, and needed.
Notice that Paul said that God has so composed the body. This is His plan, His wisdom, His Spirit. Maybe your faith may is strong at this point in your life. Maybe your gift is often more in the public light than others. The call isn’t to boast in your gift and say to yourself that we can survive without those weak members but rather to show them greater care and build them up.
But Earnestly Desire the Higher Gifts
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. (1Co 12:29-31)
Wait a minute! I thought we just said that it’s not about being greater and one gift is better than the other? I thought the point was that we’re all members of the same body equally important? There’s the interesting paradox we mentioned at the beginning.
Paul further explains in the next few chapters what this means to desire the higher gifts. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul is going to show the temporary nature of the miraculous gifts and the steadfast nature of the higher gifts.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1Co 13:1-2)
“Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1Co 13:8-13)
Paul points out that while these gifts are important, from God, and given by the Holy Spirit, without the proper heart and motivation for having them and using them they fail to fulfill the purpose for which they were given. The higher gifts are faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love.
In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul gets down to the details of using these gifts and particularly within the collective worship and the reason for using them. He points out that there is a higher purpose of having these gifts and not just showing off.
Notice 1 Corinthians 14:5 – “Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.”
Paul wanted these gifts to be used and not abandoned. A key word in that verse is the word unless. Prophecy is greater unless there is an interpreter. That simply means that if an interpreter was there these two gifts share equal importance and value because it accomplishes what it was purposed for.
That purpose is:
“so that the church may be built up.” (14:5)
“So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.” (14:12)
“What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” (14:26)
The higher gifts are the higher calling and motivation for what we do and why we do it. It’s apparent from Paul’s letter that these things had gotten out of hand and people had forgotten the purpose. It’s also apparent that others had neglected their gifts because of this disorder.
We can face the same problem today if we aren’t on guard. While we don’t have the miraculous gifts of the Spirit in those same ways today we do still have gifts of the Holy Spirit. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (1 Pet 4:10)
We all have different gifts and talents that we are to use to edify the saints and build up the church and all to God’s glory. Your particular gift may not be in the public eye as much as others and you may not feel like it makes a difference at times but you do. Our God observes all our deeds, they good ones to! While you strive to build up the body by doing your part remember that you can’t do it alone and that every part is needed. There are always others working tirelessly that go unnoticed and while not desiring credit and attention still need encouragement and edification as well.
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Eph 4:15-16)
Desire the higher gifts and pursue the weightier matters (Matt 23:23) in your walk with God and service to Him. Recognize your strengths and give God thanks as you strive to use it to His glory. Admit your weaknesses and strive to grow by God’s grace in those areas as well. Above all do everything to God’s glory out of love and faith.