Today’s reading: I Corinthians 12-14.
Luke described in the book of Acts how spiritual gifts came unexpectedly to new believers, giving evidence of their conversion. By the time of Paul’s writing believers practiced the gifts regularly in the church assemblies. Sometimes they misused the gifts, causing disorder in worship. Paul tried to put the gifts in proper perspective so that members would use them to build up the church rather than confuse it. As you read his words, think about how present they were in the early church, and how they seem almost absent by comparison today.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
Purpose. Spiritual gifts are not given for our own benefit, but for the good of the assembled church. They aren’t for show but for strengthening the body and advancing the kingdom.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret?
Parity. Each spiritual gift is important and plays a part in the proper function of the church. Though some are more visible, none is more necessary than the others. Put another way, the church is missing out when members fail to use their gifts. God determines which gifts are present, however, deciding which ones are needed in each place and time.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
Passing. The use of spiritual gifts without love accomplishes nothing. They can be misused out of pride or selfishness. The spiritual gifts will pass away, but love will remain forever. Therefore, love is the more important and desirable quality.
He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.
Priority. The priority in the use of spiritual gifts reflects the purpose of spiritual gifts. They are meant to build up the church body. They are not for the benefit of the person expressing the gift. Tongues in particular are of no benefit if their meaning is not interpreted.
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.
Propriety. Paul looked down on any chaotic expression of spiritual gifts in the assembly, as if believers were competing with each other or trying to outdo each other. He also noted that though these were spiritual expressions, they were not involuntary but were under the control of the person expressing the gift. No one with the gift of giving gave his riches away involuntarily, and no one speaking in tongues or prophesying should do so without self-control.
When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.
Practice. It’s fascinating to read this little snippet of what a first century church service looked like. Hymns and teaching, yes. But also revelations, and prophesying, and tongues. So much participation from the members. So much involvement of the Spirit. We have heeded Paul’s command for order, but perhaps we have shut out some of the Spirit in the process.
Image by Ministerios Cash Luna on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0