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Exercising Our Spiritual Gift(s) - Desiring the Best Gift(s)

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Maranatha Emanuel!
[computer software] . Franklin, TN: Equipping Ministries Foundation. (Original work published 1890)
Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries.
Strong, J.
Meyers, R. (2005). e-Sword.
I find it interesting that Paul does not ask us to accept our status quo with God concerning spiritual gifts. In fact, he actually says, "But covet earnestly the best gifts" in 1 Corinthians 12:31a. What did he mean? Does the Holy Spirt actually want us to desire spiritual gifts that we consider the "best gifts", and therefore, does that mean that some gifts are definitely better than others?
I chose the title "Desiring the Best Gifts" because naming it "Covet the Best Gifts" didn't sound fitting. Yet the Greek word
can be covet, desire, jealous, envy, and
zealous (Strong's G2206) based on the context of the verse. The word means "to
of feeling for or against" (Strong's G2206).
The chapter is addressing a major issue in the Corinthian church that centers around the misuse and implied wrong desire for the gift of tongues. By this time, those who were not speaking in tongues were seen as lesser Christians and those who did as "more spiritual." Of course, this could not be further from the truth. So along comes Paul's teaching to correct this error. He does so by couching his arguments in the importance of the corporate body of Christ. He gently calls them "ignorant" regarding the truth surrounding spiritual gifts (the word is
: not to know, lack of information
or intelligence about, or worse, a desire to ignore (Strong's G50).) We'll dissect this chapter in pieces:
Paul's Discussion of Spiritual Gifts (Chapter 12)
Note: Paul's discussion includes chapters 12, 13, 14, but for this article we are concentrating on Chapter 12. The Corinthian church had problems (not unlike churches today), and the area of worship was certainly one of them. In their case, it was primarily in the nature and exercise of spiritual gifts among the believers while in a public service, So Paul takes a few chapters to address these problems and suggests some remedies to restore order with some worship rules and provide them with better understanding of the proper used of spiritual gifts. At the heart of the problem we see the believers prideful and self-centered in the exercise of their gifts and by comparing themselves have developed a hierarchy of who has the best gifts, even who might not be saved if they don't speak in tongues. They thus abuse their freedom in Christ, and instead of harmony there is selfishness, and disunity (1 Corinthians 12:7, 25; 14:4), and disorder in their public meetings (1 Corinthians 14:23, 33, 40).
Paul starts with describing the nature and purpose of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-30) in the Body of Christ as well as the importance and preeminence of love over any of the gifts (but especially sign gifts) (see 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13). Paul provides some rules and principles to be followed in the assembly in the exercise of those gifts with an emphasis on love (Chapter 14). Paul stresses the need to stay focused on the glory of God, His grace, and promoting the good of others instead of focusing on themselves and what gifts they have individually.
Unity and Diversity of Gifts in the Body of Christ
1 Corinthians 12:1-3:
Now concerning spiritual
, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know
that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and
no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by
the Holy Ghost.
Paul first addesses what he sees as their ignorance, He reminds them (rebukes?) that they were once Gentiles seeking after idols and, as new creatures, need not be led away as they once were (implied) when they were idol worshippers and very self-centered. As such, they need to know (therefore discern) that only believers can call Jesus Lord (verse 3c&d). This implies that some who spoke in tongues accused those who did not of being unbelievers. His emphasis then shifts from the argument of a sign gift to a testimony when it comes to discerning who is a true believers.
It is possible that the pagan background from which they had come (1 Corinthians 8:10; 10:14, 20-21) prevented them from being able to discern the influence and possible presence of false prophets/teachers in their midst who may have been the source of some of the confusion and discord. Not unlike today when some groups accuse other groups of lacking the Holy Spirit, or not truly being in the Spirit, or other demeaning accusations because you/we do not speak in tongues. Verse 3 then addresses both their own worldly attitudes as well as a rebuke of those stirring up trouble and falsehoods. Paul then starts in this first section to get them to change their thinking from the world's way to God's way.
Additionally, as in common for the Holy Spirit, God has Paul lay down an important and simple test related to the person of Christ. Believers will confess that Jesus is Lord, and only false teachers would call him accursed. Look in 2 Corinthians 12:1 (see 2 Corinthians 11) where Paul highlights that these false prophets claim their visions, revelations, and messages were from God and use them to deny the humanity of Christ (who is both fully man and fully God!). This lie is still true today of many false teachers, but consider the source - Satan and his hordes. An early Christological heresy (Docetism) denied Christ's humanity, not His deity, and this may have been a factor with the Corinthian problems.
Finally, notice that Paul emphasizes that Jesus is Lord. One who is to be obeyed. The Jesus who suffered for our sins is (emphasis on
) now Jesus who reigns as Lord
(1 Corinthians 1:9). Only believers, speaking by the Holy Spirit, acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. Nonbelievers - including false teachers - deny His sovereign lordship.
1 Corinthians 12:4-6:
"Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all."
We have looked at these few verses several times now. In verse 3, Paul mentions the Spirit of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit which may be a reference to the Godhead - the Trinity. In verse four, Paul begins listing the Godhead again, but in reverse order as he stresses the unity of the Godhead in relation to the different spiritual gifts and the roles each member of the Godhead plays. The Holy Spirit gives a diversity (variety, distinctions, differences (Strong's G1243) of gifts (
(Strong's G5486)) to the
believers as they serve the Lord and His body - the church. Jesus (Lord) gives the administration (
(Strong's G1248)) - offices, ministrations, serving positions
- also in various ways. Finally, all of the gifts are empowered (
G1755)) by God the Father and exercised under His guidance. Though there are different kinds/varieties (
(Strong's G1243)) of gifts, different "offices" or
assignments in the church (by Jesus), and different levels of power (by God the Father) . . . the entire Godhead is involved in all aspects of spiritual gifts to the Body of Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:7-10:
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another
kinds of tongues; to another the
interpretation of tongues:
Notice the "profit withal" statement. The gifts were meant to provide a unity in their source (vv. 4-6), and a unity in purpose - that of profiting the whole church body (with a de-emphasis on the individual). Don't get me wrong, individual were to be blessed and to get blessed as the gifts are exercised properly within the whole body. They were given, not for personal edification (1 Corinthians 14:4; 1 Peter 4:10), but for the common good of the church, the building up of all the saints (1 Corinthians 10:24; 14:12). Paul then lists some examples (see Romans 12 for a list of the seven motivational gifts for comparison). Other lists include 1 Corinthians 12:28-31; Ephesians 4:11; and 1 Peter 4:10-11. The Holy Spirit, through Paul, emphasizing that the primary purpose of the gifts is for the edification of the Body of Christ - not individual edification. Personal edification does occur, but is not the primary reason God gave us gifts, and individual edification is very wrong motivation!
This list in 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 includes nine gifts. Let's take a brief look at them.
(Strong's G4678)): refers to insight and understanding and,
in this context, specifically spiritual insight (doctrinal truth, solutions to problems, etc.)
(Strong's G1108)): refers to the ability to apply truth and
information (again specifically implied doctrinal truth) to life and everyday situations.
(Strong's 4102)): as a spiritual gift is the exercise of a strong
measure of trust in God beyond that exercised by most Christians (e.g., 1 Corinthians 13:2). See Romans 10:8, Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38.
(Strong's G2386)): is the ability to restore health (e.g., Acts 3:7;
19:12) as well as stop death (temporarily), (Acts 9:40; 20:9-20).
(Wordsearch's Strong's G1411)): power, force, imiplied
authority to do what seems unnatural. Miraculous power to command things like the weather, exorcising demons (Acts 19:12), raising the dead (Acts 5:5, 9-10), or inducing physical disability (Acts 13:11).
(Strong's G4394)): is the ability, like that of the Old
Testament prophets, to declare a message of God for His people (1 Corinthians 14:3), or to foresee the future, or to see the hidden things of a man's heart.
(Strong's G1253)): the ability to distinguish between spirits
is the gift to differentiate that proclaimed by a true prophet (God's Word) from that of a satanic deceiver (2 Corinthians 11:14-15; 1 John 4:1).
(Strong's G1100)): As an example (Acts 2:6), refers to the
ability to hear someone speak in a different language but perceive it in one's own language. It has been extended to mean that one is speaking in an unknown living language that the speaker does not know which is why Paul deals with proper use of this gift in the assembly and demands that someone interprets the words or else it does not edify the body (1 Corinthians 14:27).
(Strong's G2058)): was the ability to properly translate
an unlearned, but know language after it was expressed in the assembly (1 Corinthians 14:27). The word
is the branch of study in seminaries
to correctly interpret the Word of God.
1 Corinthians 12:11:
"But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit,
dividing to every man severally as he will."
The gifts were not meant to be chosen by individuals or personally asked for by them, but were instead given by the Spirit as He determined. "The Spirit" is referred to six times in verses 7-11 and refers to the Holy Spirit. Again, Paul emphasizes the edification of the Body, not the individual.
1 Corinthians 12:12:
"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all
the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also
(a) The church, like the human body, is a unit (v. 13 on the unity of the Body of
The church, like the human body, has many parts that are required and are different from one another in its members (vv. 14-20). Are all eyes? are all ears? feet? hands?
The parts of the human body work together as a whole supporting one another, in need of support from the others as each part fulfills an important function (vv. 21-26). Likewise the Body of Christ has a diversity of parts operating together (vv. 27-30).
1 Corinthians 12:13:
"For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether
we be
Jews or Gentiles, whether
we be
bond or free; and have been all made to
drink into one Spirit."
Paul reminds them that the Holy Spirit gave the various gifts, and He is the reason and substance in which, by which, and with which that body unity exists. The baptism (immersion) of the Spirit is experienced by all who believe at the moment of salvation (Romans 8:9), and we must remember that it is Jesus who baptizes us in the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). In that baptism, believers regardless of ethos (Jews or Greek - bond or free), are identified with Christ (baptized . . . into one body) and are indwelt by the Spirit (given to drink of the one Spirit; John 4:14; 7:38-39). (See also Romans 6:1-12.)
1 Corinthians 12:14-20:
For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body
an eye, where
the hearing? If the whole
the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in
the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one members, where
the body? But now
are they
many members, yet but one body.
OK, we all know that different parts are needed if a body is to be alive (v. 19). So, too, no believer should think of himself or his gift as inferior, not needed, extraneous, or somehow devalued, and so, therefore, desire another member's "more important" gift. The gifts were not arbitrarily distributed (v. 11) but carefully prescribed according to the perfect will of God (implied: the Godhead) (v. 18).
1 Corinthians 12:21-26:
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. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those
of the body,
which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely
have more abundant comeliness. For our comely
have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more
abundant honor to that
which lacked: That there should be no schism in the
whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.
Paul continues his analogy by reminding them that in the diversity of the parts in a human body there is a corresponding mutual dependence. A person with a seemingly greater gift should not imagine that he can function alone since a bodily member cut off from the rest of the body would cease to exist. Also, those whom others may think possess a lesser gift should, in fact, be accorded greater honor by the other members of the body just as the physical body provides special attention to protection and dress to those parts of the body deemed less respectable (1 Corinthians 12:22-24). In this way, God provides honor to the more "humble" and generally unseen gifts so that members of the church body would desmonstrate greater mutual care for the well-being of others (1 Corinthians 12:25b-26; 10:24; 11:18). This, then, would result in any rivalry ceasing (so that there should be no division in the body; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 11:18), and genuine unity and mutual community would exist (1 Corinthians 12:26).
1 Corinthians 12:27-31:
Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. 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.
all apostles?
all prophets?
all teachers?
all workers of miracles? Have
all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet show I unto you a more excellent way.
We must remember that the unifying member and head in the spiritual body is Christ. As the Head (Ephesians 1:22; 1 Corinthians 11:3); He possesses, rules, manages, guides the body, and sovereignly expresses His will. His command is that love is the key among the members (John 15:12). Love is the force that can maintain unity within a diverse church body (and Paul addresses love more fully in chapter 13).
For a third time (1 Corinthians 12:18, 24, 28), however, Paul reminds them that God, not man, assigned the gifts (three-fold witness!). We really need to listen when God says something three times - "in the mouth of two or three witnesses let everything be established" (Matthew 18:16). As he discusses another list of gifts (verses 28:30), he reminds them by using questions that the members do not all heal, prophesy, serve as apostles, etc.
Paul has interestingly assigned ordinal numbers (first . . . second . . . third) to the first three gifts; thus, he is potentially suggesting that these are important gifts, and that the Corinthians may have relegated them to a lesser role ( 1 Corinthians 12:21-24) behind the sign gifts (e.g., speaking in tongues). I believe that first three gifts were listed by Paul as greater (v. 31) because of their extensive value to the whole Body of Christ (interpretation not required). This may be why he listed them first and then said that the church should eagerly desire (v. 31) the exercise of those gifts in the public assemblies (1 Corinthians 14:1-5).
Gifted apostles, prophets, and teachers minister to the whole church congregation, and therefore, provoke unity, love and good works, and mutual edification. The gift of tongues, on the other hand, fits what is obviously the Corinthian desire for self-expression and self-exaltation, not to mention a possible abuse of personal freedom since they needed to be reminded that Jesus is Lord (not themselves). This self-centeredness also afflicted the church in other areas (e.g., eating sacrificial foods, the problem of women with improper worship, inappropriate celebration of the Lord's Supper -gluttony).
Paul discerns that love for others was a missing essential element in the Corinthian church as they had an emphasis on themselves and not the whole, and to that issue, Paul then provides a most articulate and persuasive tribute in chapter 13 - the Bible's love chapter.
So What About "Coveting/Desiring the Best Gifts?
Paul's emphasis has been on correcting the Corinthian's attitude toward the more visible sign gifts to the apparent neglect of the more valuable gifts (apostleship, prophecy, teaching) which not only edify the individual, but the entire body. He uses the example of the human body and the importance of every part (and who would like to turn their feet into another set of ears?) in their place for perfect harmony and unity.
To "covet earnestly" the best gifts is Paul's and the Holy Spirit's way of telling the Corinthians, and thus ourselves, that we as a body (not an individual) should seek to promote the use of what today we call teaching and preaching in as much as they do more to edify the entire body than do tongues or other "visible" gifts. However, we need to let the Holy Spirit exhibit and provide us with whatever gift(s) He wishes in order to accomplish the overall work of the ministry.
This verse forms an excellent three-part summary of the rest of the chapter.
Strong's Talking Greek_Hebrew Dictionary.
Wordsearch. (2020).
Strong, J.
Wordsearch Bible. [computer software] . Nashville, TN: LifeWay Christian Resources. (Original work published 1890)
body; but
the members should have the same care one for another. And