The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of 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? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.
And yet I will show you the most excellent way.
- 1 Corinthians 12:21-31
“The time is more than ripe for a rethinking of the whole matter of Spiritual gifts within the church of Christ. The subject has fallen into the hands of people for the most part extreme and irresponsible and has become associated with fanaticism in its various forms. This is a huge misfortune and is causing tremendous loss to the work of spiritual Christianity in our times.
“Prejudices pro and con make the consideration of this subject difficult, but its neglect is costing us more than we should be willing to pay. A revival of true New Testament Christianity must surely bring with it a manifestation of spiritual gifts. Anything short of it will create a just suspicion that the revival is something short of scriptural.”
- A. W. Tozer, The Next Chapter After the Last
Charles Stanley, in his book The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life, has an appendix that shows the various lists of gifts of the Spirit. The Scripture above contains only one of three lists within 1 Corinthians 12. Yes, three lists of spiritual gifts in one chapter of the Bible.
In Tozer’s lament, he talks of two things. One is that discussion regarding spiritual gifts has been tainted by showmanship of some denominations. He does not identify the denominations nor the spiritual gifts that are ‘showy’, but he does paint a picture. One can think of miraculously healing people and speaking in tongues. Those are gifts of the Spirit, but in the eight gifts listed in the Scripture above, healing is fifth and speaking in tongues is last. Clearly, apostles, prophets, and teachers are listed as being more important for the life of a church than miracles, and healing miracles are behind that.
For a church to be healthy, it needs to have the Holy Spirit. This is Tozer’s second point. But how can a church demonstrate its spiritual health within the neighborhood? Healing the sick is a wonderful thing, and it would draw a crowd, but speaking in tongues simply draws a crowd. ‘Apostles’ in this context is those elderly sages that have spent time in prayer, Bible study, and meditation who can act as church leaders (usually the pastor) to guide the church to a better understanding of Jesus, His teachings, and the path toward salvation and sanctification. Teachers are close to the same thing, possibly without the leadership qualities.
Between those two in the list is the prophets. It has been asked if we have prophets these days. We don’t have that job title in the church, but God grants prophets here and there to guide away from wrong thinking and set people back on the right track. Oh, do we need prophets today.
And possibly the best way that a church can show that the Holy Spirit dwells within the church’s members is the sixth item on the list, helping. The seventh, guidance, is equal to it.
For all this talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit focuses on “me”, my gifts, and not God. What gifts do “I” have? We lose the fact that God gives gifts to those who will glorify God, not self. Is that not the bottom line? Look at me! People can spend months in 1 Corinthians 12 and the other lists like Romans 12:6-8 or Ephesians 4:11, trying to find out how it affects “me.”
What we have failed to do is to read the second half of the last verse in 1 Corinthians 12. “And yet I will show you the most excellent way.”
And how does the Apostle Paul tell the Corinthians to show their spiritual gifts?
Do not fail to turn the page… Hint: Read beyond 1 Corinthians 12 and find 1 Corinthians 13.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.