Looking at the Gifts of the Spirit by following the Apostle Paul’s teaching on them to the Corinthians seems to push us away from the standard way many of us think about them. The entire twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians is a discussion about the BODY. Every Gift is viewed in the context of individual members within a whole body. It is not a thinking of self to see what we can do, rather it is thinking of the body to see what we can do for it.
Once Paul establishes this from both the perspective of those who might feel unwanted or disconnected as well as those who might feel “high and mighty” and want to exercise authority and judge others as unworthy or unnecessary, (1 Corinthians 12:15-26) he moves toward the structure of leadership that is intended to guide and direct the body in its service to itself.
1 Corinthians 12:27-28 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.
And so, though there is a universal equality in the sense that we are all sinners saved by grace, there is likewise a structure that God has ordained and established with “offices” in the Church that will make this working together possible. Some of the offices listed here were temporary offices. Apostles and Prophets were offices that Jesus Himself gave to establish the Church. Their work is represented to us as the New Testament. It is their words written and unchanging for all of time. Likewise the “miraculous sign gifts” were given to confirm the message that they preached and are also no longer in regular use.
Hebrews 2:1-4 Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. 2 For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, 4 God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?
As the Apostle went about establishing the Church he sent his men to various countries to get those churches established and running. When he sent Titus to Crete he did not send him to ordain Apostles or Prophets, but Elders/Bishops who succeeded them as the leaders of the Church.
Next Paul gives the Corinthians offices of Helps and Administration which correspond to Deacons and Ruling Elders. Finally he mentions an office of Tongues that again would have passed with the miraculous ministry of the Apostles. That leaves us with the present offices of Pastor (Ephesians 4:11, 1 Timothy 3:1-7; who is also called a Teaching Elder 1 Timothy 5:17; Bishop, Titus 1:5-8 and Shepherd, 1 Peter 5:1-2) Ruling Elder (distinguished from the Teaching Elder in 1 Timothy 5:17) and Deacon (Acts 6:1-6, 1 Timothy 3:8-13). All of these offices are an important part of the ministry of the local church.
So now we see our equality, diversity and yet structure that enables us all to work together with meaning and purpose. But Paul does not stop there. Once we recognize the diverse yet unified nature of the Church and see its structure based on Gifts that God has placed in it as He wills, Paul still wants to guard against the potential for strife that can come from this and says that there is still a “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31) that we should strive after This is where he takes us from function to foundation.
1 Corinthians 13:1-3 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging 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, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
With all of this said, after 31 verses on the way the gifts function in the Body, Paul won’t end there with just discussing the technical aspects of Church polity. He now thrusts us below the surface and tells us that even if we get all of this discussion just right we can still completely blow it if we don’t do it with the right attitude. This does not detract from the importance of a right understanding and performance of the gifts that he just spent all of that time explaining. Instead it re-enforces it, taking away the possibility of abusing the gifts, which was the problem that the Corinthians we struggling with. If the diversity and unity, the various gifts and callings and offices are done with love as the foundation, it will ensure that they are done right. Without it we are sure to fail no matter how gifted we may appear of feel that we are.
As we consider the gifts it often brings out questions about how to know what our personal gifts are and where we should be serving in the Church. I believe if we start here and work from love to gifts instead of the other way around we will ultimately find our way into those gifts and have no doubt where we belong in the body. So if you ask me how to discover your gift, my advice is to begin with loving the people of God and serving them with an attitude of humility. When you start there God will put right where He wants you.
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