1 Corinthians 12:28
“And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” 1 Corinthians 12:28)
Spiritual gifts are important to God. Surely all the gifts are of equal importance to Him? Careful! The central purpose of 1 Corinthians 12-14 is to get the church to understand that gifts are not all of equal importance for accomplishing God’s will. Some gifts are less important.
The church at Corinth was focusing on one of those less-important gifts (speaking in tongues). Furthermore, the church at Corinth should have focused on some very important gifts, but they didn’t-gifts like apostle, prophet, teacher. Paul even numbered them 1, 2, and 3 (1 Cor. 12:28), so they wouldn’t miss the point. He doesn’t continue his numbering system beyond those three, so they may just be representative.
But these three give a hint as to what Paul considers more important- roles which seem to have the greatest impact for God’s purposes in the church and in the world. My personal definition of his top three would be pioneer missionary evangelist (apostle), power-filled preaching (prophesy), and spirit-anointed teaching. These three represent important tasks indeed.
If you read chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians in a hurry, you may conclude that Paul is contrasting lower gifts with the highest gift, love. If you draw that conclusion, you will miss the point . Paul is teaching the people at Corinth about spiritual gifts, and having exhorted them to seek the higher ones, he pauses for a mid-course correction. “Don’t get me wrong,” he says. “These gifts, even the more important ones, aren’t the most important thing. Love is most important.” Love isn’t a “gift” in the sense Paul is talking about; he calls it a “way.” “I’ll show you an even better way”-better than the best gift (see 1 Corinthians 12:31).
Elsewhere Paul describes love as the fruit of the Spirit. So let’s not confuse fruit with gifts. Gifts are Spirit-given abilities; fruit represents Spirit-developed character. Paul’s command in verse 31 is to desire Spirit-given abilities to serve God, but his teaching in all of chapter 13 is that love is more important than any gift. The importance of a gift does not imply that one gift is more spiritual than another. Spiritual likeness to Jesus, has to do with fruit of the Spirit, as Paul concludes in 1 Corinthians 13. Also, importance does not equal greater reward. Reward is based on faithfulness, not outward results.
To accomplish God’s mission on earth, however, some gifts are of greater importance than others. For 12 years I was a pioneer missionary evangelist. My job was starting churches, a very high calling according to Paul. Today I’m primarily a homemaker, which calls more for fruit than for gifts. My Spirit-given gifts have a limited outlet through some writing and speaking. But I’m not claiming that my role in life is as important as anyone else’s. My calling cannot compare with that of others in terms of eternal impact. God only expects that we be faithful to our own calling. Then the whole body can function smoothly. In turn, we will find personal fulfillment, and God will be pleased.
Although we’ve learned something about what the gifts are by examining the biblical lists of gifts, apparently the Holy Spirit didn’t intend to give a clear-cut list of specific job descriptions. Perhaps He intended for us to see what needs doing and trust Him to provide people with the abilities needed to do it. Consider how you are using your spiritual gifts and manifesting spiritual fruit. Concentrate more on outward outcomes or inward character and behavior? Fruit or gifts? This is not either/or, it is both. Pray for the higher gifts. Ministry and life is most productive when accompanied by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.