1 Corinthians 12, 13, Galatians 5:22-23
“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
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 (1 Corinthians 12 :31).
Surely all 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 Corinthians 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.
Elsewhere Paul describes love as the fruit of the Spirit. So let us 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 has to do with fruit of the Spirit, likeness to Jesus, as Paul concludes in 1 Corinthians 13. Also, importance does not equal greater reward. Reward is based on faithfulness, not outward results. Sometimes our assignment calls for more fruit than gifting. God expects us to be faithful, then the whole body can function smoothly. In turn we find personal fulfillment, and God will be pleased. We might find security and significance as we use our spiritual gifts.
Giftedness is great, but never forget something greater- fruit. How do the two relate? Both are the work of the Spirit. Both represent a part of His intentions for every believer. But a difference between fruit and gifts exists; the Spirit longs to give all the fruit to all believers in maximum measure, while the gifts He distributes among believers. Some receive greater gifts, some lesser. Great fruit without great gifts can bring great glory to God, but great gifts without great fruit clouds, perhaps even eclipses, His glory. When a godly person is also gifted, however, what glory to God!