In chapter thirteen, Paul outlined what agape love is and its importance in the life of the church. He noted that when compared to other aspects of the church, specifically that of spiritual gifts or God-given talents, love is the higher thing and more excellent way. Now, in chapter fourteen he pivots back to the topic of spiritual gifts and how we should view them in light of what we’ve learned about love.
“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.”
~1 Corinthians 14:1-5
Paul calls us to pursue love first, but in the process to also earnestly desire the spiritual gifts. The topic of spiritual gifts can be a controversial one in many Christian circles; however, Paul explicitly tells the Corinthians to first pursue love and then earnestly desire the spiritual gifts. This is not an either/or argument because Paul clearly references and encourages the use of spiritual gifts. So we should not solely focus on what can or cannot be done in church, but rather the motive behind what is done. Actions matter, but in God’s eyes the motives behind the actions are of even greater weight.
Now back to our text in 1 Corinthians 14. In the beginning of the chapter, Paul makes the case that while both the gift of prophesy and the gift of tongues is useful and should be pursued, the gift of prophesy is more beneficial to the church at large. And while Paul does speak a lot about gifts, the main point of this entire chapter is summed up in one simple phrase: build the church. Twice in this passage Paul exhorts the Corinthians to use their gifts to build the church.
“So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit,
strive to excel in building up the church.”
~1 Corinthians 14:12
This is a good exhortation for us today. How many of us strive to actively pursue excellence in building up the church? Do we leverage our gifts, abilities, and resources to make sure that the Body of Christ is growing and becoming stronger? Or are we focused on our own lives, problems, and concerns? Are we guilty of bringing our culture’s consumerism mindset into our spiritual lives and expecting to get something from church when in fact we are called to give and together pursue the building of Christ’s Body?
As redeemed sons and daughters of God, we are called to use our spiritual gifts to build the church of Jesus Christ. They were not given for our own spiritual growth or benefit but for that of our brothers and sisters. So whether your spiritual gifts are more public and showy like prophesy or speaking in tongues or if they’re more background and not as visible like service, encouragement or mercy, use them to build the church. We should not quench the Spirit by hindering His working in our lives via the gifts He has given us.
Therefore, earnestly desire the spiritual gifts as you pursue love, and above all else remember Paul’s exhortation that all must be done decently and in order for the edification and building of the church.
“So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.
But all things should be done decently and in order.”
~1 Corinthians 14:39-40
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