Paul the Apostle was passionate about God’s gifts to His sons (Galatians 4:4, 5), and he often drew attentions to them in his epistles to various churches. His desire was for members of the churches to use their gifts for the building up of God’s body (1 Corinthians 14:12), for enabling them to preach the gospel of salvation (Cf. Matthew 28:19, 20; Mark 16:15) to those in darkness to bring them into the light (Cf. Acts 26:18).
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul highlights various kinds of gifts that are given to members of the church. They are distributed to them by the Spirit (V.V. 9, 11). Out of all of the gifts Paul states that love is the greatest (1 Corinthians 13:13). He says, ‘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 (13:3).’ At the end of Chapter 13 he tells them that they should abide in faith, hope and love, the greatest of which is love (V. 13).
Paul refers to these gifts as being ‘spiritual (12:1),’ and they are distributed by (V.4) or through (V. 8) the Holy Spirit. They are manifestations of the Spirit (V. 7), and they are ‘for the profit of all (V. 7).’ He identifies gifts of: ‘healings (V. 9), working of miracles, prophecy, discerning spirits, different kinds of tongues’ and ‘the interpretation of tongues (V.V. 8-10).’ He also mentions: ‘gifts of …… helps, administrations,’ and he speaks again of ‘varieties of tongues (V.V. 28, 30).’ All of these gifts are given to members of the body ‘as He wills (V. 11).’ Members of the body (1 Corinthians 12:27) were to desire the ‘best’ gifts (V. 31).’ [Some translations replace ‘best’ with ‘greater’ or ‘higher.]
Paul told them that *speaking in tongues edified the speaker (1 Corinthians 14:4), but prophesying edified the church, and the one who prophesied was greater than the one who spoke with tongues, unless the speaker of tongues interpreted what was being spoken (V. 5). He explained that it was important for speakers to profit the church by speaking ‘revelation, knowledge, prophesying and teaching (V. 6).’
The great thing about these gifts is that they are for building up the church, which is then equipped (Ephesians 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:17) for preaching the gospel of salvation to the world. This is the church’s primary role – to carry out the great commission of the risen Jesus. He commanded His disciples thus: ‘“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19, 20).”’
Now for these gifts of the Spirit and of God to be exercised, the church must meet in ways conducive for practising them. The way most churches meet is not helpful. Normally the main meeting is on a Sunday, and the members usually sit in rows facing so-called leaders who address the assembly. There is no interplay between the ‘speakers’ and the ‘recipients’, and there is little input by the mainly, passive ‘audience’. The exceptions are when they sing hymns and songs, and when they add their “amens” to prayers said by those doing the leading.
Sadly, the question that should be asked is, “Who is doing the leading?” Is it the Holy Spirit? Should not the Holy Spirit speak or express Himself through every member of the body? You might say, well, He does, because each person present is tuned into Him and speaks with Him silently in their hearts. They are therefore not passive, as one would assume by observation. Yes, to a certain extent this is true – if they are born of the Spirit (John 3:3). So perhaps it’s not as sad as one might suppose?
Nevertheless, there is room for much improvement in the churches. Perhaps they should consider offering more meetings of the type that was typical of the early church, i.e., in peoples’ homes? They met together for fellowship; quite often to eat meals and to give thanks for their salvation (Acts 2:42). At these gatherings, the members would be ‘filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in’ their hearts ‘to the Lord ….. submitting to one another in the fear of God (Ephesians 5:19-21).’
These were all-member participation meetings where the gifts of the Spirit were exercised by each according to the measure of their gifts. In this way the church was built up, and it was very effective in evangelising by preaching the gospel of the good new of Jesus Christ to the world (Acts 2:47).
Paul said the greatest gift was love (1 Corinthians 13:13), and he was absolutely right; for God is love (1 John 4:8), and He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16) to demonstrate His love (1 John 4:9, 10).