Online Bible Commentary
The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts
1 Corinthians 12:28 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. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31a But earnestly desire the best gifts. (NKJV)
The Apostle Paul is writing this letter to the Christians in Corinth, Greece from Ephesus, Asia (present day Turkey) in A.D. 54-56, during his third missionary journey. These teachings while written to the first century church in Corinth are applicable to all Christians.
In this chapter Paul has introduced us to spiritual gifts. In verses 8-10 he cited the spiritual gifts of Biblical wisdom, Biblical knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, tongues and interpreting tongues.
Many of these spiritual gifts ended with the first century. After the church had been established and all Scripture had been written there was no longer a need for the gifts of healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits and tongues and their interpretation.
Only God can heal, work miracles, and discern spirits. Prophecy ended with the Bible as affirmed by Jude when he wrote “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
The gift of tongues is not mentioned in any other Biblical epistle. It was not a part of the church from 100 A. D. until 1901 A.D. when the Pentecostal movement began.
In this passage Paul repeats the spiritual gifts of prophecy, healing, miracles and tongues. In addition to these gifts he introduces us to the spiritual gifts of apostles, teachers, helpers and administrators.
Spiritual gifts are “appointed” upon us by God (v. 28a). Individual Christians have no control over this appointment of gifts. God, and only God, is able to appoint spiritual gifts upon Christians.
Spiritual gifts are appointed upon Christians for the benefit of the church (v. 28b). The church is often able to help us discover our spiritual gifts. A spiritual gift is never appointed upon us for our own benefit or glory.
Paul states that gifts were appointed “first apostles, second prophets, third teachers” (v. 28c). Previously in this chapter Paul has stated that all gifts are important and necessary (vv. 22-24). Here he is saying that while all are important and necessary, some are better.
For example, if the gift of “apostles” had not existed the church would have never existed and there would not have been a need for the other gifts. An apostle is one who is sent out by God to spread the Gospel.
In its strictest sense an apostle was one of the original disciples and those who followed them in spreading the gospel in the first century. We still have apostles today, but we call them missionaries in order to differentiate them from the first century apostles.
Paul cites the gift of “prophets” as “second”. Although there were Old Testament prophets, Paul is referring here to prophets in the church age, since spiritual gifts are specifically given to benefit the church. These New Testament prophets only existed in the first century since the gift of prophecy ended with the completion of written Scripture (Jude 3).
The “third” gift cited here is the spiritual gift of “teachers”. Teachers are those who have been entrusted with explaining the Bible.
The spiritual “gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues” are then stated by Paul in a manner that denotes less importance. “Healings” refers to physical healing of the body.
“Helps” refers to those who are appointed with the gift of helping those in the church with material needs. We refer to these church members as deacons.
“Administrations” refers to those who are appointed with the gift of caring for the spiritual needs of those in the church. We refer to these church members as elders or bishops.
“Tongues” refers to the first century gift of speaking in tongues and interpretation of those who are speaking in tongues. The interpretation was required in order that the church would be benefitted by the speaking in tongues.
This list appears to denote the relative importance of these gifts. The first century Corinth church had elevated the gift of tongues above all other gifts and Paul appears to be attempting to correct them of this mistaken belief.
This list of spiritual gifts is not appointed to “all” Christians (vv. 29-30). Every Christian is appointed with at least one spiritual gift and some are appointed with more than one.
Spiritual gifts are appointed in order to benefit the church. All of the gifts which are still appointed are appointed within the corporate church body, and, hopefully, within each individual church.
Paul concludes this passage by exhorting us to “earnestly desire the best gifts” (v. 31a). The original Greek text of this verse reads: “fervently desire But the gifts better”.
In the Greek language the emphasis of the sentence is pushed to the front. In this case Paul is exhorting the church to “fervently desire” the “better” gifts.
Paul is specifically writing here to the first century church in Corinth which was emphasizing the gift of tongues. He is calling on them to emphasize the gifts that are “better”, more edifying to the church. The purpose of spiritual gifts is to edify the church.