“Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:27–31, KJV)
Most people seek to better themselves. However, in some cases their motives are incorrect. For a large part of my secular career, I looked to advance myself for more money and prestige. I worked hard, pouring countless hours into a job. Yet, there was always something missing. Even after the Lord saved me, it took time to sort out my priorities or motivations.
It was not until I was a Christian for many years that I surrendered to the Lord’s call to the pastorate. The delay was because of an issue with my motives. I can see that now but then I could not. When considering the pastoral work, my motives were incorrect. I was running my own business and making a lot of money. I wanted to keep my profitable business and pastor at the same time. My priority was money. One day, the Lord touched my heart. I realized that if I was to serve Him, it meant surrendering all including the large income. Moreover, it meant a shift in motives from self to loving others.
Motives are clearly important. Paul wrote to a church that clearly struggled with motives. From this letter it is apparent that the use or rather the abuse of spiritual gifts was a problem. The church needed to know that God appointed gifted people to the church with unique giftings according to His sovereign purposes and that believers were to be content in using their ordained gifts for building up the body.
Here it seems as if Paul lists an order of the gifts from greater to lesser in the church (v27-28), even though the church was never to consider one more important than another. Moreover, he used rhetorical questions to emphasize the fact that all the members did not have the same gifting or assignment in the congregation (v29-30). Yet, then he wrote that the believer should “covet earnestly the best gifts.” In this phrase the word “best,” kreitton,refers to something being stronger, better or nobler (Strong G2909). Interestingly, the ESV translated this as “higher gifts,” due to the use of earlier manuscripts where the word megas, meaning big or great, was used (Strong 8173) instead of kreitton.
Thus, we have some questions. Was Paul telling believers to seek for themselves greater gifts, or to seek to have greater and more useful gifts taking the prominent role in the congregation. It seems as if both might be correct. Especially when we look at the issue the church was having with the abuse of certain gifts, in particular sign gifts, in the corporate worship experience (See Chapter 14). He specifically indicated that “prophesy” was more vital in worship than was “tongues” (1 Cor 14:1, 39).
Yet, the key issue Paul addressed in Corinth was still one of motives. In chapter 14 we read, “Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.” (1 Corinthians 14:1, KJV) They were to function in “charity,” that is agape in their corporate assembly. They were not to use their gifts in a self-indulgent manner, to puff themselves up, but rather they were to use the gifts given through love. This is Paul’s main point as he transitioned stating, “and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way,” the way of agape.
In our churches today we must guard against selfish motives in serving. For improper motives will clearly cause division, strife, and weakness in the body.