12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 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? 31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.
Paul doesn't just list the main gifts given by the Spirit, he ranks them. Then he advises Christians to desire the best gifts. I can't help but notice his list is not what you would expect. Some may disagree with me here and that's perfectly normal and healthy but I'm going to attempt to define an apostle. The word literally means 'one who is sent out'. Paul can't be referring to the narrow definition of the original 12 apostles because it would have been impossible to join that group so why be told to desire a gift you can't have? Instead let's look at the more general description of an apostle. To be sent out involves someone sending you. So an apostle is a person the church recognizes as capable and worthy to send out to unreached places like Paul did to spread the good news about Jesus. Such an individual would today be called a missionary and Paul describes that giftedness as being the most desirable above a prophet or a teacher.
Now look at the church and the world. If you asked the average person to list the gifts Paul has given here in order of desirability how do you think most would rank them? Do you think the ability to heal and perform miracles would be at the bottom?
It is interesting to not that one large Christian denomination places a huge emphasis on speaking in tongues. They basically teach that you haven't received the Holy Spirit at all if you can't speak in tongues. Clearly we don't value what God values and over value other things. When it comes to miracles, Jesus said "A wicked and perverse generation seeks signs and miracles."
The tendency to undervalue what it truly valuable and over value what is not pervades our society. Think about it. We hold huge galas televised internationally to give awards to actors and musicians. What about the teachers who work tirelessly in less than easy or ideal circumstances to educate our children, often spending far more time with them than we do? What about the doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel that care for our health? Where are the accolades for them?
Even in the church it is all backwards. Missionaries go where they know no one and make no money to share God's love with strangers and we barely lift an eyebrow. Meanwhile the preachers who "stay home" and preach to the "saints" on a comfortable salary etc... receive far more appreciation.
Now before I get myself in trouble by being too critical my point is not to rank us by what we do. My point is to really look at the list of gifts and the order Paul put them in. Then look at your life and the world around you and seriously ask yourself if your evaluation of what is important or truly valuable is right. Would Jesus agree? Desire what He would desire if He were in your situation.
One more thing. Think about people in your life who will never make a headline or receive an award but are doing something that is really making a positive difference. Then find a way to let them know it is truly appreciated.
Soon we'll explore "a more excellent way".