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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 12:29-31 the greater gifts

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, May 23, 2023

29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Are all healers? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But eagerly seek the greater gifts. And now I will show you a more excellent way.

Notice that Paul gets free with his list. He drops helpers and leaders and inserts a new item: “interpreters.” This means people who listen to what the one speaking in tongues says, and then interpret that into a language that they can understand. This and other passages tell us that the ones speaking in tongues could not themselves understand what they were saying.

Once again his main emphasis is that not everyone has the same gifts, and we should be happy with whatever gift or gifts that we have. Yet Paul adds: “Eagerly seek the greater gifts.” What does this mean?

It cannot mean that we can choose on our own to be pastors or to speak in tongues. Being a pastor is a matter of a divine call after long and intensive instruction. Most pastors in our fellowship have spent at least four college years and four seminary years in their training, but even then they might not receive a call if they are not suitable, even though there are many vacancies. We want the men who preach to be fit for ministry, able to teach and preach, and well trained in Christian doctrine.

In addition, there is no way for anyone to seek the gift of speaking in tongues. Surely Paul’s caution applies to speaking in tongues, too. This can’t be a thing that could be chosen by anyone. But how would someone pursue any gift? There are two possible answers.

First, a Christian might have more than one gift. If one or more gifts are there but haven’t been used, they should be pursued. Maybe there is a way to learn more about a gift you seem to have but don’t know how to apply it. Since Paul says “the greater gifts,” we understand why he listed some gifts by saying “first, second, third,” and so on. If a man has two or three gifts, and one is helping, and another is speaking in tongues, and another is preaching, he has a clear path. Speaking in tongues is well and good, but it’s the bottom of the list. Helping is higher up, and maybe helping has been mostly what he’s been doing up till now. But Paul lists preaching or teaching as one of the greater gifts, so by saying “eagerly seek the greater gifts,” he helps the man know which direction to take. He should learn more about preaching and teaching, and ask his own pastor to help him find out more about it. Is it possible for a man who is older to still enter into the ministry? There are many examples, from Moses to the Apostles to St. Augustine to myself.

At the same time, there are gifts such as healing that few do well. An aptitude for that gift will lead someone to learn about it, and God will bless that person to be a great help to the church and to the world.

And consider a gift like knowledge of God’s word (1 Corinthians 13:2; 2 Corinthians 8:7). This doesn’t come all in a moment like cleanliness comes as you wash your hands. Knowledge requires study, questions, guidance, thought, and insight. This can be gained slowly over time, but it is helped along with a good teacher. How blessed is a Bible class that is led by a pastor. He is on hand to answer questions and point out where one part of the Bible helps us to understand another! This isn’t to say that a lay-led study has no value, but why not listen to the man with training whom your own congregation has called to teach you?

In all of this discussion about gifts, Paul is uncovering many motives for desiring certain gifts. Not all of those motives are pure. Some have a little flicker of selfish pride like a quiet flame smoldering in the leaves. But soaring over the top of all motives for seeking out gifts is one thing. This is what Paul describes as “a more excellent way.” And this is what we will turn to next.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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