Paul the writer of 1 Corinthians says in verse 31 “But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” Now the question that we as the Church have to answer is what are the higher gifts or greater gifts? The only way to do this is to look at the surrounding context of chapters 12 and 13.
For Paul and for us we should desire a Church that is gifted by God, after all, this a crucial role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. The body is made up of many members and each member (believer) has a gift/role to play in the body of Christ! When someone believes in Christ and is baptized in Christ they receive the Holy Spirit as the promised down payment of their salvation (Ephesians 1:14). This same Holy Spirit empowers us to live a life pleasing to God (Romans 8) but the Holy Spirit also supplies us with a gift that we didn’t have before! This is a great promise for the Church and one we should rejoice in.
The first question we must ask is why does the Holy Spirit gift us? Or what is the purpose of the gift that we have been given? The Bible answers this clearly for us in 1 Corinthians 12:7 when Paul writes “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” So Paul is telling us as believers that we have been given gifts or manifestations of the spirit for the common good. We are not given gifts for our own good or our own glory but we are given these gifts for the common good. Now if that verse was not plain enough Paul also writes in Ephesians 4:11-12 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” So the gifts of the spirit are given by Christ for one purpose to edify the Church! To build up the Church!
So with this understanding now we can grasp what Paul means when he says desire the greater/higher gifts. The higher gifts are the ones that build up the Church; the higher gifts are the ones that are less about ourselves and more about the Church as a whole! This was the whole problem in Corinth; they were self-seeking rather than community seeking. This is why Paul calls eventually will tell them the best way and that is always to do everything out of Love (1 Corinthians 13).
Let’s look at a few more verses from 1 Corinthians 12 and we will really gather what Paul feels are the greater gifts. Paul says in verses 22-25 “On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.”
So if we understand Paul and take his words serious in 1 Corinthians 12 then the greater gifts are those that we see as inferior! This is a great understanding of how the Church works. Those gifts that we see as weaker are actually the ones that we cannot live without and they are not weaker but greater! Think about your Church. What are the gifts that you see as inferior? Here are some examples of roles that I would say people find as weaker: the cleaning of the Church; the teachers in Children’s ministry, the person who greets people at the door. These are just 3 examples but for many of us we see these as inadequate gifts but according to Paul these are the greatest gifts because they are not self-seeking but community seeking. These verses should challenge us to be less worried about ourselves and more worried about the people around us in Church! For our role in the Church is always and will always be for the purpose of others.