The Higher Gifts: An Owner’s Manual*

All who come to Christ are gifted in some way or another. We have desires to use these gifts: both as a way to propel people toward Christ and as a means for moving those who already know him. Or at least we should.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he asks that we “earnestly desire the higher gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31). Just prior to this statement, Paul mentions these “higher gifts”: apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healing, tongues, and interpreting.

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:27–31 ESV).

Not everyone possesses the gifts that Paul describes, but everyone should “desire” them. We don’t usually think of “gifts” in this way, because gifts by nature cannot be earned. Indeed, spiritual gifts cannot be earned, just like salvation cannot be earned, but they can be prayed for and honed.

By Paul detailing how to use and not use the gift of tongues in 1 Corinthians 12, he is suggesting that gifts, although given freely, still require instructions. We need an owner’s manual. The Bible is that.

This single idea has the potential to change the entire way we approach spirituality. It seems that in our churches we usually approach spiritual gifts with the mindset of identifying them; we rarely teach people how to use them. And perhaps this is the reason why we’re afraid of spiritual gifts. I mean that: we are afraid. I’m sure you can confirm my view by just thinking back upon the last time someone told you that they have the gift of prophecy or have been called to the office of apostle. I bet it wasn’t recent. But if we’re living according to Paul’s view, it should be.

There’s a solution to bringing spiritual gifts back into our communities: training. It was the very fabric of the early church. The text being written by Paul and others, as well the Old Testament books, were one half of the training program. They were also the check and balance system. The other half was mentorship.

If we pray to God, read the Bible, and ask for counsel from of our church leaders (or fellow leaders), we will discover our gifts. Once we learn about our gifts, we need to be mentored. If spiritual gifts are embraced through mentorship in our communities, we have ample opportunity to stop their misuse and abuse. It eliminates the problems that we’re worried about. It gives us an opportunity, as a community, to decide if someone is using their gift(s) biblically, and if not, to correct them. This sets us up to do what Paul has requested: earnestly seek the higher gifts. (The Greek verb Paul uses can be translated as “seek” or “desire.”)

Elijah taught Elisha how to be a prophet. Paul taught Timothy how to be an apostle. And Paul taught the community at Corinth how to use their spiritual gifts.

Who will you learn from? Who will you teach? Share with us your ideas for incorporating back into your community spiritual gifts and mentorship around those gifts.

*John Barry – (September 12, 2011)


One Response to “The Higher Gifts: An Owner’s Manual*”

  1. Marty Mitchell February 28, 2012 at 2:47 am #

    I agree with the comment:Once we learn about our gifts, we need to be mentored.
    One of the best things my church did for me, was they recognized my gifts and they used me and along the way gave me direction to hone my gifts. The scarry thing for a church leader is to let someone who thinks they have a gift, use it. There are singers who really can’t sing, teachers who can’t teach, leaders who aren’t meant to lead. It is up to the church leadership to discern if a person has a gift or not. But when it has been proven that this person is used of God, the church should use him or her and continue to encourage that gift to grow.

Leave a Reply:

Gravatar Image