Strive for greater supernatural gifts!

’Cause the Holy Spirit wants us to be a wonder-working church.

1 Corinthians 12.28-31

Part of the reason the apostles brought up the subject of supernatural gifts was so Christians wouldn’t be ignorant of ’em. 1Co 12.1 There are all sorts of gifts, empowered by one and the same Holy Spirit, 1Co 12.4 distributed among Christians so they can contribute to Christianity’s unity.

This being the case: Do we see all Christians stepping up to the different ministries these gifts can energize? Do we see all Christians practicing these supernatural gifts? Miracles breaking out everywhere, mighty acts of power convincing the world God is really among us, the weak and sick flocking to churches because they know God has the cure, the lost and confused seeking out Christians because they know God has answers?

I wish.

And I’m sure plenty of Christians also wish it were so. Not to mention Christ himself. But we don’t see it. What we see are naysayers and cessationists. People who reduce these ministries to job titles, and remind everybody within earshot they hold these titles, so give respect where respect is due. Meanwhile they’re not growing God’s kingdom much. What little growth they have is anemic.

It’s a far cry from the Spirit’s intent: Ministers in Christ’s body, tasked with doing the supernatural, expected to grow the kingdom—and okay, not everybody is mature enough to wield these duties just yet. But they’ll get there. We all will.

1 Corinthians 12.28 KWL
This is who God put in the church:
First apostles. Second prophets. Third teachers. Then powers.
Then supernatural healing. Helpers. Leadership. Different kinds of tongues.

Ministries in the church.

As usual, lots of Christians misunderstand the purpose of this passage. They pull it out of context and claim it’s what a church hierarchy is supposed to look like:

  • First, apostles. (Some of us call ’em missionaries.) Jesus gives individuals a mission, a calling; a task to achieve, or a ministry to lead. The first apostles set up the church. It’s why they came first in this list.
  • Second, prophets. While apostles are doing all the administrative stuff (or, in some churches, sitting on their behinds making grandiose plans while others do administration), prophets seek God’s day-to-day direction. Lots of praying and proclaiming.
  • Third, teachers. ’Cause now that apostles have a vision and prophets have the details, it’s time to teach the rank-and-file Christians what that is, and hopefully get ’em on board.
  • Fourth, power. Healing. Helpers. Leaders. All the supernatural, miraculous, mighty stuff. Once the hierarchy’s in place, now we can get stuff done.
  • Last, tongues. This is why so many Christians insist “Tongues are the least of the gifts”—because it comes last in this list. Apostles are greatest and tongues are least.

Here’s why this interpretation is bogus: When we look at ’em in practice in Acts, we see these ministries overlap all the time. Paul was an apostle, 1Co 1.1 of course. Paul was also a prophet, Ac 27.21-26 teacher, Ac 19.9-10 faith-healer, Ac 14.9-10 aide, Ac 18.27 and administrator. Ac 14.23 (And in 1 Corinthians, turns out he was also a tongues-speaker. 1Co 14.18) Wasn’t just Paul who took on all these duties: So did Simon Peter, John bar Zebedee, James bar Joseph, Joseph Barnabas, and the other apostles. And Christ Jesus himself.

And, likely, the pastor of your own church. When other Christians don’t step up to perform these acts of ministry, somebody’s gotta do ’em. It’s why 1 Corinthians doesn’t include an epískopos/“supervisor” 1Ti 3.1-7 among the ministries: Supervision isn’t a ministry, but a job. Pastors, bishops, overseers, whatever you wanna call ’em: Like Paul and the other apostles, they do all these things, as needed.

The 1 Corinthians list has far more to do with when we see these gifts show up in a church. Obviously a missionary/apostle, given by Jesus the mission to plant churches, starts the church. Prophets confirm the mission. Teachers help train up the Christians in it. Needs crop up, and Christians are supernaturally gifted to meet these needs. Tongues-speakers too, ’cause they do the praying. and churches surely do need prayer.

I should define ’em a bit:

Apostles (Greek apostólus/“those sent out”). Many Christians presume the only legit apostles were the people personally sent by Jesus in the first century. Namely the Twelve, Mt 10.1-5 the Seventy (or 72), Lk 10.1-17 and Paul. Everyone since is either a successor to one of those guys, like the bishops of the Orthodox and Catholic churches; or a missionary, who has precisely the same job, but doesn’t get the title “apostle” ’cause it’s special.

Well anyway. Apostles are anyone whom God specifically sends to proclaim his kingdom and make him disciples. Could be a pastor who plants a local church. Could be a teacher who starts a bible-training school. Could be an evangelist who just wants to share Jesus with everybody. Missionaries take all forms. But churches don’t start without ’em. You can’t know the gospel till someone first proclaims it. Ro 10.14

In the case of the Corinthians to whom Paul and Sosthenes wrote this letter, apostles started their church. Paul went to Corinth, stayed with fellow apostles Aquila and Prisca, and spent each Sabbath trying to convince the Jews of the Corinthian synagogue that Jesus is Messiah. Many, including the synagogue’s president, became Christian. Ac 18.1-11

Prophets (profítas/“foreteller”). It’s not enough for one person to proclaim Jesus. We need other Christians to confirm and double-check the proclaimer. Paul never just spoke on his own; he brought a team. Corinth’s church was founded by Paul and Prisca and Aquila. Paul’s teams weren’t just lackeys who did everything he ordered; they were partners in ministry. They helped him; he helped them. They performed all the above ministries, same as Paul, where necessary.

I’ve said plenty about prophecy elsewhere. It’s a big need in every church.

Teachers (didaskálus). Once a church attracts new Christ-followers, they need to be discipled: Trained in everything Jesus taught his first students. That’s where the teachers come in.

Everyone in leadership tends to teach. They may believe in the “fivefold ministry” nonsense, but even when they’re prophets who vigorously defend their prophetic position from all comers, they won’t respect those imaginary boundaries when it comes to teachers, and persist in teaching. Even when they haven’t a clue what they’re talking about—which is a mandatory requirement for teaching. Never teach what you don’t know! ’Cause God, and people, hold teachers to a high standard. Jm 3.1

Still, there tends to be differences in the way apostles, prophets, and teachers teach. Apostles and pastors tend to focus on the church’s current circumstances—the here and now. Prophets focus on whatever God’s currently revealing to them.

Whereas teachers… well, we teach everything. Our duty is to disciple Christians in everything in Jesus’s curriculum. That means the whole bible. The whole of Christian theology. Back to front, not whim to whim, not crisis to crisis, not prophecy to prophecy. (If your church has no structure to what you’re learning, it’s ’cause the apostles and prophets are teaching. Not teachers.)

Workers of power (dynámis). Paul literally wrote dynámeis/“powers.” Could be supernatural or supernaturally-enhanced abilities… or not. Sometimes your church just needs a janitor. Well, God creates humans who have a knack for cleaning, and you might find someone who ministers in that way. Same as he creates people with spiritual insight.

As new Christians grow in faith, they begin to work in the Spirit’s power and do these mighty things, both supernatural and not. Active churches begin to get the attention of their community. In Corinth’s case, this also produced persecution, Ac 18.12-17 but unwarranted persecution is just a sign we’re on the right track. Mt 5.11-12

The next words in verse 28—supernatural healing, helpers, leadership, tongues—refer to all sorts of ministries. Unlike apostles, prophets, and teachers, Christians seldom confuse these ministries with job offices. Although some surely do try to, just to be consistent in their misinterpretation. Anyway:

Supernatural healers (kharísmata yamáton). In our culture we call ’em “faith healers.” We tend to be skeptical of such people. As we should; there are a lot of frauds out there. But I find it ridiculous when Christians don’t believe anyone can be a faith healer, or that God doesn’t cure people anymore.

One of the most obvious signs we belong to God, that we follow Jesus, and that our message is even valid, is our ability to cure the sick. Healings get attention. When Peter and John cured a disabled guy at the temple entrance, it convinced 5,000 people to follow Jesus. Ac 3 Supernatural healings make it obvious God’s living and active and cares about his people. If your church isn’t healing anyone, you seriously need to take this up with God.

Helpers (antilímpsis/“those taking on [a job]”). The word deacon might also apply here. The apostles meant those people who offer support and assistance to the needy, both in church and community. Those who practice the spiritual fruit of assistance.

After all, church is meant to be Christians’ support system, a family to fellow believers. This can mean benevolence, like providing food for the hungry, clothes for the naked, visitations for the sick, and the like. This can also mean supernatural aid. But there’s also something to be said for just being there for one another, encouraging one another to grow in Christ, and reminding one another we’re not alone in this difficult world.

Leadership (kybernísis/“governance, piloting”). Someone has to run the ministries. Some people have a knack for administration, or for motivating others to contribute, or for making sure stuff gets done. When we find such people in our churches, we need to put ’em in charge of projects.

Of course, they should be qualified. They’ve got good character, spiritual maturity, the Spirit’s fruit, and realize “the bottom line” in God’s kingdom is love, not finances. They serve the church—and open up space for other Christians to minister in their areas of aptitude.

Tongues (géni glossón/“family of tongues”). The apostles weren’t writing about just one sort of tongues, but all the sorts of tongues. Could be prophetic, or said in prayer, or said to translate known speech, or said to speak to someone in their native language, or part of Spirit baptism.

But primarily prayer. ’Cause churches need prayer, directed by the Holy Spirit. Yeah, we can’t understand what people are praying in tongues unless it’s interpreted, but that’s not the point. The point is to pray for what the Holy Spirit wants prayed for.

And when we have a lot of people praying in tongues, we wind up with all the types of tongues out there. All sorts of useful things which build up the church.

Does every Christian do them? No. But we should.

The apostles end this chapter with a rhetorical question:

1 Corinthians 12.29-31 KWL
29 Not everyone’s an apostle. Not everyone’s a prophet.
Not everyone’s a teacher. Not everyone works acts of power.
30 Not everyone has supernatural healing. Not everyone speaks in tongues.
Not everyone interprets tongues. Right?
31 Strive for greater supernatural gifts!
And I’ll show you how—by an outstanding way.

Many Christians drop verse 31—“Strive for greater supernatural gifts!”—and use the rest to argue, “See, not everybody has these gifts. Not every Christian is supernaturally gifted. (I certainly can’t hear God, and can’t do miracles.) And not every Christian needs to be gifted. Those gifts are for other people—not me.” Or “for Christians of the first century—not us.”

In other words, it’s their excuse to escape their duty to pursue these gifts, and minister to one another. Leave it to the experts, like the clergy and the volunteers. Or leave it in the distant past. Leave us out of it. You wanna know which part of the body of Christ we are? We’re the buttocks. We sit.

Was that what the apostles meant? Not even close.

Strive for greater gifts! Don’t settle for having no responsibility and no power. What kind of rotten attitude is that in God’s kingdom? “I don’t have the power, don’t need the power, and can sit on my arse and let others do all the work.” If you’re the buttocks of the body of Christ, you need a paddling.

Those who think little of tongues, tend to use this passage to justify their belief: To them, “greater gifts” means greater than tongues. But tongues is one of the greater gifts. Lots of Christians don’t speak in tongues. They have no idea how useful it is in their prayer life. Tongues, when done right, is way better than no tongues! So strive for tongues. Not so you can run amok with the ability, and misuse it like the Corinthians did: So you can pray in the Spirit more often, and better.

“Not everyone can” lets nobody off the hook. “Not everyone can” is condemnation. God wants us to do mighty things in his power. Ask him. Ask whether he wants you to become an apostle, prophet, teacher, faith-healer, or take on any other duty in your church, supernatural or not. So you don’t have a job title or position of honor: Be willing to minister anyway.

You don’t need to be a pastor to pray for others, or cure the sick. You don’t need to be a deacon or board member before you can share Jesus with the neighbors. You don’t need to be a church official: If you’re in Christ’s body, you can minister. And if you’re given the Spirit’s power, you can minister in power. That’s why we strive for the supernatural. It gets God’s jobs done.

Never settle for being depowered.