Strive for greater supernatural gifts!

1 Corinthians 12.28-31.

Part of the reason Paul and Sosthenes raised the subject of supernatural gifts was so we Christians wouldn’t be ignorant of ’em. 1Co 12.1 Too many are—both those who recognize God still empowers them, and those who insist he doesn’t. I, like the apostles, am only addressing that first group. That second group can just ignore me, same as they do the apostles.

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. But do we see all Christians using these gifts to energize their various ministries? Do we see all Christians seeking and 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 pretty sure Jesus, and plenty of my fellow Christians, wish so too.

What we see instead, for the most part, are people who are far more interested in using the power of politics than the power of the Holy Spirit. Who look to what money can do, rather than what the Spirit can do. Whose vision is based on developing and capitalizing on their own natural talents, rather than trusting the Spirit to do the heavy lifting. And yeah, there are cessationists who think God turned off the miracles, but they aren’t the real problem; they’re just a loud but tiny minority. It’s Christians who do believe in miracles, but don’t act on this belief any.

Same as the cessationists, they read this passage and reduce it to job titles. And sometimes adopt these titles, and remind everyone within earshot they hold these titles, so give respect where respect is due. Meanwhile they’re not growing God’s kingdom much. Mostly it’s just their own little fiefdoms. It’s a far cry from the Spirit’s intent.

1 Corinthians 12.28-31 KWL
28 This is who God put in the church:
First apostles. Second prophets. Third teachers. Then powers.
Then supernatural healing. Support. Leadership. Different kinds of tongues.
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.

This is what we oughta see in our churches: Apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, the sick getting cured, the needy getting helped, the lost getting led, and loads of prayer. And if we don’t, we need to strive to see more: They need to become a greater part of our churches and Christian life.

Ministries in our churches.

As usual, lots of Christians miss the point of this passage, pull it out of context, and claim it’s how a church hierarchy should look:

  • APOSTLES up top. (Or missionaries; whatever you’d rather call them.) 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.
  • PROPHETS second. While apostles are doing all the administrative stuff (or, in some churches, sitting on their behinds making grandiose plans while others do the real administration), prophets seek God’s day-to-day direction. Lots of praying and proclaiming.
  • TEACHERS third. Once 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.
  • Then POWER. This’d be the hierarchy falling into place: The assistants, the leaders, the faith healers, the people who do all the grunt work. ’Cause once the hierarchy’s in place, we can get stuff done.
  • Last, TONGUES. This is why so many Christians claim “Tongues are the least of the gifts”—because that statement is found nowhere in the bible, but tongues does appear to come last in Paul and Sosthenes’s list. So apostles are greatest, and tongues are least.

Here’s why this interpretation is bogus. When we look at the way the apostles ministered in Acts, we see them do all the apostling, prophesying, teaching, miracles, and even tongues. Seldom do we see anybody else do any of these things… and when they do, like the deacon Stephen or the evangelist Philip, Christians have the habit of considering those people apostles as well.

Paul fr’instance. He’s an apostle. 1Co 1.1 He’s 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 he states he’s an avid 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, especially if it’s a small church where other Christians don’t step up to perform these acts of ministry. Somebody’s gotta do ’em, and often the pastor does all of them. It’s not how the Holy Spirit prefers it, but he’ll empower it.

It’s why 1 Corinthians doesn’t include an ἐπίσκοπος/epískopos, “supervisor” or “bishop,” among the listed ministries. Supervision isn’t really a ministry; it’s 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 the supernatural abilities we should see in our churches. Obviously the church is started by one or more apostles, commissioned by Jesus to plant a church. Prophets confirm this mission. Teachers help train up the Christians in it. Needs crop up, and Christians get 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 ἀποστόλους/apostólus, “sent ones”). 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. Meh; I see no reason to limit the title to the first century, other than iffy tradition.

So 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 (προφήτας/profítas, “foretellers”). 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 (διδασκάλους/didaskálus). Once a church attracts new Christ-followers, they need to be discipled: Trained in everything Jesus taught his first students. That’s where teachers come in.

Notice in every church—even the ones which insist they believe in a fivefold ministry!everyone in leadership teaches. Not just the designated teachers; everyone. Even the prophets in such ministries, who insist they’re the prophets and everyone oughta defer to their specific role whenever it comes to prophecy: When do we ever see them defer to the designated teachers? 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 tend to be differences in the way apostles, prophets, and teachers teach. Apostles frequently focus on their job of building up the church, and the church’s mission and goals. Prophets tend to talk about whatever God’s been revealing to them lately. And teachers… well, we teach everything. ’Cause our duty is to disciple Christians in everything in Jesus’s curriculum. This 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 comprehensive structure to what you’re learning, it’s ’cause the apostles and prophets are teaching. Not teachers.)

POWERS (δυνάμεις/dynámeis). The apostles literally wrote “powers.” The KJV and other translations went with “miracles,” because they figure these are God-things, and they’re likely right. But then again, sometimes your church just needs a janitor… and God does create humans who have a knack for cleaning, and enjoy it. Sometimes a church needs such people way more than they need another Sunday school teacher.

Well. As new Christians grow in faith, they begin to work in the Spirit’s power and do 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 HEALING (χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων/harísmata yamáton). In our culture we call ’em “faith healers,” and tend to be skeptical of such people—as we should. There are a lot of frauds out there, both Christian and not, religious and not. 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.

SUPPORT (ἀντιλήμψεις/antilímpsis, “receiving in turn”). The KJV translates this “helps,” and the ESV and NIV go with “helping.” But not in the sense of aides or assistants or lackeys; more like people who pitch in when others are in dire need or crisis.

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. There’s something to be said for dependably 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, but this is more than just sympathy and encouragement. This is real help.

LEADERSHIP (κυβερνήσεις/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 (γένηγλωσσῶν/yéni 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, and I feel The Message phrases the question in the proper way.

1 Corinthians 12.29-30 Message
29 But it’s obvious by now, isn’t it, that Christ’s church is a complete Body and not a gigantic, unidimensional Part? It’s not all Apostle, not all Prophet, not all Miracle Worker, 30 not all Healer, not all Prayer in Tongues, not all Interpreter of Tongues.

The context of this passage is what the apostles just said earlier in the chapter: The body of Christ has many parts, and we’re a part—and here are some of the parts.

Problem is, Christians have interpreted it more like this:

1 Corinthians 12.29-30 NASB
29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?

“See, not everybody has these gifts. Not every Christian is supernaturally gifted. I certainly can’t hear God, and I’ve never done a miracle. 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 arse. We sit.

Was that what the apostles meant? Not even close. Verse 31 comes right after it: Strive for the 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 behind 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. Christians who don’t speak in tongues have no idea how powerfully it affects one’s prayer life. Tongues, when done right, are 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, nor 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.