Q. In 1 Co 12, Paul went to great length in explaining there are different members of the body that God put together, especially giving honor to the weaker parts so there is no division. Each member is given different gifts as the Holy Spirit desires and is just as important. So we ought to be satisfied in playing the roles that we are given. If so, why is it all of a sudden in the last verse (v 31) he asks us to desire for the greater gifts? It almost implies that there are levels of greatness and importance in the gifts. On the one hand, we are to be satisfied with what our gifts are, but on the other hand, we are to desire and seek greater gifts?
A. There is no contradiction. On the one hand, the Church is one body, with many parts. To each one is given some gift by the Spirit for the common good (v 7), not personal glory. Notice the phrases:
• through the Spirit v 8,
• according to the same Spirit v 8,
• by the same Spirit v 9,
• by the one Spirit v 9,
• by one and the same Spirit v 11, and
• by the Spirit v 13,
a 6-fold repetition to emphasize that everything comes from the same Spirit who distributes to each one individually just as He wills (v 11). Accordingly there should be unity amongst members despite the diversity of gifts.
On the other hand, the Corinthians had mistakenly elevated tongues above prophesy, when in fact it should be the other way around:
• 1 Co 14:5 Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying
so Paul wrote to correct this error. The measure of the importance of a gift is the extent to which it builds up the church:
• 1 Co 14:12 So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.
Tongues, unless interpreted, do not edify others, and is therefore inferior to prophesy which edifies everyone:
• 1 Co 14:19 however, in the church I desire to speak five words with my mind so that I may instruct others also (i.e. prophesy), rather than ten thousand words in a tongue.
Is there a priority ranking to all the gifts? Yes and no.
• 1 Co 12:28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.
• 1 Co 14:1 Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.
• 1 Co 14:39 Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.
Note that apostles, prophets and teachers are also gifts, or gifted men, that God gave to the church. Yes, there is a ranking as indicated by first, second and third, and some extend that ranking (fourth, fifth, sixth etc.) further to other gifts, but the latter is not part of the text, only an extrapolation by commentators. No because the ranking is not given for all gifts, only some. I would restrict myself to what’s given in the text, no more, no less, and estimate the relative importance by how much a gift edifies the church.
We are to be satisfied with what gifts we have, because they are sovereignly given by the Spirit:
• 1 Co 12:11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
We are also to earnestly desire the greater gifts (1 Co 12:31), so that the church will be edified. There is no contradiction.