THE GREATEST OF THESE IS LOVE
Spiritual gifts are those given by the Holy Spirit to all who have turned from their godless and idolatrous lives to the living God (1Cor.12:1-3;2:12; Rom.12:6-8; Eph.4:11-12). Natural talents are skills and abilities inherent in everyone; these skills and abilities are also bestowed by God (Exo.31:1-11; Jer.4:22). The focus of talents is generally promotion and building up of the Ďselfí whereas the focus of spiritual gifts is always others and their welfare.
God, the Holy Spirit, determines whom He should give what spiritual gifts (1Cor.12:11). At the same time, He does not thrust His gifts upon anyone, but gives them to those who desire to receive and use them for His glory and for the strengthening of the church (1Cor.12:31;14:26). All the spiritual gifts of God are not equal in terms of their effectiveness in the building up of the church; however, all of them are needed, some in greater measure, while some in lesser measure, for the edification of the believers.
The Apostle Paul compares the effectiveness of the gifts of tongues and prophecy and encourages his readers to desire the gift of prophecy (1Cor.14:1). The gift of prophecy is meant to be used for speaking to people on behalf of God. Every true child of God is called to be a prophet in the sense that he or she speaks and lives for God and His glory. However, God has bestowed some of His people with the gift of prophecy to predict future events in order to prepare His people for the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle also tells his readers not to forbid speaking in tongues if the one doing so interprets the prophecy in a language that is understood and the interpretation does not contradict Godís Word (1Cor.14:5).
Division In The Church
The Corinthian church was divided, with bickering and in-fighting among the believers, who were endowed with spiritual gifts. Paulís letter to the Corinthian believers and to the Christians all over the world addresses these problems that invariably caused division in the church (1Cor.1:10-15). The believers were dishonouring the spiritual gifts given to them by indulging in petty arguments. Some of them had even slipped back into an immoral life-style. The greatest gift of God received the least importance in the church! Is this the picture of the church today?
The Life Application Study Bible makes the following observations on the sad state of affairs in the quarrelling Corinthian church. Instead of building up and unifying the Corinthian church, the issue of spiritual gifts was splitting it. Spiritual gifts had become symbols of spiritual power, causing rivalries because some people thought they were more Ďspiritualí than others because of their gifts. This was a terrible misuse of spiritual gifts because their purpose is always to help the church function more effectively, not to divide it. We can be divisive if we insist on using our gift our own way without being sensitive to others.
There is a difference between having opposing viewpoints and being divisive. A group of people may not completely agree on every issue, but they can work together harmoniously, if they agree on what truly matters, that Jesus Christ is Lord of all.
Preaching, teaching, pastoring (shepherding a congregation), writing, singing and music are some of the Christian ministries which employ the gift of prophecy to communicate Godís truth, as revealed in the Bible. Then there are other equally vital gifts listed in Romans 12:6-8, Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4:10-11, such as serving, encouraging, counselling, giving to the needy, caring, leadership, showing mercy, and hospitality. The source of all these gifts and their outpourings is God the Holy Spirit. God prepared these ministries in advance for us as His workmanship to be engaged in (Eph.2:8.10)! And it is Godís will that we also bear the fruit of the Spirit as we engage in the ministries He has committed to us (Gal.5:22).
The Gift Of Love
There is another gift that God has given to each of His children: the gift of love, His own self-less, sacrificial love (1Cor.13:4-7,13). God expects us to use His gift of love in our teaching, prophesying, healing, helping, giving, administration, etc., and bring out the flavour and fragrance of His agape love. Commenting on Christian love, Joel and Victoria Osteen write: "Spiritual maturity isnít measured by how long you have been a Christian, how much you know or how often you go to church. Spiritual maturity is measured by the way you treat other people. It is measured by the love you allow to operate in and through you."
The New Living Translation renders Ephesians 5:1-2 thus: "Follow Godís example in everything you do, because you are His dear children. Live a life filled with love for others, following the example of Christ, who loved you and gave Himself as a sacrifice to take away your sins. And God was pleased, because that sacrifice was like sweet perfume to Him."
In your family, church, community and wherever you are, speak and behave in a way that will reduce arguments and increase harmony. Petty differences should never be allowed to divide families, relationships and churches. Let the greatest of the gifts, the love of God, be demonstrated in our speech and relationships, as much as in our ministries.