Mark D. Roberts

Part 9 of series: Spiritual Gifts in the Body of Christ
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So far we have seen that if we want to receive spiritual gifts, we should focus, not on the gifts or on our experiences, but on loving others and building up the body of Christ. Spiritual gifts come in the context of ministry done for the sake of love and edification.
Do Your Part
In the middle portion of 1 Corinthians 14, Paul attends to the problem of tongue-speaking in greater detail. He does not prohibit the practice. In fact, he claims to speak in tongues more than any of the Corinthians (1 Cor 14:18). “But,” he says, “in a church meeting I would much rather speak five understandable words that will help others than ten thousand words in an unknown language” (1 Cor 14:19). Why? Because Paul recognizes that the gifts are given for the good of the body, not the one who exercises the gifts. Understandable words will help the church grow. Unintelligible words won’t.
From verse 26 to the end of the chapter, Paul provides final instructions for how the Corinthians should use spiritual gifts in their gatherings. He does not want to squelch their enthusiasm for the Spirit, but rather to transform that enthusiasm for the benefit of the church. Verse 26 lays out his fundamental advice:

So then, what is it all about, my brothers and sisters? Whenever you gather together, each one of you has a psalm, each one has a teaching, each one has a revelation, each one has a tongue, each one has an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up (1 Cor 14:26, my translation).

If you compare my literal translation with most English versions, you’ll notice what seems to be a missing word. The NIV, for example, reads:

What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church (1 Cor 14:26, NIV, emphasis added)

The NIV adds the word “or” when it doesn’t appear in the original Greek of 1 Cor 14:26. The NRSV and the ESV agree with the NIV. Only the King James Version maintains a literal rendering:

How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, everyone of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying (1 Cor 14:26, KJV).

The addition of “or” to this verse quite dramatically changes its meaning, and thereby limits the work of the Spirit through spiritual gifts. This verse reveals, not that each person has one and only one gift to share with the body. Rather, the point is that each person can, in principle, minister in each and every gift. Given what Paul has said previously, this does not mean that every person should minister in every gift at every church gathering. But the potential is there for each person to function in each gift, as the Spirit wills.
It’s hard for us to apply Paul’s advice, given our presuppositions about and experiences of church gatherings. Most of our worship services include more than a hundred people, and many include thousands. If every person were to participate, even offering only one gift in a given worship service, that service would take hours, or perhaps days. We must remember that Paul envisions a different church setting, a house church that might have comprised as few as a dozen people and probably didn’t get much larger than fifty. It was actually possible for each person to contribute as gifted by the Spirit. (Photo: A worship service at Saddleback Church in Orange County, California)
For most of us, following Paul’s advice won’t lead to much public ministry in worship services. The sizes and traditions of contemporary churches won’t facilitate this option in most cases. Therefore, if you are to contribute the gifts the Spirit intends to give through you, you must be a part of a smaller fellowship group. Bible studies, prayer groups, ministry teams, growth groups, Sunday school classes – all of these can provide a place for you to contribute as the Spirit empowers you.

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