In St. Paul’s fascinating discussion of the gifts of tongues and prophecies we sometimes miss the main point of his words. He wasn’t producing a manual on these gifts or defining exactly what they were (I wish he had!) His main point, not surprisingly, is that use the spiritual gifts we have are for the edification of the Church. In verse 3 of Chapter 14, Paul provides the reason why the gift of prophesying is superior to the gift of tongues: while the one who speaks in tongues edifies himself, the one who prophesies edifies the church. In verse 5 Paul again raises the issue of the gifts being for the edification of the Church, and in verse 12 he concludes by saying that “since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.”
Paul’s major theme of the entire book of 1 Corinthians has been that you are to use the gifts God has given you to edify, or build up, God’s holy Temple, the Church, which is the Body of Christ.
Paul begins in Chapter 1 by discussing the fact that God, by His grace, has enriched the Corinthians in everything, and his first concern is that the Corinthians “speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1:10.) But the Corinthians have divided the Body of Christ by becoming disciples of mere men.
Paul continues his theme in Chapter 3 when he makes it clear that the whole church is one, with each member using his gifts to cultivate more disciples. The work of the planter, the waterer, and the harvester is one, because it is all from God, and He alone gives the increase. Later in Chapter 3 Paul plainly says that we are God’s building and that Christ is the only foundation on which we can build. As God’s workers, commissioned by Him to build His Temple, and given all the gifts and talents we need, we are to edify the Church, to build His Temple.
In Chapter 5, Paul discusses the way that sexual immorality in the church can tear it down, and so the church must protect against eroding agents by expelling them. Being of one mind and one judgment and one Body, we should not have lawsuits against each other, which by their very nature show we are not one Body as God intended for us to be.
In Chapter 7 Paul teaches that in whatever station in life God has placed us, we are to glorify Him and edify His Body. Whether married or single, male or female, Jew or Greek, free or slave, we are to live in such holy obedience to God that He is glorified as His Temple is built up. Paul himself, being single, has wholeheartedly devoted his life to the ministry of Temple-building, and he is willing to become all things to all men in order to minister faithfully.
In Chapters 10 and 11, we learn that in the Temple we have the closest union with God through the partaking of His holy food, the bread of heaven which Jesus Christ. But if we continue to edify self instead of others, and so fall into sin, then we are desecrating the Temple, and God will cleanse His Temple one way or the other – with us or against us.
In Chapters 12-14 Paul returns to his discussion of spiritual gifts, which represent the unity in diversity that is first God’s but which He shares with us as His people and His Body. “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (12:7) and “since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel” (14:12.)
Now you know the reason for the spiritual gifts that God has given you. Whether the extraordinary gifts of tongues and miracles, or the spiritual gifts of teaching or administrating or hospitality, or the natural gifts and talents of time, energy, money, possessions, skills, and experience – all are to be employed for the building up of God’s people. Your primary identity is that you are a Christian, a part of the Body of Jesus Christ, and the primary ministry which God has entrusted to you and to us is the edification of the Church or, in other words, discipleship.
“Let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel.”
How often do we think like this about our spiritual gifts and all of the good gifts that God has given? How often do we sit and plot a path to excellence in God’s kingdom?
In our earthly kingdoms, we do it all the time. Each of you has probably pursued excellence several times in your life in the earthly kingdoms you have sought to create. Some of us have pursued excellence in perfecting our golf stroke and game, our gardens, our favorite video games, our art work, assembling our entertainment centers, our chosen professions, developing refined tastes in music, movies, wines and foods, and many other pursuits.
All things are lawful for me, but not all are edifying to the Body of Christ.
The question is not “Are we allowed to pursue excellence in the things of the earth?” but “Do we pursue the building up of Christ’s Body with the same passion and perseverance?”
I want to be an Olympian. No, not Zeus or Vulcan (thank God!) I want to be in training to win the prize. I want to filter out the noise and distractions in my life so that I can better dedicate myself to building up the Body of Christ. Like those who train for the Olympics, for the shot at a gold medal or even just a shot to get there, I want to spend hours a day practicing what I desire and love, to eat a healthy spiritual diet, and to fast from the things that will make me less effective in God’s kingdom.
Meditating in slow motion on 1 Corinthians in this way has given me a lot to think about.
What about you?
Prayer: Father, I pray that You will give me Your grace to pursue love and to give thanks for every good gift You’ve given me. As I enjoy the fruits of the earth and of my labor, may I always be led back to You, their source, and may I use every gift not only for my own delight but also for the edification of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Amen.
Point for Meditation: Meditate on one earthly goal to which you have dedicated yourself. Consider how much time and care and energy you spent in pursuing it. Now meditate on how you can pursue excellence in the same way in spiritual things for the edification of the Body.
Resolution: Now that Lent is nearing its end, renew your Lenten vow. If you have chosen something that is not serving its purpose of leading you to God and prayer, then reconsider how you can refine your Lenten discipline.
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day