Christianity is not just about going to church and singing. It is not just about a label and a moral code. Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus Christ, being an active member of the Body of Christ and about a lot of work. As followers of Jesus we are this wonderful mix of children who serve in their Father's business and the family business is an incredible spiritual work. Our Father makes sure that we are equipped for this work by providing us spiritual gifts through the Holy Spirit. These gifts are not for our personal enjoyment but instead are for the work we have been assigned.
Our foundation of operation is God's love which we have been told we must know well enough to operate from. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. (1 Corinthians 14:1)
I don't see a lot of people eagerly desiring spiritual gifts these days. In fact, I only ever hear these being discussed in select circles of like-minded Christians. Everyone else seems to have forgotten the whole thing, giving it over to the "Charismatics". Here Paul clearly states that we should be desiring these gifts, especially that of prophecy.
In this context prophecy is not as we hear it spoken of today. Yes, there are prophets and yes there are times when people are given knowledge of coming events, but in this passage the sense of prophecy is the preaching of God's Word via the anointing of the Holy Spirit. This is the one gift that Paul saw as the greatest of all gifts because it had the most benefit for those who listened. Back in Paul's day it was much the same as it is today, where the spectacular spiritual gifts grab all of the attention. Paul chose as an example the one gift that seemed to grab the attention of the Corinthians, that of speaking in tongues. He told them:
For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. (1 Corinthians 14:2-3)
There is a place and a purpose for the gift of tongues. It is a prayer language that expresses to God what words cannot. It is accepted by some and rejected by others. I am not sure how anyone can reject what the Word clearly states is a gift but if they do not want to use this gift that is their choice. The important thing here is that Paul considered anything that built up the Church to be of greater value than what benefits us personally, at least in our public meetings.
Mind you, such meetings looked far different than our present day meetings. At that time there were definite leaders in place to bring guidance and training to the people but when it came time to gathering together anyone who received the anointing of "prophecy" stood and spoke. There was no clergy or distinction between the members of the Body. Every member was filled by the Spirit and would respond to the direction of the Spirit. In this atmosphere of spiritual service Paul saw the greatest gift to be that which brought strength, encouragement and comfort to the Body.
In case Paul was not clear about it, he stressed it further:
He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified. (1 Corinthians 14:4-5)
Most of the Church may have let go of much of the spiritual gifts but we still see that lack of ministry in our assemblies. Most people who attend church do so to get something out of it. Few of us understand any more that we gather to allow the Spirit to minister to others through us. We will be looking at this further in the coming weeks but at least take note of this one thing: we are too selfish to see any great move of the Holy Spirit in the Church today. We may not fill our services with speaking in tongues but we do fill it with self-absorbed music. We worship without understanding service. We sing with our eyes closed. In a crowded church we wall ourselves in so it is only us and God. Jesus told us to do that in our prayer closet. Paul makes it clear that we gather to minister to one another, for the strengthening, encouraging and comforting of one another.
The problem with the Church is not our lack of understanding of spiritual gifts (as bad as that is), but instead our selfish attitude in our relationship with God. We need to study Jesus' life again to discover the example he set for us; an example of service.