As Paul was writing chapters twelve, thirteen, and fourteen of 1 Corinthians, there was a burden in his spirit and on his heart concerning certain crucial matters: speaking, the Spirit, the Body, God’s administration, and love. These five matters are emphasized in chapters twelve and thirteen. In chapter fourteen Paul comes to another main point: the superiority of a particular gift for the building up of the church. Among the many spiritual gifts, one is superior not for our work, maturity, or spiritual interests, but for the building up of the church. As we shall see, this superior gift is that of prophesying. Therefore, in dealing with the gifts, Paul emphasizes six matters: speaking, the Spirit, the Body, the administration of God, love, and the gift which is superior for the building up of the church.
Paul’s ultimate concern is not speaking, the Spirit, the Body, God’s administration, or love as the excellent way to exercise the gifts. Rather, Paul’s ultimate concern is the building up of the church. Paul was very church-conscious and church-centered. His concern was focused on the church.
In Colossians 1:24 Paul says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings on your behalf, and fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His Body, which is the church.” Christ died not only for redemption, but also for the church. According to Ephesians 5:25, Christ gave Himself up for the church. Yes, Christ died to accomplish redemption. Redemption, however, is a procedure; it is not God’s goal, God’s destination. Redemption is a way to reach the goal, but the goal is the church.
Because the church is God’s goal, we cannot agree with those Christians who neglect the church and who have only a superficial grasp of Christ’s redemption. Many do not even like to hear the church mentioned. But the death of Christ mainly and ultimately is for the church.
In eternity we were chosen and predestinated by God. Because we fell away from God, there was the need for Christ to accomplish redemption in order to bring us back to God. But redemption is not God’s goal; it is not His ultimate intention. God’s goal, His intention, is to have His chosen people organically united to be the Body, the church. Even if we had not fallen, it nevertheless would have been necessary for God to carry out a certain procedure to obtain the church.
When I was young, I was told simply that Christ came because we had fallen into sin. I was taught that God loved us and gave His only begotten Son to save us. According to this understanding, if we had not fallen, it would not have been necessary for Christ to come. But it is a mistake to think that God’s intention is merely to redeem us from hell to heaven. God’s intention is to have the church, and the death of Christ redeems us so that we may become His Body. This was the reason Paul was church-conscious and church-centered. In his consciousness the church was an extremely crucial matter.
As we consider the spiritual gifts, we need to ask what the gifts are for. Many Christians care only for the gifts, but they do not care for the purpose of the gifts. Some desire to have a gift of preaching, and others desire the miraculous gifts such as the gift of tongue-speaking or the gift of healing. But they may not care at all what these gifts are for. Paul was different. The concern deep within him was for the building up of the church. He knew what gifts were useful for the building up of the church. We need to learn of Paul to be concerned for the building up of the church. Whether we are spiritual, mature, or gifted is secondary. The primary thing in God’s economy is the building up of the church. Paul’s emphasis, his main point, in chapter fourteen concerns what gift is best, not for us, but for the building up of the church. Yes, God has given many gifts, but not all gifts are important with respect to the building up of the church. Therefore, in this chapter Paul shows us which gift is superior for the building up of the church.
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