Here is my translation of 1 Cor 12:31 -
However, be zealous for the greater gifts; And now I show you a
Note that the verb ζηλοῦτε ("be zealous") is imperative active - it is a command/instruction to desire the greater gifts. There "greater gifts" have just been listed in descending order of importance in V28, 29:
- first of all apostles
- second prophets
- third teachers
- then workers of miracles, and those with gifts of healing, helping, administration, and various tongues.
While Paul is keen for people to have the greater gifts of apostleship and prophecy, his comments in V29 means that not everyone gets the greater gifts - they are "appointed by God" (V28), that is, the Spirit (V4) decides who get which gift(s).
Despite all this, Paul then goes on with his discussion - the "far-better way" is LOVE. Let us be very clear about the clear distinction Paul makes between the gifts of the Spirit and the "fruit of the Spirit" as listed in Gal 5:22, 23, namely:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
The distinction in the NT theology is very clear:
- the gifts of the Spirit are granted at the will of the Spirit - not all get every gift - we each get at least one gift at the discretion of the Spirit
- the Fruit of the Spirit is the product of having the Spirit control our lives (Rom 8:5-10) - every Christian MUST display love to God and fellow-humans (Matt 22:37-39). See also John 13:34, 35, 15:12, 1 John 4:8, 11, 19, Eph 5:1, 2.
To put this even more clearly, according to Paul and 1 Cor 13:
- some disciples of Christ will be granted the gift of apostleship but all must have love.
- some disciples of Christ will be granted the gift of prophecy but all must have love.
- some disciples of Christ will be granted the gift of teaching but all must have love.
- some disciples of Christ will be granted the gift of miracles but all must have love.
- some disciples of Christ will be granted the gift of administration but all must have love.
- some disciples of Christ will be granted the gift of tongues but all must have love.
1 Cor 13 makes this point again and again in the first few verses:
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have
the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains, but have not
love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and
exult in the surrender of my body,a but have not love, I gain nothing.
That is, love is the principle characteristic of the Christian in his/her quest to imitate Jesus (John 13:34, 35). Paul instructs us to desire the "greater gifts" of the Spirit (Apostleship, prophecy, teaching, etc) but without loves, we gain nothing.
Albert Barnes offers these remarks:
The sense seems to be this, "I have proved that all endowments in the
church are produced by the Holy Spirit; and that he confers them as he
pleases. I have been showing that no one should be proud or elated on
account of extraordinary endowments; and that, on the other hand, no
one should he depressed, or sad, or discontented, because he has a
more humble rank. I have been endeavoring to repress and subdue the
spirit of discontent, jealousy, and ambition; and to produce a
willingness in all to occupy the station where God has placed you.
But, I do not intend to deny that it is proper to desire the most
useful endowments; that a man should wish to be brought under the
influence of the Spirit, and qualified for eminent usefulness. I do
not mean to say that it is wrong for a man to regard the higher gifts
of the Spirit as valuable and desirable, if they may be obtained; nor
that the spirit which seeks to excel in spiritual endowments and in
usefulness, is improper.
Yet all cannot be apostles; all cannot be prophets. I would not have
you, therefore, seek such offices, and manifest a spirit of ambition.
I would seek to regulate the desire which I would not repress as
improper; and in order to that, I would show you that, instead of
aspiring to offices and extraordinary endowments which are beyond your
grasp, there is a way, more truly valuable, that is open to you all,
and where all may excel."