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1 Corinthians 12:28-31:

28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? 30 Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? 31 But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way. [KJV]

28 And some, indeed, did God set in the assembly, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers, afterwards powers, afterwards gifts of healings, helpings, governings, divers kinds of tongues; 29 [are] all apostles? [are] all prophets? [are] all teachers? [are] all powers? 30 have all gifts of healings? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? 31 and desire earnestly the better gifts; and yet a far excelling way do I shew to you: [YLT]

28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. [ESV]

28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, and various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they? 31 But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And yet, I am going to show you a far better way. [NASB]

What are the best/better/higher/greater gifts?

4 Answers 4

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Here is my translation of 1 Cor 12:31 -

However, be zealous for the greater gifts; And now I show you a far-better way.

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:

  1. first of all apostles
  2. second prophets
  3. third teachers
  4. 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."

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What are the best/higher gifts? 1 Corinthians 12:31

LOVE

31 and desire earnestly the better gifts, and yet a far excelling way do I shew to you: [YLT]

Paul is urging Christians to seek certain gifts of the spirit such as the gift of healing, the gift of miracle, the gift of prophecy, and others, that were manifest in the first century. Continuing his writing Paul urges them to seek earnestly the better gifts, the excellence of "LOVE", Paul proceeded to illustrate this: Read 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 [The NASB has the subheading "The Excellence of Love."] Paul explains that if he had certain abilities such as performing miracles for example but did not have love, he would amount to NOTHING.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NASB

The Excellence of Love

13 If I speak with the tongues of mankind and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give away all my possessions to charity, and if I surrender my body so that I may [a]glory, but do not have love, it does me no good.

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  • Isn't love a fruit of the spirit, not a gift? Dec 11, 2021 at 21:26
  • Spirit Realm Investigator Yes it is Galatians 5:22-25 It is a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a friend, for a parent or child, and so forth.The Scriptures speak also of love guided by principle, as love of righteousness or even love for one’s enemies, for whom a person may not have affection. [ Mt 5:44] Christ died for us. [Romans 5:8=10] Dec 12, 2021 at 8:44
  • The fruit of the Spirit is a gift. "We love because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19, ESV)
    – Perry Webb
    Dec 12, 2021 at 13:41
  • Perry Webb : Correct. But how do we love God? if we love God we will want to live in a way that would please him and dedicate ourselves to him, Read Romans 14:7-8 . And how do we keep that promise? Just some thoughts to ponder.Tks for your comments.In the Bible we learn how God wants us to live. For example, he tells us that it is wrong to get drunk, to steal or lie, to have sex with someone we are not married to, or to worship anyone or anything other than him.​— Dec 12, 2021 at 19:21
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The "more excellent way" is love, Paul covered in ch13. Love is the basis of the better/higher gifts, the gifts that build up others rather than oneself. Thus, the answer is in ch14.

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. (1 Cor. 14:1–5, ESV).

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Higher gift is love, for all the rest is for Paul of no worth unless man has love, as he clearly says in the sequel (1 Cor. 13:1). It is said so clearly that I do not understand why the question is at all asked?

This "love" is not a psychological condition or romanticism, but a metaphysical thing: a gift of God or grace of God, which means the working or operation of God, and this operation is God's uncreated feature. Thus, man participates in and co-acts with this uncreated divine feature when loves. The logic of this love is to hate one's own life for the sake of Christ. That is why, the vast majority of mankind (many bishops, priests, pastors, monks and surely biblical hermeneuts and theologians included), shuns and runs away from this love as a rabid dog runs away from a fresh water, not my idiosyncratic idea, but a divine oracle btw (cf. Matthew 7:13).

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  • Love is a fruit of the Sprit, not a gift, or am I missing something? (See Dottard's answer) Dec 12, 2021 at 18:05
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator Yes, fruit of Holy Spirit, which means that the love is uncreated divine energy likewise belonging to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and humans participate and receive this energy, which is possible only if God allows and grants this participation, for human cannot participate in God's activity without God allowing him, and neither can accept anything from God unless God grants or gives as a free gift this to him. But God's gift can wither in us and we can not bear fruit due to our not co-acting with divine gift, divine activity in us. Dec 12, 2021 at 18:36

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