1 Corinthians 14:12 So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.
Often we unconsciously view spiritual gifts as merit badges, even service ribbons like a military person would wear on their dress uniform. That misses the point entirely. Actually, everything God gives has a purpose, and the better it is applied to that purpose, the more blessing is involved. The topic of this entire chapter is spiritual gifts, and particularly the gift of tongues. The reason that gift is so divisive is that it doesn’t require another person for it to be exercised. On rare occasions the Word of Knowledge (1 Corinthians 12:8) might be given simply to inform the person who receives it, but otherwise, such gifts are pretty much by definition given through someone for the benefit of another. Tongues, on the other hand, are only rarely for the benefit of others present, unless, as Paul mentions in verse 5, there is interpretation into a known language. (My wife experienced one of those rare exceptions, when she discovered she had been praying in Tagalog with a group of Filipinas, when she actually doesn’t speak a word of Tagalog!) We indeed should seek to have all the gifts God has made available, but we must never make the tool more important than the task for which it is to be used. Tongues are important to build up the individual believer, as Paul mentions in verse 4, and Jude mentions in verse 20 of his letter, and they should be used freely to that end, but they are not for the purpose of impressing others with how spiritual you are.
As I have written before, I was slow to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit because I was effectively seeking the gift of tongues more than I was seeking the Holy Spirit Himself. As a pastor, I want the believers here to seek spiritual gifts as earnestly as the Corinthians did, but I want them to do so to build up the Body of Christ, just as this verse says. I operate mostly in prophecy, not in the predictive sense but simply as speaking out what God is saying. Often that sounds like a sermon, and as anyone will tell you, I’ll preach at the drop of a hat! I personally find tongues to be useful in refocusing my heart on the Lord. The world is certainly full of distractions! That said, I can’t remember the last time I actively spoke in tongues in the presence of others, except as a demonstration of what it is like. In Systematic Theology class in seminary I wrote a paper on “The Use of Tongues in Ministry,” convincing my professor I was from the Assemblies of God denomination, when I was a died-in-the-wool Baptist. It might do me good to go back and read what I wrote those many years ago! I exhort others, but I too need to be careful to use every gift I’ve been given to build up the church, just as Paul said.
Father, thank You for this reminder. I too need to go back and look at things that sometimes I think go without saying, and so effectively forget them. Help me be an effective, faithful steward of all that You place in my hands, to build up the Body of Christ and draw many more into it, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!