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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Introduction to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: Are Some Spiritual Gifts More Important than Others?

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Are Some Spiritual Gifts More Important than Others?

Introduction to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Question 10

There is a question as to whether some of the spiritual gifts that God has given to the church are more important than others. Christians are divided over this issue. One viewpoint believes the gifts are listed in order of importance while another position believes all of the gifts are of equal importance. We can summarize the various views in the following manner.

Option 1: The Gifts Are Listed in Order of Importance

It is common position to believe that the spiritual gifts listed in Scripture are listed in the order of their importance. While there is equality among all believers in Jesus Christ, the gifts that He gives to the church are not of equal value. Some of the gifts are more important than others. This can be seen by the way in which the gifts are listed. For example, Paul wrote the following to the Corinthians.

In the church God has appointed first apostles, next prophets, third teachers, then those who perform miracles, then those who have the gift of healing, then those who help others, those who are managers, and those who can speak in a number of languages (1 Corinthians 12:28 God’s Word).

The fact that Paul made it clear that apostles were first, then followed by the prophets, makes it clear that these gifts are listed in order of importance. Therefore, the value of each gift can be seen by its position on the list. Wisdom and prophecy are more important because they usually appear first. Speaking in tongues is the least of the gifts.

We can make some other observations about what conclusions we can draw as far as the Christian ministry is concerned.

Some Spiritual Gifts Are More Essential than Others

What this means is that some gifts are more essential than others to the overall working of the ministry. In another place Paul said the apostles and prophets were the foundation upon which the church was built. He wrote to the Ephesians.

You Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens with everyone else who belongs to the family of God. You are like a building with the apostles and prophets as the foundation and with Christ as the most important stone (Ephesians 2:19, 20 CEV).

This seems to indicate that these are the two most important gifts. When these two gifts are listed, they are always placed ahead of all of the other spiritual gifts.

Paul Talks about the Greater Gifts

Paul spoke of some gifts being greater than other gifts. Indeed, he said that those who prophesy are greater than those who speak in tongues.

I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. Those who prophesy are greater than those who speak in tongues unless they interpret, so that the church may be edified (1 Corinthians 14:5 TNIV).

This appears to give further evidence that some gifts are greater than others.

We Are to Seek the More Important Gifts

The idea that some gifts are greater than others is supported by what Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Indeed, he told them to seek the “greater gifts.”

But desire the greater gifts. And I will show you an even better way (1 Corinthians 12:31 HCSB).

The fact that he says that they should desire the greater gifts shows that certain spiritual gifts do have different degrees of importance and worth to the church.

If the gifts are listed in order of importance, then we can obey the command of Paul and seek those gifts that are more important. This would include prophecy and teaching. The least important of the gifts would be speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues.

The More Important Gifts Are Not Necessarily the Miraculous Gifts

However the most important gifts are not necessarily the more miraculous ones. The most important gifts are the ones that build up the church. Therefore, the most important gift may change from congregation to congregation. Whatever is needed to build up a particular congregation should be viewed, in that context, as the most important gift.

These reasons have convinced a number of people that there are certain spiritual gifts that are more important than others.

Option 2: They Are Not Necessarily Listed in Order of Importance

There is another perspective that does not think that the gifts have been listed in order of importance. There are a number of reasons given as to why this is not the case.

Is It the Authors’ Intent to List the Gifts in Order of Importance?

Those who teach that gifts are in order of their importance assume the author intends to give us a list from the most important to the least. However, this is never specifically stated. Thus, at best, it is only an inference.

In addition, a close look at the passages will find that this is not the case. We can make the following observations.

No List of Spiritual Gifts Is Complete

First, none of the lists of spiritual gifts is complete. Without a complete list it is not possible to know which gifts may be greater than others.

The Lists Are Always Different

Furthermore, the list of the gifts in the various places in Scripture is never the same. How then, are we to know which gifts are more important than others?

The Order of Gifts Is Not Always the Same

There is a further problem – the order of the gifts is not always the same. There are a number of observations which we can make about this.

For example, in Romans 12, the gift of prophecy is listed first and mercy is last. Are we to assume that mercy is the least of the gifts?

In First Corinthians 12:8–10, wisdom is listed first, knowledge is second, but prophecy is listed sixth. What does that say about the importance of prophecy?

Ephesians 4 May Be a Chronological List of When They Were Established

There is a further problem. Ephesians 4 lists the people who perform the gifts – apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher – not the gifts themselves. This list seems to be the chronological order of the way in which the gifts were established in the church – not their level of importance.

Apostles and prophets founded the church. Then the evangelists came along. They are the ones who brought new people to the faith. Then these new people became part of the congregation under the watchful eye of the pastors and the teachers. However nothing in this passage is said as to the relative value of each of these offices. Are we to assume that evangelist is a greater gift in the church than pastor or teacher because it is listed ahead of them in this passage? The Book of Ephesians stresses the foundational role of the apostles and prophets – not that their gift was greater. Again, this list does not seem to be giving us the relative value of each person who exercises the gift.

First Corinthians 12:28 Is a List of Those Having the Gifts Not the Gifts Themselves

This is the only list where there is an obvious ranking. Technically speaking, the list in First Corinthians 12:28 is not a list of the gifts of the Spirit it is a list of those people who practice the various gifts. Therefore, it would be incorrect to say that this is an order of spiritual gifts from the greatest to the least.

In Ephesians 2:20 Paul Was Speaking of the Office, Not the Gift

When Paul said the church was built upon the apostles and prophets he was speaking of the office of apostle and prophet, not the spiritual gift. He did not say the church was built upon the gift of an apostle or the gift of prophecy. The gift of prophecy was not limited to those in leadership. Those in the church of Corinth who were prophesying were to be judged by the leaders.

Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should evaluate (1 Corinthians 14:29 HCSB).

The passage does not say that the leaders were the ones giving the prophecies, on the contrary, the leaders were the ones judging.

Speaking in Tongues Is Not Necessarily the Least of the Gifts

It is often stated that speaking in tongues is the least of the spiritual gifts. However the Scripture nowhere states this. Paul certainly does not say that speaking in tongues is the least of the gifts. To the contrary, when tongues are interpreted they have a greater use than prophecy. The entire verse must be quoted.

Now I would like all of you to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up (1 Corinthians 14:5 NRSV).

Therefore speaking in tongues can be a greater gift, in some sense, than the gift of prophecy. However the gift of prophecy, or the prophet, is listed above speaking in tongues when the two gifts are listed together. This is another indication that the lists are not meant to be giving each gift a certain rank. At times, tongues can be more important than prophecy.

All of the Gifts Are of Equal Importance

All of the spiritual gifts are of equal importance. Paul compares the church to a human body. Jesus Christ is the head. Each part is absolutely necessary for the smooth functioning of the body. The Apostle Paul wrote the following to the Corinthians.

Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be (1 Corinthians 12:14-18 TNIV).

This illustration of Paul would seem to be saying that all parts of the body are of equal importance for the body to function properly. It is only the head, Jesus Christ, which is indispensable.

Thus, a case can be made for saying that all spiritual gifts are of equal importance.

Summary – Question 10
Are Some Spiritual Gifts More Important than Others?

There are some Christians who believe that certain spiritual gifts are more important than others while there is also the view that all gifts are of equal importance. We can list the arguments each side offers as follows.

Those who believe that some gifts are more important argue that the list of gifts in First Corinthians is definitely from the greater to the lesser. This tells us that there not all spiritual gifts are equal.

There is also the fact that the church was built upon two of the greatest gifts: apostle and prophet. These gifts, it is claimed, are of greater importance than the rest of the gifts.

Paul says that one who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues. This further illustrates that some gifts are more important than others.

Paul told the Corinthians to seek the greater gifts. This must mean that certain gifts are greater than others.

Therefore, many people have concluded that Scripture says some spiritual gifts are greater than others.

Those who reject the idea of greater gifts respond as follows. For one thing, they note that the order of the gifts is never the same.

In addition, 1 Corinthians 12:28 speaks of the people who exercise the gift – not the gift itself. Therefore, we cannot use this list to argue whether some gifts are greater than others.

Speaking in tongues is not necessarily a lesser gift than prophecy. Indeed, Paul wrote that if the gift of tongues is interpreted it is more profitable than prophecy. Therefore, we should view all spiritual gifts as having equal importance. In sum, there are good Bible-believing Christians who hold each of these positions.

What Does the Bible Have to Say about the Christian and Spiritual Gifts? ← Prior Section
What Is the Purpose of Spiritual Gifts? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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