What is the Purpose of Spiritual Gifts?
Returning again to I Corinthians 12, notice that the inspired apostle also addresses the question of purpose. Just why has God given these gifts? What is their purpose?
Of course, the undergirding principle in all that we do is the glory of God. We must exercise our spiritual gifts in order to glorify God aright. Peter teaches this in I Peter 4:11 when, writing of our spiritual gifts, he says that they are to be exercised "that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ." Paul had already written this to the Corinthians (I Corinthians 10:31), but here he becomes more specific. Yes, gifts are for the purpose of glorifying God, but there is still another, more immediate purpose. That purpose is the edification of the body of Christ. God is glorified when we use our gifts to build up the church.
This is implied in verse 5 where Paul describes the gifts as "administrations" (services). In verse 7 he says the gifts are "given to every man to profit withal," or, "for the common good." This term ("to profit withal") in the Greek is interesting. The root word is sumphero which literally means "to lift up together." God gave spiritual gifts so that the members of the body of Christ could by them lift up one another, together. (So while some may act like it, there really is no gift of criticism! The gifts are for building up, not tearing down!) Ephesians 4:11-12 teach the same; they were given "for the perfecting of the saints unto the work of the ministry unto the edifying of the body of Christ." Spiritual gifts are designed to edify the church.
Did you ever wonder why you were in the church? Here is one answer: to build the body. You are there not only to get but also to give. This responsibility does not just belong to the pastor or a few of the church leaders. Every member is gifted, and every member is then responsible to edify the body with that gift. And for the whole body to be fully edified, all the gifts are needed. This is part of Paul's analogy in I Corinthians 12:14-31. The body is maimed and hurting without all the members functioning as they should. Imagine a foot not walking (I Corinthians 12:15)!
Again this was precisely the problem at Corinth. Everyone was out for number one. Gifts were desired to edify self, or even to display self. Today the same problem exists; many want a particular gift because it supposedly aids in worship or because some similar personal benefit is derived from it. This selfish error is the primary reason for chapter 13 in which Paul teaches that love would eliminate that kind of attitude. Love "seeketh not her own." The purpose of the hand is to help the body, not itself. Likewise, the purpose of spiritual gifts is the edification of the church. Gifts are "services"; their focus is others, not self.
In verses 20-25 Paul expands on this a bit further. "But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another."
This is his point: if it is true that the gifts are for the purpose of helping others, and if it is likewise true that all the gifts are needed, then it is also true that all the gifts are important--there are no insignificant or unneeded members. You may feel that since you do not have the gift of teaching or preaching you are not important. To be sure, the teaching gifts do carry an honor peculiar to them, but all gifts are important nonetheless. Imagine the fate of so many Christian endeavors were it not for those behind it with the (seemingly insignificant) gifts of faith, giving, prayer, or helps! This is God's established means of building His church. You may not feel that your gift of helps is important; if so, your attitude will change when you find yourself on the receiving end of the same gift! Viewing them this way gives these gifts "more abundant honor" (verse 24), and it promotes mutual care and concern within the body (verses 25-26).
Spiritual gifts are designed to edify. Where they do not accomplish this purpose, they are abused, and the church suffers. And being designed to accomplish this, they all are important. They are important because they edify.
Some of the gifts have still another purpose. They were to serve as signs, authenticating marks of the apostles and their ministry. This will be examined in detail later in the discussion of the temporary gifts (chapter 13).