“Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:29-31 NKJV).
A magazine advertisement for a certain manufacturer stated, “Not all brass meets our standards. But that is okay, people need doorknobs, belt buckles and French horns also.”
There are certain applications where only the purest, strongest brass will suffice. But there are many other applications which are not so stringent and where a less pure grade is not only acceptable but may actually prove superior for that particular use.
People are like that also. We all have differing abilities. But there are many tasks for which certain of those various abilities are well suited. The fact that someone knows nothing about the work of an electrician does not mean they cannot be a school teacher.
Unfortunately, there are always some who want to rank skills and define worth on the basis of which or how many gifts a person has. In our society, special respect is offered to those who follow a “professional” career (e.g., doctor, lawyer, etc.) or to those with advanced education, or highest level incomes. Blue collar workers, on the other hand, may garner little appreciation.
Sadly this can even be true in the Lord’s church. For many years, for example, there has been a common attitude toward missionaries that suggests that they are no more than unsuccessful preachers. If one’s oratorical skills are not up to American standards, and he does not have the highest degree of people or organizational abilities, then let him go to an undeveloped country where they won’t recognize his flaws. After all, if he were really any good he would be serving a large prominent congregation here in the U.S.
Paul faced that same kind of spiritual snobbery in Corinth. There the argument pertained to spiritual gifts, still being administered through the laying on of hands by the apostles. In that city some were apparently partial to the gift of speaking in tongues, and those who could do so looked down on the others, even if they had other gifts. One can only imagine what the gifted thought of any so called Christian who did not receive any miraculous ability.
Earlier in this same letter Paul made an interesting statement which applies to the subject. “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become manifest; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:12-13).
Here the apostle is not speaking of spiritual gifts, but of the work and results of the evangelists who had been active in Corinth. Each had built, but differing materials were used in their construction from the most common straw to the most precious gold. The eternal value of their efforts would only be known at Judgment where those things built of durable material would survive.
Not every convert from one’s preaching is going to have the same impact in the Kingdom. Some will become leaders, others will at best be humble followers. Some will be faithful until death; others, sadly, will fall away. Paul here is making several points: first, the measure of a Christian worker is not his eloquence nor his polished persona. It is the enduring work which he accomplishes.
Secondly, that work will not be manifest until life on earth is complete. That leads to the third inescapable lesson – only God can truly judge the true merit of anyone’s efforts.
The Corinthians not only judged one another by harsh standards, but they also judged the apostles, evangelists, and missionaries to whom they owed their faith. Paul condemned such judgment and taught that not everyone has equal skills or gifts, but all may be found faithful in God’s service.