The context of the “spiritual gifts” chapter (Chapter 12) of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians helps us to see why he is telling us about them. 1 Cor. 12:1-3 Paul is addressing the problem of how not to be led astray (back to idolatry). This calls for discernment through the Holy Spirit. From here, Paul launches into a description of various gifts given by the Holy Spirit “for the common good” (v. 7).
We must first notice that each gift is vitally important to the health of the body. All of them are given by and powered by the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, every gift assists in spiritual discernment of God’s will. Does this mean that any gift has a right to assert itself over the rest of the gifts? The whole-body analogy that follows in v. 12-26 suggests otherwise. Only Jesus is the head, leading us through His Spirit. The rest of us follow Jesus rather than a designated human being.
An apostle seems to be a church planter in new territories. Of course he/she would have great influence in a church he/she had just planted. But the thing about apostles is that they move on to eventually plant other churches.
Prophets offer advice about what is coming or about what is happening “below the surface” in the church. Sometimes this advice comes from a “thus saith the Lord.” Other times it comes from common sense, wisdom or inspiration given to someone else in the congregation, but articulated by the prophet. Of course a prophet, especially one with a good record of being accurate, will have an influence in a congregation.
Paul’s words about the importance of every gift and the need for all of the parts of the body suggest that no one person has everything needed to “run” the congregation or make all of the decisions that need to be made.
If the list of gifts in 12:28 is indicative of the relative importance of the gifts, it is interesting to note that the gift of “administration” is the second-last on the list, ahead of only “tongues.” Is is possible that a gift of leadership is not intended to actually rule the church? How else could such a gift work in the church? The word itself, kybernesis began as the Greek word for steering or piloting a boat. (It is also the root of our word “cybernetics.”) Does this mean that this person is in charge of overall decision-making?
Not usually. Even today, a ship’s captain will hand over the tiller of his ship to a qualified pilot when entering the St. Lawrence Seaway, for example. The pilot knows what hazards to avoid in the waters he knows. Once finished, the Captain takes control back.
Perhaps the best translation of “administration” is the one in the New Living Translation: “those who can get others to work together.” In the context, this would seem to be a gift for coordination, not subordination.
Brian J. Dodd, author of Empowered Church Leadership, has very important things to say about ministry in the Spirit. The current wisdom about leadership is that “vision” is very important. Almost every seminary program has classes about vision in leadership, and they usually define it as “a picture held in your mind’s eye about the way things could be or should be in the days ahead” [p. 163, quoting George Barna].
He has this to say about “vision” as currently taugh throughout both secular and seminary leadership training programs, “In secular circles we can find boldfaced assertions that control is the motivation for executives to pursue this kind of vision.” On the next page he makes a bold claim of his own, “Biblical vision is clearly and only prophetic vision, revelations that come from God supernaturally…This is the spiritual gift that is promised to be restored in the church in the last days with the coming of Jesus.”
It makes sense, then, that Paul (an apostle and prophet) values the prophetic gift more highly than that of leadership. Revelation trumps vision anyday. The word translated “vision” in the oft-quoted Prov. 29:18, (“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” KJV) actually means “revelation.” Using the word as though the modern kind of business “vision” is intended is a violation of the integrity of that scripture.
Paul concludes the matter in a way that is also often misunderstood, when he recommends that we “desire the best gifts.” Once again, the NLT has a good grasp of the difference when it translates this as, “you should desire the most helpful gifts.” The most helpful gifts. Paul is a apostle. Of course the most helpful gifts are the ones that further the gospel message, as far as he is concerned. To the apostle, administration does not spread the gospel anywhere near as much as solid preaching or even healings.
Furthermore, it also makes sense of context of the chapter that follows: about how love is the motivation for using the gifts to serve the entire body for the ultimate glory of God (including evangelism). This is why the “Love Chapter” (Chapter 13) of 1 Corinthians falls in the middle of two chapters devoted to spiritual gifts. Love is the key to unlocking the power of the mighty and wonderful gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit in order that we may discern God’s will for us today.