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Steve Bremner: "Is Tongues the Least of the Gifts?"

And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
(1 Corinthians 12:28-31, English Standard Version)

Every so often, someone tells me tongues are the "least" gift or "lesser of the gifts", when there is in fact no Scripture verse which states such a thing. Nor is there any indication that Paul's list of the gifts of the Spirit is ordered in any kind of importance. Especially considering other times when Paul makes lists, he doesn't list things in the same order, making me think it was of no importance to Paul's thinking.

I don't pretend to know Greek very well or anything, but the order of Paul's list of gifts here is in contradiction to the order he lists things—and breaks this list apart—elsewhere.

A few examples:

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;  if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;  the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
(Romans 12: 6-10, ESV)

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
(Ephesians 4:11-14)

In both of these passages of Scripture, in comparison to the 'list' in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul

  1. Lists some things in a different order between these lists, and

  2. Lists some things inconsistently--that's to say, he places some things in one list and not in another or others

I've been thinking about how nobody I know ever uses this approach to the other lists Paul makes, such as lists of sins that will keep individuals from inheriting the kingdom of God.

Take a look at the following;

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 
(Galatians 5:19-21)

Have you ever heard a believer suggest "orgies" are a "least sin" because Paul mentions them last in that list?

I didn't think so.

Take a gander at the next few verses:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
(Gal 5:22-23)

Have you ever heard a believer try telling you the order the fruit of the Spirit is listed in is from most important to least important? Have you ever heard anybody state that self-control is not important, or that it's the least important fruit of the Spirit because it's mentioned last?

I didn't think so, either.

"Least gift" stuff is nonsense. The only distinction Paul makes is that the gifts that are the most "efficient" for the community, which have the broadest benefit (corporate over individual) are to be preferred in a corporate setting. This does not indicate or imply that the gifts themselves are more important than another just because of the order they are listed in. If it did, then Paul would have been consistent in the way he listed things.

Believers who espouse this view should be challenged to hold to it consistently in all passages that use lists.

- Steve Bremner, author of Nine Lies People Believe About Speaking in Tongues


Editor

Christian Rafetto


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