In several chapters in Acts, apart from the initial outpouring of the spirit on the day of Pentecost, we are told that the Spirit was given by the laying on of the Apostles hands (see 8:17) or the direct action of their unseen Lord (10:44) upon believers. The gifts were a significant factor in the spread of the Gospel message and the functioning of the growing community of believers. At the time the converts would not have access to any Bible, apart from believers who were associated with a synagogue and its scrolls of ancient writings; frictions with unconverted Jews would probably hinder or prevent access in most if not all cases.

1 Corinthians 12 & 13 are the first of three chapters in which we learn extensive details of the spirit gifts made available to that early generation of believers. Unfortunately, as is often the case with human nature, there was some misuse of the gifts.

It is a misconception that the gift of the Spirit was only the ability to speak in other languages, but Paul writes, “To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, to another the utterance of knowledge … to another faith …” (12:7-9). It is the “Spirit” that “apportions to each one individually” (verse 11).

What wonderful experiences, yet human nature brought aspects of jealousy between the recipients. The ideal was that they should team together harmoniously looking to “the head” for Paul had written, “the head of every man is Christ” (11:3) – and the result should be a wonderful team spirit. At the end of chapter 12 Paul tells them, “God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers …” (verse 28). Then, after telling them to “earnestly desire the higher gifts” (note that ‘tongues’ is listed last) he says, “And I will show you a still more excellent way”.

His next words are, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong …” (13:1). There follows words describing what real “love” is, for “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” whereas the gifts were to “pass away” (verses 7,8). Let us fully follow the “more excellent way”.