One of the brothers here at christianblog has asked us to consider carefully the spiritual gifts, and I wrote the following as a comment to him and all others who are considering this topic.
May the Lord enlighten us as to what His Word says, without our built-in personal prejudices or man-made traditions getting in the way...
The one thing I'd counsel is to remember that Paul addressed the most detail on this subject to his most troubled church body--the Corinthians. It was precisely because this undisciplined, motley crew of believers was struggling with pride, selfishness (even when observing the Lord's Table together), divisions (over who was following which teacher/leader), lawsuits among believers, terrible sexual sin, and a lot of other immature behavior, that they had trouble discerning and appropriating the gifts from the Spirit in the proper ways. It was their spiritual immaturity which limited their understanding.
So, what did Paul say? He clarified that there are many gifts, and that it was the Holy Spirit that gave those gifts to people in the Body of Christ for the purpose of building up others in their faith. It was not man's decision, it was not man's work. It was the work of God. He did indicate that if someone desired spiritual gifts, that he should seek the highest gifts--the highest one being Prophecy--which means giving out the Word of God to others. He even put tongues in perspective (and I say this respecting tongues, because God has gifted me in tongues)--stating that tongues is for private prayer unless someone with the gift of interpretation is available to edify the Body.
BUT WHAT WAS PAUL'S GREAT REMINDER? Look how he ends 1 Corinthians 12!
"But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you THE MOST EXCELLENT WAY." 1 Corinthians 12:30
The most excellent way, brothers, is LOVE. It is the greatest gift of the Spirit, which is often ignored completely, though I've seen with a glad heart it is referred to by you, and by others. This is the greatest gift of the Spirit, and should be pursued before and during our pursuit of any other gifts from God. It is the highest and best, and "covers a multitude of sins".
The Corinthians, like many of us, had not yet learned how to fly, and were wanting a Lear Jet. God's best is that we learn how to walk in love as Jesus did, and then He'll bestow on us gifts we can handle. Lear Jets are for the best pilots, not novices who are undisciplined and haven't paid the price. The best commercial pilots come out of being combat pilots. Same for us in the Body. The highest gifts are reserved for those who've trained to discern good from evil by constant use--who've been through the fires and the waters and learned to rely on God and His Spirit to get them through.
We must learn to "follow the way of love" while we "eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy." (1 Cor. 14:1)
So clear to me after all these years. I'm so thankful that these things are not complicated. I was raised in a church that emphasized the highly visible gifts of tongues and preaching and teaching, but without the greatest gift of love it was a "resounding gong...a clanging cymbal" and I was left with the conclusion that it was gaining nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
I pray that we would discern our spiritual condition in the churches. That each of us would call for the gift of love to be lived out, and that all other gifting would be prayerfully left to the Holy Spirit's direction as we draw closer to Jesus Christ.