The believers in the church at Corinth had a problem. Actually, they had numerous problems, but one of them was their desire to speak in tongues, not so that they might be a blessing to others, but it would appear from Paul’s charge to them, so that they might impress their fellow worshippers. They wanted the glory and self-aggrandizement that they believed might accrue to them through the exercise of such a dramatic gift. God’s honor was not their motivation, nor was the blessing of their brethren their purpose. Paul’s exhortation to them, therefore, is pointed: “as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church” (I Cor. 14:12). The sign gifts (including speaking in tongues) ceased shortly after Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians when the New Testament canon was complete and God had revealed all He has to say to man, but the principle Paul set forth is as pertinent to believers today as it was when he penned it two millennia ago: “seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.”
“Seek.” A gift is gratuitous, bestowed by God aside from any merit or effort on our part. What one person might struggle and fail at another can do almost effortlessly because God has gifted him in that area. And he deserves no special credit for it because God has freely gifted him. But—no one truly edifies the brethren effortlessly. For that to be accomplished, God requires effort on the part of the believer. We must consciously and actively seek to edify others, or it will not occur. Clearly, from God’s perspective, it is not the exercise of gift that is demanded so much as the effort to build up the brethren. Is it our desire to edify? Do we actively seek ways to strengthen those of “like precious faith”? Or is our energy expended in putting ourselves on display or pursuing our own interests? Seek to edify the brethren is a command given to every believer, and we will be judged according to the degree to which we pursue that end.
“That ye may excel.” That qualifying clause provides us with the “how much” of our seeking. We will not please the Lord with an occasional attempt at being a blessing to our brethren; edifying the brethren cannot be accomplished as a hobby or in our spare time. As the word excel indicates, we are to “super abound” as edifiers. Paul speaks in terms of superlatives: we are to give our best, our most, our greatest to this cause. Yet how many among us can honestly say before God that we have even come close to fulfilling that demand? We may super abound in our efforts to keep up with the Joneses, to be promoted in our work, to be awarded for our ability in academics or sports, but to bless the brethren? Sadly, such thoughts are not in the forefront of most of our minds.
“The edifying of the church.” What a building that is! Man’s constructions collapse, buildings crumble, empires fall, dynasties disappear. But the labor God calls the believer to engage in lasts for eternity: it is an effort that produces eternal reward. To build up the body of Christ is no small undertaking; it involves being a co-laborer with Him. The blessing is not in being gifted but in using that gift for the blessing of others. We are called of God, not to pursue our own ambitions and goals, but those of others. May we desire to be in teaching or preaching not eloquent but effective, in voice not beautiful but blessed, in effort not flawless but faithful, in prayer not impressive but importunate, in giving not boastful but bountiful, and in service not dazzling but diligent. “Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself” (Rom. 15:2, 3a).
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