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? (1 Corinthians 12:28-30)
Paul lists the following spiritual gifts and gifted persons in this passage: apostleship, prophecy, teaching, working of miracles, gifts of healing, helping, administrating, various kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues. Once again, Paul does not define or describe the various gifts.
Interestingly, there are two lists in this passage, but the two lists are not identical. Most of these gifts are listed in the previous section (1 Corinthians 12:8-10). However, teaching is not mentioned in the previous passage, and the gifts of administration and helping are unique to this list. Also, there are some gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 which are not mentioned here (word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, discernment). It seems that Paul was not working from a “standard” list of spiritual gifts.
Prior to this passage, Paul has just completed a long section where he used the “body of Christ” metaphor to encourage believers to see themselves as part of one another, working together for a common goal. He has exhorted them to recognize the importance of each individual and the necessity of each person’s gift for the health of the body.
In this passage, Paul reminds his readers that it is God himself who chooses how to apportion the spiritual gifts. The believers do not have the right nor the ability to choose their spiritual gifts. As we will see later, believers do have the capacity or the potential of exercising any spiritual gift, if God so desires. However, at this point, Paul says that this is not the way to God generally works within a group of believers. Instead, God chooses the various gifts that a person should or should not exercise based upon his will in building the health of the church.
Since Paul has just told the Corinthians that no spiritual gift is more important than another, it would seem that he does not enumerate apostles, prophets, and teachers because of their importance. Instead, it would seem more likely (given his previous teaching) that he is simply using the ordinal numbers as a rhetorical device, much as we would number chapters in a book without necessarily specifying the relative importance of those chapters.
What can we learn from this list of spiritual gifts in context? God chooses the gifts that he desires for each of us to exercise – we don’t choose. God does not gift everyone in the same way.