What is the primary purpose of spiritual gifts?

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When Paul is dealing with an abuse of spiritual gifts in Corinth, in chapters 12 through 14 of 1 Corinthians, Paul emphasizes the primary purpose of spiritual gifts is to build up the body of Christ. He emphasizes that in chapter 12, elaborating about the body. He emphasizes that in chapter 14 showing how some particular gifts are more edifying to the body in general than are others. And smack-dab in between them he has chapter 13, a chapter about love, where he starts off by saying that if I have all the gifts, but I don't have love, I'm nothing. And then at the end of the chapter he says, well, the gifts will some day pass away, but love will be forever. And right in the middle he has this definition of love, he lists characteristics of love, which, if you read the rest of the letter, contrasts precisely with the behavior of the Corinthians. So, spiritual gifts are good, and God's gifts are good, but it's because of love that we know how to use those gifts for the purpose for which God gave them to us – to build up the body of Christ.

Answer by Dr. Craig S. Keener

Dr. Craig Keener teaches New Testament studies at Asbury Theological Seminary.