In 1 Corinthians 12, we read about the gifts of the Spirit. The gifts are seen here in relationship to the functioning of the local church - the local Body of Christ. Many Christians think of the gifts of the Spirit without recognising that they are to be used to build a local expression of the Body of Christ in every place. Therefore they go astray. We must seek for the gifts of the Spirit because we want to serve others better (Luke 11:5-13). Many emphasise the first half of 1 Corinthians Chapter 12 (about the gifts), but not the second half (about the Body of Christ). Others emphasise the second half and ignore the first half. They are just like those who emphasise the second half of Chapter 11 but disobey the first half of Chapter 11 (saying that it does not apply to us today).
If you want to understand the exercise of any of the gifts of the Spirit properly, you must always see them in the context of serving others and building up a local expression of the Body of Christ in a local church. In 12:13, Paul speaks of the universal Body of Christ, the worldwide church (for he uses the word "we"). But in 12:27, he speaks about the local expression of that Body in Corinth (for he says "YOU are the body of Christ").
The gifts of the Spirit operate in the Body of Christ exactly like the different members of our body. Nobody should want to be a prominent member in the Body, like the ear or the eye. "If the whole body was just one eye, or the whole body was just eyes where would the hearing be? And if the whole body was just ears, where would the sense of smell be? (12:17). There must be a nose too. So we shouldn't desire anyone else's gift. It is God Who makes someone an eye or a tongue in Christ's Body. He may not want you to be a visible member like the tongue, but an invisible member like a heart, a liver or a kidney. But all these invisible members perform a very important function. Some parts of our human body are like the soles of our feet - hard and capable of taking a lot of rough treatment. But other parts are weaker, and are very sensitive and easily injured, like our eyes. If one speck of dust gets into the eye it disturbs us continuously. But if our feet are covered with dust, that doesn't cause us any problem. Also, some members of the body are attractive while other members are not so attractive - and so we hide them.
In the church also, there are some people who are very visible, like a preacher who is frequently in the pulpit. We could say that he is like the tongue. But most of the others in the Body never stand in a pulpit. They may be the "pray-er"s - those who pray much in private for the preacher.
They are like the heart, pumping blood so that the mouth can speak. Both members are equally important. The mouth cannot speak without the heart pumping blood to it. But the heart will die if the mouth doesn't open and eat food. The heart is dependent on the mouth and the mouth is dependent on the heart. So whatever gift of the Spirit you may have, remember that you need your brother and he needs you. That brother may be an invisible member like the heart which nobody sees or appreciates and you may be a visible brother like the eyes or the hands.
There are many gifts of the Spirit, but there is no competition between them, but only cooperation. One may be an apostle, another a prophet (12:28), one may speak in tongues, and another may have the gift of healing. All are equally needed. Nobody needs another person's gift. And nobody can say to another, "I don't need you. I can do everything on my own" (12:21).
Is your left hand ever jealous of your right hand? The right hand may be writing all the important letters and signing all the cheques. But does the left hand ever become jealous of that and think, "Oh, it is the right hand that always does the important tasks. I don't ever get to do any important tasks." And then suppose your right hand is injured one day and bound in plaster. Will the left hand now say, "Ah, now is my chance to do those tasks."? If the left hand were to sign a cheque now, it wouldn't look like your signature and the bank won't accept it! But what does the left hand actually do? It does everything possible to restore the right hand to health quickly so that the right hand can sign that cheque. That is how the Body of Christ should function. When you see another brother more gifted than you are, remember that even if you work hard you won't be able to duplicate his ministry - because it was God Who gave him that gift. It is enough that just one member in the body (the right hand) signs all the cheques. Wherever there is jealousy or competition in the Body of Christ, it is because believers have not seen the Body of Christ.
People have sometimes asked me this question, "Brother Zac, why do you keep emphasising only holiness and balance in the Body all the time?" I reply with this question, "Why does a kidney only keep purifying the blood stream and balancing the chemicals in it - and nothing else?" Because that is its God-given function. That is not every function in the body - but it is an important one. Once your kidneys fail to function you will die. But the kidney cannot function without the hand and the mouth. We need one another. Evangelism is something like a hand taking a potato and putting it into the mouth - bringing an unbeliever to Christ. But is that enough? No. After the unbeliever has come to Christ, someone else has to take over. The potato has to be chewed by the teeth and then go into the stomach, have acid poured on it, so that it is broken down. Finally, after many more processes, it becomes a part of the human body. In the same way, a new believer has to be broken down, made small and humbled and fitted for his task in Christ's Body. That is how he becomes an effective member of Christ's Body.
But suppose the potato just remains in the mouth or in the stomach, and doesn't get digested. Then you will just vomit it out after a while. So the evangelist has to hand over the convert to the teacher and the prophet and the shepherd (Ephesians 4:11). Which of these ministries is most needed? Even though there is a hierarchy in the gifts, the apostle, prophet and teacher being first, second and third respectively (1 Corinthians 12:28), yet all the gifts are equally needed. So we must never try to do someone else's ministry. Cooperate with them instead. Once you see this great truth, it will deliver you completely from all jealousy, competition and unrest.