The way of love, Paul says, is the more excellent way, and should be our highest goal; but he also tells us to earnestly desire the best spiritual gifts.
What follows, in his letter to the Church of Corinth, is a discussion of two spiritual gifts– prophecy and speaking in foreign languages. Paul comes down solidly in his opinion that prophecy is the more important of the two gifts, the one more highly to be sought after.While the speaking in foreign languages is a benefit to the one who speaks, he will be speaking only to God; his brethren in the church will not know what is being said. Prophecy, on the other hand, brings a message from God to the whole church, strengthening, encouraging, and comforting others. Speaking in tongues strengthens the speaker, but prophecy strengthens the entire church. Eagerness to receive spiritual gifts, says Paul, should be directed toward those gifts that strengthen everyone.
We can guess, from the context of this letter, that the church in Corinth had the same fixation with the gift of speaking in tongues as is present in certain Christian circles today. Perhaps for some, it stems from insecurity; speaking in tongues was one of the signs that Jesus told His disciples would follow those who believe, and it is human nature to want visible proof of these things that are so important to us.
Paul persuasively argues that the gifts of the Spirit are not just for our personal strengthening and security, but for the benefit of the entire church. Even speaking in foreign languages in the church assembly, he said, should be followed by an interpretation; the whole body should be strengthened, and not just the speaker.
By all means, we should desire spiritual gifts, and ask God for them; and when He gives these gifts to us, it is so that we can use them at His direction to strengthen His entire Church.