In his sermon “Scriptural Christianity,” John Wesley addresses the purpose of God’s pouring out of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost:
It was, to give them (what none can deny to be essential to all Christians in all ages) the mind which was in Christ, those holy fruits of the Spirit which whosoever hath not, is none of his; to fill them with “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness;” to endue them with faith, (perhaps it might be rendered, fidelity,) with meekness and temperance; to enable them to crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts, its passions and desires; and, in consequence of that inward change, to fulfil all outward righteousness; to “walk as Christ also walked,” in “the work of faith, in the patience of hope, the labour of love.”
Instead of the pneumatic experiences of the early church being focused upon the extraordinary gifts, a phrase that Wesley uses, which come in dramatic fashions, the ultimate telos of the giving of the Holy Spirit is that the Christian will be patterned in their life in accordance to Jesus. As Wesley concludes this sermon, he criticizes Oxford for lacking these traits and calling for this “scriptural Christianity” to be restored. This sermon marked Wesley’s departure from Oxford, the educational center of high status, as he went on to become an evangelist. While Wesley was certainly an extraordinary figure himself, his focus was calling people to repent and renew their faith so that they would be sanctified into the “ordinariness” of love.
A similar issue seems to be at hand in Paul’s first correspondence to the Corinthians. They had seen the powerful demonstrations of the Spirit that paired with the preaching about Jesus’ cross (and implicitly, resurrection) brought them to understand the nature of God’s power at work in the world (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). However, they seemed to lack growth into the ultimate purpose of living as the people of God. They were instead still stuck interpreting the world and people in terms of who seem to have the best charisma, who evidence the best wisdom, who showed the greatest amount of power. They looked for the extraordinary in knowledge and power and it reflected in the very way the Corinthian church lived. They were dividing themselves according to what teachers they would associate with; they fought against each other, to the point of bringing lawsuits against each other; they were more concerned about their own knowledge and how it justified their own actions rather than how their actions would do harm to another; their worship was hectic as people were only too eager to interrupt one another so that their special “giftedness” could be demonstrated. In focusing on the extraordinary, as it is common human, fleshy instinct to notice those who far exceed the average and to be noticed as such, they were resisting the work of God’s Spirit to form them into the pattern of Christ. That which was truly the more important thing to long for than the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit is the type of love that does not seek one’s own way, as in 1 Corinthians 13.
The fascination for the extraordinary can take on many forms in Christian circles, many of which existed in Corinth. It can be about the overvaluation of intellect. particularly in the mainline denominations. It can take the form of overvaluing extraordinary experiences such as tongues and miracle in some charismatic circles. Or it can be the over-esteeming of charismatic figures and those who master rhetoric as I have seen prevalent in more evangelistic circles. While intellect, dramatic experiences, and charisma are not regarded as inherently evil by Paul, nor by Wesley by my estimation, the problems lies in how our social circles tend to overvalue them and thus tempt others to pursue the appearances of such for greater prominence and status for oneself. But righteousness and holiness come as individuals and communities let go of the fleshly temptations and desires to overvalue such things and more appropriately value the powerful demonstration of sacrificial love.
Insofar as our own personal faith and hope rests in finding and seeking the extraordinary, we are still thinking in terms of the flesh, as Paul would talk about, acting as spiritual children who need clear, dramatic signals to differentiate between the goodness of the Spirit and the flesh. It is like thinking that life is all about learning from Sesame Street; sure it is fun and it helps instill clear, basic ideas for children to grasp, but if all you ever do is want to watch Sesame Street, you will not grow into mature adulthood. Longing for the extraordinary from God is good when it is genuinely and truly grounded upon a desire for the power to demonstrate God’s powerful love in the world, but even this is not the final goal of evangelistic hope; it is the “ordinariness” of 1 Corinthians 13 style love that is the end goal of even the extraordinary signs and gifts. Extraordinariness as an end to itself is the flesh; the ordinariness of love exhibiting in extraordinary ways as an end is the Spirit.