"But earnestly desire the greater gifts.And I show you a still more excellent way" (1 Corinthians 12:31)To understand what Paul means by the "greater gifts" we must look at how he has ordered the ministries that Christ has placed in His Body.
"And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues." (1 Corinthians 12:28)It is important to note that God places apostles, prophets, and teachers ahead of miracles and healings. What makes apostles, prophets, and teachers of "greater gifts" than miracles and healings is not their superior power but rather the superior benefit they bring to the Body in terms of its edification, nourishment, and equipping. What makes a "gift" a "greater gift" is the greater benefit it brings to the Body.
Paul encourages us to earnestly desire the favor of God as express in the manifestation of the Spirit, and especially those favors that directly benefit the Body of Christ. This is why, in relation to tongues and prophesy, Paul says, "Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying." (1 Corinthians 14:5) While there is nothing wrong with tongues, in fact Paul says he spoke in tongues more than all of those in the Corinthian church, however, prophesy brings a greater benefit to the church than does tongues. Therefore, prophesy if considered a "greater gift" than tongues; because of its greater benefit to the church.
Today, there is much emphasis on the manifestation of "supernatural power" in the church, and many people have been blessed by the miracles and healings that have resulted from the release of God's supernatural power, but we must not, in our pursuit of power, neglect the greater gifts within our midst; we must pursue the one without letting go of the other.
When we understand what is meant by the "greater gifts" then we can also understand what Paul meant by a "more excellent way." In the following chapter, Paul speaks about the centrality of love as it relates to how we relate and minister to one another. If we pursue the favor and gifts of God for our own selfish purposes, rather than for love's sake, then we become as nothing.
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)If we pursue spiritual manifestations for the power, prestige, and honor that will accrue to our own account, then we have missed the point of these manifestations entirely. They are not for us or for our own benefit or enrichment, but for the benefit of others. However, if we pursue them out of love, out of a desire to use them to benefit others rather than ourselves, then we have found the "more excellent way". In our pursuit of spiritual gifts, we must never pursue them our our own ends but for the benefit of others; out of love for Christ and His Body.