I Corinthians 12:4-6 NIV
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
Have you ever seen someone else’s gifts in action and thought, “My goodness; it’s not fair that God gifted them like that! I can only do (fill in the blank).” It’s like we’re in junior high all over again, ranking ourselves compared to others based on measures like “smart,” “athletic,” “pretty,” or “popular.” Or, perhaps you were on the other end of the relational spectrum in junior high, noting your own gifts, and determining that your giftedness somehow made you more “special” than others.
That is where the Corinthians found themselves, and we, left to our own thinking, feelings, judgements, and celebrity-cultural reflexes, can find ourselves there as well. In the former case, the sins driving our self-abasement are fear and unbelief. In the latter case, the sins driving our self-aggrandizement are pride and arrogance. In both cases, sin makes us think different gifts determine our different levels of value, and value to God. Our measures are skewed, and those measures have a terrible impact on what we do and don’t do as followers of Jesus.
In this passage, Paul is talking to the Corinthians about what happens when they worship, when they have come together as the Community of the Spirit to be nourished at Christ’s table. So he levels the playing field. The gifts, Paul explains, while having different applications and effects, are all spiritual manifestations and gifts of grace from the Spirit of God. The Spirit owns and hands out the gifts; no one “has” them as if they are special and others are not.
He is making clear that all believers have gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit, while not all are used in the same gifts at all times. Then (as now) flashier or more unusual gifts got special attention. People thought they were better than one another, or worse than one another—and the way they responded in relationships quietly perpetuated the unholy cycle. There is truly nothing new under the sun. When our cultural values get in the driver’s seat of our hearts, there is always a spiritual accident waiting to happen.
Let’s put it bluntly so we get it. The Holy Spirit is at work in the world, through the Church. The Holy Spirit fills and empowers the Community of Christ, and individual believers within it, to live with the character of Jesus in the world (Gal. 5:22-23), and to do what Jesus did (John 14:12-14). The Holy Spirit fills the people of God, followers of Jesus, as a temple of living stones, being built together (1 Pet. 2:5), who then demonstrate the Kingdom of God is among us before the people in our homes, churches, and cities. The Spirit is the “eschatological Spirit” (Gordon Fee) who brings the New Creation life of the future into the now, and performs wonders through God’s people that signal that bright future ahead. You and I have the Holy Spirit in us, and with us. The Spirit distributes gifts of grace to us, and through us, that provide for our shared spiritual nourishment in worship, that strengthen the Church as a Body, and that further the reach of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
If you think someone is better than you because of the way God uses them, you have a heart problem that needs emergency surgery. They are called to bear the same fruits of the Spirit that you are, the very character of Christ. Yes, learn from them, be inspired by their obedience—but don’t unduly elevate them as you simultaneously diminish the gifts of God at work in you.
If you think someone is less important than you because of the way God uses you, you also have a heart problem that needs emergency surgery. Be grateful for the ways God uses you, but learn from the humility of others what spiritual giftedness looks like when it’s off a stage and doesn’t need a microphone to give it volume.
Jesus, I receive the Holy Spirit. Work in my heart as I learn to embrace the gifts of the Spirit, in all their forms, as gifts of grace from you. Come, Holy Spirit, help me to use the gifts you have invested in me, and to be used by you in gifts that come in a moment of need, for your glory. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Have you ever taken a spiritual gift test? If so, in what ways have you found that God consistently uses you to show others the heart of Jesus?
For the awakening,