Instructions for Church Unity
Spiritual gifts, an aspect of the Christian life that has brought much division and differing opinion within the Church over the years. In a sermon I recently listened to, Rick Caldwell wryly noted that the one thing that was meant to bring greater unity to the church has actually brought more disunity. I am not going to dive into the different opinions surrounding spiritual gifts, but rather focus on the main point Paul highlights in 1 Corinthians 12.
While Paul does list some of the gifts and talks about them, his main concern is helping the Corinthians understand the purpose of the gifts and the fact that they are gifts—things that cannot be earned or chosen for oneself. Therefore, there are different gifts given to different people in different measures, but from the same Source and for the same purpose. So, let’s dive in and see what Paul feels is the most important truth surrounding the spiritual gifts.
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”
~1 Corinthians 12:4-11
Let’s start with the definition of a gift. It is not earned, but freely given. It is not within our control how much we are given or when. We have no say in the form our gift will take nor do we get to choose the gifts other people get. So it is with the gifts of the Spirit. They are gifts freely given but beyond our control. There is no buffet line with the option to pick and choose what we’d like in our gift set. On the contrary, it is God who decides who gets what and “apportions to each one individually as he wills.”
Therefore, who are we to compare our unique gift set with someone else’s? Why do we so often indirectly compete among ourselves, comparing and contrasting gifts, and placing higher value on some and lower value on others?
The Corinthian church was guilty of this and while they were filled with a variety of gifts, instead of allowing the diverse array to build up the body they let them cause division. Therefore, Paul set out to remind the Corinthians of one main point: there are many gifts but one Source. God is the Giver all of gifts and the Source of power for the manifestation of these spiritual gifts. And God gives them to everyone. He is not stingy in His gifts, bestowing them on certain individuals only. On the contrary, 1 Corinthians 12 tells us that God empowers the gifts in everyone and has given the manifestation of the Spirit to each believer.
But note the purpose for these gifts: to build up the body for the common good. These gifts are not for us to hoard, compare with others, and use at leverage to build our reputation in the kingdom. Quite the opposite, they are given to be used in selfless service to others. They are intended to be used to edify and build the Body of Christ.
Consequently, while we all have different gifts and different combinations of gifts, at the end of the day we’re all equal because it is the same Spirit that empowers, the same God who gives, and the same intended purpose for the gift. Therefore, let us not allow the differences in spiritual giftings divide and separate our fellowship with each other. But rather, may we always remember that there are different gifts but one Source to whom belongs all the glory and honor.