1 Corinthians 12:4-7
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
I love 1 Corinthians 12. I also think that much damage has been done to this text within evangelicalism. This passage (and even the title of this blog post) conjures up debates concerning whether or not certain gifts still exist today, whether everyone should speak in tongues or no one should speak in tongues, and whether or not the charismatic movement is legitimate. Allow me to gently suggest these conversations may be missing the point of the text.
So what is Paul's point in 1 Corinthians 12? A few things:
Every Gift is From the Holy Spirit
The Corinthian church thought that only those who had extraordinary gifts such as the ability to prophesy or the ability to speak in tongues were spiritual people. Paul wrote to correct this. He emphasizes in v 4-7 that there are varieties of gifts, services, and activities but all are from the Spirit, meant to serve the Lord Jesus Christ, and empowered by God the Father. He then gives an example list of various gifts. Some of them seem extraordinary such as "gifts of healing" (9). But others are surprisingly ordinary such as "faith" (9) and "wisdom" (8). Later in the chapter Paul mentions gifts as ordinary as "administration" and "helping" (28).
Paul's point is this - any gift that anyone has comes from the Holy Spirit of God and is meant to be used to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. God has distributed his multitude of gifts all around. Everyone has some set of gifts from the Holy Spirit. So just because you're not gifted with the gifts that the church happens to prefer at this moment in history does not mean that you're not gifted.
Every Gift is Needed
Another problem the Corinthians had was that they preferred certain gifts over others. They preferred the more public and outwardly impressive gifts. Paul also wrote to correct this. Every single gift that God gives from the most public and impressive to the most private and discrete is needed.
Often the gifts that don't get much recognition are among the most important. Think about the gift of hospitality. Some people are gifted with compassion for outsiders and the ability to make people feel welcome in a new environment. This gift expresses the hospitable heart of God - the God who has welcomed us strangers as sons and daughters in Jesus Christ. We could have the strongest preaching in the world but if we don't have hospitable people to welcome the community in to hear the word of God how much good will our preaching do?
So the greeters are just as necessary as the preachers. A church will truly be excellent only when a multitude of gifts are being used.
Every Gift is for the Kingdom
"There are varieties of service, but the same Lord." What an amazing verse. All of us serve the Lord Jesus Christ but we do not all serve him in the same way. Jesus is not only served by gifts of teaching and evangelism. Jesus is also served by the graphic designer who generously gives her abilities to kingdom efforts. He is served by the barista who offers his knowledge and ability to make sure that good coffee is served on Sunday. He is served by the business executive who offers her knowledge and ability to help the church think strategically. He is served by the artist who offers his aesthetic judgement to help the church have beautiful spaces. He is served by those who are simply giving their time and effort to making the church space clean and free from distraction. He is served by those who go out of their way to make new guests feel welcome.
This is not to say that "church work" is the only kind of work that counts as service for the kingdom. But this is to say that all churches desperately need the seemingly ordinary gifts of their members in order for those churches to display the manifold glory of God. Such ordinary gifts are just as spiritual as preaching and teaching. In fact, they may not be so ordinary after all.
What does this mean for you?
This passage should spur us on toward unity and service.
Think about it. We need a multitude of gifts to glorify God together. Furthermore, God has distributed his gifts among many different people - no one person has all the gifts. This should make us realize that we need one another. We need to understand the limits of our own gifts by not trying to do everything. We also need to trust others to use their gifts by allowing them to contribute.
We should also take courage from this passage that God has indeed gifted us for service. Somewhere along the way we will discover the gifts that God has put within us. This happens through trial and error and the input of our community. So take courage. Use the gifts that you know that you have in order to build up the church in the way that God has uniquely called you to do. What if there are no ministries that would enable you to utilize those gifts? Maybe you should start something new. Or maybe your gifts don't require an organized ministry in order to function.
Not sure what your gifts are? The best way to find out is to get involved in community and activity with other believers and see what sticks. Pay attention to how God seems to be using you. Pay attention to what kinds of service you seem to enjoy.
And in all of this remember our Lord Jesus Christ who shares his wonderful gifts with us. He is the one that's truly gifted, and as his Spirit manifests itself in different ways in each one of us we display the fullness of Jesus Christ working together as his church.