The Gifts of the Spirit

I Corinthians 12:1-11

We live in a world where we are always encouraged and pushed to compare ourselves with others. To compare our bodies, looks, and appearances. To compare our income, our homes, our cars. To compare our skills and education. Making comparisons is not always bad – but most of us know intuitively and instinctively – that constantly comparing ourselves to others does not lead us to an accurate view or assessment of ourselves.

Of course, this habit of comparing ourselves to others can also become part of our church life. We compare our faith and our expression of faith with other brothers and sisters. We compare our attendance and giving levels with others. Maybe we admire the faith and service of others – while feeling small about our own contributions to the life of the church. Whether we end up feeling superior or inferior, comparing ourselves to other Jesus followers can be a problem.

In our text for today Paul is speaking to a church in Corinth that had gotten wrapped up in comparisons. They seemed to see a kind of hierarchy of gifts amongst its members. Some had the gift of service, and some wisdom. Some had more amazing gifts – like the gift of miraculous healing or speaking in tongues. Evidently there had been some fighting about “who was the greatest” and who “was the most spiritual”.  Paul, in talking about the various gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to each of us, makes the following points:

1.  All gifts come from God

11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.

There’s no need to compare or see some kind of “ordering” or “hierarchy” of gifts. They ALL come from God and are distributed by the Holy Spirit WHEN and TO WHOM the Spirit decides. There’s no need for boasting or feeling proud. A “gift” – by definition – is freely given.

2.  The gifts we receive are NOT for our own personal benefit or satisfaction, but for the good of the group – the body of Christ.

7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

When “me, my, mine”  – as in rights and privileges – become more important than “our” – as in the good of the group – perhaps we have moved toward a dangerous imbalance. God gives us blessings – in order that we may bless others.

Remember the first promise in Genesis 12 to Abraham? God promises Abraham to bless him and give him children – in fact to make a great nation out of him, not because Abraham was more special or loved than others, but in order that Abraham and his descendants would become the channel – the pipeline – of that blessing to all the other nations on earth.

God intends that my gifts provide for me AND you. Your gifts provide for you AND me. We are meant to be interdependent.

3.  Our diversity – differences of gifts – is NOT a problem to be overcome, but the very DESIGN of God for us.

Although we didn’t read to the end of the chapter today, Paul goes on in verses 12 – 31 to describe the church as a body, made up of many parts. Some parts seem more important than others – but, in fact, every single part plays a unique and important role – so that NONE of them can be said to be non-essential.

18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

So it’s not a matter of “putting up with” our differences or trying to find some way to “deal with” all of our eclectic personalities and variations. Rather, it is coming to the realization that we would not be a complete and healthy body WITHOUT each variation and unique part!

A song by the the former Japanese boy band SMAP, while maybe not quite the same as scripture, nevertheless shared the same message that Paul did to the Corinthians. The song title translates as “A One-Of-A-Kind Flower in this World”. A loose translation of the Japanese goes like this:

In front of the flower shop / a variety of flowers lined up / I guess everyone has their favorites / but they’re all so beautiful / none of them wondering “whose #1?” / none of them arguing about who’s the most beautiful / each one standing tall in their bucket of water

Why is it that we humans love making comparisons? / Each one of us is different, yet we want to be #1? / It’s true, each one of us is a “one-of-a-kind” flower. / We each have a unique seed within us / Shouldn’t each of us just nurture our seed and grow into a beautiful flower?

Yes, each of us gifted by God, uniquely created, specially loved, and specially designed to bless and gift others. May this be our posture and prayer this week!