“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.” (1 Corinthians 12:4–6)
Have you ever received a gift that you really didn’t want? It’s okay if you open the present and the person who gave it isn’t there. But when they are watching you, you have to be really careful about how you react. “Oh, how lovely?” For instance, can be interpreted in lots of different ways.
If you ever find yourself being a gift you don’t want, here are a few lines you might want to use:
Gosh, I hope I never lose this. We're always losing things around here.
Just my luck to get this, on the day I promised to give all my gifts to charity.
It's great; but I'm worried about the jealousy it may create.
Really, you shouldn't have.
Okay, that’s just a bit of fun. But I wonder if we can approach the idea of spiritual gifts in a similar sort of way?
I know that is the way I have looked at a passage like 1 Corinthians 12 in the past. I’ve seen a list like Paul gives and thought to myself: “Ooh, I’d quite like that gift, or that one. This one sounds interesting or exciting. I hope I get that one, and I hope I don’t get that one.”
It’s perhaps tempting for us to treat a list like Paul gives a bit like a menu – here is the range of spiritual gifts and we begin to pick and choose which ones we might like (or not like).
But I don’t think that’s what Paul is getting at as he writes this list. Some of the spiritual gifts he talks about have some specific ministries behind them – like prophecy and tongues. But most of what he mentions here is quite general: wisdom, knowledge, faith. People have written lots of books on what Paul might have meant by them.
But I don’t think we are supposed to think that there is one very narrow way of looking at a gift of faith, or healing, from this list. Instead, I think what Paul wants us to see is the diversity of gifts.
In the middle of the passage he makes the point three time: different gifts, same Spirit; different service, same Lord; different working, same God.
There is one giver, and lots and lots of different gifts. So I don’t think we are supposed to look at a list like this and pick out the spiritual gifts we rather like or don’t like. Instead we are supposed to look at our generous God and be willing to receive the unique set of gifts he has in store for us.
The key verse is verse 7:
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (v7)
The Spirit manifests himself, he reveals himself, in each one of us. There is no Christian in which the Spirit is not at work. There is nobody whom God has not gifted and equipped in some way. The work of the Spirit is given to each of us. That includes you and it includes me.
The aim of those spiritual gifts is for the common good, that is, building Jesus’ kingdom. The Spirit calls us into the work of building the kingdom, and he gives us gifts to enable us to do that work. Every single one of us. And my gift is different to your gift.
It’s so easy to compare our gifts with one another isn’t it? I look at you and think, I wish I had your gift for speaking, or for leading worship, or for showing compassion, or for saying just the right word into someone’s life. And someone else is looking at me and thinking “I wish I had their gift.” And we are all looking at someone thinking they have better gifts that we do.
We all have different gifts. That is because we are all different people! God wants us to lift our eyes from comparing ourselves with one another. We are to take our eyes off the gifts and on to the giver, off what other people have and on to what God is calling us to, off of what we might want and on to what God has given us.
What are the unique set of gifts God has given to you to build his kingdom? Don’t say “nothing” because if you are a Christian, God has given you his Spirit and his Spirit does not sit idle. Will you pray that God will show you what he has gifted you for?