For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. – Romans 12:3-8 (ESV)
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 (ESV)
Christian life might be simpler if we stopped at forgiveness. If the end of our purpose in life was to accept the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as atonement for our sin there would be a lot less to learn about and grow into as a Christian. The Gospel does not end there though. Not only does God forgive our sin and free us from that guilt, He sends His Holy Spirit to dwell within us as we dwell in Him – both to protect us from the further influence of sin, but also to empower us to be a force, His force for good in this world. We come to Jesus as broken vessels, but through the power of His Holy Spirit, He transforms us into fountains of grace to be shared all around us.
The first Christians were very excited about this. Consider the 3,000+ people who gave their lives to Christ after seeing the apostles preach in tongues on Pentecost. Remember the 2,000 more that were converted the next day when Peter and John healed a lame man by the gate. All the fears and disappointments that had built up in the lives of these people (many of them Jewish immigrants living in foreign countries) were suddenly flying away in the wind of the Spirit that was moving through Jerusalem and then the Roman Empire. New fears might resurface in time, but for the moment God’s people were amazed by the new life and new power they were experiencing.
Paul reminds the Church to “consider the source” of this new power and these new experiences. While it is very appropriate to celebrate the grace of God in our lives, it is quite another to turn the focus upon ourselves, celebrating what we can do. Notice the difference between the instructions given to the churches in Rome versus the churches in Corinth. The Roman church was exhorted that everyone has something to share, as given to them by the Holy Spirit. In a city where Jews were considered vagrant minorities, inferior to the Roman citizens, Paul reminds them that through the work of the Holy Spirit we are “one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” He levels the social hierarchy that the church may have been importing from the culture around them, letting them know that each person, regardless of their social standing, has an important gift to bring to the Body. He reminded them that each person, no matter how important the world deemed them, played a vital role to the life and work of the Body of Christ.
Corinth, on the other hand, had more social diversity both in the present, and within its heritage. Being more of a merchant city than a political center, a person could gain as much influence with unique skills or commodities as they may have been able to obtain through political status. The church in Corinth knew they all had gifts. Their problem appears to have stemmed from competition developing between believers regarding whose gift was more publicly impressive. Paul reminds the Corinthians that all of the gifts come from the Holy Spirit, whether it is prophetic knowledge, miracle healing, or even simple faith in the face of adversity. Regardless of how flashy a person’s gift looks, they are all from the Holy Spirit, and they are all given for God’s purposes, not our own ambitions.
Paul tells both churches that every individual member is indispensible to the Body of Christ – not because of what they can or cannot do, but because they were created, redeemed, and chosen by God to show and share His grace with the world. He calls us to lift our gaze above ourselves and see that all of these gifts, including our own, belong to the whole Body. All of it belongs to us, because we belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God – as Paul wrote to the Corinthians (Chapter 3).
What a powerful and important truth for us to live today! In the Church today that so often vacillates between the Romans who may have reserved spiritual gifts for the “spiritual elite” and the Corinthians may have sought to use spiritual gifts for their own popularity and ambitions, let us remember that all of these gifts belong to us all as the Body and that we as individuals are not measured by the gift we have from God, but what we do with it. We are important, not because of what we have, but because God has chosen to “have” us.