We’ve all met the delusionals and the crazies in religion, or at least seen them on TV or YouTube. The way that they affect Christianity reminds me of what happens in work environments: One person does something stupid or abuses the system, and suddenly there is an additional code or protocol that everyone else has to follow. One person’s folly becomes everyone’s regret. Among Christians, it seems that our reaction to the loonies has made us all act a little crazy. Rather than seeking to distinguish between the spirits of good and evil, and sane and insane, we’ve generally abolished anything that seems a little odd or difficult to rationalize.
But there is comfort to be found in what Paul tells us about how spiritual gifts come into play, and how they should be used. He addresses the problems we’re dealing with head on.
We can’t “will” spiritual gifts into play on our own, like some Harry Potter spell; instead, only God can grant them, as He deems fit: “All these [spiritual gifts] are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Cor 12:11 ESV). We cannot force spirituality; we can only invite it. And each person receives gifts as God wills.
All Christ followers were meant to be one with Christ; and as communities, we are meant to be unified together, as Christ as unified us to Himself, with the common purpose of God’s work among us (1 Cor 12:12–13). This does not downplay our diversity, and the unique ways in which God uses each of us, but instead emphasizes it. Paul uses the analogy of the human body to make this point. He suggests that as each member of the body is required for the overall body to function, holistically and healthily, so must each individual person play their part (1 Cor 12:14–21).
Each type of spiritual gift is needed for the church’s work. There is no part that is greater than the others.
When Paul made this point, he did so because the Corinthians had elevated particular spiritual gifts, specifically speaking in tongues, over others. Today, we have a similar problem: we often elevate people with speaking abilities (the pastor types), or those with lots of knowledge, over others. The other spiritual gifts are usually given the back seat.
It seems that we give certain spiritual gifts the back seat because we don’t understand our need for them, like how an unhealthy person doesn’t see the need for exercise. Or, because we’re simply uncomfortable with them, like how an unhealthy eater disliked vegetables at one point (because they were cooked wrongly), and now refuses to eat them. The fears aren’t rational, but we use them because they seem rational.
Since the loonies manifest similar attributes to some spiritual gifts, we’re worried about how out of control spirituality can become. And in return, we quietly banish it, like we do vegetables from our diet. Now, we rarely frame the issue this way—and thus I’m making it seem a little more cut and dry than it is for most people—but that’s the gist of what’s going on.
The only difference between the problems Paul was addressing and the problems we’re dealing with today is that the Corinthians were elevating the slightly more audacious gifts over the more modest ones. But it doesn’t take much to see how Paul’s words also apply to our situation:
After recognizing this point, Paul sticks it to the Corinthians. He won’t allow for this to go on.
We rise together; we die together. Thus, we should suffer together. No fight is ever won by an army with merely one type of defense or attack. We need one another and the unique gifts God has granted each of us. Apart, we will fall. And if we continue to deny parts of God’s workings among us, we will certainly sacrifice God’s plans, and the amazing things He wants to do.
The honor in our communities doesn’t necessarily reside with the gifts that we regard highly; nor does it reside with the gifts we don’t regard at all. Instead, they’re all equal. The problem isn’t the gifts; it’s us.
What gifts are you honoring over others? How can you combat this in your community?
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