God loves his church. Well that’s an understatement if ever there was one.
But lately I’ve had the chance to see that afresh in 1 Corinthians. We’ve been going through it over the course of the last year in our Growth Groups at church. We do this because we believe the Bible is God’s word and so we want to hear him speak and change us, and just recently we’ve been looking at ch12-14. It’s a section infamous for provoking controversy about spiritual gifts. It also includes a passage that would have made Paul a billionaire if he’d just thought to copyright before the wedding industry got their mitts on it.
The Giving God gives to His church
But before this section is about gifts, it’s about God and his church. And in chapter 12, as Paul lays down the foundations for his pastoral panacea, he gives us a beautiful picture of our God at work, lavishly giving to his people.
‘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.’
(1 Corinthians, ch12, v4-7)
Straight-up it’s a simple point about unity despite variety. That phrase can be misused to dress up a mishmash of theological heterodoxy that’s actually got about as much unity as a joint Apple & Android staff team-building day. But in context here it captures the stunning and intentional variety of the one God lovingly manifesting himself in his people through various gifts.
Take your eyes off your ‘spiritual gift’
In fact, like the Corinthians, we get hung up on ‘gifts’, probably because, also like the Corinthians, we focus instinctively on the value we believe they give to us. ‘I’ve got a better gift than them!’; ‘How can I get my gift to be seen?’; ‘Why aren’t my gifts being recognised?’; ‘What can I do to let people see how gifted I am?’ (Questions of my heart no less, all the time forgetting of course that the word gift means… duh… gift.)
When my mindset is all about my gift it quickly descends into me treating some gifts as more spiritual. That seems to have been the Corinthian problem with tongues (see ch14).
Gaze upon the Giving God
But God starts by giving me a much bigger picture. A picture of what He is doing: Father, Son, Spirit, as He gives in rich variety to his people, through our different individual works, service and gifts. God is the Giving God. This is the Trinitarian God actively at work amongst his people; the loving community of the God-head producing the tools and energies needed for the local church to work and bestowing them to us through each other.
And the point is that there is real variety – but each one comes to an individual marked with the church’s name on, received from the same God. It is the same Spirit, whatever the gift. It is the same Lord Jesus (cf v3), whatever the service of the individual believer. It is the same God empowering his people, whatever the work may be.
As we see later (in both the image of the body, 12:12-26, and as Paul pushes his scalpel further into the Corinthian church in ch14), when the church uses these gifts it mirrors the self-giving nature of God. His people, having received, are bent outwards to serve each other with these gifts, following the way of love. In fact the church is only built up when an other-person centred view takes root; the receiving church gives.
Kind God, give me fresh eyes to see you at work, showering these different gifts and works upon your people. Forgive me when I place my value in my own assessment of my gifts, or when I value others based upon my assessment of their gifts. Teach me more about your goodness to your people as I look around and see the variety amongst us. Correct my gaze when I separate gifts from you, the trinitarian Giver, or when I separate them from your people for whose sake they are given. Empower me to use what you have given me for the building up of your people. In Jesus’ name.