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1 Corinthians 12:1-11

I can remember being a teenager, sitting in church and taking a spiritual gifts inventory. In some ways, it was as mystical and magical an experience as every new personality survey becomes when it rises to dominance as the one thing we all need to know about one another to adequately pigeon-hole each person into some specific role that defines his or her entire existence. I don’t mean to sound bitter, but by the time you’ve discovered you are a Type A (sometimes I like to add “plus”), melancholy, choleric, INFJ (advocate), conservative liberal, only child, perfectionist; does it really make any difference that you are also an Enneagram Type 1? We have so many ways to assess ourselves… and others… but I wonder if we’re still not a little bit uninformed, because people are so much more than numbers, and when we boil it down to formulaic equations, there are undoubtedly labels for which we hope and others from which we hide.

What does this have to do with spiritual gifts? Well, I would posit that some of them are more desirable than others, as well, and it’s not just my opinion. This is the stuff that makes or breaks decisions regarding calling and vocation, and I am talking directly to leaders here when I say that I don’t think it should.

I am particularly perplexed by how we often give only lip service to the importance of a whole and unified body of Christ, as the Church. Verses 4-7 speak to this directly: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (NRSV). “The common good” is a loaded concept, because it delves into all of the philosophical and theological questions that surface when there is not a good outcome for all people involved, and this is further expanded and complicated when we care deeply about the redemption of the entire world! It is essential to the well-being of all of creation to grasp the importance of each piece working together as one, but I fear we sometimes give flippant regard to the significance of the big toe while actually worshipping the heart or brain in our desire to push and shove our way into one of those important positions… stepping on those same toes along the way… ironic…

Yet there is something else to be discerned here, if we dig deeply into the original language of the text. Where the word “variety” is used, we could just as appropriately substitute “division,” and where the phrase “common good” is interjected, we might interpret this more accurately as “to bring together.” Did the Spirit indiscriminately dole out an assortment of gifts (or graces) just for the sake of variety? I’d say no. Instead, it appears that the Spirit intentionally divided the gifts among us all, perhaps in order to create (or at least underscore) our need for community. We have all received different gifts, because we’re supposed to need one another, not fight one another for power or status.

Furthermore, it’s astounding that this particular list of gifts and graces focuses heavily on the universality of communication. There are certainly other lists within the pages of Scripture that direct us to more practical manifestations of our callings and vocations (I think specifically of Ephesians 4:11, which calls out apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers), but this list in I Corinthians zeroes in on things that are important for all people, in whatever position in which they might find themselves. Wisdom and knowledge, healing and miracles, prophecy and discernment, and language are all pertinent to the whole of human life. How wise is the Spirit of God to share this wealth as opposed to granting anyone a monopoly while leaving any other destitute. I’m not even sure it’s so much about what we are to do but who we are inclined to be, uniquely chosen and activate by God, no one left out… not even those INFJs (pointing at myself here) who keep talking about being the 1%, because it’s our only claim to fame…

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