This discussion about the Trinity and how God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are involved in giving various categories of spiritual gifts is related to the next question. What are 2 things that the gifts reveal about the nature of God?
Trinity – Three in One. Each Person in the Trinity is unified, they are equal yet distinct in role. God’s nature displays unity in diversity. And I think the flourishing of spiritual gifts reflect this trinitarian nature of God.
Specifically, I believe that spiritual gifts are important in the life of the church because they display an amazing diversity among churches, denominations, individual believers, and at the same time, while displaying this vast diversity, there is a unity, a common thread that pulls all these diverse pieces together.
Let’s start with diversity. The body of Christ is filled with language about our diversity. Romans 12 talks about how we have many members, different functions, different gifts. 1 Cor 12 talks about the body of Christ having different kinds of gifts, and different kinds of service, and different kinds of workings. 1 Cor 12 also talks about the imagery of different body parts. In Ephesians 4, Paul writes about the diversity of offices needed to run a church.
And it is interesting that in the very same passages that talk about the diversity of the body of Christ, unity is also stressed. One Spirit, one Lord, one God, one unit, one hope, one faith, one baptism. One body where we all belong, where we are all connected in a web of relationships.
This is an important thing to keep in mind. God is not into uniformity. No, we are all different. Just as in a body, there are different body parts with different functions so in the body of Christ, we who are all different are one and form a whole, unified, single body. And this unity in diversity is one of the qualities of Christ’s body because it reflects the character of the Triune God.
This concept of unity in diversity doesn’t sit well with us. The world preaches distinction, not diversity, and we end up with uniformity instead of unity. Let me unpack that a bit more. This world is all about being distinctive. From a young age, we try to distinguish ourselves based on academics or athletics. And then we gather at universities and we try to set ourselves apart from others who attend less prestigious schools. And then, we start drawing socio-economic boundaries as we enter the workforce and attend AYSO soccer matches with other parents in the same income bracket, we share similar interests, we raise our kids the same way. And at the end, though we worked so hard all our lives to be different and set ourselves apart from others, the end result of all that labor is that we gather around ourselves people who are quite similar to us. And our life that has been all about our individual distinctiveness culminates in a pretty blah uniformity. We become like a community of oatmeal. The first bite and the last bite are virtually identical. Individual distinctiveness ends up in uniformity.
To this, the Bible presents a radical concept. Paul writes in 1 Cor 12 that we who are many form one body. We are not just one big body part. A body should not be just one big bicep. We all curl exactly 35 lbs, we all look the same and talk the same — that kind of uniformity is as grotesque as a severed limb. Nor should we all be pinky toes — some of us are nicely manicured toes, others of us are covered with athlete’s foot and toe cheese — we are diverse, slightly but not really. And we are connected to and gathered around a great charismatic human leader with exceptional gifts. That’s grotesque, too.
Paul knows our human tendency to label things as better vs. just okay, superior vs. inferior, honorable vs. less honorable. It’s in our human nature to differentiate ourselves and to say that one is better than another. My education is better than yours. My looks are better than yours. My intelligence is better than yours. Males are superior to females. My race is better than yours. This is human nature. That’s why Paul addresses in 1 Cor 12 this mentality that a foot would say to a hand, I do not belong to the body. That’s absurd. Both the foot and the hand are part of the same body. Then, he goes on to say, if we were all eyes, where would the sense of hearing be? Meaning, all body parts are equally important for a body to function properly.
Paul even spells it out, we may feel that we are superior parts of the body like the head or the arms or the legs. And we may think, who needs that stubborn pinky toe? Get rid of him. Paul knows that even among believers, we subconsciously rank people within the church — that guy is really gifted and important and that guy just sets up chairs so he is not as useful. To that sentiment, Paul says in 1 Cor 12:22 —
1 Cor 12 – 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
I know as a pastor of this church, I need to be presentable and I know that just from the public nature of my position and my visibility in the church, I don’t need any special honor. But God himself honors parts of this body that perhaps are not as visible. Those who serve quietly, or who prays for this church when no one else is looking. And we have to do our part to recognize and honor such members of this body of Christ. Why? Verse 25, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. No division and equal concern. That’s why within the church, we have to throw away our worldly ranking and criteria that we use to judge ourselves and others. The important thing is that even though there is a diversity of gifts and backgrounds and talents among us, we are one body. Verse 26, thus if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. This is the counter-cultural church. We are to be different from the world.
Unity in diversity. One body with many parts. No division and equal concern. Then, Paul gives the clincher in 1 Cor 12:27.
1 Cor 12 – 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
Do you consider yourself a part of the body of Christ? Do you belong to a church? Are you interested in finding out about other members and their suffering and are you willing to suffer alongside that person? If there is something great that happens in your life, do you want to share with other believers so that we can rejoice together? Are there divisions and cliques among us? Or do you strive for unity where there is no division and equal concern for each one of us? You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. Each one. It’s not an optional thing to be committed to a local church. You can’t live out these verses without being committed to and known within a local church. So commit to this church. Or commit to some other church. But commit somewhere. Belong somewhere. Don’t just attend. Find out your spiritual gift and use it to serve people and build them up. Have concern for others. Invite people into your life.
I love the picture in Revelation where we get a glimpse into the throne room of God. God is seated on the throne, Jesus is standing beside Him and the Holy Spirit is encircling the throne and in Rev 7, there is a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne in worship. That is God’s unity in diversity on display. But also, we get a picture of the unity in diversity within the body of Christ in its final, highest and purest form. We are far from there, but one day, we are all going to get there. Let’s keep that picture in mind as we build up this local body of Christ.