Tuesday, 4 April 2017

What a waste!

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them... Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.1 Corinthians 12:4,7

What do these things have in common? An electric drill; a “My Book” computer storage device; a ukulele; a French dictionary the size of Buckingham Palace; and an Ipad 2. 

Can’t guess? All right, I’ll tell you. They are all gifts I have received from my wife over the years, but which, I am ashamed to confess, have never, or barely ever, been used. (To be fair, given that the French dictionary the size of Buckingham Palace and the Ipad 2 were only received today, my birthday, the jury is, as they say, still out on their likely usefulness in the future.)

Stupid, isn’t it? I’m afraid it says a lot about my practical gormlessness (not to say about the kindness and generosity of my wife). Imagine receiving gifts and then leaving them to collect dust on a shelf!

But come on now... who would claim never to have received a gift with sincere gratitude - “Thanks very much! - I’ll really look forward to using/wearing/watching/enjoying/ eating that” - only then to file them away in that compartment of life labelled “Really must get round to this some time”? I suspect we’re all guilty. 

In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul is writing to the Christians of Corinth about “spiritual gifts”. He wants them to understand, among other things, that there is no such thing as a Christian who has not been gifted by God with one or more such gifts - and that God expects us to use those gits. He lists just a sample: wisdom... knowledge... faith... power to heal... miraculous powers... prophecy... discernment of spirits... tongues-speaking... interpretation of tongues (verse 7-11). (You can find a different list in the same chapter, verses 12-28, and in Ephesians 4:7-13.)

Sticking with 1 Corinthians 12:7, there are two vital principles which jump out and demand to be taken seriously.

First, gifts are given by God “to each one”.
Some Christians are afflicted with a false sense of humility. “Oh, I couldn’t do anything like that,” they say, when there is a need for some kind of service in the church: “Sorry, but I’m just not clever or gifted enough for that.” They are like Uriah Heep in Dickens’ David Copperfield: infuriatingly ‘umble.

Christians who talk like that are, in effect, making God a liar. He has told us plainly in his word that “each one” of us is gifted by God. All right, our gifts may not be particularly striking or spectacular; but they are there all the same, and if we are, in effect, sitting on them rather than placing them at the disposal of the church, then we are in the wrong.

Over my time in the ministry I can think of people who were wonderful with children - but who never offered to help with the children’s work; people who had great musical gifts - but who could never be persuaded to contribute to the worship of the church; people with great administrative and financial gifts - but who declined to help out in these important areas of church life.

All right, to be fair, perhaps they had good reason for this: it’s not for me to judge. But sometimes - just sometimes - one couldn’t help but wonder if in truth they simply didn’t want to roll their sleeves up and get involved.

Is anyone reading this presently sitting on a gift that could be of use to your local church? I would encourage you to think and pray it over.

Second, gifts are given by God “for the common good”.
Literally, those words could be translated “for benefit”, “for advantage” or even “for profit”. But I’m sure that “for the common good” captures Paul’s meaning well, because one thing he is certainly not saying is “to make you feel better about yourself” or “as a badge to show how very spiritual you are”.

This is a trap some sections of the church have fallen into throughout history: they have stressed the value of “spiritual gifts” as a kind of proof that a person really is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This applies particularly to those gifts that are most obviously “supernatural”. I have known Christians quite stressed out because they didn’t have the gift of tongues: how much better about themselves that would have made them feel!

But that is to miss the point completely. The church is a community, and the various gifts are given so that the community is built up and strengthened - not in order to satisfy our personal need for self-assurance.

Is this a reminder any of us need?

Father in heaven, please help me to be clear about what particular spiritual gifts you have given to me, and then to place them at the disposal of the church. And so lead me to that day when I will hear the voice of Jesus saying “Well done, good and faithful servant”. Amen.

(By the way, I have also given gifts to my wife which have been barely used. Just thought I’d mention that... Oh, and anyone out there who knows how to tune a ukulele?)

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