1 Corinthians 12
“To one there is given through the Spirit . . . to another . . . to another . . . and to still another. . . . Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?” (I Corinthians 12:8-11 & 29)
I asked a group of high school students, “Are all occupations of equal importance?” They unanimously agreed that all are equal.
“That’s an interesting concept,” I said, and told them the story of my flight to Norfolk. “ On the way here, I sat by a man who wanted to sell me stock in his company . He said it was the fastest growing industry in the country.”
“What’s the industry?” I asked him.
“Cosmetics,” he answered.
“In your industry is there some segment that is growing faster than others?”
“Oh, yes . Male cosmetics.”
“Like-what? Deodorant? After-shave lotion?”
“Oh, no,” he said. “Last year we sold a quarter million dollars worth of false eyelashes for men .”
“There’s an occupation,” I told the students, “selling false eyelashes for men. Here’s another one. My nephew is a skilled surgeon who could make a bundle of money in the United States. Instead, he chose to care for a forgotten people in the heart of Africa. He barely escaped one country as the communist insurgents swept to power. Now, in Kenya, he tells me he does more surgery in a week than he used to do in a year at a renowned hospital in Pennsylvania. Then he adds with a wry smile, `and none of it is cosmetic!’ “ “There you have it,” I said, “selling false eyelashes for men or healing the bodies and souls of thousands for whom you’re the only hope? Let’s vote again: Are all vocations of equal importance?”
That split the crowd and about half wavered . On the front row sat a 16-year-old girl who didn’t vote either way. “Not going to vote?” I asked her. “No. It’s a bad question.” “What’s bad about it?” “You didn’t say important for what.” She caught me! Which is more important: a knife, a fork, or a spoon? The answer might depend on whether you had a bowl of bullion or a steak. Vocations need to be considered likewise – important to whom? For what?
So it is with spiritual gifts. A spiritual gift is a Spirit-given ability to serve God. So much confusion reigns in the church over the subject of spiritual gifts that many give up and avoid the whole subject. That’s a big mistake. The only way the church will be effective, and the only way we’ll spiral up into likeness to Jesus, is through each believer using the abilities the Spirit gives. We won’t try to settle all the controversy about spiritual gifts. Instead, we’ll focus on the basic teaching on which we all can agree. Some Christians believe the gifts – or at least some of them-are no longer given. However, even they must agree that unless the Holy Spirit empowers us we can never accomplish the tasks He gives us to do. Other Christians distinguish “sign” gifts and “ministry” gifts, but a little reflection will make clear that the sign gifts were also for ministry, to build up the body of Christ. So we will concentrate on the common ground, the all-important ways the Spirit enables His people to accomplish His work. Today we’ll look at three things the Spirit’s gifts are not. They are not fruit, talents, or offices.
Now we need to ask another question: “How do the fruit and gifts relate?” In the most thorough discussion of gifts in the Bible, I Corinthians 12-14, fruit is said to be more important than gifts. Right in the middle of Paul’s discussion of gifts, immediately following our memory verse, he says, “Now I’m going to describe something far more important than all these gifts combined” (my paraphrase). Then he gives the magnificent love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. Love is a fruit. In fact, some say it is the summation of all the fruit of the Spirit.
God intends for all His children to be like Him-to bear all the fruit of the Spirit. Yet, I Corinthians 12-14 demonstrates clearly that the Spirit does not give all the gifts to any one person. In the list of gifts and fruit, love, patience, goodness, peace, joy, and humility are fruit. It’s just as well He doesn’t give all the gifts to one person. God wants everyone to be completely like Him in character, but not like Him in His abilities.
He never intended anyone have infinite wisdom or power. However, He does want His church to have wisdom and power, so He distributed abilities (gifts) among the members to enable the church to accomplish His purposes. No one member can be Godlike in power lest he or she be tempted to use the gifts in accumulating personal authority and prestige.
In summary, fruit is for everyone, always; gifts, some to one, some to another. The exciting fact is that every member is given at least one ability to serve God. That includes you! How the gifts and fruit relate is a mystery. The Bible does not spell it out for us. God sometimes mightily uses a person who is egotistical or quick-tempered. We see another who is very godly in character but is not gifted to serve in any conspicuous way. How is it with you? Which do you pursue? Gifts or fruit? Which is more important?