As I read this passage, I can’t help but think that Paul still had in the back of his mind the problems of division within the Corinthian church. He had already dealt with it twice in this letter, and though he doesn’t specifically criticize the Corinthians for being divided about spiritual gifts, I think he saw a very real danger of that problem seeping into the church. I can hardly question his judgment because we see that kind of division today.
So from the very beginning, he makes clear that our gifts should not be used to divide the church, but unite it.
There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. (4-6)
I don’t think I’ve ever noticed this before, but we see the Trinity in the gifts of the Spirit very clearly here. Different gifts, same (Holy) Spirit. Different kinds of service, same Lord (Jesus). Different kinds of working, same God (the Father).
And I think Paul’s point was that just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have different functions and yet remain the one God, so our gifts may be different, but we should remain one as a church in heart and mind.
He makes this crystal clear in the very next verse, saying,
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (7)
Notice here that the gifts are not given to us for our own personal benefit, as most gifts are. Rather, each gift was given to us to benefit the people around us, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. And so once again, there should be no selfishness in our thinking when we consider the gifts of the Spirit. Rather, we should always be thinking, “How can I use these gifts God has given me to benefit others?”
What does this mean for us practically? There’s no room for pride or jealousy when it comes to spiritual gifts.
Paul says on one hand,
If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. (15-16)
Yet some people in their jealousy for others’ gifts act this way. They get bitter because they don’t like the gifts that God has given them. Or they see others that seem to have the same gift they do but in greater proportion. As a result, it drives a wedge between them and God and between them and that other person.
Paul then points out the opposite problem,
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (21)
In this case, people look down on others with “lesser” spiritual gifts or gifting, and basically brush them off as being unnecessary or unimportant.
Both attitudes are wrong, and both attitudes bring division in the church. And ironically, it all comes about because of gifts that were meant to unite us.
This is getting long, so I’ll continue this discussion in the next few blogs, but for now, ask yourself, “What is my attitude toward others?” Are my attitudes concerning my gifts and the gifts of others causing unity in my church, or division?