The apostle Paul had quite the challenge with the folks in Corinth. They argued about which
Christian teacher to follow (Paul, Apollos or Peter), about what meat they could eat for their “love feasts,” about the role of women, and the hierarchy of spiritual gifts. For three weeks we’re going to focus on the concept of spiritual gifts, because, frankly, I think people just aren’t very good at identifying, claiming and utilizing their gifts.
(For the full audio version, click here.)
Paul’s response to the arrogant insistence that certain gifts were better than others was to tell them point-blank that all the spiritual gifts come from the Spirit to be used for the common good. These are the nine gifts that Paul lists: prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues, miracles, discernment of spirits, faith, wisdom in discourse and knowledge.
It’s easy to read this ancient list of gifts and say, I don’t have any of those. The archaic language and expectations feel unrealistic and like we’re trying to fit into a pair of shoes that we outgrew a long time ago…. you know the flashing princess and spiderman shoes? (OK, maybe those were our kids, but you get my point.) However, many churches today, to maintain Biblical literalism, insist we must continue to have those gifts! Sigh.
To this end they employ some sort of Spiritual Gifts Inventory to convince their parishioners that they really do have some meaningful gifts. In my “research” for this message, I took a few of these. In the one for the United Methodist Church, my top four gifts were: prophecy, speaking and interpreting tongues, and healing. Really? Then they went on to share modified understandings of these terms, which is all well and good, but perhaps it is time for our own list.
It seems sensible that we simply define spiritual gifts as those traits and skills that can be used for the common good – to lift up and build up, to help and to support. The list we came up with Sunday included: patience, kindness, generosity, empathy, compassion, listening, loving, teaching and open-mindedness. Very intangible traits that we typically don’t see as anything special in ourselves, but appreciate greatly in others.
When we’re trying to figure out our more concrete spiritual gifts (talents), it is important to follow the energy and passion in our lives. What do we enjoy doing? What do we have a great deal of energy for? All of these can be used for the common good. Here are a few examples. Art… to make the world more beautiful and to bring different perspectives. Knitting, quilting… to keep people warm. Numbers… to help budget, save, plan. Sports… teach others and bringing them together as a team. Gardening.. . to provide healthy food, to share, to beautify. Baking/cooking… to feed others. Nature… to protect, honor, share. Cars… to help fix other’s cars, to teach others to fix them. Health professionals… to promote health, living abundantly, to aid in healing and recovery. Justice… advocate for social change.
Here is your HOMEWORK for the week: identify your gifts? If you have a hard time with this, ask a friend what they see as your gifts – tangible and intangible. Let a friend know what gifts you see in them (“I really admire your patience.” “You are such a good listener.”) And then the big question: How can you use, or how are you using, your gifts for the common good?