Gifted for the Common Good

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1 Corinthians 12:7 “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”

People are attracted to things that have power. Like most little boys, I turned just about any branch or stick into a gun when I was playing with my friends. I didn’t actually want to kill anyone. When I go hunting with friends today, I have to think to myself, “Do I really want to mess with cleaning and field dressing this animal if I shoot it?” But there is something fascinating about a device that has so much power. Cars, power tools, electronic devices, kitchen appliances–if it offers some sort of superhuman ability, people will be interested.

The Christians to whom Paul wrote in Corinth were attracted to power. Supernatural language skills, miraculous healing abilities, prophetic knowledge of the future–these and other gifts often came along with faith in Jesus for first generation Christians. The new believers in Corinth were eager to have such powers, and they were not shy about putting their gifts on display when they had them.

Like any powerful tool, there are dangers involved in handling spiritual gifts. That danger is diffused when we understand the purpose for which God gave them: to serve others.

This isn’t hard to understand. Our own spiritual gifts are a blessing to each of us, it is true. But God has given them to us “for the common good.” They are like a carpenter’s tools. The carpenter may appreciate the way his tools make his work easier. He genuinely enjoys working with them, and it gives him pleasure to create things with them. From time to time he may even build something for himself. But the reason he has the tools is so that he can serve the people who seek his services. The cabinet he builds stands in someone else’s home housing their good china. Another man sits on the bench he put together. The tools are his, and he takes them home at the end of each day. But the people they serve are spread across all the homes and businesses where the carpenter has practiced his trade.

Serving the Lord with our gifts is satisfying to those who use them. I like preaching. I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t. But God didn’t give me my gift, humble as it is, primarily for me. I could still be his child, and share his grace, and one-day praise him in heaven without it. Whatever gifts I have been given to preach and teach God’s word are for the sake of the people who hear me. And whatever gifts God’s Spirit has given to you are meant to serve others as well.

When we think about our spiritual gifts this way–tools for serving others–the whole fascination with power sort of fades away, and we are filled with humble appreciation for yet another evidence of God’s love and grace in our lives.

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