In the passage that I just read, Paul was dealing with a problem. He was writing to the little church at Corinth—a church which he had established—a church that he loved—but a church that had problems. So Paul wrote, giving them guidance—to get them on the right path again.
One of their problems was spiritual pride. Each of the Christians had different gifts—different talents—and some of them were acting as if they were more important than the others because of their gifts.
The gift that seemed to be giving them the greatest problem was speaking in tongues. Many of you won’t even have any idea what that is, so I will explain.
Shortly after Jesus’ resurrection, Jews from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem for the Day of Pentecost—a great Jewish holy day. On that day, the apostle Peter became a street preacher, and preached to the great crowd about Jesus.
There were two strange things about Peter’s sermon. First of all, the people listened. They didn’t ignore Peter the way most people today ignore street preachers. The second strange thing was that all the people—from many different nations—all heard Peter’s sermon in their own language.
It was a little bit like the United Nations, where one person can speak in Chinese and another can listen on headphones to an almost simultaneous translation into English. Except that Peter had no electronic apparatus and no translators. God had worked a miracle, and everyone heard in their own language. That was the first instance of speaking in tongues.
In the early church, other people also spoke in tongues. Sometimes people could understand them. Sometimes, their language was gibberish. But they were proud that they could speak in tongues, and tended to think that anyone who could not do so was not as good as they. Paul was writing this chapter in large measure to answer these people. Paul said that:
• Every Christian has his or her own gifts. Some were prophets. Some were teachers. Some spoke in tongues. Some had other gifts.
• Then he said that all these gifts are important to the church. The church is like a human body, and its different members are like a hand or a foot or an eye. Each of those organs is important to the human body, and each Christian’s gifts are important to the church.
• Therefore, we should treasure each others’ gifts. If our gift is teaching, we should be glad that someone else has the gift of music—or administration—or preaching—or speaking in tongues.
• Therefore, we should share each others’ sorrows and rejoice in each others’ joys—because we, the church, are all one body. You are the arm; someone else is the leg; someone else is the eye. But all the pieces fit together to form one body—meaning the church. Every part of the body needs every other part, and if one part hurts, they all hurt.
You know that is true with your physical body. Did you ever get a thorn in your finger that you couldn’t extract. Before long, your whole body ached. All you could think about was that thorn and that finger.
But I am certain that you never considered cutting off that hurt finger. That wouldn’t solve anything, would it. It would create more hurt. The health of the body is dependent on the health of all of its parts. When your finger is hurt, your whole body is sorry. When your finger gets well, your whole body is glad.
So Paul says to the Corinthians, “we were all baptized into one body”—Christ’s body—the church. We are all part of one another. Therefore, let us not lord it over other Christians because of our gifts. Instead, let us rejoice together over each others’ gifts.
When the symphony played Thursday night, we observed a variety of musical gifts. Some people played the violin. Others played a cello—or a piano—or an oboe—or a bassoon. But it took all of them to make an orchestra.
Some of them were more talented than others. Bo mentioned the flutist to me. He said, “Did you hear how she held that final note? It seemed like it went on forever. It was pure and beautiful all the way to the end.” I mentioned that comment to my wife, and she remembered that note. It was beautiful. That young lady was an especially gifted person.
The next morning, as they prepared to load the bus, I mentioned Bo’s comment to the flutist. She was pleased, but looked as if she couldn’t quite accept the compliment. One of her friends said, “She is her own toughest critic.” And then she added, “but I am her biggest fan.” I said, “Well, you are starting to get some competition.”
If, during the concert, I had asked people in the audience to list the various gifts present in that room, most people would have started listing all the musical instruments that people were playing. It is a gift to play the violin; it is a gift to play the piano; it is a gift to play the cello. But I think that they would have missed one of the most important gifts.
You see, the congregation brought an important gift to the concert—the gift of encouragement. We applauded. We smiled. We told them how much we enjoyed their music—and we did enjoy their music. Not every note was pure, but we enjoyed the music. Part of our gift was ignoring the imperfections of college musicians. Part of our gift was genuinely expressing our appreciation. In doing so, we helped young men and women to grow. Some of them will become great musicians, and we will have contributed to that by our encouragement. Their music was their gift to us. Our encouragement was our gift to them.
But do we need to hear this sermon about appreciating other people’s gifts? Don’t we already appreciate each others’ gifts in this congregation? I think that we do. Don’t we already share each others’ sorrows and each others’ joys? I think we do. Just listen to the prayer concerns. Just watch people’s faces when someone tells about a loved one who is suffering. We already share each others’ joys and sorrows in this congregation.
But there is another aspect of this text that we need to consider. The problem that Paul was addressing in Corinth was that people took pride in their own gifts and demeaned other people’s gifts. In many cases, our problem is just the opposite. We admire other peoples’ gifts, and demean our own. We know that some people are smart; some people are talented; some people are beautiful. We wish we had those gifts. We feel ordinary—plain—ungifted—left out.
But God didn’t leave any of us without gifts. There is not a person in the congregation without gifts. We all have gifts.
I am reminded of a story—a true story—of a scrub-woman who used to go to the movies and say, “If only I had her looks.” She would listen to music and say, “If only I had her voice.”
Then someone gave this woman a copy of a book entitled, The Magic of Believing. After reading this book, this woman stopped comparing herself with other people. She stopped focusing on what she didn’t have, and started focusing on what she did have.
In high school, she always had the reputation of being funny. So she began to turn her liabilities into assets. A few years later, Phyllis Diller was making over a million dollars a year by using her gift of humor. Was she beautiful? No. Did she have a beautiful voice? No. Did she enrich our lives? Absolutely! She enriched our lives because she began to use the gift that God had given her.
Finding our gifts and using our gifts is not always easy. A reporter once said to George Bernard Shaw, “You have a marvelous gift for oratory. How did you develop it?” Shaw responded, “I learned to speak as men learn to skate or cycle, by doggedly making a fool of myself until I got used to it.”
I can certainly feel for Shaw. I have no natural gift for preaching, but I felt called to preach. I did my best, but the results were pretty mediocre. I have finally come to the point where I feel that I have something to offer from the pulpit, but it took many painful years to get here. Like Shaw, I had to doggedly make a fool of myself until I got used to it. And I can tell you that I am glad that I did, because I now feel that I have some important things to say and some important gifts to share.
If Paul would tell us that we are to value the other person’s gift, I am sure that he would tell us to value our gift as well. God has given each of us a gift, if we will only look for it and use it. Even if our only gift is being an encourager, that is a great gift. Who among us cannot be an encourager?
And it isn’t just using our gift that is important; it is using them for God; it is using it for the blessing of other people. When you drive a car, the speed with which you drive is less important than the direction you go. So it is with our gifts. Don’t just use your gifts; use them for God.
To close, I want to quote a person whose name I do not know but whose sentiment I share:
“What we are is God’s gift to us.
What we become is our gift to God.”
Today, make a commitment to give your life and your gifts to God. Use your gifts for his work and his kingdom. Ask his blessing on your gifts. I guarantee you that he will answer that prayer.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan