Scripture: 1 Corinthians 1, 12; Matthew 25:14-30
Leading Question: What is God’s plan for employing a wide variety of skills and talents in the work of his kingdom?
Not all of us have the same talents and capabilities. And even when our talents are similar to someone else’s, it is not likely to be developed to the same extent. In that connection, Paul gives wise counsel in connection with his observations about the fruit of the spirit. Here the key words are italicized:
Galatians 5:22-26 (NRSV): “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.”
Question: How do we develop diverse talents without envying each other?
Comment: Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian believers can give us very helpful insights. In the first chapter, he documents the divisions in the church, noting how they were choosing up sides behind their favorite preachers: Peter, Paul, or Apollos. This troubled Paul deeply. In fact, Paul’s improving memory inserts a touch of humor into this otherwise very serious letter:
1 Cor. 1:10-17 (NRSV): “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.”
What Paul really wanted to say: “I’m glad I didn’t baptize a single one of you!” But then his memory began to improve. His point is clear – his supporting evidence was just not as tidy as he wanted it to be.
But Paul unfolds the essence of his argument in chapter 3 when he compares his gifts with those of Apollos. Here the key words are italicized:
1 Cor. 3:5-9 (NRSV): “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 8 The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. 9 For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.”
In other words, Paul was the front-line evangelist; Apollos was more pastoral. Thus Paul planted, Apollos watered, but it was God who gave the increase. Their gifts were different, but they could work together. He goes on to add another metaphor to the agricultural one: a building. Then in 1 Corinthians 12, develops the body metaphor. In short, whether agriculture, or building, or body, all the metaphors point to a unity in diversity. When applied to the church it sounds like this:
1 Cor. 12:4-16 (NRSV): “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”
Using the body as his primary metaphor, he bluntly states: “The body does not consist of one member, but of many” (vs. 14). And at the end of the chapter he again lists the variety of gifts which God has placed in the church:
1 Cor. 12: 27-31 (NRSV): “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
The last line, of course, leads directly into 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s celebration of the greatest gift of all, love.
Question: Can we grow our gifts?
The official study guide cites the parable of the “talents” (Matthew 25:14-30) as a good model for “growing” our gifts. Even though the original parable dealt with money, not with spiritual gifts, the application to personal and spiritual gifts is only a small step away. The 5 talent person and the 2 talent person were both equally commended by the master. The only worker who was condemned was the one who did nothing, literally burying his talent in the earth.
In short, if we use our gifts, they will grow and we will grow with them.