Friday, November 18, 2011

Gifts of the Spirit, Love and Service

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good... But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.” ~1 Corinthians 12:7, 31 (NRSV).

We enter now a subject causing much trepidation, for the Gifts of the Spirit are a divisive subject within Christian circles, particularly within the charismatic branch if opposed to the biblical and traditional schools.

An overweighted focus on the gifts makes us liable to a wobbly, overbalanced faith that prefers conditional truth of partiality over the unconditional truth of love.

This is never a good thing.

On the one hand the Apostle Paul calls the early Christians to “desire” or “pursue” gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1), yet on the other hand he calls them still higher to “strive for the greater gifts”—to be compelled of love: the “more excellent way.”

The former (to pursue gifts) is always desirable; the latter (to love), however, is fundamental.

Valuing All the Gifts

The main problem with falling in love with the charismata—the gifts blessed of the Holy Spirit, purposed for the church—is we are all dearly tempted to self-select the gift(s) most alluring to us, disregarding some of the more affable gifts we might actually be more gifted in.

Paul highlighted this in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26.

The less glorious gifts are to be promoted and honoured; the more favoured gifts are to receive less honour. But that is not the default way within modern church, or the way our minds work. The ego gets too quickly involved.

The remarkable, miraculous, special, sign, and charismatic gifts seem to hold sway because of their preponderance for wonder, when those less glamorous gifts—of service, administration, even shepherding—are, by some, seen as diminishable.

But this is not true in reading Paul.

One body has many members—each member as vitally important for the functioning of the body as the previous one or next one. And Gifts of the Spirit are just that—gifts given so no one should boast. Nobody is favoured. Nobody is more special than the next.

Gifts for Service Are for the Common Good

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we fall in love with a gift for service rather than falling in love with love (the more excellent way) itself—our works, then, are gilt-edged with the wrong motive.

In this, it’s acknowledged, the gift is for others—for the church as a whole. But what is a gift if it is used, indeed in some quarters—abused, beyond or without love? As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, the mightiest of works without love are rendered useless.

The proper use of the Spirit’s gifts is wrought in the common good; that which is purposed in love; beyond ego and fashioned in humility.


Love is the more excellent way. It underpins the characterisation of the Spirit’s gifts. All gifts are equally valuable, as is each servant who willingly serves using such gifts. Well-informed is that servant using their gifts in love and for the common good.

© 2011 S. J. Wickham.

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