Gifts are pretty awesome. Most people love to receive one even if they cannot admit it to themselves or others. That does not mean we appreciate all gifts we receive to the same degree. Every gift can touch each of us differently. For one person, it might be material gifts; for another, it’s the gift of time with a friend, the gift of someone helping them when they need it, or the gift of being honestly heard and understood by another. The point is that we all desire gifts, and that is okay. What can become detrimental is the motivation driving that desire.
We tend to want to measure ourselves; part of our human nature is constantly quantifying and comparing our lives against others or some arbitrary cultural standard. I don’t think some measuring is wrong if we choose the correct measuring stick. God tells us to examine ourselves, that there are aspects of our lives that need to grow and others that need to die. A mistake we can make is to take the spiritual gifts God has given or not given us and use them to measure our worth and relationship with Him. We run the danger of taking something beautiful, the gifts and tools He wants to give us and build our identity around the gift. Or we use the gifts of God to create a hierarchy in the faith community, slotting us into a pyramid that we feel we need to climb. This type of attitude within the church gives birth to elitist, exclusive, or superior attitudes, which work against the original purpose of why we are given spiritual gifts in the first place.
Our spiritual gifts do not always accurately or authentically reveal our love and relationship with Jesus Christ. They also are not the only or even the primary way for us to evaluate our journey with Christ. Jesus warns us in the book of Matthew that the road is narrow and not all of us will enter the kingdom of heaven as seen in Matthew 7:21-23:
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Jesus warns us in this passage that even those who claim to have been using seemingly spiritual gifts have never known Him. Doing the Father’s will is not subject to us using our gifts. This scripture makes a strong statement that we need to wrestle through. People who used some of what many Christians consider the most important spiritual gifts and even used them in Jesus’ name did not know Him and may have never known Him! What a statement. It reminds me that while I desire His gifts, they must be secondary to knowing Him. Jesus is the end goal; everything else is details that He will work out in us.
Do not hear me wrong; His gifts are essential and necessary for our health and development as believers. They are provided to us to build, encourage, and support one another and testify of God’s reality and truth to others. As the Word tells us, ‘To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.’ (1 Corinthians 12:7) and again, in Ephesians 4:12-13, they are ‘for the building up of the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God.’
There are two priorities highlighted in those verses that we cannot ignore. Unity and love. These priorities on unity and love continually redirect us to the purpose of the gifts and help us desire the gifts in a healthy, God honouring way. 1 Corinthians and Ephesians speak to how all the gifts come from one Spirit and function like parts of the body; when used together, they unify and support the whole body as God intended. Paul ends 1 Corinthians 12, reminding us that one ingredient is even more critical to our lives than any spiritual gift – love. Paul then spends all of Chapter 13 talking about the superiority of love over all else. Love and unity must infiltrate how we desire and use our spiritual gifts. Suppose we begin focusing on the gift more than the giver. In that case, we often manifest the opposite of unity and love and, instead, become selfish and prideful and damage our testimony and those around us.
While we all need spiritual gifts, they result from our relationship with Christ, not the catalyst or pre-requisite of that relationship. The more our eyes are on God, the more our hearts connect with Jesus, and His Spirit empowers our actions and words. We do not need to worry about how we will testify of God to the world because our lives will speak volumes as Jesus tells us, ‘By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.’ (John 13:34). The church too often has a reputation for hurting one another. Yet, Jesus tells it plainly that there is another way, His way.
Lord, help me and others to walk closer to You so that whatever gifts manifest in us come through Your Holy Spirit directly from our relationship with Jesu. May your unity and love constantly invade everything we do and say.