January 21, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 (NRSV)
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 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. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts.
You can read all of I Corinthians 12 here.
Whether you are gifted as a teacher, with leadership qualities, in speaking truth to power, in being a healing presence, in faithful prayer—the body of Christ has need of all of those gifts to make it function in harmony and witness to the world.
By now, we are well-launched into our Epiphany journey, and tomorrow when we ponder the Gospel lesson we’ll be looking at one of Jesus’s early announcements of his mission. For the Epistle reading, the lectionary compilers have paired that Gospel reflection with one of Paul’s great statements about our spiritual gifts and the body of Christ.
At least when I was younger—and I think this is still true in some places—there was a huge emphasis on finding out your spiritual gifts. People published books detailing the different kinds of gifts, and churches distributed questionnaires that members could fill out to see whether they were gifted in leadership or teaching or wisdom or faith or administration or any of a number of other gifts (though I have to admit that as card-carrying mainliners, we weren’t sure what to do with prophecy, speaking in tongues, and deeds of power.)
If you read all of 1 Corinthians 12—which I urge you to do—you will see that Paul’s emphasis throughout, reflected in this passage, is that the spiritual gifts are for the functioning of the body. He begins his explanation of gifts by stating: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, emphasis mine).
In fact, in this whole chapter Paul takes the metaphor of the church as a body very literally. He starts talking about body parts: “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (I Corinthians 12:17). Hands and eyes and feet don’t walk around and do the things they were called to do by themselves as random hands and eyes and feet; they only function properly when they are all part of the body—and in fact, if one part of the body is not functioning well, the whole body suffers: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
The questionnaires and spiritual gift studies of my childhood were good as far as they went, but they were at their best when people took the results of those questionnaires and used it to guide the ministries they performed, both inside the church walls and outside of them. Whether you are gifted as a teacher, with leadership qualities, in speaking truth to power, in being a healing presence, in faithful prayer—the body has need of all of those gifts to make it function in harmony and witness to the world.
What does all of this focus on spiritual gifts have to do with Epiphany? For that, you’ll need to tune in tomorrow. In the meantime, spend some time thinking about the ways in which God has gifted you.
What gifts has God given you?
How could you use them to build up the Body of Christ?
The song “Many Gifts, One Spirit” was inspired by this passage of Scripture (read more about its history here). As you think about the ways God has gifted you for the community, ponder the lyrics and determine to live more fully into one of your gifts.
Lord, show me what I can do for you and for your people and your church and your world with the gifts you have given me. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Spiritual Gifts in Community (1 Corinthians 12:1–14:40)
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Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
Click here to view Jennifer’s profile.