Both/And in an Either/Or World
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. – 1 Corinthians 12:7 (NRSV)
Every now and again someone says, “If only we were like the early church, when everyone was full of faith and lived in total harmony.” I suggest reading the New Testament’s letters about actual early churches. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians will do. He wrote to a quarreling, contentious congregation. He cautioned against spiritual arrogance, suggesting to those who thought themselves as the enlightened that though “knowledge puffs up, love builds up.”
Paul affirmed a two-sided truth: individual gifts and their expression are really important … and the life of the group, the community or congregation, is really important too. It’s not either the sacred individual or the sacred community; it’s both/and.
In writing—“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit”—Paul affirmed that each and every person in the congregation is given a gift of the Spirit. Amazing! No one is gift-less, unimportant, or less than. In writing—“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit”—Paul reminds us that individual gifts and their expression aren’t the point. The point is a “common good,” building up the church and its witness to God.
When our kids were teenagers we affirmed a similar two-sided truth: “You are special, unique and important; and you are part of a family.”
Ponder the amazing gifts of the Spirit given to those in your life. Imagine the possibilities when all are invited to use their gifts to build up the church, to build up the community. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Pour out your Spirit upon us, O God. Remind those who think too little of themselves of the gift you have given them; remind those who think too much of themselves of the common good all gifts are meant to serve. Amen.
This devotional by Tony Robinson also appears in This Is How We Begin: Devotionals and Prayers to Start Meetings, a collection of devotionals intended to center church meetings in God’s wisdom. Order This Is How We Begin here.