This past Monday, I participated in the Annual Newberry March and Program honoring Dr Martin Luther King Jr. The keynote speaker was Dr. Charles E. Young of Union Station A.M.E. Church Sumter.
Dr. Young reminded us that every individual has been given the gift of faith and we can place that faith in anyone or anything. He spoke of what is achieved when faith is place in self, in community and in God. Such faith empowered those entrapped in slavery to believe in freedom, to work for freedom and to eventually gain freedom.
The New Testament maintains that all Christians are given faith as well as other gifts, activities and services of the Spirit to build up the church.
In 1st Corinthians 12:8-10, the apostle Paul presents a list of nine gifts: the utterance of wisdom, the utterance of knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, the ability to distinguish between spirits, and the more exotic of the gifts: various tongues and the interpretation of tongues.
This is not the definitive list for there are other gifts and other lists appear elsewhere in scripture.
Paul is clear on this point — not every believer receives all these gifts and the reason the Holy Spirit gives us these and other gifts is not to create confusion but for one reason only — for the common good.
Our varied gifts are to be used to strengthen the church. It’s necessary for us to share the gifts we have received and not to be envious of the gifts of others because no gift is greater than another and every gift is needed. Many times it’s the smaller gifts that hold the church together and bring healing and unity.
General Eisenhower once rebuked a General for referring to a soldier as “just a Private.” He reminded him that the Army could function better without its Generals than it could without its foot soldiers. “If this war is won,” he said, “it will be won by “just” privates.”
Congregations make the mistake of thinking God has blessed clergy with all gifts and this often leads to disappointment. The role of the ordained minister is not to do it all, but to equip Christians to use the gifts they possess by the grace of the Holy Spirit. If a church does not realize this it will soon be ready to trade the minister in on a new more talented model.
When I look at my congregation on any Sunday morning, I see talented people. Some are using the gifts of the Spirit in full.
Others have not fully revealed their talents and gifts. Most of us are somewhere in between.
So the letter to Corinth is to all of us — without your gifts the church is incomplete — because if the battle is to be won, if the gospel is to be taken to the world, it will be done by ordinary Christians (just privates) who have laid claim to the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit.
I want to say just two more things about our spiritual giftedness.
First, we often don’t know we have them until we need them and then they emerge, perhaps just for one particular occasion. So we need to fine tune out receptiveness to the spiritual gifts.
Second, the world has often been changed by one person daring to share their spiritual giftedness.
I have a little book called 131 Christians Everyone Should Know. I am not sure how they settled on that number but each of these persons had a tremendous impact on the life of others and often on the course of history. Among them are Bishop William Wilberforce, Frederick Douglas and the man we honored this past Monday, Martin Luther King Jr.
They all became extraordinary people in part because they were just ordinary Christians willing to share the gifts they received from the Spirit.
How would we change the world if we dared to do the same?