Friday, August 26, 2005

The God Who loves diversity - 1 Corinthians 12

In our weekly Bible study (which I haven't posted in a few months now), we've been studying 1 Corinthians 12, where Paul teaches about spiritual gifts. Two of the things that became really visible to me as we studied were how much God loves diversity, and how He intends for the diversity in His church to be a source of blessing for His people.

God's love for diversity is clearly shown in the two lists Paul gives of the gifts that God has given his people. While the lists overlap, they are by no means the same, which indicates that rather than being exhaustive lists of the spiritual gifts, they are representative of a potentially much larger group of the gifts God gives. God has a vast and diverse array of gifts He means to give to His people, according to His purposes for them and their needs in the particular time and place in which they find themselves. While the focus is on the powerful and spectacular gifts which so entranced the Corinthians, Paul also hints that some of these gifts are not ones we would desire to have in his discussion of how the human body fits together. In verse 23, he makes reference to parts of the body that are less presentable and require more modesty and yet are still essential parts of who we are. Given the force of the analogy with the church, it seems reasonable to believe that God also gifts the church in the same way, with people who are less presentable and require more modesty, and yet are inseparable from what He means His church to be. God likes not only those in our midst who are spectacular and beautiful but also those who are weak and unimpressive, and He's glad for part each of us contributes to the body of Christ.

We, on the other hand, prefer the prominent gifts, and perhaps with some justification, as Paul himself told us to eagerly seek the greater gifts. But the greater gifts are to be sought not because of the added luster they give to us individually, but because of the blessing they give to the body as a whole. The Corinthians were notorious for the factionalism and their tendency to push the envelope of their spiritual freedoms, both of which were rooted in a desire to gain personal prominence and power. Thus they sought gifts like tongues because such gifts made it unmistakable that God was speaking through them even if no one had any clue what He was saying. But God wants us to use our diverse gifts to bring diverse blessings to others because our needs as a body are diverse. We need not only teaching, but also encouragement, not just good leaders, but also faithful followers, not only people with great faith, but also people with only a little faith who provide the strong with an opportunity to use their strength to bless those in need.

This is rather different from many churches today, where homogeneity is considered a strength and personal weaknesses are kept carefully hidden so as not to be a source of embarrassment. But from what Paul says, these churches are actually rather ugly in God's sight, sort of like a gigantic eye with no body to support it, or a torso with a hand and an ear attached to it. While homogeneity may promote efficiency and make it easy for everyone to get along, God seems to prefer a diversity that forces us to move out of our comfort zones and be stretched to bless people who are very different from us, and perhaps even to receive a blessing from them in return. Where we tend to prefer age-segregated adult fellowship groups and would rather keep the disabled and handicapped in "their own place" if we allow them at all, God would rather we bring college students, grandparents, middle-aged homemakers and those on wheelchairs or with speach impediments all together in a diverse group of people who love Jesus. I've seen this diversity in my church, and God uses it in unexpected ways to make something very beautiful.

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