By Pastor Glenn Pease
A college professor of debate thought it would be well for him to select some outstanding speaker and learn everything he could about his life, his speeches, and his writings. He chose Patrick Henry as his ideal. It was not long before the subject of Patrick Henry was becoming obnoxious to those around him. He became a man with a one track mind. All he talked about to friends and relatives, and in class, was Patrick Henry.
One night the debating society decided to play a joke on their obsessed professor. They decided to trap him in a situation where his favorite topic would be irrelevant. At the meeting the chairman called the group to order and said, "We would like our professor to give us a demonstration of extemporaneous speech tonight. We are going to ask him to speak for 3 minutes on horse colic." They thought they had him on the spot, but the professor stood; faced the group, and began: "What is horse colic? Why, tis nothing but a ball of wind, roaming hither and thither within the abdominal confines of the horse crying out 'give me liberty or give me death.'" And with that the professor was off again on Patrick Henry.
Almost everything can be interesting at some point, but almost nothing is interesting all the time. People with one tracked minds bore us. We are not made for enjoying a rut where life is limited to one theme, or one routine. We are made for variety. It was William Cowper, the great hymn writer, who gave us There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood, and God Moves In A Mysterious Way, who coined the phrase, "Variety if the spice of life." He didn't just make that up, he got it from the facts of nature and Scripture. God is in infinite Spirit with a love for infinite variety in all that He does. Every leaf, every blade of grass, every star and galaxy are all different. God did not crank out this universe like a machine stamping out pieces of metal. He made it more like a master artist makes his painting.
Mrs. Dwight Morrow had a chain made by a well-known Mexican chain maker. She liked it so much that she ordered six more just like it. He agreed only if she would pay a higher price for each chain he made because making them all alike would be monotonous. Artists demand variety. They liked to put a personal touch of difference into all that they make. How much more the Author of all art? An anonymous poet put it-
What skill, O God, could equal Thine!
No two alike, in size or line,
In dome above, in sea or land,
Mid flaming worlds, or grains of sand,
And man hast made more wondrous far,
More varied than flower, bird, or star,
His very finger-tips design,
Reveals a loving skill divine.
Every once in a while we refer to some unique character and say, "When God made him He broke the mold." The fact is, God never used the same mold twice for anybody. Every one is unique, and there is no one else anywhere just like us. God is a God of infinite variety, and He always will be. C. S. Lewis said, "Heaven will display far more variety than hell." No one will ever be bored in heaven. One of the curses of hell will be the curse of never ending sameness, but heaven will be never ending variety. We do not have to wait for heaven, however, for God has given us much variety on earth, and great variety within the church. This is what Paul begins to express in verse 4. He emphasizes three times the variety of gifts, and of service, and the variety of working. All of this variety comes from the same Lord. God is the one source of all this variety in the body of Christ.
This truth has so many profound implications for our lives that even a partial grasp of it can change your attitudes and actions in many areas of life. One of the first things we need to look at is the problem of the Corinthian church because of their failure to live the Christian life in the light of God's love for variety. The same problem develops today in churches where some unique experience, such as speaking in tongues, is emphasized. Just because this experience is so unique it appeals to many people as it did to the Corinthians. They began to blow it all out of proportion and make it the key to spirituality. Since not all of the members received this gift, those who did not were made to feel like inferior Christians, and they had the feeling of not belonging.
In verse 15 Paul describes them as a foot saying, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body." Or in verse 16 like an ear saying, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body." Paul says this is nonsense. A body does not consist of one member, but of many. It is folly to take any one gift, or even two or three, and say that those who have these are the only members of the body. The tongue speakers were guilty of a one tracked mind. They were in a rut and blind to the infinite variety in the body. They said, "We are the tongue of the body, and only those who speak in tongues like us are part of the body." They set up a man made standard by which to judge who is in the body of Christ and who is not. What Paul is doing here in stressing variety is shattering this kind of narrow thinking. Any man made system that seeks to put God in a box and under the control of men is not consistent with the revelation God has given us through Paul.
Let me now apply this emphasis of Paul to one of the major controversies that surrounded the whole issue of the gifts. One of the most debated question is, how many gifts of the Spirit are there? Bill Gothard, whose gifted ministry has touched the lives of many thousands through his Basis Youth Conflicts Seminar, insists that there are only 7 authentic gifts, and the rest are ministries and manifestations. Some others see the 9 gifts listed here as a parallel to the 9 fruits of the Spirit, and they insist that 9 is the magic number. Dr. John Walvoord, President of Dallas Theological Seminary finds 15 gifts in the New Testament. One of the finest books on the gifts is Leslie Flynn's book with the title Nineteen Gifts Of The Spirit. Dr. Kurt Koch in his book Charismatic Gifts deals with 24 gifts.
All of these men are gifted and godly scholars, and yet they all come up with different numbers. What do we do when authorities disagree? The best thing to do is to recognize that the reason they vary so much is because the Bible does not give any listing of all the gifts. There is no hint that there is any limited number of gifts. Therefore, I conclude with the majority of those who have studied the gifts in depth that there is no specific limited number, but that there are, as Paul says, a variety of gifts, and that variety is like all the variety of God-it is without limit. This conclusion is very important if we are to avoid many of the problems that result from trying to limit the Holy Spirit.
In the Intervarsity publication Spiritual Gifts And The Church, the author states one of the problems: "For a church or group of churches to concentrate on a limited number of gifts, forgetting the great variety presented by the New Testament, will inevitably result in a partial and incomplete ministry on their part with consequent loss of blessing both inside and outside the fellowship." There is just no point in trying to limit the Holy Spirit, for in doing so you risk missing something good.
The reason Paul is putting such a heavy stress on variety here is because the Corinthians were trying to limit the Holy Spirit. They were falling into a rut where they limited the Spirit to their experience. They were content with their showy gift of tongues for example, and they began to make others who did not have this gift feel inferior and left out. The same thing happens today where Christians get a narrow and limited view of the work of the Spirit. They narrow down to the few gifts they have and make all who do not possess them feel like they are not a part of the body. Those with the gift of tongues are constantly struggling with this problem, and many in churches where this gift is stressed feel just like many of the Corinthians felt. They feel inferior and rejected, and not a part of the body.
In verse 15 Paul refers to the foot who says, "Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body." Or in verse 16 where the ear says, "I am not an eye, so I do not belong to the body." Paul says this is nonsense, and that no part of the body is any less a part of the body just because it does not have the gifts of another part of the body. Every member of the body has a function, but there is a great variety, and when this is not stressed you do damage to the body. When you put a limit on the gifts, and those who do not see that they have one that is on that list, you create problems in the body. Many a Christians are made to feel just like those in Corinth felt. Those with showy external gifts made those who did not have the gift feel cut off from the body. Many today wonder today wonder if they have been passed by because they do not have the gift of tongues. Many feel so inferior that they go through great agony trying to possess the gift, and they are as frustrated as an ear that struggles to get the gift of sight.
All of this needless mental suffering in the body of Christ can be avoided by heeding the words of Paul on the variety of gifts, the variety of service, and the variety of worship of the Holy Spirit. Variety is the spice of life for the church because it gives everyone a role to play. Every member of the body has a function. There are hundreds of bones, muscles, nerves, veins, arteries, glands, as well as vital organs that keep the body operating efficiently. The body is a mass of variety of functions. God does not expect any part of the body to try and perform the functions of other parts of the body, and cry out for the ability to do so.
Are we to suppose that Christ, who created such a variety of tasks to be done in the physical body, lost His creative love for variety when He created His spiritual body the church? Jesus expects His body to do the most important work on earth in fulfilling His Great Commission. Does He then give His church only a handful of gifts to get the job done? No, He gives His body great variety. If we limited the gifts we hinder the body. Those who look over the list and do not find a gift they possess tend to feel left out. The whole point of Paul is to help all Christians feel like a working part of the body. He was fighting any tendency to limit the function of the body to the few. Any Christian who acknowledges that Jesus is Lord is part of the body, and has some gift to add to the body. Paul says that sometimes the unseen parts of the body are more important than those that are seen. This means there are some who have no gift that is listed and visible, but who are still a part of the body.
Paul does not mention all parts of the body, just as he does not mention all of the gifts of the Spirit. He just gives some examples of both, but we know he could have given many more. Why are they not all listed so that we could get a final count? It is because God does not have a number to which He is limited. He may have gifts for the body today that were not needed in the New Testament day, just as some were needed then that may not be that important today. If history goes on there may be new gifts needed in the future that do not exist today.
William Olson in his book The Charismatic Church says, "Every gift that is needed for the successful operation of worship and service is a gift of the Spirit." If this is true, then the door is open for constant fresh winds of the Holy Spirit to blow into the church with variety. The test is clearly given, and if the gifts exalts Jesus as Lord, and ministers to the body, then it is a gift of the Spirit. Music is not listed in the New Testament, and those who limit themselves say this ability is not a gift. It is a natural talent they say. Others are equally strong in insisting that it is a gift. The point is, both are right, and both need to see the whole picture and not just their part of it.
Many secular people have a great talent with music. Some of these people have an encounter with Jesus and surrender to Him as Lord, and they become a part of His body. Now their talent is used for worship, and for the edifying of the body. The talent that did not move anyone to Jesus is now being used to do so. The talent has been converted to a gift of the Spirit. A talent that is surrendered to the Lordship of Christ becomes a gift. John R. W. Stott writes, "Was not Charles Wesley's ability as a hymn writer as much a gift as his brother John's gift as an evangelist?" He feels there is the gift of song and the gift of poetry. He writes in his book Baptism And The Fullness Of The Holy Spirit, "I venture to suggest that, as with deeper experiences, so with spiritual gifts: Our God is a God of rich and colorful diversity. Our human tendency is to try to limit God within arbitrary confines of our making..."
Paul does not give us a listing of the gifts that is exhaustive. His list is only suggestive. Every time he writes of the gifts he mentions new ones. He is not dealing with a fixed number because he knows the Holy Spirit well enough to know that you cannot catch him in a list and limit him anymore than you can catch the wind in a box so as to make it blow just where you want. The Holy Spirit is sovereign, and he does work so as to satisfy our love for lists, and our compulsion for classification. In the book of Acts the Holy Spirit sometimes came into lives before baptism and sometimes after baptism. Sometimes he came with the laying on of hands, and sometimes without the laying on of hands. Sometimes his coming was a two-step experience, and other times it was a one step experience. We can save ourselves a whole lot of trouble by facing the fact that we cannot limit God. Therefore, let us expand our thinking and enjoy all the great variety the Holy Spirit gives to the body of Christ.