By Pastor Glenn Pease
Back in the mid 1800's a light-colored moth was very common in the industrial city of Manchester, England. When these moths landed on the bark of the trees they blended in so well that the moth eating birds could not see them, and the result was that they multiplied rapidly. Some of the moths were born with dark wings, however, and when they landed on the light bark they were easily spotted and devoured by the birds. Then there came a change in the environment. The growing industry led to more and more factories until they trees of the city began to turn dark with soot. Now it was the light-colored moth that was in trouble, for the birds could see them, but the dark winged moths were hidden against the dark bark, and they began to multiply and became the dominate moth in the area.
God has to so made nature that those living things that best adapt to their environment survive and grow. That is why nature is so full of variety, for God has built into it the freedom of adaptability. Explorers of the islands off the South American coast have discovered that each island has finches that are just alike except for their beaks. Some have developed beaks for cracking nuts, while others have beaks for eating fruits, and still others have beaks for probing into the cracks of bark to get insects. Each has adapted to survive according to the nature of the food supply available to it. Adaptability is the key to survival and growth. That is why we see variety in the human race as well. Each of the races has come from common parents, but they have developed different colors and bodily features because these variations were necessary in adapting to the environments in which they lived.
The Lord made the world so jam-packed with variety that something can survive just about anywhere. There is life on the mountaintops and in the lowest valleys. There is life on the driest deserts, and life in the depths of the sea. God has so made nature that some form of life can adapt to any kind of environment. Doesn't it stand to reason that if God wants His message of eternal life to go into all the world, that the body that carries that message must also be very adaptable? Jesus needs a body where some of the members can feel at home in the great cities of the world working with business people, but others who feel called to work among natives living in huts and eating berries and snakes.
The reason the church has survived the changes of the centuries, and will continue to do so till the end of history is because it is designed to be adaptable to all of the cultures of the world. Christianity can grow anywhere because its Lord is not a dead hero but a living Leader and Head, who by his Holy Spirit gives gifts to his body to adapt in fulfilling its purpose in any environment. When the Holy Spirit came upon the 120 in the upper room at Pentecost, none of them were editors, mechanics, pilots, linguists, librarians, nurses, bookkeepers, computer operators, or printers. Today the body has all of these and many more varieties of skills, talents, and gifts to reach the kind of world the body lives in today.
The Holy Spirit will provide the body with whatever is needed to accomplish its task in a changing environment. That is why we see a revival of interest in the spiritual gifts. We live in a world where Satan has been able to open the door for the occult in civilized cultures like our own where for centuries this type of supernatural evil was limited to pagan cultures. The church was able to grow and touch our culture with the Gospel without the use of the showy and more supernatural gifts. Now that Satan has spread occult influence all through our culture we see Christ reviving some of the supernatural gifts that have been dormant for many decades. They are needed now for the same reason they were needed in Corinth. The church today must compete for men's souls against the forces of darkness that work wonders and appeal to the emotions of men.
In a culture where Satanic healing is common the Holy Spirit gives the gift of healing to some members of the body of Christ. Where mediums and messengers of Satan are doing wonders the Holy Spirit gives the gift of miracles to some members of the body of Christ. As in biblical days, the Lord always gives His people the gifts necessary to counteract and defeat the counterfeit works of the devil. By Satan's power the magicians of Egypt could turn their rods into serpents, but Moses by the power of God turned his rod into a serpent that devoured the serpents of the magicians. So it is all through history. The Holy Spirit enables the people of God to adapt to any situation so as to be more than a match for the workings of Satan.
Let us not, therefore, be too quick to judge the professing Christian with a unique gift and ministry. He may be different for the very good reason that different is necessary to get the task of the church accomplished in a changing environment. You and I may not need the gift he has. We may not need to experience it or manifest it because it would serve no real purpose in our environment. I have never felt the need to have the gift to cast out demons because I do not work among people who are demon possessed. In contrast, some of the missionaries feel a deep need for this gift for they see it constantly. The greater the supernatural influence of Satan in a culture, the greater is the need for supernatural gifts in the body of Christ.
How then can we know what gifts are of value for us to seek? Paul in verse 7 gives us the answer to that question. We need those gifts that help us best adapt to the needs we face to get the will of God done. The Philips version of this verse goes like this: Each man is given his gift by the Spirit that he may use it for the common good." The Living Bible has it, "The Holy Spirit displays God's power through each of us as a means of helping the entire church." Paul makes it clear that the value of any gift is in what it does for the body. The test is not whether it exalts the one with the gift or not. Does it lead to him having the greatest TV audience, or the most books sold? This is not the question, for the real issue is, what does his gift do for the good of the body? If the body is healthier and happier because of anyone's gift, that gift is being used in harmony with the Holy Spirit's intention. If the gift divides the body and leads to loss of strength, the gift is being abused for selfish ends, and not for the good of the group.
No Christian can ever be so independent that he can do as he pleases. He does not ever have the right to even do miracles if by so doing he hurts the body. Love is to be our aim says Paul, and if my gift does not help, but hinders, the body, then I have an obligation to control that gift and not exercise it, for that act of love is far more valuable than the gift. Paul writes in chapter 13, "If I have all faith and can even remove mountains and have not love, I am nothing." In other words, if the body does not want the mountain removed, but I do it to demonstrate my amazing faith, I may get a kick out of manifesting my gift, but I have injured the body. I have acted in an unloving way, and so my gift, however marvelous, is of no value whatever, for it has not been adapted to meet the needs of the body.
Whatever I do for self-glory that does not minister to the body is a pain in the neck. The eye does not see for its own sake, but for the sake of the whole body to get it where its going, and to avoid obstacles and injury. The eye that forgets this and is so busy just seeing for itself, and then lets the body walk into a swamp is an unloving eye. It has failed to fulfill its purpose in the body. Seeing is not just for the eye, but it is for the common good of the whole body.
What we see Paul establishing here in these first few verses is the application of the teachings of Christ to the life of the body. Jesus said the whole law of God is summed up in two commandments. The first is to love the Lord with your whole being, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. In verse 3 Paul has established that those truly led of the Spirit will confess Jesus as Lord. Any gift that denies the Lordship of Jesus, or degrades Him in any way, is clearly off the track and guilty of idolatry. Whenever the gift fails to manifest love to the Lord as supreme it is a violation of the first commandment. The gift has become more important than the Giver.
Now in verse 7 Paul stresses the second commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself. Here is the second priority, and this becomes the test by which we determine the value of all the gifts in the day by day operation within the body. The idea of doing your own thing is growing in our world. There is no doubt much truth to it. It fits the very idea we have been expressing that God is a God of infinite variety, and the gifts are greatly varied. This can lead to abuse, however, if diversity is not linked to a common good. Differences for difference sake is not Paul's idea, but rather, differences for the sake of the common good. If diversity does not work for unity it is hindrance and not a help to the body.
Fritz Pearl's Gestalt Prayer gives us an example of the common concept of doing your own thing.
"I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
And you are not in the world to live up to mine.
You are you and I am I,
And if by chance we find each other its beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped."
This is the kind of thinking that led to problems in the church at Corinth, and which has led to problems in the modern manifestation of the spiritual gifts. Paul says that it can be helped, for you do your own thing, but you do it for the common good or you just don't do it. People tend to say, "What God gives me I am going to use regardless of how it affects the rest of the body." The Corinthians said that because they had the gift of tongues they would use them in the worship service. It was a matter of indifference to them that nobody else could understand what they were saying. They were enjoying the ecstasy of it all, and if the other members did not enjoy it, they just were not as spiritual.
Paul says to them that they are wrong in their value system, and that their priorities were not those of the Head of the body. Paul says that consistency with the Head, the Lord Jesus, demands that we manifest all gifts only in ways that will be for the common good of all members of the body. The Head never desires what is harmful to the body, and so we know that any gift that is used in such a way that the body is hurt, divided, or hindered from doing its work, is a manifestation of the depraved spirit of man, or the demonic spirit, and never the divine Spirit of Christ. What comes from His Spirit always leads to harmony and unity in the body
Paul's emphasis here is that all parts of the body may be different, but they all work for the common good of the whole body. When my ears hear good music all of me enjoys it. When my eyes see beauty even my unseen spine tingles with delight. There is no part of the body that does its own thing for its own sake. Every part of me does its own thing for the sake of the whole body. This is the ideal the church is to strive to attain. Every one of us needs each other to have God's best for our lives. None of us is self-sufficient so that we can experience all of God's blessings in isolation. We need each other, and that is why the Holy Spirit gives variety of gifts to the church. It is for the common good of the body.
The Holy Spirit does not pick out some members of the body and give them special gifts so they can be glorified and exalted. Each is gifted that they might be effective servants and channels of blessing to the whole body. Paul is saying just what Jesus said, and that is that it is the servant who is the greatest of all. The first duty of the Christian is to be Christ-centered, and then the next step in Christian maturity is to be body-centered. This is an area of great weakness where we all tend to be as guilty as the Corinthians. We do not have an adequate sense of loyalty to the body. We tend to think of I too much, and of we too little. It is only when we have developed the we attitude that we can be the kind of body that is moving toward the ideal for the local church.
Leslie Weatherhead, the great English preacher, could not help laughing to himself when he overheard two dear old ladies talking at breakfast. It was during the war, and one said to the other, "I hear we won the battle of Tobruk." Wheatherhead said, "If the maid would have hit them with the least thing they would have been in bed for a week, but nevertheless they felt they were a part of the Desert Rats battling for liberty." They had a strong sense of identity, and they were one with those men on the battlefront. So it is with the battle of sports. When the news comes on and it is reported that your school won, you shout, "We did it! We did it!" You may not even have been there, but still it is we who did it. We did it because I am a part of the group that won. Identification with a group leads to a we feeling and we attitude.
Lack of this we feeling is what hurts the church today just as it was hurting the church of Corinth. When this is absent the feelings of envy and jealously creep in and quench the spirit of love. The gifted person who lacks the we spirit tends to get proud of his gift and uses it for self-glory. This makes others in the body either angry or envious. Those members who are not so gifted and who lack the we spirit tend to look at the very gifted and feel hurt and left out. All of these aches and pains in the body of Christ are eliminated, however, when we develop the we spirit.
The we spirit recognizes that every gift is for the good of the whole body. If somebody does a beautiful job of singing, I should not look at that person with envy and wish I had that voice. I should thank God for the blessing that we all receive through that voice. The voice is not for the singer only, but for all the members of the body. We all have that voice because it is a part of the body. It is we who have a good teacher, and it is we who have a gifted leader, and it is we who have a delightful encourager and servant of the body. It is the whole body who has the gifts and not just the one with the gift. The value of the gift is that it blesses all the members of the body and not just the one who has the gift.
We should be saying that we really sang great this Sunday, or we really taught a good class. People will wonder when you took up singing and teaching, but you explain that you did not say that you did it. It is we who did it. I do not say I won the football game, or I won the battle. It is the we that did it, and the we includes all who are a part of the group. If the church does anything, it is the we who have done it. A mouse that walked across the bridge on top of an elephant said, "Boy, did we shake that bridge." He had the right attitude because they were together and it was a we situation.
Jesus said, "Without me you can do nothing." We cannot shake the bridge alone anymore than that mouse could, but with Jesus we can do all things. It is not a do it yourself project, but a we do it together project. This is the test of all the gifts. Does the gift benefit the body and build the we spirit. Only those that build the we spirit are of the Holy Spirit, for only the we spirit in a church can enable that church to adapt to all the needs of the body.