1 Corinthians 12:5-6. …and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.
The letters to the Corinthian church are some of the earliest parts of the New Testament to be written. The first letter was probably written a few years after 50 AD, within twenty years or so of Jesus’ resurrection. The letter gives us a snapshot of an early church. Corinth was a thriving seaport in Greece, with all the vitality and problems that this brings. The church had strengths: Paul could say that he thanked God for them because they had been enriched in every way (1:5) and that they lacked no spiritual gift. Jesus would keep them strong to the end: their perseverance depended on the faithfulness of God (1:8, 9).
Yet this church had problems. There were factions, with groups choosing to follow different Christian leaders (1:12). They were rather proud, as though they had reached spiritual fulfilment already (4:8). There was scandalous immorality (5:1). They were taking each other to court to resolve disputes (6:7). The Lord’s Supper, a shared meal at that time, was wide open to abuse, with some getting drunk (11:17-34). As we read about the spiritual gifts, we see that Paul had to tell his readers that there should be only one person speaking at a time (14:26-33).
In spite of all the faults in the Corinthian church, God was at work. The Holy Spirit gave the church all that it needed for its growth. What the Christians had to do was to give the Holy Spirit space to be at work. In a church where boasting and pride were problems, certain spiritual gifts and ministries were valued more. Paul lists some of these gifts in this letter (e.g. 12:7-11). There are many spiritual gifts: they are given to the whole church, and they take the form of individuals with particular roles to play. All the gifts are from God: all are needed for the health of the church. Paul uses the picture of the human body: each organ of the body has its part to play, even if some parts are more visible.
We are all called to serve God in his church. Each of us has our own part to play. It is natural in human society to give certain gifts a higher prominence: that is not how God sees it. Any service faithfully carried out is of value: the unseen tasks are of equal value to the roles with high public profile. It is God who equips us for service, and our service is offered to Him.
Questions for discussion:
1. What are the types of service we see in the church today? How do they help the church’s ministry and mission?
2. Do we value these different types of service correctly? In what ways do we get the balance wrong?
3. What attitudes would be helpful for the person with a ministry that is visible and highly regarded?
4. What attitudes would be helpful for the person who carries out tasks that are largely unseen but are still vital?
5. What changes would it be good to see that would enable all the ministry of the church to be carried out?