1 Corinthians 12:1-11
“For the Common Good”
The Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth is one of my favourite books of the Bible. I guess I like it because I can relate to the Christians at Corinth. They’re trying to figure out how to live as Christians in a diverse society of many religions, values, and cultures. They don’t have everything about their faith or practices worked out, but they’re doing their best to follow Jesus. And they don’t always agree with each other about everything, and need to work through differences and conflicts with Paul’s help.
In the context of all those challenges and a church that the Apostle criticizes quite strongly for their divisions and wrong priorities, there is a very strong message in the letter that God loves them and has blessed them with many gifts.
Over the years, Christians have reflected on today’s passage and the listing of spiritual gifts and tried to discern which gifts they have received. I’ve been at retreats and led workshops where we’ve completed “Spiritual Gift Inventories” to consider how God has blessed us, usually following up with making plans for how we might develop and use those gifts more fully.
I didn’t know when I was young that I would be given gifts of praying or preaching. Perhaps you were surprised to discover that you had gifts of teaching, encouraging, administering, or making music for the glory of God. Although some of the gifts I’ve just mentioned don’t appear on Paul’s list of gifts in today’s text, there are several different lists of gifts in the New Testament, all varying somewhat, and likely none of them intended to be exhaustive.
One of the messages that Paul was trying to get across to the Corinthians was that their differences and unique gifts should not cause divisions in the Christian community. The people with musical gifts in the church should not see themselves as superior to others because of their beautiful offerings to our worship. The folks who have been elected as elders of the church because of their gifts of leadership or discernment should not look down on others who serve on committees, or volunteer at the food bank, or use their gifts of pastoral care with phone calls and visits. The preacher in the pulpit is no more important than the one who sits in the back row and prays for the church and the world.
Paul says, “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 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.”
And here’s the part that really hit me this week: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
So, if any one of us has received a gift or we have a talent or a special ability of some kind, we are being told that the gift is not really ours. Spiritual gifts are not the innate possessions of individuals. The varieties of spiritual gifts are given by the same Spirit, Lord, and God, and each manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
Whether you are the most skilled surgeon, the most talented musician, the most inspiring preacher, or the wisest teacher, your gift is not intended to increase your popularity or renown, to boost your ego, or affirm your personal value. Your gift is simply meant to be shared for the good of the community, for the blessing of others, and as a participation in God’s good work in the world.
With that said, and keeping in mind the various gifts that each of us have received to use for the common good, I want to turn now to the delightful story we read today from the Gospel of John.
The Fourth Evangelist organizes his account of how people came to believe in Jesus as the Son of God and Saviour of the World by highlighting seven great miracles or signs. And today’s Gospel reading tells about the first of those miracles: Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana.
It’s the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when Jesus “goes public” for the first time, revealing his identity and special connection with God with a spectacular miracle. Compared to some of the other miracles that Jesus will go on to perform, this one may seem a little bit frivolous. I mean, it doesn’t seem as important as when he multiplies food to feed a hungry crowd, when he heals a man who was born blind, or when he raises Lazarus from death.
Although running out of wine at a community wedding would have been embarrassing for the couple and their families, and might have gotten the chief steward in trouble for not having been better prepared and organized with enough for the typical four days of celebration, no one was sick, no one was starving, and no one was dying in this case. Perhaps Jesus needn’t have intervened at all.
And you may have noticed that he wasn’t planning on getting involved. When his mother Mary draws the issue to his attention, saying, “They have no wine,” Jesus says to her, “What concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not come.”
In the voice of his mother, I think God was calling Jesus that day to begin his active ministry, bringing good news of joy, blessing, and abundant grace to the people of the world. And very much like many of us when it comes to using our gifts to participate in God’s mission, Jesus was not absolutely sure that this was what he was called to do or whether he was ready to do it yet.
I remember saying something very similar to people who started suggesting to me that I should become a minister in the church. I figured I needed to be a little older or wiser or have some more experience before I could do something like that. But looking back, I’m so grateful for the people who recognized God’s gifts in me and assured me that yes, I was supposed to do this and do it now.
Despite his initial hesitation, Jesus gets his mother’s message quickly and steps up to solve the problem of the wine shortage. The purpose of the miracle is not just to save the wedding party, but it functions as a “sign” that points to something beyond the miracle itself.
It shows Jesus to be God’s agent acting on God’s behalf – showing forth his glory. It leads to belief, as the disciples are affirmed in their decision to follow Jesus as the Messiah. And it demonstrates in a beautiful way that God’s mission in the world through Jesus is going to be something to celebrate with joy, delight, wonder, and abundance for all to share.
And that’s the ministry that we are called to participate in as well. We are blessed with various gifts from the Holy Spirit, invited to recognize them, and empowered to use them for the common good, sharing God’s abundant goodness with our teaching, healing, caring, praying, singing, helping, and so much more.
I invite you to consider today:
What are the gifts that you have received? And how are you using them and sharing them for the common good?
What are the gifts that you see in others around you, whether your children or friends or fellow church members? And how are you encouraging others to recognize their gifts and put them to good use?
I love the connection that commentator Shannon Craigo-Snell makes between the spiritual gifts we hear about in 1 Corinthians and the gift of the wine that is received by the hosts at the wedding in Cana.
She writes: “The hosts of the celebration do not have, from their own stores, enough wine to serve the guests. Jesus transforms water into wine, bestowing a great blessing on the host family. Jesus clearly intends that the hosts to whom he has given wine will, in turn, give wine to the rest of the gathered community.
“How odd it would seem if the hosts shut the party down in order to save the fine wine for themselves! It would be stranger still, and profoundly ungrateful, if they were to take this gift as indication of their superiority over their neighbours.”
Likewise, let us give thanks for the gifts of the Spirit that have enriched our lives and community. And let us not hesitate to use our gifts freely and generously for the common good.