There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
When Sylvester “Sly” Stewart (of the musical group Sly and the Family Stone) wrote “Everyday People”, perhaps he had the above passage from scripture in mind. The word “different” can have both negative and positive connotations. Our differences can keep us apart and defensive or they can be used together for the greater good. Our approach to those who are different from us should be one of utilizing the proper “stroke” for each of the “folks” we encounter throughout life.
These referenced gifts from God, manifested by the Holy Spirit, are as different and varied as the individuals to whom they are given. The “different forms of service” and “different workings” to which each of us is called are equally unique, and designed to be used to benefit the church and the world through discipleship and evangelization. It is clear from scripture and church teaching that our spiritual gifts are meant to be shared, and are of little use when we keep them to ourselves.
A visiting priest, during his homily one Sunday, used the example of a single pencil to make his “point” about individual weakness versus communal strength. Pretending to hold the pencil, he proceeded to break it in half with ease. He then asked the congregation to picture a dozen pencils banded together and to imagine how hard it would be to accomplish the same action. He noted that each pencil was a different color and size to further punctuate the theme of unity and strength in diversity.
It is precisely because of our differences and diversity that we thrive and grow in the church and in the world. In God’s infinite creation, no two entities are alike. From snowflakes in nature to each human being who ever was, is, or will be, our unique, individual composition can only be fully realized in community. When Jesus sent His disciples forth, they were sent not as individuals, but in pairs:
[Jesus] summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts. They were, however, to wear sandals but not a second tunic. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave from there. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.” (Mark 6:7-11)
In addition to having companionship, those sent would have the advantage of combining their skills and individual gifts for the mission at hand. The mission of the Early Church is the mission of today’s church: to bring Christ to others using the unique gifts that God has given to each of us. St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, can serve us in good stead as we go forward as evangelizing disciples:
For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned. For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them: if prophecy, in proportion to the faith; if ministry, in ministering; if one is a teacher, in teaching; if one exhorts, in exhortation; if one contributes, in generosity; if one is over others, with diligence; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:3-8)
Let us pray, in this New Year, for the proper discernment of our individual gifts and the grace to share them for the good of the Body of Christ.