On Reading 1 Corinthians 12:1-13

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We welcome Annie Reilly today, who continues to fill in for Jes Kast-Keat in May. Thank you, Annie.

1 Corinthians 12:1-13

In our DNA is this need to compare ourselves to others and be better. I mean, it’s deep in our DNA, like Cain and Abel deep. According to Paul’s letters to the early church in Corinth, it sounds like this need for besting each other was playing out in very destructive ways. In chapter 12 of his first letter, Paul lays out guidelines for healthy division and diversity.

Division in and of itself is not a bad thing. When Paul writes of various kinds of gifts, services, and activities all in the same Spirit and Lord (v. 4-6), I think that sounds an awful lot like “elders, deacons, and trustees”. This sort of division is commonplace and necessary in our church. Our body should be divided into groups according to giftedness to serve. The problem comes when these groups think that one is better than the other, has more money, gets more of the pastor’s attention, has shorter meetings, gets to tell everyone else what to do, etc. Or maybe that’s just my church. But I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone in experiencing more than a little grumbling and animosity between church committees.

Diversity isn’t a bad thing either. Paul takes a long time in 1 Corinthians 12 calling attention to the diversity of gifts present in the church. He does not weight any of them as being better or higher. The First Christian Church of Corinth must have been a busy place, with “an embarrassment of riches” in the spiritual gifts department. Most of us count diversity, of spiritual gifts and otherwise, as a high value and something we strive for. Studies show that institutions, both religious and otherwise, have more stability and longevity as they become more diverse.

The problem with diversity is that we are so prone to rank and comparison. The standard is male, white, heterosexual, able-bodied, English speaking, Christian, economically secure, and highly educated. Anyone who is a variation on this theme is subject to all kinds of “-isms”. We, as a society, see prejudice as a bad thing. I remember hearing from a person of color that the most insulting thing you can call a white person is, “racist”. And yet, we as a Church don’t have the best record of challenging “-isms” in timely, consistent, and bold ways.

Given our predisposition to comparison, grumbling, and prejudice that goes back to the origin of the Dutch Reformed Church in America, the origin of the Christian Church in Corinth, and even in the origin of brothers in Genesis, how then can we possibly achieve division without animosity and diversity without hierarchy?

The one same Spirit and the one same Lord. In all the ways that we are different and in all the ways we are divided, we serve the same God. The Holy Spirit came with tongues of fire and a violent wind to get our attention, to unify and inspire. The Holy Spirit came to make uncomfortable bedfellows of us all, a divided and diverse body called to serve. In our multitude, may we be one.

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