Often, it is no different in churches. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about spiritual gifts. He mentions a variety of spiritual gifts. Paul goes to great lengths to explain God has a plan for us, and each of us has a role. Using Paul's example some of us are hands, some are eyes; some are ears and so forth. If the eye tries to do the ears’ job, we will not be able to hear. Just as in the physical body, we all have a place and tasks in the spiritual body of Christ.
Some of the gifts mentioned in the passage are out in the open; some are more behind the scenes. A problem had arisen in the church because people desired those gifts that could be seen by others. They wanted to be involved in the spectacular. The chapter, however, ends with an incredible statement by Paul, “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way,” 1 Corinthians 12:31.
When Paul mentions shewing them a “more excellent way” he immediately begins describing what that way is – it is the way of charity. He starts showing us this “more excellent way” in the very next verse, the beginning of 1 Corinthians 13.
1 Corinthians 13 is often called “the love chapter.” Nearly all the newer translations use the word “love” instead of the word “charity," but charity is a far better translation. Charity is the true definition of love. “For God so loved the world that he gave ...” (John 3:16). True love will always give. Also, the context provides us with a reason why “charity” is a far better word here. 1 Corinthians 13 is not merely a definition of love, but it is a description of the “more excellent way” we are to use the gifts and talents God has given us to serve Him.
In Revelation 2:1-7 speaking to the church of Ephesus, Jesus repeatedly complements the church on how hard they work, their hatred of sin and their knowledge of the Scripture. However, He threatens to remove the church (compare Revelation 1:20 with 2:5) because they had left their first love (Revelation 2:4).
Ephesus was not a church that had gotten lazy, they were a church that put their spiritual gifts to work, they had a knowledge of God's Word and their heart was correct as far as sin was concerned, but even though they were doing all the right things the love was not there anymore. They were going through the motions, maybe because of a sense of duty, perhaps because some felt that if they did not do something, it would not get done. The work was the right work, but the motivation was not charity.
Consider this story.
A pastor announces that in a month a children's Sunday school class will need a teacher. Joe is sitting there; God has given him a heart for children and the talent of teaching. As soon as he hears the announcement, the Holy Spirit begins to work on Joe's heart. Joe, however, is uncertain. “I can't teach kids,” “Where will I find time to prepare for class?” are just some of the thoughts that are going through Joe's mind. The Holy Spirit is calling, but Joe is not answering – yet.
A couple of weeks go by. We are now two Sundays away from the day a new teacher is needed. Another person, Tom, is very involved in the church. Tom is one of those guys who, when he sees a need, will jump in and do whatever he can. Realizing the countdown is down to two weeks, Tom begins to think, “Well, I reckon if no one else is willing to teach those kids, I suppose I will just have to do it.” After church, Tom tells the pastor he will take the class.
At this point, Joe is unaware of Tom volunteering for the class. After that Sunday, Joe finally yields to the Holy Spirit and decides to teach the class. Joe arrives at church Sunday in preparation to tell the minister he will teach the class. During the announcements, the pastor praises the Lord for supplying a teacher for the class. Upon hearing the news, Joe thinks, “Well I guess God had someone else in mind.”
God was calling Joe, but Tom ended up teaching, because he felt someone had to do it. Using the physical example of a spiritual truth – Tom ended up being an eye trying to do a hand's job; while Joe was a hand who did not do his job at all.
What are your talents? What are the gifts God wants you to use? Are you using them? If you are a worker in the church, what is your motivation? Are you doing things because of your love for God and your love for your neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40) or are you doing them because you do not believe anyone else will? Which of these scenarios is more likely to be God's will?
Using our gifts is good; using them in charity is a more excellent way.
Preacher Tim Johnson is pastor of Countryside Baptist Church in Parke County, Indiana. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.