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One Body, Many Gifts

On May 25, 2016

There are several passages in the New Testament that list the spiritual gifts believers receive for the purpose of building up of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12; Ephesians 4; 1 Peter 4). Much has been written about these lists and their implications, particularly for how we ought to recognize and understand spiritual gifts in the church.

We are called to honor and uplift all the different parts of the body of Christ, celebrating the diversity and uniqueness of believers’ spiritual gifts. I believe that these lists are intended to serve as simple reminders to Christians that the purpose of having gifts is to serve God and our fellow believers. In other words, all gifts are meant to be used and used well, regardless of gender.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).

These lists are not exhaustive and do not contain every gift a believer may possess. But one thing is clearly absent from these lists of spiritual gifts in Scripture. There are no specifications about who can receive and use which gift. Further, rules drawn from passages that appear to outline gender qualifications for specific positions, like that of an elder in 1 Timothy 3:2, don’t hold up when the passages are interpreted in light of the cultural context.

Clearly, the Spirit designates spiritual gifts to an audience as diverse as the world God created.

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).

One of the most beautiful things about God’s creation is how unique and different he created his people to be. And the gifts God chooses to give often fall much more squarely in the realm of “surprising” than “conventional.”

My own investigation into these passages shines a bright light on the giftedness of all believers. There are no amendments to who might receive a certain gift in these passages, not even the gift of leadership.

There are no gender specifications for spiritual gifts.

There isn’t a man’s list and a woman’s list.

There is no mention of biblical manhood or womanhood in Scripture, including in the lists of spiritual gifts.

There are many different gifts for many different people—leaders, teachers, prophets, mercy-givers, and helpers. Scripture does not indicate that either the giving of gifts or the use of gifts are gendered processes. Instead, all believers are instructed to utilize all gifts in love and for the good of the rest of the body.

When we assign spiritual gifts to people based on their gender, we directly contradict God’s purpose for gifts. He created the body with many different parts to function together as a whole. We should value the gifts that every believer brings to the body of Christ, celebrating when gifts are used and multiplied and grieving when gifts are marginalized or suppressed.

“But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don’t need you!' And the head cannot say to the feet, 'I don’t need you!' On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it" (1 Corinthians 12:18-27).

As the body, are we truly rejoicing when any part of us is honored? Are we suffering with any one of us who is suffering? Are we celebrating the many gifts that women bring to the church? Are we lamenting when women's gifts are unwelcome or rejected? It is clear that we have a long way to go as a church in faithfully living out this vision as one body.


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