God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 12:4-6 Varieties of gifts
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, May 5, 2023
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
5 and there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord;
6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who works them all in all men.
There are many different ways of serving God and our fellow man. No matter what our service, we serve the same God. Notice how neatly Paul makes a reference to the three persons of the Trinity: the same Spirit, the same Lord (Jesus Christ), and the same God (the Father). Although God is one God, his gifts are many and varied.
Consider the other side of God’s rule over the universe. The law condemns, but the gospel Paul describes here is a message of many different kinds of blessings. The law and the sin that the law condemns give nothing. Sin takes away. Sin destroys. The devil only mimics and ruins, and the law exposes all these things. But the gospel plants, buds, grows, thrives, multiplies, and expands in many ways. “The law is a teaching of curses, wrath, sin, and death. Therefore it does not gladden, and at last it will be set aside. The gospel, however, is eternal and bears fruit from its beginning to its end; saints are produced and multiplied, and in each one are multiplied various gifts and powers” (Luther). So when God distributes his various gifts to believers, this is a direct manifestation of the gospel to us.
The varieties of gifts are what this chapter and the two that follow are mostly about. The varieties of ministries we will come to in a moment. But the varieties of activities; every different kind of work or labor for the Lord, are every possible way of living that a Christian might undertake. What gift do you have? What passion? What ability? What service to the world can you offer? Whether you build up, tear down, improve, protect, instruct, heal, investigate, defend, or whatever it might be, it is God’s gift for you. Use it to his glory and do not be ashamed of it.
Ministries are those ways of serving God’s church in a public way. The public ministry is divinely instituted. “God gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). But there are a variety of offices in public ministry. All of these are God-given, and they may change over time to suit the needs of God’s people. The great founder of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, C.F.W. Walther, gave examples of offices that in his time exercised part of the ministry of the word apart from local pastors: “The offices of (Lutheran) school teachers, wo are to teach God’s Word in their schools, almoners (men who distribute alms), sextons (custodians who care for the church building and church yard), precentors at public worship (liturgists), and others, are all to be regarded as ecclesiastical and sacred, for they take over a part of the one ministry of the Word, and support the pastoral office.” And ministers of the Gospel are not always pastors of local congregations, as we see in the list of ministers and others who signed Luther’s Smalcald Articles (superintendent of churches, minister, preacher, court preacher [of a Duke], pastor, etc.) as well as titles we use today: pastor, professor, president (of a school, a district, or a synod), vice-president, missionary, staff minister, teacher, principal, and so on.
But this variety of private service and public ministries are not separate from one another. Public ministers have their office on account of the divine call, Christians in general serve on account of their faith out of love for Christ. In each case, God works through us to carry out his loving work in the world. He provides for our needs, spiritual and physical, through us as we serve and care for one another. For which is more important for a wall: the bricks or the mortar? Without the mortar, the bricks will not stand very long, and they will be snatched away and used elsewhere. And without the bricks, the mortar is nothing but water and piles of clay and a few other things. But together they make a wall that will stand for more than a lifetime. And so it is with the church, except my comparison with a wall can be seen from both sides: The ministers are the mortar that support and hold together the members, but the Lord uses the members to hold up and support the ministers as well. But our roles are not identical, and so the Lord has something different in mind for each of us to do.
Carry out your task with the glory of Jesus in mind, and the good of your family and neighbor as well. “For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything” (Hebrews 3:3).
Pastor Timothy Smith