The title of this week’s Sabbath School lesson, covering gifts for an apostolic church, got my attention. Astonishing options always grab my eyes. What a grace to offer infinity to a spiritual people in troubling, notably constricted, times. This is not the first time God has reached out with rationally impossible offers. In fact, the Love who rules the universe makes a habit of such offers. In a devastated Eden, Yahweh reached out with a rescue designed to transcend time and death. In a midnight promise to an old man with no children, far away from the land of his birth, God said, “You will have descendants as the stars of this sky.” To a very young virgin in a backwater village, Heaven offered the opportunity to birth the Rescuer whose task had been set aside before time began. And to people designed to be the spiritual descendants of Abraham, God offers us the opportunity to work together in a loving, cared-for unit that will, by our lives and by our words, represent Heaven. We are promised that there will be no end to the beneficent results of our lives if we choose Heaven’s values and make the choices made by Heaven’s residents and those of the unfallen worlds.
To make our choice we need to revisit that tree in Eden where the adversary, in a disguise of treacherous beauty, offered power without self-sacrificing love, knowledge without accountability, and a relationship with the Sovereign devoid of trust. For us to be available to the flow of infinite possibilities, we need to make a choice that Eve and Adam did not: “I will trust the Lord of the Universe. I will go where God leads. I will work with whomever God gives me. I will stretch to learn the lessons that are mine to understand. I will have Heaven’s priorities. I will breathe Heaven’s Spirit, so those priorities become mine.”
Heaven’s priorities are not amorphous. We are to loose the chains of injustice, set the oppressed free, share our food and shelter with poor wanderers, spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry, satisfy the needs of the oppressed, and do away with the pointing finger and malicious talk. (from Isaiah 58). We are to live justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God (from Micah 6:8).
We are to do all this with love. Don’t for second think that’s a light and easy command. As Paul wrote about the unity and diversity of gifts in the church, he put the offer of the infinite possibilities available in perspective. If I have a faith that can move mountains but have not love I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2,3). The word used here for “love” is agape. It may be described as self-sacrificing love, based on principles and ethics, not on our feelings. Paul was a bi-cultural linguist who thought and taught in both Hebrew and Greek. The Greek used here for “nothing” is oudeis. It means to be discredited and get nowhere. The Hebrew word for “nothing” is kiylon, which means annihilation. So then, the text could be read, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and move mountains but have not love I am annihilation…. If I give all I possess to the poor and give my body over to hardship but do not have love, I gain annihilation.” I don’t know about you, but studying that text gives me pause.
In order to use the gifts of the Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, that open up the infinite possibilities mentioned in our lesson title, we must be patient, kind, exhibit a lack of envy, and refuse to boast or dishonor others; we must not replicate the adversary in Eden by seeking our own benefit and keeping records of the wrongs of others. We must always protect, always hope, always persevere, and always trust. That trust brings us right back to the tree in Eden.
When we have made a commitment of choice and of willingness, we are ready to become part of the body of Jesus and of the promise of infinite possibilities. 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).
You may think it’s obvious, but I believe it’s important to note that we are not in charge of who gets what gifts. We are not in charge of the person using those gifts. If we somehow disagree with whom God invests these gifts, that’s not our business. We are not to put ourselves in the place of the Spirit. The Greek word anti means in place of. So if we interfere with whom the Godhead gifts, we are putting ourselves in place of the Deity. Another word for that is we become an anti-Christ.
The gifts are varied: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, the ability to distinguish between spirits, speaking languages and dialects, interpreting languages and dialects, encouragement, faith, teaching, giving, leading, and showing mercy.
The personalities to whom these gifts are given are varied: choleric, melancholy, sanguine, phlegmatic, introvert, extrovert, and all the letters of the Meyer-Briggs test. The life experiences of those to whom these gifts are given range across culture, race, level of family nurturing or toxicity, countries of origin, class, stay-at-home or traveler, artist or engineer. The list goes on, nearly infinitely.
One of our first great opportunities is to have people in our circle who will help rub off the rough edges of our experience and help us learn to work together. That’s not my favorite part but I am certain it is part of God’s plan. Another opportunity is seeing the remarkable and unexpected ways God uses our variety to present a complete and complex picture of Heaven that lets the people we meet know they are welcome. When we mix all of these variables with agape love and trust in the One who rescues us, we become part of the infinite possibilities God has planned.
Catherine Taylor is a family therapist who specializes in the development of benevolent systems. She has been a Sabbath School teacher, sermon presenter, Bible study facilitator, camp meeting speaker, and writer on various Bible topics.
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