Of Spiritual Gifts, Service, and Activities

I recall our first color television set. Our giant RCA black and white was moved upstairs while our new color console from Sears took its place. No remote and only three channels but it was a marvel. Bugs Bunny was so much better in color. One day I looked closely at the picture tube when mom wasn’t watching. She was always telling us to back up from the screen worried that close exposure would hurt our eyes. With my trusty magnifying glass, I examined the tube while Gilligan was inadvertently causing problems. What I discovered where small dots of only three colors, red, green and blue. The principle at work in that old TV is also at work in computer screens, big wall mounted flat panels, and giant electronic billboards. Three simple colors blended to create a multitude of hues and shades. A basic everyday truth that helps us understand something Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

Paul, seeking to give guidance to the fledgling community of believers, wrote, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4–7, ESV) In these few verses, we could talk about several different topics. The way Paul wove a Trinitarian view of God into them. The repetition of “variety.” The dynamic of receiving what God is empowering. We could even get in an argument concerning spiritual gifts. But let’s narrow our examination today to the three colors of gifts, service, and activities.

Gifts, charismaton, instantly throws some into confusion. Some saying, “we don’t want to be like those crazy charismatics.” And others saying, “they must be weak Christians because they don’t exhibit the gifts.” No matter which camp you find yourself in lay down your preconceptions for a moment. God’s gifts are not limited to the few Paul lists but neither are these gifts to be feared. Paul wrote that we should desire spiritual gifts. But! And it’s a huge but, that is only one of the three colors. To overdrive the gifts or to ignore them leaves us with something strange and washed out.

Service, diakonion is much more comfortable. We first encounter the word in Acts when seven men were called deacons to serve the distribution of food to the widows in the Jerusalem church. But we often see service as being limited to a few. Our churches often run on the 80/20 rule where 20% of the folks do 80% of the work. Part of that is because of our consumer culture, many attend church as consumers. That was not how the early church saw it. They saw a community of believers that were committed to Christ and each other seven days a week. Sometimes, perhaps more often than not, we are an 80/20 church because of control issues. Limiting service to a few also dulls our colors.

The third color is activities, energematon. The idea is something that is visibly done. I look at it this way. Service, diakonion, is to the community of believers. Activities or effects are visible to all, especially those outside our walls. These can range from giving someone a cup of cold water to the working of miracles (verse 10 uses the same word). Think of activities as applied energy that has a visible and tangible effect. The exercise of gifts and service can sometimes be nearly invisible, not so with activities.

In the same way that dots on the TV can’t glow by themselves gifts, service, and activities are empowered by God. We shine what we receive. Some try to emulate the colors on their own but it really doesn’t work, at least not to the same effect or purpose.

The point is this. We need all three in all of their various shades. When we ignore one or elevate one to the determent of others our colors are misaligned. White is not white but some shade of purple or sick looking green. This is true at a personal level and in our fellowship communities.  My goal is to be open to whatever the Holy Spirit desires for this moment in this place from all three colors. That’s the scary part of this proposition since I may be more comfortable shining one way and the Holy Spirit may want to move in another way.

What does that look like?  The combination of gifts, service, and activities creates infinite hues and shades.  As we shine in these various hues a picture becomes visible to the world, a picture that clearly reveals the way, truth, life, and love of Christ.

Dale Heinold
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