The Lord never actually gives rigid definitions or exhaustive lists of spiritual gifts. Over-classification results only in frustration. Calvin refers to it as a “manifold unity.” A person’s gifts may overlap from one category to another.
By the age of 13 I was already 5’9”. Throughout my elementary years, I was either the tallest person in the class or a close second. It was a dubious distinction. It didn’t help that my brother nicknamed me “Stretch.”
Most kids endure some teasing. For me it was often about my height. “How’s the weather up there?” or “Hi, high-Heidi!” I’ve forgotten most of the ribbing I took from classmates, but I vividly recall the careless words of a seventh grade teacher.
We were in grammar class, studying the use of then vs. than, and I vs. me. We took turns reading sentences from the text book, filling in the blanks appropriately. I read my sentence: “Susan is taller than me.”
With a wry smirk the teacher quipped, “I doubt that. Nobody is taller than you.”
Somewhere during my high school years I began to embrace my height as a feature that made me unique. And being tall was a definite asset on the basketball court. By then I was fully grown at 5’10”. I lacked the confidence to make a good forward. All arms and legs, I was gangly enough to be intimidating – good qualities for a formidable guard. Nobody got in the way of opposing players the way I did.
Our coach trained us well, but in the heat of a game it was easy to lose one’s place on the court. When that happened she would shout above the clamour – “Play your position!” It was her cardinal rule. She knew that a solid line of defense efficiently enabled forwards in their mission to score points. She stressed that we were a team – no superstars allowed. We won or lost together. That, after all, is the point of team sports.
Gifts wax and wane
It’s been many years since I played on a team. But I have been a member of the church for a long time. As with each and every believer, God has given me specific spiritual gifts intended for service within the Body of Christ. Every child of God has something to contribute to the church, something special given by the Lord himself. The New Testament holds several lists of spiritual gifts. Scholars and church leaders alike have tried over the years to analyze and categorize the various gifts, usually in an effort to help Christians determine their own particular gifts and how to best use them.
But the Lord never actually gives rigid definitions or exhaustive lists of spiritual gifts. Over-classification results only in frustration. Calvin refers to it as a “manifold unity.” A person’s gifts may overlap from one category to another. They may vary depending on the situation. They might not be easily defined even when they are blatantly functional. Even within one person, or that person’s lifetime, the availability and strength of certain gifts may wax and wane, according to need. That being said, there are some applicable universal principles.
‘God’s varied grace’
Spiritual gifts differ from natural abilities. There are non-believing musicians, writers and speakers with stellar talent. All sorts of abilities – athletic, academic, artistic are also God-given, but not necessarily spiritual. Spiritual gifts are just that – gifts of a spiritual origin with a capacity for spiritual ministry, intended for the edification of the church. We are “stewards of God’s varied grace” (I Peter 4). The gifts are his, on loan to us, to be used to build each other up, equip one another for service and ultimately, bring the glory to God, never ourselves. God himself is both the source of our gifts and the object of our service.
Commenting on Romans 12, Calvin writes: “No one may, by rashly intruding himself into another’s place, confound the distinction which the Lord has established. He orders everyone to be contented with his own gifts and cultivate the particular department assigned to him. […] [Everyone] is to bring what he has to the common heap . . . [and] aim unitedly at the edification of all in common.”
Bottom line – keep your eye on the ball. Be ready at all times. Our team aims to bring glory to God. And you have an important part in that – regardless of strength, age, talents or limitations. Play your position!
Heidi Vanderslikke (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives on a farm in Mapleton Township where she still stands tall and occasionally shoots hoops.