Seems like when we ask the question, “What does it mean to be spiritual?” we come at it as individuals and try and take from it something for ourselves, personally, almost selfishly.
We might say or ask things like
– I want to know what it means to be spiritual
– I wish I was more spiritual
– I wonder if I’m spiritual enough
– You think there’s more out there for me?
It’s easy to get stuck here – on my individual spiritual journey. You might get a certain distance on your own, but you’ll never get as far. This old proverb may help us here, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
You can’t get too far into the biblical narrative (both OT & NT) before discovering that spirituality is a community thing…a team effort you might say. Following Jesus doesn’t happen in isolation; living a full and spiritual life doesn’t happen alone either.
If you’ve ever been part of a band or a team you understand this a little better. Your team is only as good as everyone’s contribution. A band or orchestra will be it’s best when everyone is doing their part and appreciated for it.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians really helps us here. Actually, it’s where much of this idea of community spirituality comes from. The church community, the body of Christ, is where our spirituality is formed, where it comes together, where we grow in our spiritual maturity.
Paul has to address some difficulties and disjointedness in Corinth. People aren’t appreciating what others have to offer. They are comparing the gifts they feel they’ve received from the Spirit. They’ve gotten to a point where there’s too much me and not enough we.
In chapters 12-14, Paul takes time to explain what spiritual gifts are, what they do, how they’re used in the context of community, and how love must be front and centre for spiritual gifts and the people who use them to shine.
Paul says, “I want you to be informed about spiritual gifts.” He wants to bring clarity in the midst of confusion. We learn here that there are MANY gifts…but ONE Spirit. That there is much spiritual activity, but ONE God who activates it in us.
What are the gifts Paul is actually referring too: In Romans 12 we see prophesy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, compassion; In 1 Corinthians 12 we see wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophesy, discernment, tongues, interpretation. In Ephesians 4 we read about apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, pastors. Most scholars say this is not an exhaustive list.
We’re told that the reason for, and the manifestation of these gifts are for the common good; build up one another, help one another, help us in our walk towards spiritual maturity.
Paul continues this conversation on spiritual gifts, with his readers and us, by moving into what it means to be part of the body of Christ. It is not an accident that these two themes are connected in the same chapter.
If we go back to the orchestra analogy we’re reminded that every instrument plays its part in performing a piece of music, not just the prominent ones. In baseball every position on the field is important, not just the pitcher or the homerun hitter. In football the quarter back gets lots of attention, but every person on that field plays a part in winning a game.
What’s the connection here? Everyone has something to offer. Spiritual gifts are only understood in the context of community. Which means that spiritual growth and being ‘spiritual’ is fully realized in the context of that same community, the church. Read these brilliant words in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.
Following the conversation from spiritual gifts to the body of Christ, Paul then moves into the topic of love. We often read 1 Corinthians 13 out of context. It’s read at weddings and engagements and other occasions where love is celebrated. But the purpose of these words were always to help the reader understand that spirituality without love is useless.
Think about it? You can speak in other tongues, move mountains, share knowledge, lead crowds, give money away, etc. BUT if there is no love, those gifts of the spirit don’t accomplish anything in you or others.
I hope you investigate the gifts of the spirit. I hope you do the worthwhile work of discovering what you have to offer the world and the church, but know that true spirituality is never selfish, it doesn’t mature in isolation, it grows in the midst of a healthy community of people who follow Jesus together and who are convinced that love is the funnel through which our spirituality flows through.
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small(er) group discussion:
What are your initial thoughts or questions around spiritual gifts? Are you coming to this topic fresh or with some baggage?
If you were to take an inventory of your spiritual gifts, where would you land? What would they be? Are you working with (and at) what you sense God has gifted you with?
Have you been guilty of seeing spirituality as a ME thing and not enough as a WE thing? Why is it so important to base this conversation in community and love?
Can everything be spiritual? Can every gift or skill you have be spiritual? If so, how? If you disagree, why?