Different carries the idea of being dissimilar in some way - to some, it even carries the connotation of something being inferior to another. For example, when you can buy the name brand or the generic, some feel there is a clear difference between the two - one is inferior to the other. While I sometimes agree with this when it comes to buying "the real deal" or the "knock-off", I don't think this applies to the gifts God bestows in our lives. None of the gifts from God are "inferior" to another. If they are "different", it simply means one stands as unique to the other. They are distinct, not ordinary, and they vary. In some respects, we may all possess the "same" gift, but we manifest it in a variety of ways - each unique to our personality, circle of influence, etc. Spiritual gifts are never "inferior" or "superior" to one another - they are designed to be used by the one who possesses them in a manner honoring of the Giver of these gifts.
I think we will spend just a little time trying to unpack this passage today as it is the starting point for our discussion over the next couple of days. The word "different" is used three separate times in this passage, but so is the word "same". I think the writer is trying to get us to understand something important by the use of these two words. Although there are differences, there are similarities in the gifts we possess, our service in the body of Christ, and the ways the believer finds Christ working through their lives. To this end, let's unpack this passage:
- Differing gifts: The gifts differ, but the one giving the gifts remains the same. Spiritual gifts are often something people just don't understand - mostly because they don't really understand the giver of the gifts. Then their is this problem we have of comparing one with another and wondering why someone might get the gift of knowledge and another the working of miracles. We don't figure out spiritual gifts with our natural intelligence. God is Spirit - as such, he is the giver of such gifts. We are "filled" with his Spirit at the time of our acceptance of Christ as our personal Savior - where the Spirit of God dwells also means the gifts dwell, as well. We all have the capacity to see these gifts manifest through us at differing times - because the same Spirit indwells me as does you! Our circle of influence may determine the "manifestation" of these gifts. For example, when I am in a counseling situation, I find myself receiving little words of knowledge - being directed by the Spirit to "go somewhere" the other person may be having a hard time going to on their own. In another circumstance, when taking the hand of a person who has just received a life-altering diagnosis from the doctor, I may find my prayers filled with the faith to see a miracle worked in their lives. The gifts come from the same giver - the Spirit of God - yet I may not ever be in the position of giving the interpretation of tongues. I hope you see where I am going with this - differing gifts, same giver. Different times or seasons of operation, but the same giver.
- Different kinds of service: The important thing to remember is this is a continuation of the previous verse. Differing gifts, same giver. Differing kinds of service, but the same Lord. Here, we see the Spirit of God replaced with the term "the same Lord". Why? Service has to do with Lordship. The one we place in the position of "owner" of our lives becomes the object of our service. If the wrong "lord" is in the position of "owner" of our lives, the service will be all wrong. We serve the same Lord - Jesus Christ. Your service differs from mine in that you may be an usher, loving to greet people at the door, making them feel welcome and introducing them around to others. Not my cup of tea! I love to write and put my feelings into words - not your cup of tea! We have different ways of serving, but the same Lord we serve!
- Different kinds of workings: This is just another term to describe the "operation" of one gift or kind of service. We all "operate" in the circle of influence we are in at the moment. For some, this is right there in your own homes and families. Your acts of service gravitate toward those you serve on a daily basis and those in your extended family, such as your neighbors. For others, your influence is in the community at large, such as the nurse who travels from home to home ministering to those who need end-of-life care. Each has a work to perform, but the same God is at work in our lives. He is orchestrating the moments "within our circle of influence" where he will be able to manifest himself through us - in our service, our "work", and in our examples of his love. He "works through" humans to touch the lives of other humans. Why? We relate best to flesh and blood. We need examples. We need to touch and feel. He knows this important part of our make-up, so he uses us to be the instruments of his grace, his love, and his power in the lives of others. Different ways of working through us, but the same God at work in all of us.
Different, yet the same. Seems a little bit like an conundrum, right? It is a bit of a riddle if we try to understand this with our "minds" and not our "spirit", because these gifts are spiritual - they are not "intellectual". We miss so much of what God has for us because we focus on needing to understand it perfectly before we will believe it and operate within it. Here's the truth - what God gives, he asks us to use. What we use has the potential of touching the lives of many. What we squander because we simply don't understand it is simply shameful. We have been given the same Spirit, serve the same Lord, and see the same God at work in our lives - if we have accepted the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf. We have the Spirit of God indwelling us with all power - isn't it time to put to use even a little of that power? Just sayin!