In his second epistle to the Corinthians, Paul tells us that God loves a cheerful giver. Doesn’t that tell us that, when he gives something, he does it cheerfully? And our epistle lists a number of gifts that He cheerfully gives.Three of them, the speaking gifts, are so close in meaning that some might say they overlap - prophecy, exhortation, and teaching. All of them involve the speaking of divine truth, prophecy regarding the future, exhortation regarding what one should do, and teaching regarding the meaning of things.
Two of the others would seem to overlap, too - mercy and ministry. Ministry can take many forms - feeding the hungry, admonishing the sinner, clothing the naked. In short, living out the works of mercy. But, there is mercy in the other gifts mentioned, too. If one contributes, whether the contribution is time or money, there is an implicit mercy in the action. And being over others, if it is to be done well and have lasting good - well, shouldn’t there be mercy in that?
The way Paul lists them here is by addressing the “how” of the gifts. He takes a different approach in writing to
the Ephesians. “And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles”.
These ministry gifts - apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers - embody all of the other gifts. They are the “who” of the gifts. And the passage gives us the “why” - for the equipping of the saints (that’s all of us), for the work of ministry, building the body, and so forth. In other words, for the common good of the Body of Christ.
But the ministry gifts are not confined to the ordained ministry.
When David sinned with Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan - who was not a priest - came to him and told him a story, a story about a rich man taking advantage of a poor man, stealing his prize sheep and calling it his own. When David heard this, he was furious, vowing to punish the rich man. And then Nathan told him that HE was the rich man, having taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite and then, to cover his sin, sending Uriah to the front lines of the war to be killed. The result - David’s repentance, and one of the most beautiful prayers of repentance, the psalm that begins with “Have mercy on me, O Lord”.
St. Mary Magdalene is known as Equal to the Apostles. St Catherine of Siena helped end a schism in the medieval western Church. The devotion to Our Lady of Pompeii is the result of the work of a lawyer, Blessed Bartolo Longo - a man who died less than a century ago.
And sometimes, God will bless us with more mundane gifts, often mediated through others. The rods of Moses and his brother Aaron are good examples.
When Moses and Aaron appeared before Pharaoh, Aaron's rod was transformed into a serpent. Pharaoh's sorcerers were also able to transform their own rods into serpents, but Aaron's rod swallowed their rods.
Aaron's rod was again used to turn the Nile blood-red. And it was used several times on God's command to initiate the plagues of Egypt.
Moses stretched out his hand with the rod to part the Red Sea.
After leaving Egypt, Moses follows God's command to strike a rock with the rod to create a spring for the Israelites to drink from. Water springs forth from the rock in the presence of the Elders of Israel.
Moses also uses the rod in the battle at Rephidim between the Israelites and the Amalekites. When he holds up his arms holding the rod, the Israelites prevail. When he drops his arms, their enemies gain the upper hand.
But, God’s gifts can be misused. When God tells Moses to get water for the Israelites from a rock by speaking to the rock, Moses was vexed by the complaining of the Israelites. Instead of speaking to the rock as God commanded, he strikes the rock twice with the rod . Because Moses did not obey God's command to speak to the rock, implying lack of faith, God punished Moses by not letting him enter into the Promised Land.
My friends, God gives all of us gifts. He gives them to us cheerfully, wanting us to use them to further His Kingdom, to build up his body, to bless others.
What are the gifts He’s given you? How will you use them for the Kingdom?