1 Corinthians 12:4-6
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.…
I. INTELLECTUAL PROGRESS CONSISTS IN DISCOVERING THE UNITY WHICH UNDERLIES ALL DIVERSITY. In early ages everything appeared to be totally different from everything else. "God's many and lords many" found in the material universe a convenient playground for their manifold caprices. The history of science is a record of the discovery in this primeval chaos of the unifying principal of law. Phenomena that seemed altogether dissimilar have turned out to be merely different operations of the same force. The apple which falls to the ground once seemed to have nothing in common with the moom which does not so fall; but now we know that both are equally under the control of gravity. Shooting stars may even yet appear to many to be extreme examples of lusus naturae; but investigation has proved that these eccentric objects contain animal remains which shows that in the most distant parts of the universe the same biological forces were ages ago at work which are in operation here and now.
II. THIS UNITY IN THE MIDST OF DIVERSITY IS TO BE FOUND, ALSO, IN THE SPIRITUAL SPHERE.
1. There are "diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit." These gifts may be roughly divided into the secular class, which includes gifts of teaching, healing, and government; and the religious class, which includes those of prophecy and of tongues. What the gift of tongues precisely was I do not know; but the unholy emulation to possess it St. Paul shows was foolish and wrong. In comparison with charity or enthusiasm of man for men it was nothing worth. The crucial test by which spiritual gifts may be known, and their relative value determined, was "profit." Even a secular endowment, such as the power of healing, becomes a gift of the Spirit to him who uses it for the welfare of his fellow-man. Such a desire is an inspiration that can only come from above, and this inspiration transforms what would otherwise be a mere natural endowment into a gift of the Spirit. The mistake of the Corinthians was similar to one not uncommon in the present day. It is sometimes imagined that a clergyman, as such, is in a unique degree under the guidance of the Spirit. In spiritual matters there is no exclusive prerogative. I pity the clergyman who has never been ministered unto when he went to minister. Profitableness is the test of spiritual gifts. He is the most highly gifted man who does the most good.
2. Not only do different gifts proceed from the same Spirit, but there are different developments of the same gift. The office of the Spirit is not to provide us with an infallible set of doctrines, or with an immaculate set of actions; but to give us powers, instincts, emotions, and sentiments, which will be differently developed in different individuals and according to different circumstances. "God fulfils Himself in many ways, lest one good custom should corrupt the world." Barren uniformity is death. Our spiritual life consists in our co-operation with God, and the co-operation of different individuals under different circumstances leads of necessity to a diversity of opinions and practices. The same desire to honour God may manifest itself in the most diverse ways. Some think it incumbent to go through an elaborate ritual, while to others a bold simplicity will seem more in harmony with worship. Some will feel that music draws them heavenwards; others that it ties them down to earth. Some will find that they can hardly pray without a form of words; others that they can hardly pray with it. There are diversities of working, yet it is the same God who worketh. What we have to look for in the spiritual as in the physical spheres is not uniformity but unity — the unity manifested through diversity.
3. This is a lesson which many find it very hard to learn. Some time ago the author of "Religious Denominations" was told that in the North of Scotland there was a sect nearly dying out, the members of which were peculiarly sure that they alone were in the way of salvation. He went to the house of the chief representative of this expiring sect. The man was away, but the wife admitted that they had lost member after member from unsoundness of views, until at last, as she pathetically put it, "There is only just myself and my husband left, and I am not so very sure of him." Now, we may smile at this foolish old woman, yet she is only an extreme specimen of many who seem to find supreme comfort in the assurance that God's Spirit is working only in the very select few who agree in doctrine and practice with themselves.
4. In heaven, if not on earth, men will discover that their differences were much less, and their agreement much greater than at the time appeared. All honest seekers after God are in heart united, whether they know it or not; though distinct as the billows, they are one as the sea; though distinct as the colours of the rainbow, they are as the pure white light which those colours compose. The mount of truth has many paths; those who are ascending it by different ways look too often upon each other with suspicion and contempt; but they will all be led onwards and upwards by the Holy Ghost, till eventually they find themselves standing side by side before the throne of the Eternal.
Parallel VersesKJV: Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.