Are all Christians supposed to be the same? Are the angels in the image below what Christians are destined to be? Will we all end up dressed in white robes and singing worship songs for all of eternity in Heaven? These are interesting questions. I know at least some Christians who think the answers to some, if not all, of these questions is “yes”.
But is that really true? Where does one get evidence that the answer should be yes?
Like the singing all the time? Christians aren’t going to be turned into angels when we get to Heaven.
Not literally. After all, angels are created beings that already exist.
And not figuratively either. Our goal is to become not Jesus, but Christ-like. Certainly not to become like angels.
But still – we are to be individuals.
Are all Christians supposed to be the same?
In part two of the grown-again Christian series, we’re going to look at some misconceptions about what Christians should be. I think it’s good to start with this, since the Bible has examples of things like this, even in the early church, while the Apostles were still alive and teaching.
Let’s look at something Paul wrote in his first letter to the church in Corinth. He writes about one body and many parts. It’s an analogy, comparing the Christian church to the human body. As people, we have one body. That body has a head. And then we have a bunch of parts – like arms, hands, legs, feet, Etc. Each part of the body has a function, and without that part the body cannot function as it was intended. He shows how the church is the same. Jesus is the head of the church – and each of us has a function within the church. And without each of us performing our function – the church won’t function as best as it could.
One Body, Many Parts
1Co 12:12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.
1Co 12:14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
1Co 12:21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
1Co 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret? 31 But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
Everything was going so well with that analogy – right up until the end. Then we read –
But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
Something just went drastically wrong with my title question – Are all Christians supposed to be the same?
This was supposed to turn out that no, we’re not all supposed to be the same. We all have a function – and when we perform that function instead of something else, it’s best for everyone – including ourselves.
But now, we read that Paul told this church to eagerly desire the greater gifts. What if we all manage to achieve that goal? We will all be the same. Worse yet – what if we fail to achieve that goal? Then Paul, the most influential person in the New Testament, other than Jesus Himself, just told us to go for something we cannot always have. There must be something wrong.
This is one reason why it’s good to go back and re-read the Bible. It’s like painting the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Supposedly, as soon as they finish painting the bridge, they go back and start painting it all over again from the other end. Whether we read the Bible in printed order, chronological order (which is slightly different), by the type of book, Etc. – it’s always good to go back and read it again.
BTW, if you haven’t tried it yet, get one without section headings – like the New American Bible – and just read it like a book. While you’re at it, try to ignore the Chapters and verse numbers as well. That gets closer to the way the Hebrew people read / heard their scriptures, which includes the Old Testament.
Anyway – the “oops” moment. I actually forgot about verse 31. It completely messed me up with what I planned on writing. It’s not like that’s never happened before. It happens a lot – where I end up writing something completely different from what was planned. Sometimes I even go back and read something I don’t even remember writing. Often time, those are the ones I like the best. Just thought I’d include that, as a reminder of one of the reasons to just keep reading the Bible – over and over.
Painting and Spiritual Gifts
Here’s what I planned on having next. To some extent, it may not make sense. But stay with me here – I think it will all become clear.
I was doing some minor touch-up work at home. We just had some remodeling done, including painting the inside. Since we hadn’t picked out curtains for a couple rooms, there was just paper on the windows. We got some curtains and rods to hang them. Because of an issue with them that didn’t appear until after I had drilled the holes in the wall (of course), I ended up having to fill the holes and repaint those areas. Well, we had a small bottle of the sample paint as well as what was left-over of the last one gallon can.
I thought I’d just use the sample bottle and not have to expose the paint in the can to air. I brushed on just enough to cover the holes and some pencil marks for drilling. I knew that might be a problem – since the walls were rolled, not brushed. But the area was so small. Big mistake. Maybe the brush versus roller texture difference alone wouldn’t have been noticeable. But the sample bottle wasn’t exactly a match for the can. It was just enough different that the combination of texture and color differences was totally obvious. At least it was to me. I ended up repainting that small area. But this time I used the paint from the can and a very small roller.
What’s that got to do with spiritual gifts? Just this – I had the roller, the stick to stir the paint, the rolling pan, the paint can opener, a hammer, some cardboard, and some paper towels. Then I went to get the actual can of paint. Along the way, I was thinking that I can’t do this without the most important part of the task – the paint.
But then it hit me. I can’t do the job properly unless I have each one of those things. The paint, the roller, the rolling pan – those are obvious. But if I don’t have something with which to open the paint can – I can’t get started. If I don’t have some cardboard (or something) to place the can and lid on to protect the floor, I risk painting my floor the same color as the wall. If I don’t have a hammer, I can’t close the can when I’m done – and then the paint in the can will dry out and be useless. If I don’t have paper towels and I spill something, how can I clean up the mess right away?
And I’d already learned that a paint brush instead of a roller didn’t work. Plus, if I didn’t stir the paint – I might still have a mismatch on the color. And that’s not even everything. There were child-gates – although we call them dog-gates – to keep Donnie, our little four-legged family member from turning himself from black and white to whatever shade of brown that was. And the list goes on.
My point is the same one Paul was making. Not the eagerly desire the greater gifts part. The one body, many parts. As in the one job, many tools. Each and every thing I listed was essential to doing the job correctly. And it did work out fine the second time. Had I left out any one of them – even if no one else noticed, I would have known that it wasn’t done correctly. No one thing in that list was not essential. The wall looks good. Donnie is still black and white.
Everything did it’s part in completing the task in the proper way. And no two items in the list did the same thing. Each item was for a different purpose. And each executed it’s purpose. And that’s what Paul wrote. Right up until verse 31. Right up until But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
Again – Are all Christians supposed to be the same?
Let’s ask that question again. If we are all to eagerly desire the greater gifts, how is it that we aren’t asking to all be the same? Unless, of course, Paul is asking us to do something that he knows full well isn’t going to happen.
And let’s add another question. As with the paint job – if the church is one body with many parts – and all parts are essential – how is it that the concept of greater gifts even comes up? What’s that all about? We saw that the paint can opener is essential to even be able to begin painting something. Oh, sure, you can use a screwdriver. But let’s be honest – that messes up the lid. The paint can opener was designed to do that job, and to do it properly.
Using the screwdriver is kind of like asking a colorblind person to pick out the red splotch in a painting. With enough experience, they might be able to recognize the shade of gray that most other people see as red. But it’s not the ideal person to have doing that job. It’s the same way with tasks in the church. I think I can teach adult Bible study. But putting me in a kids’ church to teach them would be a big mistake. I could try. But someone else with the proper skills and background could do it so much better.
Everything points to Christians are not supposed to all be the same. It also points to all gifts are essential. So the question remains – where does this verse saying, But eagerly desire the greater gifts come from?
Wrong thinking. And maybe wrong interpretation.
Let’s start off with some background on Corinth. It’s really the only way to correctly interpret what Paul writes to them. For example, here’s the section of this letter that the NIV titles “Thanksgiving”:
1Co 1:4 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
It sounds good, doesn’t it? enriched in every way. in all your knowledge. you do not lack any spiritual gift.
What more could a church ask for? But then, why does the next sentence say this:
1Co 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.
How can there be divisions among people who are so enriched – have so much knowledge – and have every spiritual gift? Well, look at what Paul writes next:
11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas’”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
1Co 1:13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
Ouch! Paul is not too happy about things in Corinth. But why not? Why such a drastic change of tone between verses 10 and 11? What could have happened?
One way to answer all those questions is to see what Corinth was like at that time. Following are some excerpts from the NIV Student Bible Notes: THE STUDENT BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION; Notes by Philip Yancey and Tim Stafford; Zondervan Publishing House; Grand Rapids, Michigan; A Division of HarperCollins Publishers
No one expected much from crazy Corinth.
Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1 Cor. 1:26-27
Every large city has one pocket where prostitutes, strippers, gamblers, and drug dealers hang out. Tourists stroll by to gawk at the sights. In New York, it’s Times Square; in San Francisco, the North Beach district; in New Orleans, Bourbon Street; and in Las Vegas, it’s virtually anywhere.
In the ancient world, the whole city of Corinth was known for that kind of lifestyle. Romans made the Corinthians the butt of dirty jokes, and playwrights consistently portrayed them as drunken brawlers. The Greek verb “to Corinthianize” meant to live shamelessly and immorally.
A Wide-Open City
Everyone knew what the Corinthians worshiped: money and the kinky things it could buy. Money flowed freely, for Corinth straddled one of the Roman empire’s most vital trade routes. When a ship wrecked nearby, salvage companies housed the hapless sailors at inflated prices while they scrambled to auction off the ship’s cargo. The city was a sprawling open-air market, filled with slaves, Orientals, Jews, Greeks, Egyptians, sailors, athletes, gamblers, and charioteers.
Yet Corinth was no blue-collar town. It had a population of 700,000, second only to Rome’s, and as the capital of a large province, the city hosted a parade of Roman diplomats and dignitaries. Its clever citizens showcased new “Corinthian” architecture and prided themselves on having a cosmopolitan outlook.
For their religious ideal, the fun-loving Corinthians adopted Venus, the goddess of love. A temple built in her honor employed more than 1,000 prostitutes.
Paul Takes on the Corinthians
Due to all these influences, Corinth loomed as the one city “least likely to convert” to the Christian faith. What crazy cults and new religions did spring up there quickly gave in to the prevailing good-time atmosphere.
Paul worked in Corinth for 18 months. To everyone’s surprise , the church he founded became one of the largest in the first century. But several years later he heard reports that the church, true to its city’s heritage, had broken out in a series of spiritual ills. The distressing news prompted the letter known as 1 Corinthians.
In 1 Corinthians a riled-up apostle gives direct, forthright advice to a troubled local church. Paul saw alarming trends at work, and he used his full literary powers to set its members on the right course. He tried sarcasm, emotional pleas, autobiography, poetry, and lengthy arguments.
First, you will encounter the problems that had been reported to Paul: divisions in the church, a case of incest, court cases, the abuse of Christian freedom, chaos in the worship services. Paul lunges into these problems early in the book. Then, beginning with chapter 7, he takes up some other problems the Corinthians had written him about: marriage and the single life, pagan festivals, behavior of women, spiritual gifts, and the resurrection of the dead.
This first letter to the Corinthians presents a foundation for practical Christian ethics. Use the boldface sectional headings throughout the book to locate those issues that especially trouble you. Not all the problems discussed will apply directly to modern situations. But the general principles underlying Paul’s advice do apply. As you read, look for those principles behind Paul’s arguments.
All of that sets the tone for how to read 1 Corinthians. While the notes close with a statement that not all situations will apply to us today, we need to keep in mind that a number of them do apply.
We also need to consider some other things. For instance, Corinth was a large city with a population of (only) 700,000. Today, that’s the same size as a mid-sized metropolitan area, according to the 2010 census. Not only that, but there are 53 such areas. And those are only the mid-sized ones. On top of that, with the internet, cable / satellite TV, Etc. even small town USA can, and does, have the same problems today. It would be tedious to get the same info for a bunch of other countries. But suffice it to say, the U. S. isn’t alone in this area.
We’re going to look in-depth at the spiritual gifts statement. However, when reading 1 Corinthians, this state of affairs is something to keep in mind. Paul’s statements are often sarcastic – not at all a literal indication of how he feels. The question we need to asks ourselves – does what Paul says here also apply to us?
Spiritual Gifts – the lead-in
We looked at the “One body, many parts” passage above. And we questioned what Paul meant by saying eagerly desire the greater gifts. Now we know that was a sarcastic comment. If anything, it may have been a statement about the way the people in the Corinthian church really were – not the way they should have been.
Evidence of that comes from the passage just preceding “One body, many parts“. I initially left it out in order to make a point. So now, here it is:
1Co 12:1 Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. 2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
1Co 12:4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
1Co 12:7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
We see here all sorts of spiritual gifts. And we see they all come from God. Further, they are all given by the Holy Spirit – the third member of the Trinity.
He gives them to each one, just as he determines
We also see something else. These spiritual gifts are not only given by the Holy Spirit, but who gets which gift is also determined by the Holy Spirit. This begs the question – why are we eagerly desiring any specific gift? Should we not be thankful, first that we are eligible to receive any spiritual gift, and second for whatever that gift may be? They are all important. They’re all needed. And whatever we may accomplish through them is actually done by the power of that same Holy Spirit – not by ourselves.
When we realize these things, the sarcasm in the statement by Paul – eagerly desire the greater gifts – becomes evident.
And when we realize these things, the truth of the one body, many parts passage also becomes evident.
Going back to the title of this article – Are all Christians supposed to be the same? – the answer is an obvious NO! I don’t see how the Bible can make that any clearer. We are not all supposed to be the same.
Are we actually supposed to eagerly desire the greater gifts? No!
Are we supposed to all function in the same manner in the church – in the body of Christ? No!
We didn’t do anything at all to deserve any of these things. There’s nothing we did to earn any of these gifts, other than to believe in Jesus.
Anyone who says any differently doesn’t understand, or maybe has actually never read, the Bible.
As far as desiring the best positions and the greatest gifts, we read what Jesus thought about those kinds of things:
A Mother’s Request
Mt 20:20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.
Mt 20:21 “What is it you want?” he asked.
She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.”
Mt 20:22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”
“We can,” they answered.
Mt 20:23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
Mt 20:24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
In another passage, we also read about people doing different things. In this analogy, the person is likened to a tree.
A Tree and Its Fruit
Lk 6:43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. 45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”
Notice that each tree is recognized by its own fruit. In the same way, each person is recognized by their own work. If that work is done as a result of faith – the fruit / that work is good. Otherwise, the fruit / that work comes from an evil intent, such as trying to do good to gain favor with God as opposed to doing good because of faith in God.
The bottom line is this: don’t be like someone else. While we are called to be Christ-like, we are also called to be the person God intended for us to be, according to who we are. And the best way to do that is to accept and use the gifts we receive from Him.
That thought is also brought out by Paul, right after the other passages we read from 1 Corinthians:
And now I will show you the most excellent way.
1Co 13:1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
1Co 13:4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1Co 13:8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
1Co 13:13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
With all of the ways that we are to be unique, faith, hope and love are three things we should all have as Christians. And the greatest of these is love. When we occupy our place in the body of the church of God, when we use whatever spiritual gift God was pleased to give to us, and we do those things out of love and with love – then we are the unique person we were meant to be. We aren’t all the same. We’re all different.
Any call for all to be the same is not only a call for mediocrity, it flies in the face of what God planned for us. Any claim that we should all be the same is not from God. It may sound nice. It is politically correct. But it’s not Biblical.
However, unless everything I said here is taken with love, understood with love, and lived out with love – God’s love – it’s incredibly easy to make it sound awful. But it isn’t. We cannot be unique and yet all be the same. That’s just impossible. If you think it sounds awful, consider this:
Jn 10:7 Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
The one who says we should all be the same is the thief.
The one who looks down on someone else for not having the right gifts, the right abilities, the right whatever – is not a person living out a life of love, and therefore is not a true Christian.
As Christians, we should embrace our uniqueness. We should also encourage others to live in their own uniqueness, as saved people, living life to the full, as Jesus promised. And most of all – do all things in love.
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