Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans, you were enticed and led astray to idols that could not speak. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
I will never forget when during my ordination training many years ago, I had a visit from a very devout Christian I knew from the USA. At that time, I had experiences of Holy Spirit who Paul details here, but I hadn’t yet had the experience of ‘various kinds of tongues’. My visitor was convinced that if I didn’t speak in tongues, I wasn’t a Christian. We had a very interesting conversation where I managed to convince him that not only was I a committed Christian but that a woman could be a minister. Imagine my annoyance when in a communion service in Chapel the next term, I started praying in tongues. Still do, every communion. It was a fun irony that having convinced both of us that it wasn’t a required activity of Holy Spirit, no more necessary than any other gift, I then received it.
We can twist ourselves in knots about how to be a ‘proper’ Christian or what signs we think we need to see to be convinced of someone else’s legitimacy as a believer. In this part of the letter to his beloved Corinthian community, Paul is confirming an enormous variety of faith expression, yet with a single common thread. The commonality is Holy Spirit, the internal presence of God, giving us wisdom to recognise the reality of Jesus. Spirit gives us wisdom to recognise the power of our community of faith, and passion for the common good. Holy Spirit, the physical God energy moving amongst us, literally links us. But Spirit doesn’t always show up the same way! Thankfully, Spirit is bespoke for the occasion and for the common good. There are hundreds of millions of ways of being a Jesus person in the world, not just a few. Thank God.
God of all time, known to us in Jesus, real in this time by Holy Spirit, thank you. Difference is your gift to us and our gift to each other. Give us grace to welcome, to honour, and to notice deeply your grace in the differences of others. Live in us with restless energy, making us courageous to love well. In the name of Jesus and the power and presence of Holy Spirit, Amen.
Editor’s Note: The author requested the omission of the definite article as she feels this makes the language about the Holy Spirit more personal
The Rev’d Elizabeth Gray-King, Education & Learning Programme Officer, member St Columba’s Oxford