But I Wanted to Play Bass
By David B. Smith
One of the timeless theologians of any generation is Snoopy, the wise dog in the Peanuts cartoon strip. One day he’s musing to himself as Charlie Brown ambles past: “I wonder why some of us were born dogs while others were born people. Is it just pure chance, or what is it?” Now, that is a deep question! Why does God select some of us to be humans and others beagles? Moving beyond that, why do some people have so many talents that they get elected President, while the rest of us bump along at much lower altitudes?
But Snoopy is unfazed. As Linus comes into the frame, he concludes: “Somehow the whole thing doesn’t seem very fair. Why should I have been the lucky one?”
That is a most healthy and even spiritual point of view as we look into our mirrors and examine the array of spiritual gifts the Lord has seen fit to give us. Why did some other laborer on God’s investment team (Matthew 25) get five mutual fund accounts to manage while you only have two or one? But as long as God has called us to be a part of this great adventure, then each of us can be thankful that we are the lucky ones.
We all admire a political candidate whose team operates like a well-oiled machine, with thousands of volunteers cheerfully accepting an assignment and then doing it well. There’s a similar blueprint for God’s great campaign to spread salvation across the globe, and it’s found in 1 Corinthians 12. We read that the Holy Spirit carefully distributes spiritual gifts to each member. The decision is His, not ours; the allotments are “as He wills [determines].” For what purpose? To build up the Church and energize its gospel mission. Gifts don’t come along for our benefit, and they are no cause for our boasting. Instead, they are entrusted to us for a common good, to bless the entire community of faith.
Paul’s chosen metaphor is of a human body with many parts. Immediately we can relate! Our own bodies have a myriad of organs and limbs and useful appendages. Some are high-profile, others quietly working to support the host body. Some receive honor and are viewed by an admiring throng of friends and associates; others never see the light of day. But each part is necessary; each part needs the others. The body could never function at full efficiency if this part or that failed . . . or, worse, chose to shut down in a fit of pique or self-pity.
I personally received quite a revelation one summer when I was speaking at a Christian camp meeting. A teenager, maybe 17, was hiking around the grounds with a most interesting hairstyle: shaved along the sides, with a very long ponytail down the middle! He also had an expensive bass guitar with him, and for the entire week I could hear the thumps of that electronic instrument vibrating through the tents and probably to the outskirts of towns twenty miles away.
I was momentarily jealous and resentful because the fact is that I used to pride myself on knowing a few rather hot bass lines, if I do say so myself. But I finally had to realize that a new generation of believers had come along! God needed this good-hearted kid to provide the musical foundation for Shout to the Lord; I was to graciously give way and accept my new role as geezer/speaker to teens. The church I loved needed both of us, just in different roles.
What kinds of gifts are there in God’s campaign to win a lost world? A “great diversity,” Paul writes: wisdom, knowledge, prophecy, faith, healing, miracles, discernment, languages. In Ephesians 4 he gives another list: apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers. We should note that there is a difference between an ordinary talent — like musical aptitude — and a spiritual gift. Admittedly, the Holy Spirit can take a natural ability and baptize it with heightened dedication to the principles of God’s cause. But every single believer will be uniquely equipped to do some necessary service for the edification or blessing of the entire Body. At the very least, we can be like the fictional Eleanor Rigby who picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been.
It’s good news that a healthy attitude about spiritual gifts will bring unity to the Church! We will be thankful for our own gifts, and supportive of the gifts the Spirit chooses to distribute elsewhere. We will rejoice over the collaborative triumphs that may have someone else’s name emblazoned on the headline. We will give patient aid to a person whose “body part” may be injured for a time; we will put away envious thoughts as we learn to trust in the wisdom of the gift-Giver. Most of all, we will find harmony in embracing the common mission and the common Lord whose name is glorified with each team success. Again Paul writes, There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord (v. 5).
From a practical perspective, the Bible encourages us to “not be ignorant”: we ought to strive to discover our gifts, pray for new ones, study the principles of their use, improve and fine-tune them, mingle with others who are using theirs to maximum effect, and gladly accept the feedback of the Church in confirming our role of service.
David Smith writes from California. (17 of 28) His web page is Copyright © 2014. Click here for content usage information. Biblebay