"There are different kinds of gifts — but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service — but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working — but the same God works all of them in all men." 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
All men are not alike in their natural endowments. The differences we see in abilities and attainments are not all the result of education or of varying circumstances. If all had precisely the same opportunities for development and culture, if all grew up in precisely the same circumstances — there would still be the most wonderful diversity of gifts and abilities.
The sun shines alike on all the plants and trees, and the rains fall alike on them; and yet they grow up, each with its own distinct individuality. All flowers do not become daisies, nor do all trees become oaks. The rose cannot through any kind of culture, become an apple-tree. The creeping vine cannot be taught to rear its head high up — the peer of the mighty oak. The clover cannot be cultivated into a water-lily. A thousand years of culture would not give to the blazing sunflower, the fragrance of the mignonette. God has made them to differ.
He gives . . .
to the oak, a gift of strength;
to the vine, a gift of fruitfulness;
to the rose, a gift of beauty; and
to the lily, a gift of fragrance.
Just so, he makes men to differ — distributing his gifts among them; and no advantages of culture or education would obliterate these differences. He gives to some five talents, to some two, to others only one.
There is the most wonderful variety in all of God's works. One star differs from another star in glory. The surface of the earth is diversified by valleys, hills, mountains, plateaus, rivers, lakes, and seas. In the natural world you find the giant redwood of California — and at its root the tiny moss clinging to the rock. The sea contains great whales — and if you take a microscope and look into a drop of water, you shall find it to contain myriads of minute animalculae, so small that the single drop in which they move is like an ocean to them. Great beasts roam the forest — and if you examine a green leaf, you shall find it a little world in itself, with its tiny forests and gardens, and covered with its dense population of living creatures.
In the same way, the same variety characterizes human gifts. No two faces are alike; of all the millions on the earth — no two people have precisely the same capacities and endowments.
I suppose the reason why God has thus distributed his gifts so unequally — is that every part of the work of the world may be done. This is the reason which the apostle Paul gives in his letter to the Corinthians: "If the whole body were an eye — then where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear — then where would the sense of smell be?"
We may further carry out the illustration. If all men were merchants — then who would till the soil, navigate the ships, and work the mines? If all were painters or sculptors — then who would write the books and heal the sick? If all had the gifts of a Napoleon to organize and command — then who would be the sergeants and privates? If all were millionaires — then who would compose the great army of laborers who drive the wheels of business? If all had the gift of poetry — then who would write the plain prose of life? If all in the church had the gift of pulpit eloquence — then who would teach in the Sunday-school, or carry tracts and books from street to street, or minister in men's homes among the sick, the poor, the fallen or the weary?
There is every variety of work to be done — and there is, therefore, need for every variety of workman. And God distributes his gifts so that there may be . . .
a hand for every task,
a foot for every errand,
a tongue for every word that needs to be spoken,
and a heart for every service of love.
There is no confusion in his distribution of gifts. As the many members of the body, working together in perfect harmony, make up one complete body — so the many members of the body of Christ, if all are faithful in their diverse spheres, together make one glorious whole.
Every one, even the lowliest — has a distinct mission of his own, and God bestows just the gifts each one needs for the work allotted. He wanted some great apostles to found his church and to bear his name before kings — and he chose twelve men and gave them great gifts. He wanted a reformer to tear the draperies of superstition from the cross and to unchain the Bible — and he raised up Luther and fitted him for the glorious work. So in every age, he has a few great missions to fill — and he grants to a few men great gifts. But at the same time he wants humble servants to go and sit down by the poor, sick woman in her dingy garret and tell her of the Savior's love; to visit workhouses, prisons, almshouses, and hospitals; to teach the ragged child, and to do the thousand little nameless things of Christian service which must every day be done. And he gives to many of his servants, just the precise talent to fit them for doing just these little things.
The Great Eastern is a magnificent ocean steamer — but she could not travel up the river. There must be vessels of all sizes to ply in all the channels of the waters.
In the same way, there is need for every variety of gift in the church. God needs men to stand in the pulpit with hearts and tongues on fire with the eloquence of Heaven — to proclaim the gospel to the thousands and to edify the saints. And he needs men and women to go out into all the trades and occupations, into printing-offices and counting-rooms, into mills and stores, into narrow courts and dark alleys — to bear the name of Jesus and the fragrance of his love everywhere.
Hence to many of his servants — he gives only one talent to fit them for doing little quiet things, for running little errands, for performing little noiseless ministries.
Sometimes God touches a woman's tongue and she writes songs or books which thrill a nation by their eloquence, and her words move the masses and fire the people's hearts. But if all women wrote poetry or books — then who would mold and train infancy and childhood? Who would fill homes with love and sweetness? Who would perform the countless little humble ministries in the sick-room, among the poor, in the abodes of sorrow, which only woman's soft and gentle fingers can do? There must be a great many people with common gifts for plain, common work.
But whatever our talents may be — they are just what God has given us; and they are just what we need for the special work which God has allotted us. And if we use our gifts and fill our places, however lowly and humble they may be — we shall live noble lives. Who will say that the modest daisy is not as noble in its own place as the tallest, proudest oak? Nobleness consists in being what God made and meant us to be — and in doing what God gives us to do. Faithfulness to our mission will receive the reward. Unfaithfulness in the use of our gifts, whether great or small — will bring God's displeasure and loss of all.