Yesterday one of the deacons in our congregation gave a sermon on the first eight verses of Romans 12, looking at the practical implications of Paul’s view of what our rational and reasonable service to God and others are. For the purposes of today’s discussion, I would like to look at Romans 12:4-6a: “For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them.” It should be noted at the outset that this particular passage is not the only place that speaks of the practical purpose of spiritual gifts. After all, Ephesians 4 speaks similarly about the practical importance of the gifts and offices that Christ has given the church, which Paul explicitly states (in Ephesians 4:16) are for the edification of the body of brethren and for their growth in love. Paul’s message in Romans is precisely the same as that of Ephesians, and though it can be a bit of a quagmire to talk about the Greek words used for gift and the way that many professed Christians are encouraged to engage in personality inventory-style quizzes to discover their gifts and compare their gifts among themselves, my focus today is on one of the repercussions of using our gifts for service, and that is the destruction of envy.
Those who have been given conspicuous gifts are well aware of the way that such gifts can make humility a challenge. Such gifts are also frequently the occasion for a great deal of envy from others. It is easy to see someone’s beauty or someone’s abilities to speak or write or sing or create beautiful art and to be envious of those God-given gifts. Envy, as we have seen in the last century and a half or so, is generally the destruction of good relations within communities and societies, as those who perceive themselves as have-nots feel themselves justified in hating and attacking those who they view as undeserved possessors of various gifts, including physical wealth. Our own civilization has been poisoned by envy to the extent that the entire intersectionality movement within our corrupt identity politics is itself based on envy and hostility to those who are “privileged” in some fashion. Depending on how assiduously we examine ourselves for areas where we could be disadvantaged, virtually anyone can if they so choose consider themselves to be a victim of society and of history, and thus deserving of some sort of respect and assistance that they do not have. This is obviously a very bad thing, and has greatly reduced the goodwill that we feel towards others, especially when others feel it necessary to proclaim their victim status and demand some sort of reparations for their shortfalls in God-given talents, gifts, and abilities that we label as undeserved “privilege” and thus view with disdain and hostility what has been given generously if not uniformly by our Father in heaven.
How is it that conspicuous gifts can be exercised and recognized by people and by others without being the cause of envy among others? At least in my own experience and observation, the most surefire way this happens is for those gifts to be used in service to others. Everyone I have ever met, without exception, has possessed some sort of gift and ability that is worth sharing with others. Some aspect of everyone’s life has equipped them to be empathetic encourages of others in similar situations, and has provided insight into some aspect of human existence. These experiences and these gifts can very easily fuel service to others. When someone who is obviously very talented and very gifted, and perhaps even a genius in certain areas uses those gifts to the benefit of those around him or her, and it becomes obvious that this is not out of some self-serving desire to court favor with them but out of a genuine belief that talent creates an obligation to its possessor, the natural and proper response among others is gratitude and appreciation. We all have the tendency to feel badly towards those who pervert their gifts towards their self-interest alone, but also have a generally high degree of respect for those who behave generously with their gifts towards others, and this is proper and right.
In another way, service is a cure for envy for those who perceive themselves as lacking gifts. When someone stops whining and kvetching from the sidelines and gets to actually serving other people, then the appreciation and general worth of that service can very often serve as a cure for their own envy, because instead of hating and carping at others, they are serving others and thus are prone to think more highly of those whom they serve as well as those who serve with them. If humility is an obvious problem for those who have been given gifts, which by definition are undeserved because no one can deserve what has been given to them before they made any sort of decisions whatsoever on how those gifts are to be used, it is also a problem for those who seek to stand in judgment of others for having undeserved gifts. If everyone possesses gifts of varying quantity and quality, and if everyone finds themselves being privileged on some axis, as ends up being the case when we examine ourselves closely, every single one of us requires humility to use those areas of strength and privilege to serve others, and to recognize that everyone too has areas where they struggle. Rather than using these as opportunities to tear each other down, we can and should choose instead to build each other up. That is what it means to edify, after all.