Read: 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 NRSV
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 powerful deeds, 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.
This is usually the list that appears in our heads when we think of spiritual gifts: wisdom, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, and speaking/translating other languages. But something else is there, too. Something foreign that creeps into our thoughts and changes the meanings of scriptures ever so slightly, but significantly: hierarchies.
We have hierarchies for everything. Sometimes we don’t even realize how much we rank and categorize food, ideas, jobs, gifts, relationships, animals, colors, smells, temperaments, genders, races, sins, kindnesses, hemlines, denominations, etc.
Here’s an example: missionaries>pastors>worship leaders>sunday school teachers>office workers>parking attendants>cleaning staff>laity>agnostics>atheists>on and on and on.
Is there any biblical evidence to support this hierarchy? Probably not, but the way we talk about (and compensate) these different positions reflects this hierarchy. Consciously or not, we bring our own value judgments to every discussion that compares or links things together. It’s a structure of thinking that isn’t present in the text. It may seem logical to believe that dogs are better than spiders or sunshine is better than snow, but the bible doesn’t say that. What the bible does say is “And God said it was good.” Who are we to declare that this is better than that when God has decreed all of his works to be good? Sometimes we do it through praising God selectively, omitting certain images from our songs, (there are plenty of songs about trees and flowers and sunsets, but not many about seaweed and broccoli.) Other times we assign greater worth to spiritual gifts because of the esteem they bring in the secular world. Serving God as a New Testament Scholar seems more worthy of respect than serving God as a line chef or as an accountant. Once again our hierarchical thinking applies value where God does not. All gifts and passions come from God, but there are none better than any other. And if we consider why God views all gifts as equally important, we can see how misguided our hierarchies are. God loves us all equally. As soon as we decide that one gift is better or holier than another, we inevitably start to see others as better or worse, holier or more sinful than ourselves. We begin to value people based on their gifts rather than appreciating the purpose of all gifts, which is to bring glory to God.