One day you bring me a large, beautiful box of chocolates. There are all kinds, too, every type imaginable: some with nuts or cookies or caramel; some with raisins or cherries or other fruits; some with dark or light or white chocolate or a mixture. It’s the wide variety that makes it so impressive – and probably expensive – gift.
But what do I do? I bite into one at a time, and not finding what I like I look for another. Not only that, but I’m rude enough to spit the candy into the trash can while you watch, and make a face of disgust. I don’t even bother tasting the white ones before throwing them away. I only like the ones with dark chocolate, I say, glaring as if I blame you for not giving me just those. Chocolate dribbles down from my mouth as I spit out one after another of the expensive candies. I make loud satisfied noises when I gobble up the kind that I like.
I have a suspicion that we do the same thing with God’s gifts. He sends our way a wide variety of his servants. He sends a pastor who is not a deep preacher but whose specialty is visiting the sick and helping the needy. He sends other people who write all sorts of good books. He sends us teachers, all of them different. I am not speaking here, of course, of false teachers or deceivers, but of the various true servants of God.
One of the ways American culture resembles the era of the early church is that we are enthralled by the “cult of personality”. I am of Stanley; I am of Piper; I am of Mars Hill; I am of the other Mars Hill. Is it possible that we identify ourselves with personalities to make ourselves feel a little taller, a little better than the masses? Such a “cult of personality” is a cultural value that distorts our Christianity – it is “worldliness”.
The Corinthians were choosing up teams: I am of Paul; I am of Apollos, etc. But the truth is that the God who gave Paul to the church of Corinth also gave Apollos and Cephas (i. e., Peter) and others (1 Cor 3:22); to reject one of God’s faithful servants was to reject the gift of God. This was the sin of Diotrophes in 3 John 9-10: he discriminated against sound teachers who were not part of his power circle, apparently because it pleased him to exercise his authority and increase his own status. How foolish for the Corinthians to focus on Apollos and to depreciate the two apostles that God has sent them. The fans of Paul too should be sitting at the feet of Cephas and Apollos and thus enjoying the full richness of God’s gifts. Those who delight in the seed planter should affirm the waterer too, or rather, honor the Master who has sent both planter and waterer. As Paul said:
So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (1 Cor 3:21-23).
Of course, in our experience not everyone is a Paul, a Peter or an Apollos. There are plenty of unpleasant teachers and poor writers and neglectful pastors. But let us make very sure that we show appreciation for all the things God gifts us by intentionally enjoying each of them as much as is possible.
This is not just true for one congregation, but from church to church and from denomination to denomination. If we are Baptists, let us also learn as much as we can from our brothers in the Assemblies. If we are Pentecostal, let us also avail ourselves of those famous Presbyterian theologians. If we are independent congregations, let us appreciate denominations, and vice versa. Let’s not be so proud that we cannot admit that others might have God’s Spirit too. “So then, no more boasting about human beings! Let us open our hearts to all of God’s gifts to us, not just the ones that meet our refined personal standards.
Related posts and a free full-length commentary:
“The theology of the chocolate sampler,” by Gary Shogren, PhD., Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica