There is a lot of discussion about diversity and identity today, both in the wider culture and among Christians. Unfortunately, such discussions often are not informed by Scripture, even among Christians. Secularist theories and ideologies plague discourse about these subject in ways many Christians don’t even recognize.
Any discussion of diversity and identity, however, must be informed by Scripture, and there is perhaps a no better passage on these subjects than 1 Corinthians 12.
This passage is set in the context of a three chapter discussion of spiritual gifts that began at the beginning of chapter 12, where Paul says, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.” Then in the first eleven verses of this chapter, Paul emphasizes one primary aspect of the way Christians are gifted by the Spirit.
1 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
We’re not going to spend any extended time in these eleven verses, but in order to set up the context, I want to show you Paul’s central point in the first eleven verses by just highlighting several of the repeated words in the text. Look at verse 4: “varieties.” Verse 5: “varieties.” Verse 6: “varieties.” The Greek word translated varieties in each of those cases is the word from which we get our English word, “diversity.” Then verse 7: “to each.” Verse 8: “to one,” and then later “to another.” Verse 9: “to another.” Verse 10: “to another,” and then at the end of the verse “to another.” And then at the end of verse 11: “to each one individually.” And the word translated “apportions” in verse 11 is the verb form of the same word translated “varieties” earlier.
In other words, the central point of the first eleven verses of 1 Corinthians 12 is to emphasize the diversity among God’s people. He emphasizes the variety and the individuality of each Christian. And this diversity is something to be celebrated; it is something, as we will see shortly, that is absolutely necessary.
But before we move on to the main part of this chapter I want to focus on in this series, I want to just clarify the exact nature of the diversity that Paul says should be celebrated and is absolutely necessary. We have different kinds of diversity in the church, do we not? We have diversity of gender; we have diversity of ethnicity; we have diversity of vocation and social status and education. All of these are fine and good, but that’s not the diversity that Paul is celebrating here.
What kind of diversity is Paul celebrating? Well, look again at verse four: varieties of what? Varieties of gifts. Look at verse five: varieties of what? Varieties of service. Verse six: varieties of . . . activities. What kind of diversity is Paul celebrating? He is celebrating what we might call diversity of function within the church based on diversity of giftedness. And notice in verse 6, Paul says that “God empowers them all in everyone.” Of course in the context here he is speaking of every Christian, but the point is that each Christian has been given by Spirit of God a variety of diverse and individual ministry functions in the church. Paul is celebrating here the functional diversity of the church.