If you had to guess what the most common last names in the world are, what would you say? You probably know many people who have these as their last name, but what came to mind? Three of the most common last names in the entire world are: Smith, Johnson, and Jones. That’s maybe not surprising because we’ve heard them many times before…that’s why they’re common.
We can go even a level deeper. Readers’ Digest asked the same question for the individual states that make up the USA and here is what they found for Minnesota. The three most common names in the state of Minnesota are: Johnson, Anderson, and Nelson. Do you know anybody with those surnames?
Now when it comes to things that occur frequently, like popular last names, one can dive into a litany of other words that show up all the time in our minds, our everyday speech, and our vocabulary. One of those words absolutely has to be the word that we will be looking at this week from 1 Corinthians 13. It defines the entire chapter. It’s love!
Love is in the air and love is everywhere. People talk about it all the time in a variety of ways to describe their feelings regarding pizza, a good book, a new shirt, and their spouse. There is no shortage of this word, “love,” making its rounds in conversations all across the globe in every known language so what would make its inclusion in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth of any great significance?
As we look at these words regarding love in 1 Corinthians 13, we very quickly come to the realization that many of us sell the word “love” short when it comes to our use and understanding of it. Only God can take a term, or something we deem or see as “common,” and blow the doors off the meaning, expression, and definition as only He can. When we see love in its purest entirety, one quickly comes to grip with the fact that this is way bigger than maybe first expected. Love, as God defines it in Scripture, is way bigger than we could ever imagine or conjure up on our own.
I’m glad that God’s love for me goes beyond the way I would talk about how much I love French Fries. I need it to because I am limited in my scope, understanding, and giving of love. But that is why He gives it to us; so that we might continue to give it away to those around us. We are invited to love our family, friends, enemies, and neighbors in ways that we might not even think possible because of the great, expansive love that was first shown and given to us. It is when we see love through the lens that God intends us to that we can see this bigger picture. It is the picture that the Apostle Paul was communicating to the Corinthian church regarding their use of the gifts and abilities that God had given them, their place in the Body of Christ, and the humility that comes from being shown God’s indescribable love.
All of this talk about the way that God loves us reminds me of one of my favorite hymns obviously titled, “The Love of God.” My favorite verse ends the song this way:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure--
The saints’ and angels’ song.
The human body is an intricately amazing thing. Now, that is no surprise for those in the biological or medical fields. They have done the painstaking work of diving into the extremely detailed muscles, bones, tissues, ligaments, and tendons that make up our bodies. All of the moving parts that are big and small that are working simultaneously together just for you to take a step, breathe, shake someone’s hand, blink, and even talk is a breathtaking function.
I had a first-hand, humbling experience with the elaborately complex thing known as the body of a human being. I was a senior in college and had to take an Introduction to Anatomy course to complete my Coaching Minor. Now, I thought I knew what I was getting into. All I needed to know to be dangerous was to figure out the best way to tape an ankle, do a stretch, have a basic idea of how major muscle and bone groups work, and most importantly…point the injured athlete to the nearest nurse, doctor, or trainer and let the professionals take care of things.
Oh, did I have a rude awakening! I can remember being handed a 20-page packet that had diagram upon diagram of bone, muscles, ligaments, joints, tendons, etc. that all had to do with the human hand. 20 pages! And then my professor told the class that we would be having a quiz on this material the next week, so we essentially had to memorize the parts of the human hand in a little less than a week! And let’s just say there is more than just five fingers, a palm, and knuckles! Incredible! I did not do so well on that quiz. In fact, I did not do so well in the class at all. I was overwhelmed and outmatched when it came to learning about our human anatomy. There was so much to it! It never ended! The connections went on and on and on! This thing triggered that thing, that led to another thing, that came around to that thing…see I can’t even remember what those “things” were, but it was amazing…amazingly detailed.
I ended up taking two things away from this class. One, was a greater appreciation and definition of God as my Creator and the second was the humbling experience of how small I am on my own. If you are like me, you need other people to help you, to support you, to encourage you, to challenge you. When God made the human body, He did it such a fascinating way in which all the thousands of individual parts, each doing their own thing, were working together in unity and harmony for a greater purpose. They were different in look, size, shape, and ability, but when put together, they moved in sync to accomplish something amazing.
It is the same way with another Body that God has designed and created: the Body of Christ: the Church. Each of us, though different and unique, have been called to rely on one another, to work together to love, serve, and worship God with our lives. This week, we continue seeing this profound mystery unveiled to us through the words of the Apostle Paul as he reminds us that each one is essential to this Body of Christ, that we can’t do it alone or apart from one another, that each one plays its part, and when we are unified in our uniqueness, Christ is glorified.
But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
What usually comes to your mind when you think of someone who is “gifted?” For many of us, a gifted person is usually someone who has a unique talent, skill, trait, or ability that sets them apart from everyone else. Like a professional athlete, world-renown chef, a Grammy-winning musician or Oscar-winning actor or actress, a famous author, cutting-edge scientist, or a transcendent artist. Many would agree that they are truly “gifted” people.
But if we only look at the faces and talents that our culture tends to gravitate toward, we miss out on the bigger picture of what it truly means to be gifted. Don’t hear me wrong, there is much to be celebrated in the musical, artistic, athletic, and intellectual talents that are out there. It is amazing to watch and witness and marvel at how people can do what they do. But that is where we must continue looking and appreciating the variety of gifts that are around us. For example, I am continuously amazed at many gifts that I do not possess that make a difference in my everyday life. What if we expanded our definition of being gifted to areas that include the car mechanic, the computer technician, a wise parent, a faithful friend. These are immensely valuable and important gifts that play a big role in each of our lives. When we see even the little things as gifts, it really changes our scope and perspective in how we view others.
Two things come to mind when I think of a gift or being gifted. The first is that a gift is something that has been given to me by someone else. I probably didn’t do much to merit it or deserve it, it was simply given to me by someone who loves me and will get joy and satisfaction when I put their gift to good use. The second aspect of a gift, or being gifted, that comes to mind is an understanding that they are unique, special, and in many cases, individual. In other words, there are some gifts, talents, skills, and abilities that I will never have in my repertoire. I will never be able to paint like Van Gogh, cook like Gordon Ramsey, jump like Michael Jordan, sing like Whitney Houston, or write like Agatha Christie. This realization is no surprise to me, or the people close to me. And they probably are no surprise to you either when it comes to your own giftedness.
This week, we will be looking at the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christian church in Corinth. These people lived and operated in a very pagan culture that was morally bankrupt and financially corrupt. They saw variety and diversity in the makeup of their congregation and worship of Jesus and Paul is quick to point out that this is all the work of the same God and the same Spirit. When God infiltrated and transformed their lives by His grace, He gave each of them gifts by His Holy Spirit. These gifts were meant to build, encourage, and support the entire group and it was through this diversity, spreading, and sharing of gifts that God would be glorified in and through the Corinthian church.
Much like these early Christians, we are left in some similar places. We can doubt and question the validity, importance, or value of gifts that others bring into our own context, we can be envious of what others may have and not use what has been given to us, we can horde our individual gifts of the Spirit and miss out on the beauty of sharing and using them in community, or we can celebrate the wide sweep of the brush that God paints with as He builds His Church.
Do you know that each of you are gifted? God has given each of you your own unique makeup that, when brought together in the church, creates, builds, and constructs a beautiful masterpiece that blesses, serves, loves, encourages, and strengthens one another as we live in the gift of faith and grace that is given to each of us.
Pastor Ben Bigaouette