There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)
1 Corinthians 12 is about spiritual gifts, something Paul did not want believers to be ignorant of (1 Corinthians 12:1). Here, Paul explained something relevant to the working of spiritual gifts but applies beyond that topic: the principle of diversity and unity in God’s family.
Paul described three areas of diversity in God’s family: gifts, ministries, and activities. The gifts are diverse, the ministries are different, and the activities are varied. But it is all the same Spirit, the same Lord, the same God doing the work through the gifts, the ministries, and the activities.
First, there are diversities of gifts. Paul will later list some nine spiritual gifts in the following verses, and more in other places, demonstrating this broad diversity. Yet there is only one Giver, who works through the diverse gifts.
The word ministries probably has in mind the different “gifted offices” in the church, such as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers (Ephesians 4:11-14). Paul’s point is clear: though there are different offices, it is the same Lord granting the offices and directing the service.
The original word for activities is energemata, where we get our words energy, energetic, and energize from. It is a word of active and sometimes miraculous power. Differences of activities means that God displays and pours out His miraculous power in different ways, but it is always the same God doing the work.
What are the differences between gifts, ministries, and activities? The word gifts is used broadly. Some gifts are ministries – standing offices or positions in the church. Some gifts are activities – miraculous events or outpourings at a particular time and place, such as the manifestation of the Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:7.
Just as in first-century Corinth, it is easy for believers today to focus on their own gifts, ministries, or activities and believe those who are different are not really walking or working with God. Yet the one God has a glorious diversity in the way He does things. We should never expect it to be all according to our own emphasis and taste.
One of the ministries mentioned in the New Testament is evangelist (Ephesians 4:11). If I am an evangelist, it’s easy for me to focus on my gift, my ministry, and think that everyone in God’s family should be an evangelist just as I am. I can try to make others feel guilty that they don’t have my gifts and ministry.
Two things are true and important: the diversity and the unity. By God’s Spirit we are different, but we are all one. Don’t focus so much on the diversity that you miss the unity.
Today, appreciate the powerful diversity and unity God has made among His people, and find a way to thank God for someone else’s gifts and ministry!