In the twelfth chapter of St. Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, he writes: “Do not think of yourselves more highly than you ought,” and that is solid spiritual advice for all of us, of course, but if I had been the Apostle’s secretary I might have worked this into the final draft: “but do not think of yourselves less highly than you ought, either.”
Either attitude grieves the Holy Spirit, I think, and both perspectives are rife within the Church. Pride is the more obvious sin, but self-deprecation is if anything more consequential because it is an insult to the Holy Spirit, the Giver of gifts. Each of us and all of us—that to say, as individuals and as a congregation—have been graced with spiritual gifts. These gifts are the tools which enable us to obey the Great Commandment. Remember how Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and your neighbor as yourself?” The gifts of the spirit—faith, preaching, teaching, service, encouragement, generosity, caring, hospitality (see Romans 12:6ff)—empower us to be obey Jesus’ command.
Recently, I have begun to muse on these “gifts of the Spirit” (Paul offers another list of them in I Corinthians 12:4ff, and describes the evidence of their presence among us in Galatians 5:22ff) by means of another New Testament metaphor: “the keys of the Kingdom.” What can unlock the door to the church’s future? What can seal-away the powers of darkness? What are the keys to faithfulness and growth, life and health? The gifts of the spirit: preaching, teaching, serving, encouragement, generosity, caring, hospitality. These are the keys given to us to open the door to our church’s future.
Our common confession, our congregational profession of faith, our corporate praise (with the disciples at Caesarea Philippi we all say of Jesus and sing, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”)—that is the ring which holds the keys, and the keys are every lock’s undoing. We go to the ring, we find the right key, we unlock the door.
“Think with sober judgment,” Paul says again in Romans 12. At least part of that thinking is to remember that together we are commissioned, and individually we are each one of us cut in a unique way—think of each church member as a key on the ring—to fit a particular circumstance or ministry, whether to unlock the whole pantries of grace or to entomb the powers of hatred and death.