But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. . . . And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,
for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… (Ephesians 4:7, 11-13)
As St Paul makes clear the spiritual gifts bestowed on Christians are given to each so that they might contribute to the building up (the edification) of the Church – for the good of all other members of the Church. Spiritual gifts are given for “the work of ministry“until “we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God“. Spiritual gifts are not personal empowerment so that you can lord over other people, nor are they for self-glorification. Spiritual gifts benefit others, they don’t put the person with the gift on a pedestal. Anyone who uses spiritual gifts for personal gain, empowerment, career advancement, prestige or to vaunt oneself over others, has totally abused the spiritual gifts. Though some Christians clamor for power and magic gifts to do miracles, St Paul tells us to desire the higher gifts, especially love (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13).
Sadly, some seek spiritual gifts not so much to minister to others as to become ministers – people with power and position over others. The other church members then become not the neighbor to whom they minister but the people who are to stand in awe of the person with power. It becomes very self-serving and is not love. It is a temptation not only for people with spiritual gifts but for clergy as well.
But such problems are not new in the Church. Even in the ancient Church among the desert fathers we see the same kind of problems – people are people after all.
A brother asked an old man, saying, “How is it that there are at this present time men who labor, but who do not receive grace as the early fathers did?” The old man said unto him, “Formerly love existed, and one brother was raised up by the other; but now love has grown cold, and we each drag the other down, and in consequence we do not receive grace.” (The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Volume 2), Kindle Loc. 3846-48)
Love leads us to build up others and the Church. It teaches us to follow St John the Forerunner’s thought that Christ must increase, but I must decrease. It doesn’t lead to superstars who become rich and famous.
One of the old men used to say, “Formerly, whenever we met each other we used to speak words of profit about each other, and we formed companies, and were lifted up into the heavens; but now when we are gathered together, we come to hateful converse concerning each other, and we drag each the other down to the bottom of the deepest abyss.” (The Paradise or Garden of the Holy Fathers (Volume 2), Kindle Loc. 3768-71)
We can build each other up, or we can engage in behavior that is spiritually detrimental to others. The endless gossip, love of scandal, pointing out the faults of everyone else, self-vaunting, turning people against each other for our personal advantage – these are all ways that cause the community to decline and to inflict wounds on the body of Christ. Our task is always to love God and neighbor and to serve others as Christ served us.