Having Then Gifts Differing

A brother asked a hermit, “Tell me something good that I may do it and live by it.” The hermit said, “God alone knows what is good. But I have heard that one of the hermits asked the great Nesteros, who was a friend of Antony, ‘What good work shall I do?’ and he replied, ‘Surely all works please God equally? Scripture says, Abraham was hospitable and God was with him; Elijah loved quiet and God was with him; David was humble and God was with him.’ So whatever you find you are drawn to in following God’s will, do it and let your heart be at peace.”


Both the Charismatic Movement and modern management theory have given attention to St. Paul’s admonition on spiritual gifts. St. Paul offers a vision in the 12th chapter of First Corinthians of the diversity of gifts within the Body of Christ and their place within the spiritual life. His simple point (and he may have meant nothing more) was to note that there are varying gifts within the Body of Christ, just as a body has many parts, and that each of them is of value. His excursus on the gifts finds its summary in his chapter on love (chapter 13), for his concern was not to give a manual for the use of spiritual gifts, but to heal the divisive and competitive character of a dysfunctional Church.

Those few chapters became a central text for the various manifestations of the Pentecostal Movement. For some, the presence of the gifts described in those chapters served as proofs of the presence of the Holy Spirit and signs that the New Testament Church was being restored in a new movement of the Holy Spirit. In more subtle ways (and occasionally not so subtle ways), Pentecostalism made its way into mainstream denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church (the few examples of this same movement within Orthodoxy have largely disappeared). In a wide variety of ways various aspects of the Pentecostal Movement have left indelible marks on mainstream Protestantism, and, perhaps, Roman Catholicism.

Many “Church Management” workshops (in the Protestant world) use the model of diversity offered in St. Paul’s Corinthian passage as the model of the healthy parish. I have long suspected that there were problems hidden within the assumptions behind this use of what is, after all, a small excursus by the Apostle offered to a Church in trouble. The observations offered within 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 may have little to do with a “healthy” parish. On the other hand, I am certain that 1 Corinthians 13 is essential to the whole of Christian living.

Our modern culture, driven by varying market models, tends to teach us that everyone must have a job or a career in order to be “fulfilled.” Human beings are all too easily defined by their place within the economy. The same psychology is often carried over into the Church with people thinking of their place within the Church as defined by “what they do.” In such a context, “my ministry,” is an important question to people. The weakness of this question is its tendency to transform the Church from the “Ark of Salvation” to the “Spiritual Manufacturing Center.”

The question, “What is my place in the Church?” seems to me to be a question whose origin is to be found more in the culture of our modern economy and its view of the human than it is to be found anywhere within the pages of Holy Scripture. The small story from the desert fathers, offered above, is an illustration of the proper question for our lives – a question too often ignored. “What good thing must I do to be saved?” This is not a question (in its original meaning) of “what must I do in order to earn my salvation?” There is no question of merit whatsoever.

“What must I do to be saved?” is one of the primary questions asked within the pages of the gospel. Christ directs the rich young ruler to the commandments within the Law. When pressed, He answers the young man more directly, “Sell what you have, give to the poor and come and follow me.” The young man goes away sad. Today the young man might say, “But what will be my role within the Church?”

Our role within the Church is to seek our salvation – to follow Christ. We may indeed have gifts that differ (how can we not?) but our gifting is not about ourselves but about our service to others. And our service to others is not about ourselves (watching ourselves “do ministry”). All ministry is simply the act of love – whatever form it takes. And if it is not love, it is not the ministry which Christ gives.

The failure to seek salvation – always and at all times – is a failure which is a distraction. We are too easily distracted by our “ministry,” when that ministry is about our own “role.” A Reader “sees” himself reading instead of simply praying to read well for the benefit of others. A priest becomes aware of his “place” within the Church rather than simply doing those things which a priest must do.

Of course, we are fallen creatures and our life within the Church is easily corrupted. But it will be less corrupted if we do not import into that life the false images created by our economy. For the vision offered by our economic life is itself false: “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25). Our existence is not defined by our job titles nor our careers. Nor is our life in the Church defined by our job title – even though the title may sound spiritual.

Our life within the Church is lived towards salvation when it is the life of Christ lived in us. That life is manifest when it is consistently laid aside for others. It is the shape of love at work within us.

And so the great Nesteros could say:

Surely all works please God equally? Scripture says, ‘Abraham was hospitable and God was with him; Elijah loved quiet and God was with him; David was humble and God was with him.’ So whatever you find you are drawn to in following God’s will, do it and let your heart be at peace.

Every good work to which love draws us will work for our salvation and the salvation of those around us. It is the fullness of St. Paul’s admonition:

Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men (Romans 12:6-18).


  1. I read St. John Chrysostom’s treatment about a year or so ago of both First and Second Corinthians and a lot of it made sense for the first time. There are so many moving parts and it’s easy to get lost.

  2. I guess I still wrestle with the big difference between our faith ideals and the worlds ideals, they clash in such a way that many times I question how to best live in this world.
    I will take this quote to heart and see where it takes me: “So whatever you find you are drawn to in following God’s will, do it and let your heart be at peace.”

  3. Thank you for these practicle words. As I sit in an ICU with my two year old son, your words speak more than volumes of theological works, giving meaning to the often hard realities of life. Please pray for my son. Christ is born!

  4. This blog, “Having Then Gifts Differing”, is penetrating counsel, Father Stephen. Like Clary, I take it to heart. It resonates like truth, and I believe this is the right mindset.

    For many years, I have thought we should do what we were Spirit-drawn to do, but I generally suppressed it thinking this was probably my independent spirit interfering with God’s imbued plan for doing Kingdom work. Thus, I yielded to the American Protestant model of figuring out where we belong and what we are supposed to do, which now seems a measure of unbelief.

    However, I have not always resisted the anti-American notion that the church works better when we don’t manage it. My own experience has been that more Kingdom work happens outside my best laid plans than because of them. Then I can truly say, ‘Glory to God.’

    Stephen, many years ago, I sat with my four year old son in ICU. I was helpless. I will pray for God’s mercy for you and your son.

  5. Father, respectfully can this happen to a Bishop?

    “A priest becomes aware of his “place” within the Church rather than simply doing those things which a priest must do.”

  6. Fr. Stephen,

    I’m in the middle of reading “Shop Class as Soulcraft” and much of what he talks about there is the engineering of the economy during the industrial revolution and during the 20th century with Managment “science”.

    What he writes about modern work and what you write about our life in the Church sound so similar, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t something bigger happening here. Modern work wants to make us a cog, the modern church wants us to find our ministry so that we can be a part of the spiritual factory.

    Just a thought.

  7. Mark,
    Indeed there is something bigger happening here – which is why we do well as Christians to question this stuff. I have, over the years, seen far more crises brought on by job changes and career issues, than by the most fundamental matters of the soul. I have been present for probably 400 deaths over the years of my ministry – at that time the questions of career and job seem quite minor. As is said, “No one on his death bed ever said, ‘I wish I’d spent more time in the office.'”

  8. With all due respect, I think many of the comments ignore the situation of single people in the Church, particularly when we live in a culture that often forces people to move in order to find an income that can support even the most basic needs. When people get used to the only road into community being having a job in that community, I think it is natural for people to want to contribute to the life of a parish community. Yes, a “job” is a modern concept; but I think for many single people, life can revolve around that job because there is very little to pressurize the other part of it. And most things that one can do in the Orthodox Church do not put you in contact with other flesh-and-blood persons living around you. If someone is trying to pursue their spiritual life in the Orthodox Church as their main vocation, there are markedly few options to do that within any sort of community.

  9. I appreciate your thoughts, Anna. There are many challenges within our culture for someone who is single – it may in fact be the most difficult position.

  10. “What must I do to be saved?” Is always, even if secretly, followed by the more important question. “ Who am I?” In the Orthodox Church everyone is a unique person in Christ. And salvation is finding your true identity. Realized only by our loving relationships in union with Christ in the Church- a lattice of Love contained within the ultimate love relationship between Christ and His Father. Jesus makes His Father our Father. Where by we cry out: “Aba father”.

    All the concern about my roll and my gift in the Church, when I was an evangelical and a charismatic, was really about “Who am I?”. And that remains the question now. Man had his identity (his image, icon) destroyed at the fall in the Garden and he has been desperately trying to get it back since. But our identity is not defined by WHAT we do but by WHO we love.

    “Who am I?” is the cry locked up in each man’s heart. That cry can be answered no where else, but in our Church. That’s the place where love is (or should be) reflected about. Each true person’s light glancing in another’s heart. And where “Our Father” is made manifest.

    Fr. Stephen is absolutely right in his advice about how this is done. When we each, and as a church, freely love, pursue our salvation, ( are we not all, after all, a gift to one another?) then glory is to God for all things.

  11. Steve,

    Good point. It is too easy for the unsuspecting to lose himself in moving parts that are more out of synch than they rightfully ought to be.

    I quote here, an extract from a letter written to Benedict XVI, when he was still Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith:

    “This word which comes from Above invites us insistently to reconciliation of the whole Church which is one in the heart of God, but is divided with and by the disciples of Christ. A gesture is asked for (so desired by Paul VI) to celebrate together, on the same day, the Pasch of the Lord. If we accomplish this small step, the Lord will do the rest.”

    Fr. Christian Curty OFM, 1996

  12. Anna,

    I don’t think what you’re saying is unique to those who are single. The single person doesn’t have a spouse and/or children to dissipate their energy and and help define the “self”, true, but many a husband has become depressed, even suicidal, when they lost a job that provided meaning for their selves.

    The job, the ministry, is a convenient hook in American culture to hang the identity on. We don’t ask “who are you?” but “what do you do?”. So, yes, when someone points out the primacy that question has and that this may not be healthy, it is uncomfortable.

    For myself, I don’t really know how to answer the question “Who are you?” but I can easily answer “What do you do?” (though, I’ll probably have to spend some time explaining exactly what that is).

    I long to be more than what I do, but I’m not sure how to even begin. What Fr Stephen has written echoes some of my own thoughts, though, so naturally I’m drawn to it.

  13. This passage from Abba Nesteros and St. Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12 is echoed in one of the hymns of Holy Week. At the moment I can’t recall which one it is, but I remember that it adds something like, “Let him who serves, celebrate a beautiful Liturgy,” which brings a smile to the face of priests and everyone else who is responsible for the proper conduct of services.

    Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra says that there is no such thing as being “single” in the Church. We are either married to an earthly spouse — which of course doesn’t exclude our Heavenly Bridegroom — or have chosen the path of virginity, which is in fact marriage and undistracted devotion to the Heavenly Bridegroom. I don’t know exactly how this is supposed to work in practical terms, especially for someone who chooses the path of virginity but is not formally a monastic, but it’s something to think about!

  14. Mark,
    There is a quote from Merton that I like that speaks to something of the question of “who are you.”

    At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is, so to speak, His name written in us. As our poverty, as our indigence, as our dependence, as our son-ship, it is like a pure diamond blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody. And if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely. I have no program for this seeing; it is only given. But the Gate of Heaven is everywhere.

    That “point of nothingness” of which he speaks and the place within ourselves that is the true heart are worth the patience and the stillness required to find them. St. Paul says: “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” That “place which is above” is also to be found in the heart.

  15. Darlene,
    I would normally react the same way to a quote from Merton – but I found this quote in Arch. Meletios Webber’s book, Bread and Water, Wine and Oil, which made me a bit more open to listening to it.

  16. Thank you, Father Stephen, for your thoughts on our place in this life. I think everyone must ask at some point and perhaps many times, what is the meaning of life? I think Christ’s concise answer is, “To love the Lord thy God, with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love others as yourself.” Such may be a concise answer, but it is neither simple nor easy. God may, in His mercy, grant us days when we have such joy that we may be carried along by this kind of love. But surely there come days that such love is truly difficult and then we can understand clearly what our Lord Jesus meant by taking up our cross.

    This post was timely because I am at a crossroads as to work right now. I want to change jobs, and really need to, but not sure which direction I should go. And so it is that I am reminded of the Prayer of the Optina Elders that “all eventualities fulfill Thy holy will.”

  17. Father,

    I wanted to comment on Merton’s quote. I’m very skeptical of his perspective for I think he has New Age leanings and questionable theology/soteriology. He is very big on centering prayer, the kind that New Agers promote. So often, when reading writings from folks like this, I have the attitude to “eat the chicken and spit out the bones.” And I do think the bones might be plentiful. 🙂

    Anyhow, whatever Merton is speaking of that is at the center of one’s being, I would rather refer to it as St. Augustine did, that all have a God-shaped vacuum that needs to be filled. And while all are made in the image of God, not all live according to His image. Many resist and rebel against that image. So at one time did I. Whatever is in the center of everyone’s being, not all are children of God. His creatures, yes, but filled with Christ’s spirit, no.

    Christ offers a way, and He instructs us that “he who seeks will find, and unto him who knocks it will be opened.” But, while the grace of God is available for all, not all “seek” or “knock.” And thus, in resisting the call of God, many reject Him and thus that God-shaped vacuum is empty, unfilled.

    The heart of what I am saying here is that God does respect the free-will He gives us and does not force Himself upon anyone. He makes every opportunity, but we must cast ourselves upon His mercy. I am against anything that smacks of universalism, of some idea that all are saved, all have the spirit of God, or some such thing. Thomas Merton’s beliefs, the theology he preaches is very questionable as regards true Orthodoxy and the Christian faith.

    Forgive me if I offended you. But, if you quoted from Oprah Winfrey, Ron Hubbard, Shirley Maclaine, or Rev. Spong I would react in the same manner. 🙂

  18. I think the question “what do you do” is perhaps not as sinister as we think; often what we do reflects what we really care about or perhaps will shed light on our concerns, so when asking that question I think we are often just trying to get to the deeper things it reveals such as the passions or concerns of the person. (Of course the language we choose does reflect deeper issues in our society — the “How are you?” greeting, for example — that I believe go even beyond our industrial mentality, but that’s another topic.)

    That said, I also agree that we often try to “make a place/name for ourselves” within the church. We “have to” in the world in order to keep up, but it crosses over into the church. I think this is especially true when we’re new to a community, and perhaps this connects to what Anna was suggesting. I’ve found that when I’m new to a community I feel the urgency of finding my place within the body of people (whether the church body or larger community). I’m not “at home” until I’ve found it. When my husband and I moved last year I found myself agreeing to doing and participating in all sorts of church events and Bible studies and worship team, etc. None of those things are bad, but boy did I feel freedom this fall when we decided to cancel the Israel tour we were planning and when I handed the church website over to someone else. It felt as if we had finally “settled” because we had lost the anxiety we had felt previously to “find our place” within in our church community. Suddenly we knew that we didn’t “have” to do anything but what the Lord put on our hearts. I must note that no one in our church pressured us in any way to do anything — it came from within ourselves.

    I find myself thinking back to perhaps simpler times when roles were more clearly defined in community — women ran the household and raised children, men took on the trade of their father, etc. It seems quite clear that it is natural for people to find some sense of identity in the role they hold…but perhaps the purpose of this post is to say that we ultimately find our identity in God as we are first and foremost His children and then we are free to fulfill the role(s) God has given us with joy and love and in His strength, rather than under the burden of expectations or obligations.

    Great thoughts everyone!

  19. “The failure to seek salvation – always and at all times – is a failure which is a distraction. We are too easily distracted by our “ministry,” when that ministry is about our own “role.” A Reader “sees” himself reading instead of simply praying to read well for the benefit of others. A priest becomes aware of his “place” within the Church rather than simply doing those things which a priest must do.”

    Thank you for these wise words. What you say is so important to remember.

  20. Father Stephen,

    You quoted:
    “At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our mind or the brutalities of our will.”

    You know, I sense that this is so of all of us, and thus I wonder about the phrases we say in some of the prayers, especially in the Canon of St. Andrew, and in the pre-communion prayers–the idea that there is nothing good inside us, we are entirely desolate and fallen into ruin, completely leprous, etc. Also confusing to me are the various things I have read in the church fathers etc. that seem to contradict–in one place I read that we are not wholly depraved, and can synergistically respond to God and do God’s will, and in another I read passages that speak the theology of the pre-communion prayers….

  21. anonymous,
    Very often the language of the fathers and particularly of the services are the language of piety, of the heart. That language is often not precise, even if it is true. This, of course, is the case of Scripture itself. We can easily find passages that speak in one way while another passage speaks in another. This is not a problem except where our rational self takes over and wants consistency. It is all perfect consistent with the heart.

    It is both true that there is nothing I can do and yet there are things I must do. It depends somewhat on the nature of the question as to how it is answered. But the mystery of grace, as is true of the mystery of our salvation, is just that – a mystery. That is not meant to avoid consistency – but perhaps to confound our rationality. Reason is good and useful but is not the instrument that has been chosen for our salvation. It is too small.

    The analogy that is always helpful to me is when I think on my relationship with my wife. There are many “contradictory” things that are all true. I understand them and she understands them. When understood from within the relationship they make good sense. Though they would sound very contradictory to someone outside the relationship.

    But the faith has many such things: you must lose your life to save it, etc.

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