When I hear the word “gift,” I think of birthday parties and Christmas morning. I think of wrapping paper and toys. I think of a present someone bought to bless me. When I hear “good gift,” I think not only of getting something, but also of getting something that I want. The good gifts are the ones on the holiday wish list.
But is this the only way to understand a gift? It’s certainly very American—self-focused, individualistic, materialistic. Yet if I only think of a gift as something I get for my own benefit, I’m going to misread what the Scriptures teach.
Paul talks a lot about gifts in his first letter to the Corinthians. We might quickly think of the spiritual gifts listed in chapter 12, forgetting that Paul uses the word charisma earlier in his letter. In chapter 7, he speaks of gifts as he addresses questions about marriage. After giving some instructions to those who are married, he writes: “I wish that all were as I myself am [single]. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind [singleness] and one of another [marriage]” (1 Cor. 7:7). Both are affirmed. Both are called gifts.
When I was single, I could relate to many others who didn’t care to be reminded that the Bible calls singleness a gift. I didn’t want to be reminded because I was thinking of gifts through a self-focused, individualistic, materialistic lens. Singleness doesn’t give me the things that I want—companionship, security, sex, kids. So singleness can’t be a gift. But in this, I failed to see the beauty of God’s charisma. I failed to see that this kind of gift, whether singleness or marriage, isn’t necessarily about personal preference or self-fulfillment.
Let’s return to the more familiar chapter 12: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:4-7). There are various gifts, services and activities, but one God empowering them all for the common good. That’s the point of charisma.
The focus here is not that a believer receives a gift, though true, but rather that all gifts are given freely by the Spirit to serve God and benefit others. The gift itself isn’t an end, but a means to make much of the Lord. We don’t choose our gifts, nor can we take credit for them. We accept them as from the Lord to be used for His glory.
Although I’m married now, I find that I easily fall into the same trap of treating the gift of marriage as a means rather than an end. The Bible challenges us to rewrite our definition of gift. Instead of seeing it as something we get, we’re to see it as something we’re given to better build up others. Both singleness and marriage are gifts, not because they are the fulfillment of what we want for ourselves but because God has graciously bestowed them on us for the common good. And that does include our good, as well.
Whether you are single or married, have you ever asked the Lord how you might use that gift for the building up of His body? Every good gift comes from our heavenly Father (James 1:17), the One who is good and does good (Ps. 119:68). May we joyfully put to use every good gift He bestows—including singleness.