Some of us are bothered by God measuring out gifts, blessings, and even faith, as Romans reported. We Americans have a distaste for folks getting stuff others don’t get. And, we’re not so happy about getting stuff that we may not appreciate. We have a pre-trained thing going on in our heads, because we're immature.
The marker for being mature is experiencing the unity of faith and encountering Jesus.
Image by Nisha Gill
By John Pearring
The subject for today came up from our local Lectio prayer meeting last week. The intersection of God into our lives — matching a Lection discussion two days ago with a Saturday reading for a reflection — marks what we call a teaching moment. The section of today’s scripture is repeated in Romans, chapter 12. To summarize, “A measure of grace apportioned to each believer equipping him or her for service in the body of Christ.”
The question we tried to answer in our group was why does God measure out gifts? The short answer? God measures stuff, because he can.
Paul laid it out in Romans 12:3. For by the grace given to me I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than one ought to think, but to think soberly, each according to the measure of faith that God has apportioned.
We encounter the same subject in today’s first reading, from Ephesians, chapter 4. There are no coincidences. Jesus Christ measures out gifts and plops them into his believers. What’s going on here? How does this “measuring” work?
Grace was given to each of us
according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
Some of us are bothered by God measuring out gifts, blessings, and even faith, as Romans reported. We Americans have a distaste for folks getting stuff others don’t get. And, we’re not so happy about getting stuff that we may not appreciate. We have a pre-trained thing going on in our heads.
The training goes back to primary school unfairness. Consider the steady gauntlet of faulty systems — the pecking order for sports teams, grading performance, agism, physical limitations to get on fun rides, arbitrary deadlines, and incomprehensible testing. We learn that earning money requires prison-like conformity. We have to do chores, even when others don’t pull their weight. We get drafted unequally.
It’s all about people telling us what to do and not to do. Someone in authority is measuring every danged thing in our lives. We rank stuff according to imposed importance.
So God is like that, too? We are cordoned off into spiritual boxes, eh? Everything in faith and gifts comes down to the luck of the draw, whether hierarchies, groups, classes, economics, credentials, or licensing. We can get pretty worked up about the seeming unfairness of God.
It’s a natural tendency to get upset that God is at the root of the whole ranking system. Especially when Paul tells us that God “weighs” things, too. Like so many things, we react poorly, triggered about yet another unfair system, fair to some/rubbish to others. So, God is like that, too?
Well, no. He’s not. Luck and whippings and randomness are not a God thing. The measuring must be something else. Paul tells us in Romans not to be triggered by jealousy, worry, and competition by God’s handing off grace and faith.
Help us out, Paul. Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. It sounds like maybe God is picking favorites. Paul goes on to explain, though his words are somewhat confusing.
Therefore, it says:
He ascended on high and took prisoners captive;
he gave gifts to men.
How is that helpful? Paul should give us more details. What does ascending and prisoners have to do with anything? So, Paul does clarify.
What does “he ascended” mean except that he [Jesus] also descended
into the lower regions of the earth?
The one who descended is also the one who ascended
far above all the heavens,
that he might fill all things.
Oh, now I get it.
No. I don’t get it. This needs further explanation. Higher and lower regions of the earth?
Paul helps out with specific examples. He cites several gifts, as measured out capabilities. “some as Apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry . . .” Jesus descended to encounter us, and ascended back to the Father.
This apportioning of gifts is God filling “all things.” Think about that. Animals don’t get this kind of individual treatment. Entire species are ranked one different from the other. But the individuals in each species are like a xerox copy. That’s not so with humans. Jesus visited every level and station of humanity, “that he might fill all things.” He seeks out each person, even those captive in prison. Jesus performs a portioning distribution. These are things we all get gifted by God. No one is left out.
I will not go into the complex process of figuring out our apportioned gifts. Are you a teacher, a prophet, or an evangelist? That’s another reflection. Or better, a discovery over some weekend retreat. You should attend one of those. It’s not just enlightening to discover your gifts. It’s life-changing.
There is purpose in Jesus’ apportioning gifts of grace and faith. The gifts from God are for the “work of ministry.” That work is building up the Body of Christ. Romans told us that. “A measure of grace apportioned to each believer equipping him or her for service in the body of Christ.”
We don’t get our gifts right away because we learn to operate on single-minded tasks, usually to help ourselves improve. That’s fine. God, however, operates on the body of Christ as a fully functioning holy gathering. Each of us has a place in the functioning. We have gifts of faith, blessings, and grace for service in the body of Christ.
We’re not discussing communism here or the common good in political terms. We’re talking about the building together of love so that all of us are more holy. We’re not building a canal in Panama, a temporary edifice. We’re not even building a Cathedral that inspires people to love God. We’re talking about the community of faith, a permanent, immortal, and holy entity of beings.
The logic here is hard to grasp because we’re selfish, untrusting, and cautious. We do know about the beauty of the Body of Christ. We build the Body so that we all — our family, friends, and neighbors — can lovingly grasp the following. We “know,” but most don’t have Spirit-filled training.
God measures out grace, gifts, and faith to us for our good and the good of drawing all into him. He knows what each of us desires, too. We have a yearning for good. We want to overwhelm bad habits and conquer our selfishness. We want exactly what God wants.
. . . until we all attain to the unity of faith
and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood
to the extent of the full stature of Christ,
so that we may no longer be infants . . .
The infant whines about fairness and cries when hungry. The child fears the unknown and relies upon adults to nurture and care for them. Only we know when we’ve grown up. The marker for being mature is experiencing the unity of faith and encountering Jesus.