Spiritual Aspiration & Envy

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good… -1 Corinthians 12:7

As a youth I learned to play trumpet, and I developed an aptitude for the instrument during that first year. Three of us traded turns as 1st chair. Driven by a desire to be on top, we each worked hard to be the best. As we competed, we each became better musicians throughout the year. The following year I had taken a firm hold of 1st chair—that is, until John came. John transferred in from another school, and had an amazing gift for the trumpet. He was hopelessly beyond me, and I loathed him for it. I still played as well as I did before he came, but I was no longer on top and I envied his ability and position. I have a natural tendency to measure my own worth relative to others, and this is nothing new.

Within the Church in Corinth, some people compared themselves one to another based upon their spiritual gifts. Some gifts were considered to be better than others because of the prominence of their display. However, the gifts in question were all given by one God for a certain purpose, and that purpose was never solely to bring esteem to the carrier.

The gifts Paul wrote about were not naturally possessed, but are manifestations of the Holy Spirit of God bestowed in baptism. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). Note how Paul used a threefold invocation to speak of the one source from whom these blessings flow.

While given to each individually, these gifts are possessed for the common good. St. Basil commented, “Since no one has the capacity to receive all spiritual gifts, but the grace of the Spirit is given proportionately to the faith of each, when one is living in community with others, the grace privately bestowed on each individual becomes the common possession of the others… . One who receives any of these gifts does not possess it for his own sake but rather for the sake of others.”[1]

The Holy Spirit orchestrates the placement of each gift in the Church, building up the whole community through each individual contribution. The variety and distribution of gifts draws people into interdependence in order to carry forward God’s purposes for the community. Like a musical ensemble, each person has a part to play that is necessary to fully express the intent of the composition. Trumpets have a standout role in Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, yet their performance is bare without the punctuation of the drums. Together, they fit into a masterpiece of beauty.


[1] Bray, G. L. (1999). 1-2 Corinthians (p. 121). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

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This is a blog of essays meant to prepare parishioners for an upcoming Sunday reading.