Many Gifts, One Spirit

Message by Teresa Pearce, Sept.17, 2023 at Warrensburg COB

My husband is full of aphorisms (a pithy observation that contains a general truth) and there is one he has told me many times that reminds me of a central point Paul is trying to make in his letter to the church in Corinth. “If we were both alike, one of us would be unnecessary.”

God created each of us, very intentionally, as unique individuals—different shapes, sizes, colors; different personalities; different learning styles with different skill sets; different ways of thinking and being. And God designed us to be in community with one another, each serving the community through his or her own unique gifts.

What an incredible awareness to think that God designed each of us, you and me, with particular attributes that were essential to God’s purpose for humanity. Not one of us is left out of that design and that purpose. Let that settle within you for just a moment. You are unique, and you are needed.

In this part of his letter, Paul is responding to murmurings of growing dissension within the church in Corinth. This church was challenged with a great diversity of people—Jews and Greeks, slave and free—those who had power and wealth and those of “no regard. ” And now, a clashing of values and cultures, possibly age and gender, or other unnamed differences, began to infiltrate this church.

At the time Paul writes this letter, it has been four years since he has been with them in person. He spent eighteen months building this church in Corinth; teaching, baptizing and bringing all kinds of different people to Christ. But now, the honeymoon is over. There has been plenty of time for egos and ambitions and intolerances to seep in.

Paul is asking those in the church to understand and embrace one another’s differences. He uses the brilliant metaphor of the human body to show how absolutely necessary these differences are to the fulfillment of God’s plan. And Paul makes an additional crucial point, “only as you accept your part of the Body of Christ does that part mean anything.”

It is one thing to love and accept one another in a moment of newness where hope and anticipation are fresh, where they had the support and encouragement of Paul in person. Now the newness has worn off and there is bickering among them.

You may remember Marie’s message last week, which featured another one of Paul’s letters. This letter was to the church in Rome and that church was bickering over what they should or should not eat. Marie discussed the relevance of Paul’s words for us today. She asked, “What things might we get caught up in and fight about that don’t really matter once we get down to the root of love?” Regarding their arguing about what foods were acceptable, she said that Paul’s response was that it just didn’t matter: kindness and keeping faith were where the focus should be.

We’ve all experienced this challenge in our own lives—in our churches, our jobs, our volunteer and civic groups and our social circles. After a time, differences in the way things are done, or clashes in values start becoming noticeable and frustrating.

Today’s scripture attempts to teach us that the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” but we humans often do that with one another. Our limited perspectives and our frail egos may fail to see the value in the perspective of someone we disagree with or someone who see life through a different set of lenses based on a very different life experience.

I know at times I am so focused on my own goals and agendas and assume that I know the best way to achieve them, that I can easily reject, minimize or ignore others’ ways of thinking.

So, how do we learn to appreciate our differences? How do we see the value in the different gifts of the Spirit that each of us has been given? How do we learn to be more tolerant, more patient, and ultimately more loving and forgiving of others, and maybe even of ourselves?

Our church will have the opportunity in a couple of weeks to learn about one tool that has been used for centuries to help human beings, especially those on an intentional spiritual path, better understand themselves and others. This tool is called the Enneagram. I don’t want to take away from our presenter, Kristina Frank’s workshop, but I do want to introduce you briefly to the usefulness of the Enneagram as a tool for self-awareness, healing and spiritual growth.

The Enneagram is widely taught as a way of understanding personality, addiction, relationships, and vocation, among other things. The Enneagram is divided into nine distinct personality types—know as numbers One through Nine. This system recognizes that humans are far too complex to fit easily into simple categories; and all of us has at least a little of all nine personality types within us.

However, each of us has developed a personality that attempted to work for us as a child—to work within in our family unit to survive and thrive, to protect ourselves emotionally, to gain attention and to feel valued and loved.

The Enneagram helps us see our personalty types through an objective lens, revealing each type’s basic desires, fears and motivations. Working with our Enneagram numbers, we can observe and let go of troublesome habits, discover your types healing attitudes, gifts and specific transformational process. It can help us understand what motivates us.

For example, I am an Enneagram Six, also called “The Loyalist.” Sixes live in constant fear that something will go wrong, and they are forever preparing to avert or minimize potential disaster. Whether that is through planning (or one might say over planning), strategic avoidance of possible disasters, or unwittingly manipulating others, it is fear that drives what they pay attention to and motivates much of their behavior. As you might imagine, Sixes tend to be pessimists. Not by choice, but by the very nature of a personality that originally allowed early humans to survive. Be on the lookout always for the tiger that could attack, be hyper-vigilant. Prepare for a famine that could be coming. Be prepared for anything that could go wrong.

My husband David is an Enneagram Three, also called “The Achiever.” Threes like to feel successful, whatever their definition of “success” might be. They are upbeat and positive and love accomplishing things. They have a natural gift in motivating and encouraging others. They are competent, confident and persistent. Not surprisingly, Threes tend to be very optimistic.

And lest you think, by this simple description, that it would be preferable to be a Three rather than a Six, know that I did not mention the higher attributes of a Six, nor the lower attributes of a Three. No one personality type is superior to another.

But using this simple description, I’d like to tell a little story of how the Enneagram helped me understand each of us a little better by learning that he and I had different motivations for the same behavior.

For twenty years or more, David and I have had a weekly routine of “going over our planners.” Every Sunday morning before church, we sit together with our coffee and look at the upcoming week’s appointments and events. He often prefaces these meetings with another aphorism, “the family that fails to plan, plans to fail.”

Over these many years, managing work schedules and children’s schedules; knowing when David would be out of town or home for dinner, we found that this routine helped keep the family running as smoothly as possible and was essential for our peace of mind. This ritual was equally important and satisfying to both of us.

But it wasn’t until I began studying the Enneagram that I had a new awareness that what looked like the same behavior of “going over our planners,” might be motivated by very different things for each of us. As a Six, knowing what was coming up gave me a sense of relief and control. It gave me a sense of security thinking I could avert any possible surprises, and make the necessary plans to minimize any potential problems. But for a Three, can you guess what the underlying motivation might be? Remember David’s pre-meeting aphorism? If failing to plan leads to planning to fail, the opposite must be true. Planning leads to success. Success and accomplishment are the ultimate motivators for a Three. David feels a great sense of accomplishment by planning.

How many of you have even a little familiarity with the Enneagram? How many of you know what your Enneagram number is? I’ve often thought that the Brethren Church is made up of a lot of Enneagram Ones.

I hope you’ll consider joining us on Sept. 30 to learn more about the Enneagram from our presenter Kristina Frank. You’ll be sent a link to a free Enneagram test that you can take before the workshop. I think just answering the questions on the test is very enlightening.

And while self-discovery is important, it is not the Enneagram’s final objective. The Enneagram’s purpose is to help us uncover the traps that keep us from living fully and freely as our highest self, so that we can use our unique gifts for the good of others.

And its value lies in not just discovering these aspects of ourselves, but of those we live with and interact with; those we agree with and disagree with, those whom we journey with as the Body of Christ.

Even if not familiar with the Enneagram himself, Paul understood the necessity of appreciating different spiritual gifts, including our personalities. God designed us and calls us to different ways of being. And only together, as the Body of Christ, we are a living, breathing, creative, and dynamic Body—a symphony of diverse gifts, united in One Spirit. Amen.