Last week’s Daily Office readings for Lent included the well known passage at the end of 1 Cor 1 that talks about God humbling the wise:
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
(1 Corinthians 1:27-29 ESV)
Today while doing a bit of blog browsing, I found a great post by Jon Bloom at the Desiring God blog (the ministry of John Piper and his associates) which talks about the difference between gifts and strengths. It struck me deeply:
Lots of books have been published and numerous tests developed to help us identify our strengths.
The closest biblical parallels are texts like Ephesians 4:11, 1 Corinthians 12:28, Romans 12:6–8, and others where we are given lists of gifts “that differ according to the grace given to us” by God. And we are urged to use them for the benefit of the church.
But note that even here the Bible tends to refer to “gifts” rather than “strengths.” The difference in focus, I think, is important for us. We tend to think of our strengths as inherently part of our identity. Strengths are our value-add; our competitive edge. But gifts connote grace. A gift does not originate with us. It’s something we receive from God and steward for his sake. Therefore our gifts are not so much our identity as our offering. And since God has given us these gifts, he’s not obliged to always put us in places where we can use them fully.
In fact, God frequently places us in positions where we struggle and feel weak for the very reason that he receives particular glory by showing his strength through our weaknesses.
This motif is woven through redemptive history: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). Why? “So that no human being might boast in the presence of God” (1 Corinthians 1:29). God shames human strength to humble humans.
It is this line that most struck me:
Therefore our gifts are not so much our identity as our offering.
May God grant us grace this Lent not to glory in our own strengths and talents, nor to demand of Him that He give us opportunity to use those strengths, but may we humbly rejoice in the gifts of GRACE He has poured out in our lives, and offer ourselves afresh to God and wait on His Spirit for opportunities to serve in the strength HE alone provides, that HE ALONE may receive glory!