I once read the fable of a little bluebell that had been planted in the shady corner of a great garden. Though it was thriving in its place, it one day cast its eye toward the roses that had been planted where the sun was brighter and where more visitors could pause to gaze at their beauty. Suddenly discontent, the bluebell asked the gardener if it could be transplanted to a brighter and more visible location. The gardener granted the flower its wish, but no sooner had it been moved than it began to decline—its blooms became dull, its leaves began to wither, its roots began to shrivel. And soon enough it begged that it might be moved back to the place from which it had been taken. It knew now that its original location had been no mistake but had reflected the wisdom of a skilled gardener who knows that bluebells bloom best in the shade.
We trust a skilled gardener to know how each plant can best serve the design of his garden. He knows the plants that thrive in full sun and the ones that need shade, the plants that bloom early in the season and the ones that bloom only as summer turns to fall, the plants that display their blossoms for a month and the ones that display them for merely a day. His skill is displayed in a garden that is beautiful from sun to shade, front to back, spring to autumn.
And as the gardener suits the plants to his garden, God suits the gifts to his church. He dispenses gifts to each person, each to be used in love and service to others. To some he gives the gift of evangelism and to others the gift of teaching. Some he equips to be especially generous and others to emphasize acts of mercy. These gifts differ according to the wise dictates of divine grace so that some are private and some public, some are visible and some inconspicuous, some require great mental exertion and others great physical effort. Yet not one of these gifts is superfluous and not one redundant. It falls to us to identify the gifts he has bestowed upon us, to accept them from his hand, and to deploy them skillfully and faithfully for the good of others and the glory of God.
Yet we must always guard ourselves against either envying or denigrating the gifts of others. If the bluebell had no right to take the rose’s place in the sun, the rose had no right to disparage the bluebell’s place in the shade. Each had its own place, its own purpose, and could thrive only there. Likewise, we gain nothing by casting our envious gaze upon others and wishing we had been assigned their gifts instead of our own. We should instead joyfully take up our calling and give it the very best of our efforts. But then we also gain nothing by casting our disparaging gaze upon others and taking pride that our gifts appear to be more prominent or more public. We should instead affirm that person’s gifting as every bit as sacred and as essential as our own since it does, after all, originate from a common Giver to serve a common purpose.
Thus the Christian gifted in hospitality must not speak of that gift as if it is preeminent among all others or as if it is the essential mark of Christian obedience. He must not look down upon a person who places less emphasis on hospitality but greater emphasis upon giving or service or evangelism. And then the person gifted in teaching must not allow his conscience to be afflicted by the person gifted in hospitality so that he neglects his own gifting in order to pursue someone else’s. Though the day lily blooms for just a few hours, it is neither greater nor lesser than the petunia that blooms all summer long. Each has its place in a garden that has been carefully designed by a skilled gardener. And so, too, each gift has its place in a church that has been carefully designed by a wise God.
When he was helping the church at Rome navigate matters of conscience, the Apostle Paul called them to the virtues of love, humility, and forbearance. The exhortation he spoke to their issues of conscience could as easily pertain to our issues of gifting. “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls.” Each of us will have to give an account to God, not for the gifts he has given others, but for the gifts he has given us. And so it becomes our responsibility, our calling, our joy, to accept them, to pursue them, and to deploy them for his glory.