I was at a recent event and had the opportunity to sing a song that had sort of a comedy routine introduction and it was very well received by the group. A number of people came up to me afterwards to thank me for doing it and several made comments like, “You’re so talented!” Sure, it’s nice to be complimented, but as I reflected on the situation I kept thinking about how everyone is given gifts and abilities, so the line “You’re so talented!” could be stated about everyone. However, the structure of gifting and human interaction biases the compliments towards a small subset of abilities. That probably sounds like a weird statement, so let me explain.
First of all, I start from the deduction that our world was designed, not simply arising randomly. And like the beauty of ecosystems, I have concluded that humans were designed to be interdependent. So any one person cannot fulfill all functions needed for happy and fruitful living. Each person needs to depend on others. And we see that abilities are distributed, so we have diversity, instead of uniformity. The Biblical illustration, which shows up in 1 Cor 12-14, is one of a body with many members, where the members have different functions and are all necessary.
In this distribution, it is important to notice two categories of abilities, what I will call one-to-one gifts and one-to-many gifts. One-to-one gifts are the most critical and where the nitty gritty of love gets played out. For example, in a family, there is a lot of one-to-one training and love that is necessary to build a child into a mature adult. Health care is another clear example of love that occurs one-to-one. In fact, most forms of love, not all, but most, can only be conveyed one to one. One-to-many gifts, on the other hand, are often informational. If you need to convey information, then one person can talk to a crowd of 10 or of 10,000. And the information gets conveyed. So speakers and musicians, and writers and artists all operate in the realm of one-to-many.
Now, think about how this plays out. If a person is good at speaking, or drama, or music, or painting, their abilities are displayed to many people. And those many people who experience the same person’s gifts, will often discuss them with each other or convey their appreciation to the person. I.e., one-to-many gifts get noticed and they get the compliments. Even if you are not very good at speaking, if you talk to large enough groups, you will find some who like it and complement you.
Now, let’s compare that to the one-to-one gifts. A person has an aging mother or spouse, and gives 10 years to taking care of the person. How many people know about it? The one person serves one other person. No one else is there to witness it. That serving takes special ability. That serving evidences real talent. But no one is there to see it except for one person. So you don’t have the crowd. The crowd, which usually includes some more talkative people who pipe up and say, “You’re so talented!” But the health care giving person is displaying just as much talent as a good musician, only in a different arena, a personal arena.
Do you see what I am saying? If you happen to be one of those with a gift that is one-to-many, you have a much higher likelihood of being thought of as being talented. If you show love individually, and do it very well, you will get complimented, but not by the masses. But here is what happens. We grow to think that speaking and musical gifts are “talent” but holding hands, and washing feet and giving a word of personal encouragement are not. But they are. And don’t think you are not talented if you cannot readily do something one-to-many. That may not have been your distribution. Your talent may appear in a different sphere, but it is still talent.
I think when God rewards, he will look at the heart of love and compassion that motivated you to express the abilities He gave you, rather than at how many people you touched. The only way the “how many” comes into play is in asking how much time did you spend living selfishly. If you were less selfish, would you have had time to touch more lives with expressions of love? In other words, God won’t be comparing the numbers for a one-to-one gifted person with those of a one-to-many gifted person. Like in 2 Cor, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have.
I write this, not so much to help you think about what eternal rewards might be coming your way, but rather, to encourage believers to live in unity with each other. If you have a one-to-many gift, don’t think you are more special than anyone else. There needs to be some one-to-many gifts, and they are more rare, because we don’t need as many. But you will have a limited influence on lives. Some things can only happen one-to-one, and that may be outside your proper working. If you have a one-to-one gift, don’t be jealous of the attention that the one-to-many people get. It’s simply a matter of statistics, they will get more attention, but that does not make them better and the kind of attention that matters is when you get God’s attention. He’s looking at how you are using what he distributed to you.