Who are you? What gives a man his identity? Answering those questions truthfully is essential to living a life of purpose and significance.
The great English Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon’s book, An All-Around Ministry, contains Presidential Addresses he delivered at the Annual Pastors’ Conferences (1872-1890). One of the lectures that has profoundly impacted me is titled, “Individuality, and its Opposite.” He explained his topic saying,
I want to show that each one of us is a man by himself, and then that no one is alone by himself. Our individuality and our fellowship, our personality and our union with the Lord, our separate existence and our absorption into Christ;—these are the themes upon which I am going to dilate (An All-Round Ministry, Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 60).
Spurgeon points to Paul’s assertion, “I worked harder than any of them, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10b, CSB). He notes that Paul’s “I, yet not I” is a helpful way for a man to think about his unique God-given personality and gifting. Consider how thinking about our life in this way can unleash a man to live for God’s glory.
Individuality – I
Spurgeon warns against prideful egotism but advocates what he calls humble egoism, which he describes as “honest selfhood” (62). He explains, “We hope that each man will recognize and honorably maintain his personality” (62). He warns that it is a tragic thing for a man to live with a “counterfeit voice” (72). Spurgeon explains, “Men are not cast in molds by the thousand; we are each one distinct from his fellow” (73). He further exhorts, “Be yourself, dear brother, for, if you are not yourself, you cannot be anybody else; and so, you see, you must be nobody” (73).
Every man must commit himself to the reality that his life constitutes his own unique and strategic ministry opportunity. Paul unjustly imprisoned asserted, “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Phil. 1:12). Satan desires us to live in abstraction and a fantasy world of “what if?” and “if only?” but the Scripture admonishes us to live for Christ in the unique and concrete reality of our daily lives. Nobody else can be you—surrendered to Jesus.
Its Opposite – Yet Not I
Spurgeon then states he wants to talk about what “is not the reverse [of individuality], but the converse” (80). He reminds his hearers that though they do have unique work to do in the world, “Brother, you are not the only lamp to enlighten earth’s darkness, . . . You are only one member of the mystic body, one soldier of the grand army” (80). We must remember, “You are not alone in sounding the praises of Christ, your voice is but one of a mighty orchestra” (81) and “although we are individuals, and must keep up our personality, we are only instruments for the accomplishment of the Divine purposes” (83).
Spurgeon notes that all believers share the experience of the Spirit of Christ dwelling within us. God spiritually gifts each believer (Rom. 12:6-8, 1 Cor. 12:4-11, 28, Eph. 4:11), but spiritual gifts are not given for self-promotion or to magnify our individuality. Rather, they are given for the common good of the church (1 Cor. 12:7, 14:12, 26). Since spiritual gifts are given for the benefit of the entire body, it would be foolish to boast about them and call attention to ourselves. Rather, we use them to serve others and call attention to Christ.
Men, be you—surrendered to Christ. No one can do it for you because no one else has your unique and strategic ministry opportunity. But never forget that you are united to Christ and a member of his body. Apart from Christ you can do nothing. Your spiritual gifting is to point to him and build up his church. God does not need you, but by his grace, he has uniquely called you and gifted you, spend and be spent for his glory.