Justice League from DC Films, released in November of 2017, is about the gathering of a core set of superheroes to fight a common foe and eventually form an alliance called The Justice League. If like me, you were a child of the 1980’s, you know them as the Superfriends but with Aquaman getting a major upgrade of “cool.” As I watched this movie it occurred to me that this story is an apt parable that depicts how gifts of the Spirit can and should work together in selfless and complementary ways. Here are five things Justice League reveals about gifts of the Spirit.
The Difference Between Superpowers and Spiritual Gifts
Before we get to the actual list, I think it’s important to point something out. The gifts of the Spirit are not superpowers. That might sound obvious, but the way people talk about them on social media and in online videos you might think that they are the same thing. Scripture tells us that this isn’t the case.
Superpowers are innate to a superhero. They can express their powers at will. The Gifts of the Spirit are not like this. No one person is given a gift that they can express at will. Rather, they are more like tools that the Spirit gives to a person in a moment to accomplish a particular task. Anyone could be given any gift at any time if that person makes themselves available to the Spirit.
That being said, there are times when individuals tend to be equipped with a particular gift of the Spirit over other gifts on a consistent basis. But that doesn’t make it their gift, their superpower. It is the Spirit’s power, not the individual’s. This is an essential distinction for the rest of this article. For more on this see the post Star Wars Parables: The Power Does Not Belong To You.
The point of this article is about how spiritual gifts should interact with one another in the life and growth of a church. Be open, be ready, be available.
The Justice League Setup
I could take some time and try to summarize the plot of the movie, the characters, and their abilities, but it’s too much. What you need to know for the purposes of this post is this;
- None of the heroes individually can beat the bad guys, not even Superman.
- Not even five of the six of the heroes together could get the job done and save the day.
- It takes all six heroes, many of them having overlapping gifts with the others, working together selflessly to beat the bad guys and save the planet.
Disclaimer – I encourage you to watch the movie after reading this article, even if you’ve already seen it. Look for these patterns. For those who have not seen it yet, be aware that there is a handful of bad language words. It’s rated PG-13.
1) The Church Is Vulnerable To Attack When Gifts Are Missing
In the movie prior to Justice League, “Superman vs. Batman; Dawn of Justice” Superman dies at the end. (Spoilers.) An alien army is now preparing to invade earth because of the fact that Superman is dead. He posed the single biggest obstacle to their success. With him out of the way, it will be much easier. Early in the movie, a man poses the question, ”Where does that leave us?”
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, the apostle Paul uses the illustration of a human body to communicate the need for and the reality of differing gifts of the Spirit. Just as different parts of a body provide different functions and benefits, so too do gifts of the Spirit.
Just as a body with missing parts is more vulnerable, so is a church. I think if a study were done on churches that closed for one reason or another, looking for which spiritual gifts were present and which were missing, I think there would be some fascinating connections made to different scenarios.
2) Recognizing The Need For Others Gifts And Making Room
The heroes are honest with themselves and recognize their own limitations and how this affects the team.
“Superman can bring this team together better than I ever could.” “The world needs Superman. The team needs Clark.” Batman. (Clark is a reference to Superman’s secret identity, Clark Kent.)
“It’s my job and I haven’t been doing it. I’ve been reacting, not leading.” Wonder Woman.
“I’ve never done battle. I’ve just pushed some people and run away.” The Flash.
In current American church culture there exists a mindset, sometimes accidentally, sometimes intentionally, that certain gifts and even personality traits are preferred over others in order to do effective ministry. The way I heard it explained once is that some of these things are “sexier” than others.
If you don’t fit into this sexy mold you aren’t given the opportunity to serve. More than that, the Holy Spirit is quenched (see the context of 1 Thessalonians 5:19). The Holy Spirit is limited as to how to fill in the gaps of the so-called spiritually sexy people who are in charge. The result is a lopsided and unhealthy church producing unhealthy followers of Jesus.
This is like Wonder Woman telling The Flash that he can’t be a part of the League because all he can do is move really fast and is socially awkward. Had that been the case there would have been many more dead people in the movie.
When people in a church recognize their own limitations (that they don’t have all of the gifts), the need for others to operate in their gifts, and have the willingness to make room for them, that church will be tremendously more effective in building the Kingdom of God.
3) Not Being Envious Of Others Gifts
Surprisingly, no one in this movie is envious of the gifts that the others have. If anything they are in awe of the others. Each one respect the others (eventually). I think this is because there was a purpose for them coming together. They saw no need to compete with one another because they realized that they were all needed for the greater good.
“Superman was a beacon to the world. Why aren’t you? You’re an inspiration, Diana [Wonder Woman], you don’t just save people, you make them see their better selves.” Bruce Wayne.
The church in Corinth was dealing with a lot of spiritual-gifts envy. Using the illustration of a body Paul points out the foolishness in this thinking. If everyone were an eye, where would the hearing be? If everyone were an ear, where would the smelling be?
Connecting it to gifts of the Spirit and varying roles in the church, Paul asks a series of questions. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers, workers of miracles, have gifts of healings, speak or interpret other languages? The answer to the rhetorical questions is no.
When everyone is functioning in their own gifts and not wasting time envying the gifts of others, everyone wins and the church can be about its mission.
4) Operating In Our Own Gifts With The Encouragement Of Others
All of the heroes have things from their past that are hanging them up and holding them back. They encourage one another to fully be what they are.
“We are not enough. Each of us in our own way has held back.” Batman
“You were pushing me to lead the team. But leaders get people killed. I fought, always, when I was needed. But to lead, to step into the light and say to people, ‘This is worth your life,’ when it’s your fault, they’re all Steve Trevor.” Wonder Woman. In the movie titled Wonder Woman, Steve Trevor sacrificed himself to save the day while Diana saved the world. That has haunted her for a long time.
When five of the heroes are gathered early on to fight the bad guys who have civilians captive, The Flash confesses to Batman that he has never done battle. He’s afraid. Batman tells him to “Just save one person.” In other words, run in with your super-speed, grab a captive, and run out. Don’t fight. Do what you’re good at. “Then what?” The Flash asks. Batman says, “Then you’ll know what to do.” The Flash does save one, he realizes that that is his role in this particular fight, and he saves the rest.
We can go through seasons in our own walks with The Lord where we are less open to what He wants to do in us and through us to build His kingdom.
- We get burned in ministry by other believers.
- We get seriously ill for a long time.
- The death of a loved one can throw us off.
- Or, we never had someone encourage us to step up and step out in the first place. In fact, many churches teach that the gifts of the Spirit aren’t in operation anymore.
Sometimes we need that encouragement from others to get back into the fight. Sometimes we need to be the one to provide that encouragement to others. In either case, it’s not something that can be done when we are isolated, alone. We need people around us and we need to be around other people. Discouragement isolates. Encouragement integrates.
Be an encourager and allow yourself to be encouraged by others.
5) Complimentary Gifts Working Together
All six heroes are finally together for the climactic battle at the end of the movie. As is his usual way of working, Batman tries to take care of part of the job on his own. Fortunately, the team shows up to save him from certain doom and they all work together from then on.
Even in this final battle, we don’t see the individual heroes doing their own thing alone. We see them working together, in tandem with one another, supporting one another. Where their gifts overlap, they are even stronger. Where their gifts are unique, they let the other take the lead.
One of my favorite moments in the movie is when Superman finally arrives and asks, “So, how do I help?” Seriously? You’re Superman! You got this single-handedly! In reality, he didn’t.
Not even Superman could deal with the Mother Box on his own. (The alien superweapon that was about the reshape the planet and destroy all life on earth.) He didn’t even lead that effort; he helped! Cyborg had the lead on that part.
- Cyborg split the boxes apart but couldn’t do more than that.
- Once separated, Superman pushed them apart so that they exploded.
- The Flash helped save civilians in the surrounding area while the rest had to work collaboratively to beat the main bad guy.
Not one of them could have done this alone. Not one of them could have done any of it alone.
So it is with gifts of the Spirit in the church.
The pastor/teacher can’t do it all by himself and he shouldn’t try. The evangelist can’t do it by themselves. The church planters and prophets can’t do it all by themselves.
Like Superman, everyone needs to show up and ask, “So, how do I help?”
Like a human body, the gifts of the Spirit are designed to work together. You can see good examples of this in the book of Acts. You can see what happens when people don’t use the gifts properly in 1 Corinthians. The gifts are intended to build on one another, to support one another, so that the church strengthened and the Kingdom of God is expanded.
What Do You Think?
What else does Justice League reveal about spiritual gifts? Join the conversation by commenting below. Take some time and process through the following questions. Share your answers in the comments and let’s process them together. Read Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12-14 for some background.
- When was the last time you know you were expressing a spiritual gift?
- Has anyone ever told you that you were expressing a spiritual gift but you weren’t aware of it?
- Are you afraid of or perhaps not-at-ease with the gifts of the Spirit? If yes, why?
- Which spiritual gift is the scariest, or least appealing to you? Why?
- Which is the most interesting, or the one you would like the Spirit to express through you the most? Why?
- Have you ever been in a church environment when complimentary gifts were working together? Please share about that.
Take some time and invest in discovering more about the Holy Spirit and how He wants to work through you. The following resources are highly recommended.