Spiritual gifts are abilities that the Holy Spirit bestows on believers. These gifts are not to be confused with simply natural talents. The spiritual gifts are given by God and cannot be reproduced by the world or natural, unregenerate man.
Purpose of the Gifts
The spiritual gifts are bestowed for the purpose of building up the body of Christ. The elders and shepherds in the church serve other believers in order to train them for these good works. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12). So, the spiritual gifts have a definite aim, that being purifying and building Christ’s church to the glory of God.
Administration of the Gifts
The Holy Spirit distributes the gifts according to His will, and he administers them in a diverse way and measure among believers. No one gift is more important than another, for all of the gifts function for the purpose of edification. “All [believers] are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11). The Holy Spirit determines how a believer will be used in the body, and we can be thankful to God for that. Though we may be tempted to compare ourselves with others (why can’t I be more musically talented like Randy?), we can trust that the Lord has a noble purpose for every believer and the ability He has given them.
We can learn a lesson in contentment from the Apostle Paul:
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body” (1 Corinthians 12:14-20).
Just as every piece of the human body is vital to its healthy functioning, so every member of the body of Christ is useful in God’s Kingdom. God has arranged His body in a certain way for His grand purposes. We can take comfort in this fact!
The Gifts Described
The New Testament lists the spiritual gifts in multiple texts. The texts differ in their exact lists, so it is likely that they are describing the reality of spiritual gifts in general rather than making exhaustive lists. It is possible that the combinations of spiritual gifts vary as much as individual believers do.
Here are two key texts:
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:3-8).
“For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Corinthians 12:8-11).
Paul, the author of both Romans and Corinthians, provides long lists of gifts with great variety. Apart from the sign and miraculous gifts (prophecy, healing, tongues) that functioned in the first century to authenticate the Gospel message and ceased upon the Apostle’s deaths, it is helpful to think of spiritual gifts in two categories: speaking and serving. Here is a passage that gets at this point.
“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).
In general, the Holy Spirit gifts some believers more for speaking roles such as teaching, preaching, and evangelism. He gifts others for more service-oriented roles such as the administration of mercy and generous giving. This does not mean that some believers perform evangelism, for instance, while others do not. It simply means that some believers will probably ‘major in evangelism’ due to their gifting by the Holy Spirit, while others follow their lead.
A Christian will discover his or her spiritual gift over time by serving in the local church. They can ask their brothers and sisters in Christ, especially those more mature in the faith, what they notice about their patterns of service. As John Macarthur writes, “The best way to discover one’s spiritual giftedness is by engaging in ministry according to one’s God-given desires, opportunities to serve, and the response of those served” (Biblical Doctrine, Macarthur/Mayhue). Every believer’s giftedness will differ, as anyone can observe by even spending time with two pastors. One pastor excels more in exhortation, while the other excels in wisdom and faith. So, even when two believers have similar giftedness, the gifts will probably manifest themselves in different ways. We serve a God of abundance.
Notice again that the purpose of the gifts, as described in the 1 Peter 4 passage, is to serve one another and glorify God.
When not used for the purpose of glorifying God and building His church, the gifts of the Spirit will be abused and be used for self-centeredness. We must be warned of this fact; yet, God has also provided us the great motivating factor of love to keep us on track.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Praise be to God for gifting us, through His Spirit, to serve Him!
- 1 Corinthians 12:11
- How does the reality in this passage help us understand our own spiritual gifts and those given to our church?
- What does this reality prevent us from thinking?
- 1 Corinthians 13
- Examine this passage and think through why love is so important in the context of spiritual gifts.
- 1 Peter 4:10-11
- How does Peter break down the various gifts?
- What is our motive for using these gifts?
- What can you do to discover your spiritual gift in light of this passage and the others in this post?