Spiritual Gifts

Basic principles regarding spiritual gifts

As any loving father would do, God gives special gifts to each of his children to enable them to participate in his family and to faithfully serve in his kingdom. Paul in his first letter to the Christians in Corinth introduces this matter of spiritual gifts to them and to us in his statement in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. Each of the gifts that are cited in his various letters comes from God through the Holy Spirit. And one of the initial functions of these spiritual gifts is to enable individuals to speak correctly about Jesus, the Son of God, whom God sent into the world to redeem sinners from their rebellion against him so that he could receive them into his family and use them in his kingdom. Paul indicates that no one who “ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’” is speaking according to the “Spirit of God” and “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3) So we should understand that spiritual gifts are primarily given to God’s children by the Spirit to enable them to first express proper attitudes toward Jesus and God in their relationships to them. Common sense should convince us that it would be hard to function effectively as a member of a family or a business if one didn’t have a proper attitude of respect and devotion toward the group and its leaders.

And Paul goes on in his comments about spiritual gifts to indicate that although “there are varieties of gifts”, they all come from “the same Spirit”; and although “there are varieties of service”, the various gifts and services are all “for the common good”. (See 1 Cor. 12:4-6) After Paul specifically cites some of the spiritual gifts that the Spirit gives to individuals, he further explains the nature of the “common good” that is the vehicle for the expression of the various gifts and services. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-30 Paul indicates that this “common” vehicle is “the body of Christ”, which is “the church” in the world, and that as individuals they are “members of it”. (vs. 27) Then Paul cites some of the gifted leaders in this “body” as “apostles”, “prophets”, and “teachers(vs. 28), and in his letter to the Ephesians he also cites “evangelists” and “shepherds” as being gifted “to equip the saints for the work of ministry”, all “for building up the body of Christ”. (Ephesians 4:11-12) As each individual member of the “body” uses his or her various gifts and leadership authority in the Spirit of “unity of the faith” and the proper “knowledge of the Son of God” to grow up to become “mature” members of God’s family and faithful servants in his kingdom “the body grows so that it builds itself up in love”. (Eph. 4:13- 16) And it should be obvious that the “body”, the “church” must be strong and mature in order to effectively serve and to glorify God and to represent Jesus in this world.

A listing of various spiritual gifts

In Paul’s basic statement about spiritual gifts, as explained above, he cites the following gifts: “wisdom”, “knowledge”, “faith”, “healing”, “miracles”, “prophecy”, “the ability to distinguish between spirits”, “tongues”, and “the interpretation of tongues”. (See 1 Cor. 12:8-10) Further along in his instructions regarding spiritual gifts he cites these gifts: “helping”, “administrating”, and the ability to “interpret”. (See vss. 28-30) Then he offers some special comments about the higher gifts of “faith, hope, and love”, citing some of the very special qualities of God’s gift of love in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he cites “grace” as a gift that is “received by faith(Rom. 3:24-25), and in his letter to the Ephesians he indicates that ““faith…is the gift of God”. (Eph. 2:8)

Although there isn’t much said about “spiritual gifts” in the Bible outside of these passages from Paul’s letters, I think that it is reasonable to assume that the ability to write “inspired” documents that are recognized as coming from the Spirit of God and being referred to as “Scripture” is a gift of God. I believe that Moses had this gift that enabled him to write the amazing record of God’s revelation and wise will in the initial books of the Bible that describe in great detail the beginning of human history and the accounts of God’s personal relationships with specially chosen individuals, like Noah, Abraham, and Jacob. And this gift for “inspired” writing is also demonstrated by the authors of the books of Samuel, the records of the Kings, including David and Solomon, the various writers of The Psalms and the other books in the Old Testament that are known as the Writings, such as Job and Ecclesiastes and Lamentations, and each of the prophets whose pronouncements and activities set the stage of the world for the incarnation of God in the human person of Jesus. Peter acknowledges the influence of the Spirit on the authors of scriptural prophecy in this statement: “no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21) It should be noted that individuals who were recognized as legitimate prophets in the Old Testament were individuals who were not only able to especially announce future events in God’s ongoing work and revelation in the world, but they were recognized as having divine authority to specifically instruct men in “God’s ways” as a “spokesman of God”.1 Aaron was called a prophet (Exodus 7:1) for Moses, and Samuel was also recognized as a “prophet” who had a divine gift of vision and was acknowledged as a “seer(1 Samuel 9:9) for God. And the “inspired” record of Jesus’ life and ministries has been preserved by the gifted authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the “gospels” of the New Testament. Paul apparently had this gift among others that he claims, because thirteen of his letters and have been recognized as being “inspired” and preserved as “Scripture” in the New Testament along with those of other gifted authors such as Peter, James, and Jude.

It could probably be debated as to whether or not the ability to write music and to create works of religious art that glorify God are spiritual gifts that have been given by the Spirit to selected individuals for use in the body of Christ in the world, the Church, or are they just personal skills and talents that have been developed and refined for use in ministries of praise and worship. As technologies for the communication of God’s will and the expression of his triune nature have expanded beyond that of simple speech, it might be argued that the Spirit gives some individuals some special gifts in the use of these technologies to strengthen and to expand the influence of Christians throughout the world, so inspired Christian stories, dramas, and movies have been written, produced, and distributed in various forms of media. Unless various authors and producers of any expression of divine revelation or will are gifted and inspired by the Spirit, their works will not have the anointing stamp of God’s blessing. All real spiritual gifts will glorify God through their use, and those that don’t glorify God will eventually be judged as expressions of idolatry, humanistic heresies, and demonic lies.

Using these spiritual gifts

In Paul’s various statements regarding spiritual gifts, as given above, he makes it clear that they each come from the Spirit and that they are all to be used by gifted individuals in the body of Christ in a manner of mutual love (According to 1 Cor. 13) and caring for one another (1 Cor. 12:25) that all may rejoice together (1 Cor 12:26) and that all things be done for building up (1 Cor. 14:26) the Church. He indicates that the gift of prophesy is especially useful for “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation(1 Cor. 14:3). Paul concludes his instructions regarding spiritual gifts in chapters 12-14 of 1 Corinthians with this statement; “all things should be done decently and in order”. (1 Cor. 14:40) So although different individuals may have different gifts and different positions of leadership and authority in the body of Christ, the Church, they are to each use their gift or gifts in humility and orderly service for the up building of the body and the effective proclamation of the good news of Jesus and a demonstration of his glory.

How to identify your spiritual gift or gifts

In the first place it might help you to recognize your spiritual gifts, which include the basic gift of faith, for you to note what it is that you particularly find easy to do as a Christian in your personal life and service in the Church. What you naturally enjoy doing as a Christian is probably a clue as to the gifts that the Spirit has given to you. You can be assured of this fact that God will not call you to do anything that he doesn’t equip you to do with his gifts. And some of your friends and associates in the Church can probably testify to you regarding the particular gifts that they see being used or demonstrated in your life and services. Ask them for their perspective regarding your possible gifts. And remember that any gift is given by the Spirit to enable you to serve and to glorify God and not to enhance your ego or authority anywhere. Pray about this, asking God to specifically identify the gifts for serving that he has given to you. Once he has done that, then you should commit yourself to using those gifts in the appropriate way in the Church and in your personal life, watching with amazement and praise for what God is doing through your inspired use of his gifts. As you mature in your Christian experience as a disciple of Jesus, God may give you more gifts or change the supply of gifts that you have in order to enable you to do some different things in your ongoing ministries of service in his kingdom. We should be able to recognize the wisdom of this process by noting how we give different “gifts”, including the keys to the family car, to our children as they mature in their abilities. Every Christian is gifted by the Spirit for a life of enjoyable fellowship and service with God, and God will enable each of you to recognize and to use his gifts as you discuss them with him.

Conclusion regarding spiritual gifts

Don’t try to claim spiritual gifts that God apparently doesn’t intend to give to you. And don’t neglect to use the specific gifts that God has personally given to you. Don’t compare your gifts with those of other Christians in the Church, but commit yourself to use them in a humble spirit of cooperative love and coordinated service for the up building of the body of Christ in the world. Use your gifts to encourage other Christians in the use of their gifts, as parents and children encourage each other in their lives together as different individuals in a common family. And continue to seek to grow in your abilities to effectively use your gifts for God’s glory, never being satisfied with a “childish” effort to “play with” a personal “gift” from God, your “Father”. For further insight into this matter see my statement regarding “The Spirit” and the one on the process of “Discipleship” on this website. Spiritual gifts are powerful tools, and their faithful and effective use can have many benefits that are GOOD forever.

1. The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible by John D. Davis, (revised and rewritten by Henry Snyder Gehman, published by The Westminster Press, Philadelphia 1944), p. 493.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.