What are the Spiritual Gifts?
There are three primary areas in the New Testament where a listing of Spiritual Gifts can be found: Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4.
“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
– Romans 12:6-8
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”
– 1 Corinthians 12:4-11
“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”
– Ephesians 4:11-12
Everyone has a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:7, 11, Ephesians 4:7, 1 Peter 4:10), and some may have more than one spiritual gift. No gift is more important than the other. All are needed, and if you have more than one gift, it is because those gifts are perfectly suited for your role within the Kingdom of God. The discovery of your spiritual gift(s) takes place gradually. It is a process. Our gifts are discovered through the process of our spiritual formation. Our spiritual gifts are not to be confused with spiritual fruits (Galatians 5:22-23). Spiritual fruits are our Christian character, but spiritual gifts are our Christian service. It’s important to remember that Christian service and spiritual gifts are not necessarily tied to an office or position within a church. Everyone has a spiritual gift, but not everyone is called to work for a church or ministry. Those positions are selected and appointed by humans, but our spiritual gifts are selected and appointed by God. Your personal ministry can be just as effective at your home, in your school, at your work, or in a park as it can be within a church building. It is also important to make sure our spiritual gifts are not confused with our natural talents and abilities. Those gifts may coincide with our spiritual gifts, but our spiritual gifts go beyond our natural skills and abilities. They are spiritual because they are supernatural. The are divinely designed and given to followers of Jesus to expand and edify His Church. The purpose of our spiritual gifts is to serve and glorify God. As J. Oswald Sanders said, “The possessor is only the instrument and not the receiver of the glory.” Therefore, we must be careful not to abuse or neglect our spiritual gifts. There are great leaders and great orators who have used their God-given gifts for selfish and worldly reasons. We can’t fall into that trap, though Satan will try to entangle us.
“Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
– 1 Peter 4:11 NASB
“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.”
– 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 NLT
As the body of Christ, we all have a vital role to play. We all need each other. Our gifts compliment one another. Our strengths cover one another’s weaknesses. Our gifts are different, but they’re all connected. Our arms can’t reach out without our brain functioning behind the scenes telling it what to do. Our legs can’t move without the muscles inside holding us up and allowing us to put one foot in front of the other. When we reach to grab hold of something, it’s because all our fingers are coming together to bear the weight of it. No part of our body is more important than the other. The body moves and operates because of everything working together. The value is in the unity. The value is in the diversity. The value is in the divine mystery of the design.
Just as we are one body with many parts, we are one spirit with many gifts. Our gifts make the most sense within the context of community. We find fulfillment when we find our place within the Kingdom. A solitary puzzle piece seems to serve no purpose until it’s connected with other varying shapes and colors. And that finished puzzle would be glaringly incomplete if not for that one single piece to bring it all together. God knows where to place us. We all have a purpose. He knows who we need by our side to compliment us. He knows who will challenge us, who will strengthen us, and who will encourage us. He brings all the pieces together at just the right time. Psalm 68:6 says He places the lonely in families. Ephesians 1:5 says He adopts us into His own family. Psalm 133:1 says, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!”
The word gift in the original Greek is “charisma” and “charisma” comes from the Greek word “charis” which means grace. This tells us that our spiritual gifts are a gift of grace. This tells us our spiritual gifts are given to us by God. We don’t choose our spiritual gifts; we receive them. We cannot earn them; they are freely given to us. They are unmerited and undeserved. Therefore, we have no basis on which to boast of ourselves. “If I must boast,” the apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:30, “I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am.” Our spiritual gifts should reveal our weaknesses, because our weaknesses reveal God’s strength. Moses was slow of speech, but God gifted him to lead the children of Israel out of slavery. David was an adulterer, but through that affair, Solomon and all of his wisdom was born. Paul murdered Christians, but when God transformed His life, He gifted him to write over half the books of the New Testament. God works in our weakness, and God works through our weakness.
“This is what the Lord says: ‘Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken.'”
– Jeremiah 10:23-24 NLT
Paul references this passage from Jeremiah when he is addressing the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians chapter 10. In this passage, Paul was speaking to the Corinthians about false teachers who were boasting about themselves. “Oh, don’t worry; we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are!” he writes. “They are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant!” (v.12). He goes on to say, “We will not boast about things done outside our area of authority. We will boast only about what has happened within the boundaries of the work God has given us…” (v. 13). We can’t compare our spiritual gifts to the gifts and abilities of others around us, because that’s where both pride and shame are born. Self-righteousness starts to creep in when we start to see ourselves as better than others around us because of the things we do or the gifts we have. We may see the areas where others fall short, but we’re too short-sighted to see the grander design that God has in mind. We may make sure others see and know what we’re doing in public, but we don’t see what they’re doing in private. We boast about our abilities and accomplishments because we want the attention and affirmation of other people. We want their praise and commendation, but as the apostle Paul says, that doesn’t count for much. In 2 Corinthians 10:18 he says, “When people commend themselves, it doesn’t count for much. The important thing is for the Lord to commend them.” We can’t pat ourselves on the back and puff our chests out, because human beings are not our standard of measurement. Our spiritual gifts and abilities are not based on our natural gifts and abilities, they are supernatural. They are divinely designed. They are gifts of God. We did not earn them, we do not deserve them, and we have no right to boast about them. We boast only in the one who gives them to us.
What is the opposite of being boastful? Being bashful. We can be full of pride, or we can be full of shame, and neither are helpful for advancing the work of the Kingdom. Our spiritual gifts are just that, they are gifts. And a gift is no good if we never unwrap it, take it out of the box, and put it to use. I can’t help but think that many of us are like children who are so fascinated by the box itself that we neglect the gift inside. The gift inside was one that our parents put forth a lot of time, effort, and money to be able to give us. There is a cost attached to the gift. A great price was paid for us to receive it. And we’re too busy playing with the box.
We have to step outside of our comfort zones. We have to stop playing the comparison game. We have to lay down our pride, and lay down our shame. We have to learn to recognize our gifts as God’s grace given to us. We have to learn to boast in our weakness. We have to learn to boast in Christ Jesus, our Lord, who paid the cost of our sins and covered our weakness through the power of His love on the cross at Calvary. May we embrace our gifts and live fully in the grace He has given. May we use the gifts He has given us to point to Him, and only to Him! May we use our gifts to glorify Him, and only Him! He alone is worthy. It is a gift of grace, lest any man should boast! (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Equipped to Serve
Spiritual gifts are used by God to grow and multiply His Church. In 2 Timothy 2:1-2 Paul writes to Timothy, “My dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” This is how the Gospel is spread. We make disciples to make disciples. The goal of discipleship is to make disciple-makers. Matthew 10:8 tells us we’ve received freely, so we ought to give freely. Our spiritual gifts were given freely to us, so we ought to give freely of our gifts. Paul was given a gift of teaching and shepherding, and he taught Timothy how to teach and shepherd. Paul’s gift did not die when he died, it lived on. It’s impact is still being felt in the Church today. We can’t hoard our gifts. We can’t hold on to them. We have to give them out. We have been equipped to serve. We serve by using our gifts to both expand the Church and edify the Church.
How do we Discover our Spiritual Gifts?
We discover our spiritual gifts through the gradual process of internal observation, external exploration, and spiritual confirmation.
Observation – Take a closer look within yourself. Ask yourself, have I received Christ? Am I walking with Him? Do I really want to discover and develop my spiritual gifts? If you really want to take that next step in your spiritual formation, you have to practice the spiritual disciplines, because that’s where God speaks and reveals Himself. That’s where He’ll reveal His purpose to you. In that place of silence and solitude. In that time of study and reflection. In that time of prayer and fasting. In that time of worship. In that time of fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ. We have to make sure we’re putting those actions into practice in our daily lives so we can put ourselves in a position to hear from God. Then, look at the desires of your heart. What are you passionate about? What stirs your heart and drives you to action? Our feelings should not be the primary motivator for discovering our spiritual gifts, but if we are walking with God and following Him, then they can be a potential indicator of what our gift(s) may be.
Exploration – Expose yourself to Biblical teaching. Read books. Listen to sermons and podcasts. Attend Bible studies. Have conversations with other followers of Christ. Ask for guidance and clarification from your spiritual leaders and mentors. If there’s a gift you desire, ask God. Let your request be made known (Philippians 4:6, James 1:5). Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” God’s plans are to prosper us, not to harm us (Jeremiah 29:11). He works all things together for good (Romans 8:28). If we ask for a gift and He doesn’t give it, it’s because He has a greater gift in store. We have to follow where He leads. When He says go, we go. When He says speak, we speak. When He says teach, we teach. When He says help, we help. We will never know what our spiritual gift is unless we try. We have to be willing to try. We have to take action and put forth effort in order to discover how God can and will use us.
Confirmation – When you’re on the right track, God will confirm it. Look for the signs. Listen for the affirmation. Maybe it comes in the form of positive feedback from a trusted spiritual leader. Maybe it comes in the form of a word spoken or an action taken at just the right time. Maybe you’ll see you’ll see the full circle picture of the work God is doing, or maybe you’ll just feel it in your spirit. But when God confirms it to you, you’ll know. Look for it. Listen for it. He’ll show you. He’ll make it clear.