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All About Spiritual Gifts

What are Spiritual Gifts?

Spiritual gifts are supernatural empowerments given by the Holy Spirit to the followers of Christ so that they can do the work of building up the body of Christ, that is, the church, and extend the Kingdom of God throughout the world.

Spiritual gifts are not innate, natural talents, like an ear for music or the ability to draw, but rather they are empowerments that the Holy Spirit gives to a believer to minister to the body in ways that were not possible by mere natural effort apart from the Holy Spirit. In the ministry of the apostles in the book of Acts, we see that they performed miracles, healed people, preached, and spoke in tongues, which they had not been able to do apart from Christ.

Building Up the Church

Spiritual gifts are empowerments for building up the church and extending the Kingdom of God.

In 1 Corinthians 14, the Apostle Paul instructs this congregation on the function of spiritual gifts. He repeats several times that they are to strengthen or build up the church.

But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3).

…try to excel in gifts that build up the church (1 Corinthians 14:12).

…All of these things must be done for the strengthening of the church (1 Corinthians 14:26).

Of course, it must also be noted that Paul suggests that spiritual gifts can have a witnessing function to non-believers.

But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (1 Corinthians 14:24–25).

Different Kinds of Gifts from
One Spirit

The New Testament lists 21 different spiritual gifts, all coming from the Third Person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit.

The definitions and characteristics of some gifts are so similar, some believe the Scriptures use synonyms in some cases.

  1. Miraculous Gifts
  2. Enabling Gifts
  3. Team Ministry Gifts

Who Has Spiritual Gifts?

The Holy Spirit is the owner and dispenser of the spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7,11). As believers, we are stewards of the gifts of God (1 Peter 4:10). Every believer can expect the Holy Spirit to minister through him or her with spiritual gifts.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good… (1 Corinthians 12:7; emphasis added).

This protects us from a static view of spiritual gifts and leads into a more dynamic relationship with the Holy Spirit where we can expect Him to move through us in multiple ways for His Glory as He sees fit.

Spiritual gifts can be experienced immediately following conversion, but are often received at various moments subsequent to conversion. Paul encourages Timothy, “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you” (1 Timothy 4:14).

It is not clear exactly when this happened in Timothy’s spiritual journey, but it was probably when he was commissioned by the church to begin his ministry. This also suggests that gifts can come by impartation from spiritual leadership. This is not some kind of “magical” touch, but instead the culmination of a relationship of discipleship accountability and submission to authority. It is also clear from Scripture that spiritual gifts can be received when a person is filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4; 10:44–48; 19:6).

How Do Spiritual Gifts Work?

“While our Lord Jesus was on earth, he did not accomplish his great deeds of power in the strength of his deity. I believe he did them all in the strength and authority of his Spirit-anointed humanity.” 

(A.W. Tozer, Jesus, Our Man in Glory, chapter 6)

Though the focus of Acts is on the ministry of the Apostles, we also see that regular people exercised spiritual gifts (Acts 6:8; 8:6–7; 9:17–19; 10:44–46; 19:6–7). Thus, every believer can expect God to work through him or her with spiritual gifts.

Various passages in the New Testament mention a variety of gifts, principally 1 Corinthians 12:8–10 and 29–30; Romans 12:4–8; Ephesians 4:11; and 1 Peter 4:10–11. It is not easy to define or describe each of these gifts. Some seem to be quite evident in their nature. The Scriptures do not indicate that the list of spiritual gifts is exhaustive. The number of spiritual gifts is not important, but rather the understanding of what they are and how they are to be used.

Spiritual gifts should work together, complementing each other. There is a need for them to be active in the church. Paul exhorts the Corinthian congregation to eagerly desire spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1). This does not mean, however, that gifts should be used to exalt the individual or to feed an immature desire for attention. He repeats in v. 12 that they should try to excel in gifts that build up the church. 

Spiritual gifts must be used in love (1 Corinthians 13; Romans 12:9; Ephesians 4:15; 1 Peter 4:8). If they are not used in love they will be abused and cause trouble in the body, rather than blessing (1 Corinthians 13:1–3). Love, when used with spiritual gifts is like oil in a machine. It makes all the parts work well together.

We must also remember that our “comfort zone” is not the same as spiritual discernment, and at times even a gift manifested in love may make those ignorant of it uncomfortable. Therefore, patient teaching on the gifts and their manifestations is a necessity (1 Corinthians 12:12–27; Romans 12:4, 5; Ephesians 4:12,15,16).

Is One Gift Better Than Another?

All the gifts are needed in the body of Christ. All the gifts are equally valid. In 1 Corinthians 12:12–26, the Apostle Paul instructs the church that no one should despise his/her own gift by comparing it to the gifts of others. And he also says that no one should despise someone else’s gift as being less than his/her gift. Some gifts are more apparent than others, but each gift is important.

Paul indicates that the gift of prophecy is an important gift, one to be desired (1 Corinthians 14:1). First Corinthians 14:1–25 compares the gift of prophecy and the gift of speaking in tongues in the context of public worship. The clear indication is that the gift of prophecy is more profitable for building up the body of Christ than the gift of speaking in tongues is, unless the tongues are interpreted (1 Corinthians 14:5, 27–28). The context of the ministry is what determines the value of a particular gift.

Speaking in tongues is a valid gift for today. However, in the public ministry setting, the gift of tongues must have someone to interpret for it to be profitable for strengthening the body. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two – or at the most three – should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God (1 Corinthians 14:27–28). This would indicate that if there is no interpreter present, tongues should be used in a personal prayer to God for which no interpretation is necessary.

This, of course, is also of value to the individual believer’s edification and ultimately for the edification of the church and must not be considered a lesser gift.

How Can I Discover My Spiritual Gift(s)?

It is possible for a person to neglect a spiritual gift. Paul warns Timothy not to neglect his gift (1 Timothy 4:14), and he also encourages him to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hand” (2 Timothy 1:6).

Therefore, it is a biblical necessity that believers discover and move in the arena of spiritual gifts. It has been said that Christians are not primarily natural beings having temporary spiritual experiences. Rather, we are spiritual beings having a temporary natural experience. We live in a spiritual, Kingdom reality.

If the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts, then their discovery must by nature be a spiritual experience. When we walk in obedience, we must trust that the Holy Spirit will respond with the revelation of His gifts in our lives. Having said this, there are some diagnostic instruments that may help us uncover what God has given.

What kind of ministry do you enjoy the most and shows the most fruitfulness? That probably indicates where there are spiritual gifts operating in your life. If you enjoy teaching and find that people are edified through your teaching ministry, it is likely that the Holy Spirit has given you a gift of teaching. If you find that the Lord puts people in your path who are ready to surrender their life to Christ, you probably have a spiritual gift of evangelism. If you enjoy inviting people to your home, either for a meal or to stay, you probably have a gift of hospitality.
There are “tests” available that might indicate your spiritual gifting -- at Life Church, we like this Spiritual Gifts Test. However, some of them measure more what a person’s natural talents and preferences are, rather than truly identifying one’s spiritual gifts. These inventories also focus on past experience and are not always a good indicator of what the Holy Spirit might lead us into in our future ministry.

A better way of confirming a person’s spiritual gifting is through the local congregation and its leadership. What do the leaders and the local body think that you do best that contributes to the welfare of the congregation? That is probably your spiritual gift. A person does not need to announce or advertise his/her spiritual gift. The local congregation will recognize and validate genuine spiritual gifts as the gifted person’s ministry contributes to the building up of the local church body. Of course, this requires the individual believer to step out in faith and obedience to God’s Word. The gifts of the Holy Spirit operate through obedient and faith-filled disciples.

Jonathan Herron

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