5 Biblical Concepts for Understanding Spiritual Gifts
How do I figure out what spiritual gift I have? How do I use it? What is it for? What if it doesn’t seem like I have any spiritual gifts? Do I have more than one? There are lots of worthy questions about spiritual gifts, and it is very helpful that the Biblical answers are straightforward. Three passages are especially helpful in discussing gifts: 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and 1 Peter 4. From these passages, with help from a few others, we can glean at least five important concepts for understanding spiritual gifts.
1. What is a spiritual gift?
There are varieties of gifts, ministries, and effects (1 Cor 12:4-6), “but to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Cor 4:7). In this context the definition is simply the manifestation of the Spirit. 1 Peter 4:10, uses the Greek term charisma (meaning, grace gift) to describe the same thing. These are given to believers by God to do the work of His Spirit. In other words, the design is that when the Spirit of God is working in the body of Christ, often times it is through people.
2. For what purpose?
Very simply put, gifts are given for the common good (1 Cor 12:7). They are said to be given by the Holy Spirit to individuals, according His own will (Rom 12:10) for the good of the body. We are individual members, but together we make up the body of Christ (Rom 12:27). Paul compares our individual functions as members of the body of Christ to human anatomy: the body has eyes, hands, head, feet, etc.; all parts are important and work together for the good of the body (Rom: 12:18-27). While some gifts were temporary (e.g., tongues, healing, and prophecy [1 Cor 13:8-10; Heb 2:4]) and others endure, all gifts are important for the growth of the body, and ultimately for His glory.
Peter reminds us to use gifts in serving one another (1 Pet 4:10) and for the ultimate purpose of glorifying God (1 Pet 4:11). We misuse His gifts if we don’t use them for His prescribed purpose, and that purpose is clear: serving one another that God might be glorified.
3. Opportunity or ability?
Romans 12:6 notes, “we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” The list of gifts in 12:6-8 is very interesting, because it includes things like service, exhorting, and mercy. Obviously, it is important to recognize that our ability to have mercy, for example, is a gift from God. Without His mercy, we can’t have mercy on others. Still, mercy is something that all believers should show (Jam 2:13, Jud 22-23). So why is it described as a grace-gift?
Spiritual gifts seem to be more about opportunity than ability. If we have opportunity to show mercy it is because God has provided opportunity to do so. If we have opportunity to exhort or to serve – those opportunities come from God. The Bible teaches every believer how to serve, exhort, and show mercy. But just because we learn well and are prepared doesn’t mean we will have opportunity to put those things into practice. Opportunities are just as important as abilities, and both come from God (e.g., Eph 2:10).
4. Given or developed?
So which is it? Are these gifts simply given or do we have a responsibility to develop them? Yes. Both. In everything we do we should be growing (1 Thes 4:1, 10; 2 Pet 3:18). For example, we may be gifted as a teacher (Rom 12:7) – provided either opportunity, ability or both – but there is still a responsibility to learn that which we are supposed to teach (e.g., 2 Tim 2:2). If God provides us the opportunity to teach, and we haven’t spent the time and effort to prepare, then we aren’t going to be of much good to others.
5. How do we know what gift(s) we have been given?
To answer this question some go to great lengths – even employing personality tests to determine what one’s spiritual gift is. But the Biblical approach is so much simpler than all that. Galatians 6:10 encourages us to “while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” While we have opportunity… Do you have opportunity to serve? Then serve. Do you have opportunity to show mercy? To help? To teach? To lead? Then do those things.
The Bible never encourages us to try to figure out what gift or gifts we may have. Instead, we are to be equipped by His word for every good work (1 Tim 3:16-17). The opportunity to do those works is prepared beforehand (Eph 2:10). Actually, we might not ever know what our spiritual gifts were until we look back on a lifetime of ministry. Did God use you as a teacher? Or a leader? Or a servant? Or an exhorter? Then God gifted you in those areas. Of course, it is perfectly OK to prefer to serve God in particular ways. He tells us to delight ourselves in Him and He will give us the desire of our hearts (Ps 37:3). But we must always be available to Him for whatever task He desires us to do.
Here’s another way to look at it. If a believer is being used in the body of Christ as a teacher, and that believer sees a person who needs mercy, should that believer show mercy or not? How about this: “Honey, I have the gift of exhorting, but I don’t have the gift of service, so I can’t help you with the cleaning – but I can encourage and exhort you while you do the cleaning.”
We need to stop looking for divine excuses to avoid tasks we don’t prefer, and we need to start presenting our bodies a living and holy sacrifice to Him (Rom 12:1). What has He put in front of us to do? Then we need to do that. He has given us the opportunity and the ability. Let’s not waste either, and let’s be prepared for both.