Introduction to Spiritual Gifts

What are they?

A spiritual gift is a special ability given by the Holy Spirit to every member of the Body of Christ for use to edify the Body.

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

Who gives them?

It is the Holy Spirit who give spiritual gifts

1 Corinthians 12:11 (NIV) All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he (ie the Holy Spirit) gives them to each one, just as he determines.

It is not the function of a church leader to impart gifts on the believer. While passages might seem to teach that they do, one interpretation is to say that the leader merely authorizes the ministry through the gift in an official way when he lays hand on the believer.

1 Timothy 4:14 (NIV) Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

2 Timothy 1:6 (NIV) For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

What are the different types of spiritual gifts?

Romans 12:6­8 (NIV) We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

1 Corinthians 12:7­10 (NIV) Now to each one the manifestation (ie gift) of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

1 Corinthians 12:28 (NIV) And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.

Ephesians 4:11­12 (NIV) It was he (ie the Holy Spirit) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

These are the official lists of the Bible. There is nothing to say that this lists is exhaustive. From experience with people who are serving God, it seems possible to identify other gifts like the gift of celibacy (ie remaining unmarried), voluntary poverty, martyrdom, hospitality, missionary, intercession and exorcism (delivering someone from evil spirits).

What spiritual gifts are not

Spiritual gifts are different from talents which are available to everyone be they Christians or not. Also talents are used for a variety of purposes including selfish gains while spiritual gifts are applied for the building up of the church.

Spiritual gifts are different from Christian responsibilities. For example, Christians are asked to encourage one another, yet there is such a thing as the gift of encouraging others. What this means is that while every Christian is called to practise encouragement, the one who has the gift of encouraging others actually does it much more regularly and spends a bigger portion of his time doing it as part of his ministry. He may include special days of the week when he will call up people on a systematic basis as the Lord leads and encourage them.

Why must we use our spiritual gifts?
The only way for the church to function effectively is if each member uses his gifts.

This is illustrated by the analogy of the body. Can the body function effectively or even function at all if the heart or the lungs choose not to function.

1 Corinthians 12:17­22 (NIV) If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,

God will be displeased if we do not use our gifts

Matthew 25:14­29 (NIV) "Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. 15 To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. 17 So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. 18 But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. 19 "After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.' 21 "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' 22 "The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.' 23 "His master replied, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' 24 "Then the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.' 26 "His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 "'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. 29 For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.

The way for a Christian to be effective in his ministry is to find out his gifts and use them.

Imagine if God has called us to be a hand in the body of Christ. Not realising this, we perform the function of a leg. How ineffective we will be! How far can we walk with our hands.

The way for a Christian to be fruitful in and enjoy his ministry is to find out his gifts and use them.

Using the same analogy as above, a hand will really be suffering if it is used for walking. On the other hand, if the hand is asked to perform the task of a hand, it will enjoy it. God gives us a gift which we will be good at and enjoy doing. Doing anything else is not only ineffective, it is no fun.

Should we desire for some gifts or ask God for them?

Biblical teaching seem to be that it is the Holy Spirit who determines who should get what spiritual gifts. We were not told to ask for specific gifts. The important thing is rather to find out what has already been given to us and use them.

1 Corinthians 12:11 (NIV) All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he (ie the Holy Spirit) gives them to each one, just as he determines.

1 Cor 12:18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

Some verses seem to tell us to desire some gifts over others.

1 Corinthians 12:31 (NIV) But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.

1 Corinthians 14:1 (NIV) Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.

Bear in mind that these instructions were given to a church, not to an individual. The Corinthian church at that time overemphasized the gift of tongues and Paul had to tell them that there are more important gifts than that.

Are some gifts more important than others?

All gifts are indispensable for the church to function properly. The use of the human body as an analogy already tells us that we would be quite incomplete without one part of the body.

1 Corinthians 12:21­22 (NIV) The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,

But the analogy of the body also tells us that the body would die without the head, who is Christ (See Eph 5:23), while it can still function, though not at optimal level, without say the arm.

Remember that the purpose of the gifts is to edify the church. Isn't it logical that the gifts that edifies the church more are actually the more important ones. We have an indication from Paul when he tells the Corinthian church to stop emphasizing tongues alone but also greater gifts like prophesy. Notice the word greater is used (1 Cor 12:31).

The listing of the gifts also provide some indication that the level of importance is different.

1 Corinthians 12:28 (NIV) And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues.

God has appointed first apostles, second prophets.....There seem to be some kind of a ranking here and if we examine carefully, they could be in order of how each gift edifies the body of Christ.

Remember that the purpose of spiritual gifts is so that the body of Christ can be built up. Isn't it logical therefore that those gifts that does more in terms of building up the body of Christ are the more important gifts. Nevertheless, all gifts are necessary for the well being of the church.

While one gift may be more important than the other, we are warned not to think of the lesser gifts as dispensable and not for the one with the higher gifts to be proud.

1 Corinthians 12:22­25 (NIV) On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

The use of all spiritual gifts should be in the context of love.

1 Corinthians 13:1­3 (NIV) If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Can God take back our gifts if we don't use them?

This is debatable. There is a verse that says that the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable but this verse is directed at the Israelites and not to Christians in general.

Rom 11:29 for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable.

How to find our spiritual gifts?
We come up with a list of possible spiritual gifts.

Some books on spiritual gifts also come with a questionnaire to gauge our spiritual gifts. There is nothing magical about such questionnaires. Many questions are targeted at what we enjoy and feel comfortable about doing. And it is highly likely that God will call us to serve Him in areas that we will enjoy and are good at.

Think about this. If God has a purpose for your life, and He is also your creator, wouldn't He then create you so that you are best suited to carry out the purpose He has for you. God loves you and wants you to enjoy what you are doing and this is what the questionnaire is probing.

If we do not have access to a questionnaire, we can simply sit down and spend time thinking about what we enjoy doing or what we are good at doing. Then go through a list of areas in Church that we think we will enjoy serving in and will be good at.

Based on what we discovered from the list, we need to pray about it and see if God speaks to us about our spiritual gifts.
We can ask our friends for a confirmation. Very often we may think we have a gift when actually we do not. For example, we may think that we have the gift of teaching but when we teach, nobody understands. Therefore, checking with our friends on our gifts is very important.
The next step is to experiment with the gift. If you think that you may have the gift of teaching, ask for more opportunities to teach and afterwards evaluate your own performance as well as get others to give you a feedback. If you consistently get negative feedback after trying very hard, maybe this is not one of your gifts after all.
The need to have a sober examination of ourselves.

Rom 12:3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

Not everyone is called to be a pastor or evangelist. When we examine ourselves, we must not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to, but as far as God causes us to believe what we can do (according to the measure of faith). On the other hand, thinking of ourselves too lowly is also not good. Imagine if you are pastor material but out of humility, you only opt to be the usher. What a waste! Therefore, the Bible says make a sober judgement. Not too proud, not too humble.