In the following paragraphs I want to lay out a basic biblical framework for understanding what the Scriptures refer to as spiritual gifts. Don’t worry, there is no need to get spooked by this term. In fact, by the time you finish this short explanation you will see that spiritual gifts are not mystical interruptions of the divine temporarily suspending your personality, but rather they are the (super) natural way that God works through your life to bless other people. Let’s get going…
Spiritual gifts are supernatural abilities given by grace to Christians by the Holy Spirit to strengthen the Church and reveal Jesus Christ to the world.
Spiritual gifts are simply one of the ways the Holy Spirit can touch others through your life. They are not some kind of “temporary takeover” where you lose control of your personality, but instead, they are a way God works through your life to meet the tangible needs of another person.
So then… Spiritual Gifts are:
Spiritual – They find their source in the heart of God and are not of human origin.
Gifts – They are freely given to Christians by grace, and are not the result or reward of human effort or ingenuity.
Now that we have defined “what” spiritual gifts are, lets look a few moments and examine “why” God gives spiritual gifts to Christians.
Let’s begin by taking a look at one of the most startling verses in the entire Scripture; a passage found in John 16.
“But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away…” John 16:5-7
In one of his last dialogues with his disciples before his crucifixion, Jesus tells them that he will be leaving them. Can you imagine what it was like for the twelve disciples to hear Jesus say this after they had spent more than three years following him? It is far too easy to read this verse without the weight of what is being said sinking in. Their entire livelihood and future was built on following their rabbi, and in one moment he tells them that he is leaving. It is no wonder that the disciples were filled with grief. The man that calmed the storms, multiplied the loaves, and settle captive free was leaving them. How could Jesus’ leaving be for their good?
The second part of verse 7 shows us why Jesus would make such a bold statement without any apology.
“for if I do not go away, the Helper (the Holy Spirit) will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” John 16:7
Maybe after reading these words you feel like you would still rather have Jesus with you in the flesh rather than the Holy Spirit living inside of you. If this is what you are thinking, you have not fully realized the power of the in dwelling Holy Spirit. Jesus made this statement, “it is for your advantage,” without any qualifiers, because he knew what his disciples would accomplish once they were personally filled with the Holy Spirit.
It was this power that Jesus alluded to two chapters earlier during this same dialogue.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12
This verse shows us that because of Jesus’ return to the Father, the Church is capable of doing more than Jesus could ever do in his single physical body! This does not mean that we are doing more in a sense of quality, but in quantity. Practically speaking, the expression of the Holy Spirit’s power is no longer limited to the 24-hour confines of one human body. Now, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God can minister through any believer at any moment of any day through their spiritual gifts. Do you sense the power of that statement?
No one receives a “Junior Holy Spirit.” Every Christian possess the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 8:9-11). This means that every Christian has the ability to represent and re-present Jesus to the world. Every Christian has an extraordinary capacity to be used by God, whether they realize it or not! Herein is found the purpose of the Church ~ to be the expression of Jesus on the earth! The Church is not merely a social gathering or a holding tank for Christians who are awaiting the second coming of Jesus; the Church is to be the tangible expression of the life and power of the arisen Christ to a broken world.
“…do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” 1 Corinthians 6:19
This verse, found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, was written to encourage the Corinthian Christians to turn from their sin and realize the power of the Holy Spirit who was living inside of them. To communicate this truth, Paul uses the imagery of a temple to arrest their attention. The reason for this is that prior to converting to Christianity, the Corinthians lived as pagans who would regularly travel to the city temple to make sacrifices to their many gods. For the Corinthians, the temple signified the place where heaven and earth came together and where people could have an experience with the divine.
It is with this image in mind that Paul challenged the Corinthians, telling them that they were the temple of the Holy Spirit. In other words, as Christians, they no longer needed to travel to a building to meet with God, but now God had taken up residence inside of them. Paul wanted the Corinthians to understand that the presence of God was not found in a momentary event that took place at a specific location. Now, through the power of the Holy Spirit, heaven and earth are joined together inside of every Christian.
It is quite easy to get lost in the abstract verbiage of a “meeting place between heaven and earth.” For this reason, Paul explains that the Holy Spirit expresses himself through the life of Christians in specific, tangible ways called spiritual gifts. But before we go into describing the various spiritual gifts God has given to his church, it is crucial to understand the context in which they are spoken about in the Scripture.
In each of these passages that deal with spiritual gifts, the Bible the context makes some reference to the “body of Christ.” If you are not familiar with the Scripture, the phrase “body of Christ” refers to the interconnectedness of Christians.
For instance, Paul writes to the believers in Rome and says,
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.” Romans 12:3-6
We will see that in the different passages that mention spiritual gifts, both the apostle Paul and the apostle Peter emphasize the importance of using these spiritual gifts to encourage people and build up the Church. When we talk about spiritual gifts we must address one of the fundamental flaws of humanity – selfishness. Because of the fall of humanity, we all have the proclivity to take good things and use them in a evil way. It is this attitude of selfishness that the apostle Paul confronts in the book of 1 Corinthians, insisting that the gifts of the Spirit are not to highlight individual people, but to build up the body of Christ.
So how do spiritual gifts work in a local church?
Think of it like this. If someone has a gift of mercy, they are not the only person who is to be merciful, for we are all commanded to show mercy (Micah 6:8). However, the man or woman who is gifted with mercy is to lead the way and demonstrate how the rest of the body of Christ is to be merciful. Spiritual gifts are not exercised in a vacuum, but are the avenue by which God reveals himself through his people to the world. God gives spiritual gifts because he loves the world. Just as the Father sent the Son and then the Holy Spirit, so too, he sends Christians into the world to reach people. Spiritual gifts are simply a means by which God moves through you by his power and your personality.
The primary passages that speak about spiritual gifts are found in the following verses: Ephesians 4:11-12; Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-10; 1 Peter 4:10-11
From the Scriptures above we can divide spiritual gifts into three main categories:
Ephesians 4:11-16 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
The support gifts found in Ephesians chapter 4: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, Teacher are people who are called by God to serve the body of Christ and bring the Church to maturity. You’ll notice in the passage in Ephesians 4 that Paul says that these particular people not only possess spiritual gifts but they themselves are actually gifts given by Jesus to his Church.
The purpose of spiritual gifts of support is to accomplish two primary things things:
1. Equip the saints for the work of the ministry
2. To bring the Church to a place of maturity
Romans 12:6-8 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
1 Corinthians 12:28… And God has appointed helping, administrating.
1 Peter 4:8-11 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11 whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Many theologians believe that each Christian is hardwired with a primary service gift. This means that resident in the life of every Christian is a dominant service gift that is uniquely intertwined with their personality and makeup.
1 Corinthians 12:1-11 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit. 4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
In the passage stated above, Paul the apostle lists nine manifestations of the Spirit. These nine spiritual gifts are given to believers to reveal the power of Christ in a particular circumstance or situation. While some Christians may function in a particular manifestation of the Spirit more often all believers can be used by the Spirit at any moment.
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