Spiritual Gifts

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God equips each of us with special abilities or "gifts" to edify (buildup, strengthen) ourselves and others.  The use of these gifts helps the "spiritual health" of the body of Christ (i.e. all Christians).  

Paul drives home this point in 1 Corinthians 12, where he explains how Christians form the body of Christ and how the gifts are used within the body.  Consider these two excerpts:

"7But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills."
 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 NKJV

"25that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way. "
1 Corinthians 12:25-31 NKJV

Each person, with their gifts, is part of the body of Christ.  In order for the body to function properly, the person needs to be connected with the body and allowed to fulfill his or her role.  For example, someone with the gift of discerning spirits could represent a liver in the body of Christ.  If that person is prohibited from using her gift to minister to the body, the body will suffer, just as someone would suffer physically from liver failure.  This helps us see why the enemy tries to stop the ministry of the gifts of the Spirit.  A weakened body of Christ will be less able to fight the devil's forces in spiritual warfare.  It also will not be able to effectively establish and expand God's kingdom on earth.

The Bible gives us clear guidance on how to approach spiritual gifts.  Specifically, we are to:

What are the gifts The most common list of the spiritual gifts is found in 1 Corinthians 12:8-11.  I've included a short descriptions borrowed from Harold Horton's valuable book, The Gifts of the Spirit.

  1. Word of wisdom:  "Supernatural knowledge supernaturally and divinely applied"* (1 Corinthians 2:10).  Word of wisdom addresses things that will happen in the future.
  2. Word of knowledge:  "Supernatural revelation by the Holy Spirit of certain facts in the mind of God"*  (knowledge that only God could know)  Word of knowledge addresses information about the past and present.
  3. Discerning spirits:  "Supernatural insight into the secret realm of spirits...It supernaturally conveys information that could not be had apart from this gift.  By its operation we may know the true source and nature of any supernatural manifestation, whether divine or satanic"*
  4. Gifts of healings:  "Supernatural healing of diseases and infirmities without natural means of any sort"*
  5. The working of miracles:  "Operates by the energy or dynamic force of the Spirit in reversals or suspensions of natural laws.  A miracle is a sovereign act of the Spirit of God irrespective of laws or systems" and "a miracle is a supernatural intervention in the ordinary course of nature." *
  6. Faith :  "A gift of the Spirit to the saint that he might work miracles, or rather receive them...Those who possess Faith the Gift of the Spirit believe God is such a way that God honors their word as His own and miraculously brings it to pass...Faith's operation is more passive than active. Miracles' power does things by the Spirit:  Faith's power receives or enjoys things by the Spirit."*
  7. Different kinds of tongues:  "Supernatural utterance by the Holy Spirit in languages never learned by the speaker - not understood by the mind of the speaker - nearly always not understood by the hearer"*
  8. Interpretation of tongues:  "Supernatural showing forth by the Spirit of the meaning of an utterance in other tongues.  This interpretation is not an operation of the mind of the interpreter but the mind of the Spirit of God."*
  9. Prophecy: "Divinely inspired and anointed utterance.  It is entirely supernatural...a supernatural utterance in a known tongue" *  It often operates  in conjunction with words of wisdom and/or knowledge

Additional spiritual gifts are:

  1. Ministry                   (Romans 12:6-8)
  2. Teaching                  (Romans 12:6-8)
  3. Exhortation             (Romans 12:6-8)
  4. Leadership              (Romans 12:6-8)
  5. Mercy                       (Romans 12:6-8)
  6. Helps                        (1 Corinthians 12:28)

  7. Administrations      (1 Corinthians 12:28)

Discussion of each gift could warrant a book in itself.  Unfortunately, there are only a handful of good books written with balanced and accurate teaching about the gifts of the Spirit.  We have found a few and you can check them out on our  Christian Books page.  

Discover your gifts:  The Bible encourages us to learn about our gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1).  As you step out to discover your gifts, remember that God wants to reveal them to you and that your particular gifts will be tailored to God's purpose for your life.  This time of discovery should be a wonderful and exciting blessing for you.   

1. Seek God for guidance and teaching concerning the gifts he has given you.  The word says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5 NKJV).  A simple daily prayer for this could be: 

"Father in heaven, thank you for creating me with special gifts to minister to your people. I ask for wisdom concerning my spiritual gifts.  Please guide me and instruct me today concerning the spiritual gifts I have.  Please help me to be sensitive to the situations I'm in throughout the day and help me sense where your hand is working around me.  Please protect me from the deception and temptation of the enemy.  Father, I praise you and thank you for including me in your wonderful work on earth!  In Jesus' name, Amen."

God will respond through the Holy Spirit by teaching you about your gifts (1 John 2:27).  The Spirit teaches us in different ways.  Generally he teaches through scripture, circumstances, dreams, visions, impressions and people.  Guidance from these different avenues should always be checked with scripture.  God will never lead you to do something that contradicts the Bible's instructions.

2.  Keep yourself tapped into God through a daily quiet time (prayer, praise, worship, Bible study).  This is vital to maintaining forward momentum in your relationship with God and protecting yourself from backsliding.  It will also be helpful to review the Bible's instruction concerning the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12-14 periodically as you learn about your gifts.  

3.  Obey the Spirit's instructions regarding your gifts.  For example, when my wife was discovering her gift of knowledge, God brought her into several situations where she was to share his word with complete strangers.  She obeyed in all but one situation.  When she obeyed, she was filled with joy and faith, and she was used by God in awesome ways to minister to the people.  When she resisted the Spirit, she felt terrible that she had let God down and missed the opportunity to touch that person's life.   

A friend of mine had a similar prompting from the Lord to stand up on a bus during his morning commute and share about Jesus.  He did not and missed an incredible opportunity.  What he didn't know until later was that there was a front page article in the morning newspaper about Jesus Christ, and that most people on the bus had been reading the paper.  My friend grieved the lost opportunity.   There was no way to go back in time to recover that particular moment.

Thankfully, God does not give up on us when we don't follow through on his instructions.  Our disobedience will cause lost opportunities, but it will not cause him to abandon us.  He will work with us patiently.  Even so, it behooves us to obey his instructions the first time, as we don't want miss the opportunities to bear fruit for his kingdom.  If we disobey him habitually, we risk quenching the "fire" of the Spirit, thus bringing us into a time of spiritual dryness. 

Use Your Gifts!  If we stick with the Bible's instruction concerning the gifts, we'll best avoid falling into error.  Knowing the guidelines will help us recognize God-ordained opportunities to use them and avoid the devil's deception.   Specifically, we should use our gifts:

1. In love (1 Corinthians 13:1-3,13):  Love is the essential ingredient to the pure operation of the gifts. When we are not grounded in love, Satan can use us to bring division, doubt and destruction into the body of Christ.  Consider what Paul wrote about love and the gifts: 

"1Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing."  1 Corinthians 13:1-3 NKJV

When love is absent, pride, selfish ambition and religious control can corrupt our motives.  Keeping our motives pure when ministering through the gifts is a continual challenge.  We live in a world that is tuned for lust...sex, materialism, gluttony and power are some of the big attractions.  These influences can easily rub off on us if we're not staying daily connected with God and keeping vigilant watch over our hearts.  Since lust is the opposite of love, giving in to its influences will subvert our love, and scuttle the effectiveness of our gifts. 

2. To edify the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 14:12):  The primary purpose of the gifts is to edify the body of Christ, although they may also be used to share God's love with non-Christians.   This underscores the need for us to be plugged into a good church or at least a small group where we are able to mutually minister to one another through our respective gifts.  If we are not involved in such a group, it will be difficult to learn and grow in the operation of our gifts.

The gifts have different but valuable roles and all should work together for the good of the body as a whole (1 Corinthians 12:14-27). When any one gift is separated and exalted above the other gifts, it can be an easy target for abuse.  For example, in the scriptures the gift of miracles is always combined with the preaching of the word.  This combination provides a powerful inspiration for people to place faith in God.  When the gift of miracles is exalted by itself without the preaching of the word, it can easily become something akin to a magic show for entertainment.   Another example is the use of tongues in the group ministry gathering.  Paul prescribed that when tongues are spoken, they should be balanced with the gift of interpretation of tongues so that all present can be edified (1 Corinthians 14).

3.  In the fear and character of God:  Everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way.  Paul wrote, "For God is not a God of disorder but of peace....But everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way" (1 Corinthians 14:33,40).  For example, lots of noise and hype in a church service can generate distractions that can get people's focus off God and onto whatever is going on.  This too can cause the operation of the gifts to become more like a show than a time of ministry.  I'm not saying that we can't be joyful or exuberant in the Lord's presence, but it needs to be done in a worshipful way. Finding the delicate line between worshipful exuberance and confusion is something that ministry leaders have the privilege and responsibility of determining.   

If these guidelines are ignored, it a virtual guarantee that the enemy will try to use the abuse of the gift to divide and destroy the body of Christ.   

What if I don't want the gifts?  God will not force the gifts on you if you don't want to use them.  God is gentle, kind and patient (James 3:17; Psalm 145:8-9).  He will simply leave them for you like  unopened presents under a Christmas tree.  Even so, if you don't open your gifts you could be missing out on some wonderful opportunities to be used by God to minister to people.  Consider also that your fellow believers in your church or small group would never experience the edification that your gifts could have brought them.  A final thing to consider is that you will have to give an account to the Lord ultimately for how you employed the gifts (or talents) that he gave you (2 Corinthians 5:10, Matthew 25:14-30).  

Can I lose my gifts?  Some people worry that they may have lost their gifts because they failed to seek and employ them earlier in their lives.  The Bible says that God gives spiritual gifts irrevocably (Romans 11:29). That means he will not take a gift away from you, even if you are a) not using your gift or b) not using it properly.  

Personal Application Questions:

Next page:  Be a Faithful Servant

* The Gifts of the Spirit by Harold Horton

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