What are spiritual gifts?
1 Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.2 You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. 3 Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a 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. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
In this passage that Paul writes to the Corinthians he lists quite clearly 9 different spiritual gifts that the spirit may manifest in people. It’s a passage many of us will know well and often something we think we should and perhaps do know about, but actually do we really get why these spiritual gifts exist? Are they relevant to us today? If so, how can we work out what our giftings are?
Firstly, I want to look at the source of spiritual gifts. Where exactly do they come from? So going back to basics; spiritual gifts are, as it says in the passage above, distributed all from the same spirit; this being the part of God we know as The Holy Spirit. Each of us who have given our lives to Jesus and have come into relationship with God are promised this Spirit within them.
"And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit."
So effectively God through his spirit is empowering us with these gifts. This is a really important element to remember, the empowerment of the spirit. Acts 1:8 says very clearly that the Holy Spirit is powerful.
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."
In 2 Timothy, the Spirit is described as being of power, love and self-control within us. Thus, the Spirit is not just God’s ‘force’ but also a person, with attributes and a personality, which manifests spiritual gifts through us in love, with power and self control. Of course there are many more references about the Holy spirit throughout the bible, but having a grounded understanding of the character of the Holy spirit, is vital in making sense of what spiritual gifts are all about and how they cohere with the the Holy Spirit as a whole. It may seem like a basic idea and a bit of a given in the name ‘spiritual gifts’ but fundamentally these gifts are not from what we might think of as our own intellectual being, or our own talents. These are 100 percent God given gifts.
It isn’t always just about the Spirit dwelling in us and working through us individually either. Yes our bodies are temples of the Spirit but we mustn’t fall into the trap of Christian consumerism. The Spirit unifies us as a body (see Ben Artis’ blog on Ephesians 4).
"There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."
As a result we cannot solely have the attitude that it’s all about possessing gifts and the work we do with them. In fact, it’s quite the opposite of this consumer Christianity; these gifts are there for us to use as the christian body and to serve one another and enlarge the kingdom with.
Now that we have clarified to an extent the ‘source’ of spiritual gifting’s. We need to start answering questions about why they exist and what their overall purpose is. I’ve already briefly touched on the idea of spiritual gifts being used to work together in the church and I want to elaborate on that point. A key passage I want to look at here, which goes hand in hand nicely with that of first Corinthians is Ephesians 4: 11-16. This displays the bigger picture of how spiritual gifting’s are used as service for the church.
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
Ephesians 4: 11-16
The first key word I want to point out is ‘equip’. This is done through a range of gifts, roles and qualities to be used by us in order to build up the church in faith, unity and matureness; the end goal being to imitate Christ and becoming more and more like Him. Now Paul here mentions a few principal roles. Don’t be confused into thinking everyone should be finding that role, because the nine spiritual gifting’s go further than that. Rather look at what the aim goal is here through the different gifts that the Spirit distributes. The same principal applies to the nine listed spiritual gifts, which are in order to build up the church, bring unity and to become more Christ like. The passage goes on to emphasise how through love the church can grow on solid foundations as each part works in its own way. This is a corporate act, a coming together of diverse people and a range of gifts all for the purpose of God’s Glory and his Church.
Stepping down from the corporate scale, spiritual gifting’s are clearly there as a way of not only edifying and building up the church as a whole but for the encouragement of one an other as well.
“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”
This is a brilliant example of discipleship in the church. God is interested in how we relate to each other on a personal level. He wants us to grow, be strong in our faith and to become wiser, not tossed about in the wind. This again reiterates that consumerism doesn’t have a place within spiritual gifting’s or the church. Spiritual gifting’s are not there to make us feel good or special to God, but to strengthen our faith and therefore strengthening others faith also. This really stresses the importance of being a good witnesses to each other in the gifts that we have and clearly showing a willingness to glorify God through the way the spirit moulds us and gifts us. We can become lazy and to start ignoring the gifts we have. But we have a duty to serve one another personally through fixing our eyes on God and responsibly stewarding our spiritual gifts to encourage one another daily (Hebrews 3:13).
So how can we focus this idea on us individually? How can we know that we have been given or will be given spiritual gifts? 1 Peter 4:11 says this,
"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: 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."
1 Peter 4:11
Just look at that first sentence- ‘as each has received a gift’. Each of us will receive gifts and it’s important not to compare with other people and not to doubt God in your life if you think at some point that you don’t possess any gifts and that you won’t do in the future. Looking back at 1 Corinthians 12, Paul states that for each gift, there is the same God at work and that each are distributed as He determines. Therefore there is no need to feel inadequate in anyway. Trusting in God’s authority in how he works through us, and how he determines our gifts is something we must continually give to Him. That is what is so exciting. That God’s plan and design of us is far beyond our understanding, that all of our work for God, including spiritual gifts, is through His strength. We have to be dependant on him for this. Stay focused on being led by the Holy Spirit and be proactive in seeking our your gifting’s. (See Amy’s Blog on ‘What’s in my toolbox’ to undercover this).
Finally, one last short and sweet verse:
"Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy."
1 Corinthians 14:1
Eagerly desire spiritual gifts. That doesn’t mean sit around and wait for a nice feeling of some gifting within. Nor does it mean enjoy the idea of spiritual gifting’s and ask for them. It means pray constantly and be passionate about the spirit giving you gifts to use to strengthen the church and the faith of those around you. To eagerly desire is having a burning within to want to be equipped with spiritual gifts for God’s service and for his Glory. Why eagerly desire prophecy especially? Well the passage goes on to explain that prophecy edifies the church. It is God speaking to the church thus encouraging and strengthening faith; a rather recurrent theme again, emphasising that it is all for the building of the church and the growing in faith of those who are part of it.
So, what can we take away from this?
1. Spiritual gifts are distributed from the Holy Spirit, determined by God and all equally God’s work. 2. Spiritual Gifts are used not for ourselves but to grow and strengthen the church and to encourage one another. 3 So long as the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we all have the capacity to bear these gifts whether we have experienced them yet or not. And finally we need to be passionate about spiritual Gifts. We need to eagerly desire them and we need to be responsible stewards of what God has blessed us with so that we may fully glorify God, build his church and and be part of His mission on Earth.
For His Glory, Amen.