An important aspect of the Christian’s spiritual life is the understanding and use of one’s spiritual gift. In addition to enabling a believer to live the Christian life to the fullest expression, the use of spiritual gifts has a direct impact on the body of Christ. The work of the Holy Spirit in the believer falls into two categories: the work of the Holy Spirit within and to the believer, and the Holy Spirit’s work outward from the believer, ministering to and affecting the lives of others, (unbelievers toward salvation, and believers toward spiritual growth (1 Peter 4:10).
Understanding one’s spiritual gifts and living everyday life using them affects spiritual growth, service to the Lord, worship, and spiritual effectiveness. The growth of every church and its ministries of outreach and edification are directly related to the employment of the individual church member’s function and utilization of his or her spiritual gift (Eph. 4:11-12).
A. What Is A Spiritual Gift?
1. Definition. A believer’s spiritual gift is a God-given, special ability for spiritual service in the body of Christ, the Church. It does not necessitate holding an official office in a church. Although a believer benefits from the use of a spiritual gift, it is not primarily given for self-edification, but for the edification of others. The term “spiritual gift,” comes from two Greek words, πνευματικός, or “things pertaining to the spirit” (1 Cor. 12:1) and χάρισμα, “a gift of grace, a free gift” (1 Cor. 12:4). It is not a natural ability.
2. Source and power. Spiritual gifts are sovereignly given by God’s grace to every believer at the point of salvation and are undeserved (1 Cor 12:11). Every believer has at least one spiritual gift but all believers do not have the same gift (1 Cor. 12:29-30). The operation of the gifts in the life of a believer is entirely due to the work of God the Holy Spirit. While the believer functions on the human level, it is God operating within, on a spiritual level (Phil. 2:12-13). The gifts are meant to develop in efficiency with use as the believer grows in spiritual maturity.
3. Function and Context. There may be various methods for the employment of the same spiritual gift, for example, evangelism or teaching (1 Cor 12:5). A spiritual gift is not exclusively designed for a specific location or for a particular age group. There are also varieties of effects of ministry as God works (1 Cor 12:6).
4. Purpose of Gifts. Spiritual gifts are given for the mutual benefit of the body of Christ—“for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). The emphasis of gifts is continually on spiritual growth and unity in the body of Christ. The context of the function of spiritual gifts is always love (1 Cor. 13). The ultimate goal in the use of a spiritual gift is that God would be glorified (1 Pet. 4:11).
5. Varieties of Gifts. There are four lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament: Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4:10-11, and 1 Corinthians 12-14. The 1 Corinthian passage is obviously the most definitive. 1 Corinthians 12 documents the giving of spiritual gifts; chapter 13 emphasizes the motivation for their use; and chapter 14 discusses the regulation of spiritual gifts.
B. What Are The Various Spiritual Gifts?
1. Types of gifts. According to Peter, there are two classifications of spiritual gifts: serving and speaking (1 Pet 4:10-11).
2. Permanent gifts. Permanent gifts continue today for the building up of the body of Christ, the Church. Although there is much discussion as to the listing of the gifts, it can generally be concluded that the following gifts are operative today:
a. Teaching – the supernatural ability to understand, explain, and apply spiritual truth (Rom 12:7, 1 Cor 12:28, Eph 4:11). It is characterized by a desire to study the Word of God. It is related to the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. It is not qualified by a superior knowledge of the Bible. It is not associated with the prophetic gift in which the believer was simply a mouthpiece from the Lord.
b. Ministering – associated with the gift of helps or serving others (Rom 12:7, 1 Cor 12:28).
c. Administration – the gift seems to have a twofold manifestation: 1) influential leadership often used as the ability to govern (1 Cor 12:28); or 2) wise guidance used in counseling ministries (Rom 12:8). The person who is an influential leader is a good manager of people. The second type of administrative gift is manifested by a leader who gives direction or vision to a ministry.
d. Evangelism – the effective preaching of the gospel to the unsaved (Eph 4:11).
e. Pastor-Teacher – the gift of shepherding, leading, providing for, and protecting the flock of God (Eph 4:11; 1 Thes. 2:7-12).
f. Exhortation – an ability to encourage, comfort, and admonish believers (Romans 12:8). Barnabas is an example as he encouraged believers in Acts 11:22-23.
g. Giving – different from simply being generous, it is the efficient use of funds to the highest possible good (Rom 12:8). Barnabas’ gift was an example to other believers in Acts 4:36-37.
h. Showing mercy – a ministry to the sick and afflicted, or helping those in need (Rom 12:8). Dorcas is an example of showing kindness and charity in Acts 9:36.
i. Helps – a willingness or readiness to help (1 Cor. 12:28).
k. Faith – an unusual ability to believe God (1 Cor 12:8-10).
3. Temporary gifts. The gifts of apostle and prophet, which were foundational to the beginning of the church (Eph. 2:20), are examples of temporary gifts. These gifts were used for the planting of churches at the beginning of the Church age, before the completion of the canon of Scripture and the cessation of direct revelation. New Testament books were written by an apostle or someone with his authority (e.g. the Gospels of Mark and Luke). The early church considered the canon of Scripture to be closed. However, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Mormon churches, as well as the Moonies, do not consider the Bible to be the final authority.
a. Apostle – the ability to speak authoritatively in matters of faith and practice because of an intimate knowledge of Christ’s teaching and direct revelation through the Holy Spirit. This was a foundational gift for the church. Qualifications to be selected as an apostle required one to be a witness of the risen Christ (Acts 1:2, 3; 1 Cor. 15:8). Specifically there were twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, but others were considered to be apostles of the Church (Acts 14:14). The Scripture does not teach that the gift of apostle is transferred to others. One of the qualifications for inclusion into the canon of Scripture is that the text had to be written by either an apostle or a close acquaintance of an Apostle (e.g. Luke).
b. Prophet – the capacity to receive and proclaim truth directly revealed by God (1 Cor. 14:29-32). Prophets had the additional ability to understand mysteries (1 Cor. 13:2). The prophet’s ministry of foretelling the future required one hundred per cent accuracy. He was also involved in teaching or exhorting the Word of God. His prophetic teaching always corresponded to and was in agreement with the written Word of God.
c. Wisdom – a special faculty for receiving, knowing, and presenting the wisdom of God that was characteristic of apostles and prophets (1 Cor. 2:6-12).
d. Knowledge – an ability to correctly understand and exhibit the wisdom of God as revealed by the apostles 1 Cor. 2:12).
e. Healings – the miraculous ability to heal or cure any and all diseases, instantly, completely, and permanently as a confirmation of the messenger and message of God (Acts 9:34). Paul could not or did not use the gift on Epaphroditus (Phil 2:27), on Timothy (I Tim 5:23), or on Trophimus (2 Tim 4:20). Evidently the need for the gift ceased. In 2 Corinthians 12:8-9, Paul prayed repeatedly for healing and he was not healed.
f. Miracles – the ability to perform works of power (Acts 9:40; 14:3) as proof of genuine apostleship (2 Cor. 12:12).
g. Distinguishing spirits – the capacity to discern between that which is done in the power of the Holy Spirit or an evil spirit. This gift was used to affirm that direct revelation was from God and it exposed that which was false (Acts 13:10)
h. Tongues – the supernatural ability to speak in a known, unlearned language (γλωσσα) that is recognized by others. (Fifteen different languages were understood in Acts 2:4-8.)
1) It was a sign to unbelieving Israel of God’s impending judgment
a) Assyrians in 722 B.C. (Isa. 28:11)
b) Romans in 70 A.D (1 Cor 14:21 which quotes Isaiah 28:11).
2) It was given to validate the Apostles as messengers of the Word of God (Heb. 2:3-4).
3) Tongues will cease (stop) (1 Cor. 13:8)
a) Historical evidence reveals that tongues stopped after the first century. They are never mentioned by the Post Apostolic Fathers.
b) Tongues are not mentioned after 1 Corinthians (where it occurs 21 times) in reference to either the Holy Spirit or spiritual gifts.
c) Contemporary evidence. The linguist William J. Samarin, in his book, Tongues of Men and Angels, reports on research conducted in various parts of the world. None of the recordings of those who claimed to be speaking in tongues contained any of the structure or patterns that constitute a language.
4) Misuse causes division and disharmony (1 Cor. 14:4-11, 14-20)
5) The Bible never uses tongues as a measure or means of spirituality.
6) All believers do not have the same gift (1 Cor. 12:30)
7) Tongues were not to be used in church without an interpreter (1 Cor. 14:27-28).
i. Interpretation – the ability and requirement to translate a previously unlearned language in a church meeting.
Occasional reports of various signs and wonders (including speaking in tongues) in a foreign country where the gospel has not yet been preached are not an evidence of ongoing use of temporary gifts in the church today. Most who hold to the existence of temporary gifts today appear to redefine the gifts rather than hold to the biblical explanation of those gifts.
C. How Can Your Spiritual Gift Be Determined?
1. Study the Scriptures. Know the biblical context for the use of the gifts. Consider if you may have one of the gifts listed above. The operation of your gift must be consistent with God’s Word.
2. Pray about the discovery of your gift. This implies a willingness to accept whatever gift God has given you and to use your gift in any area in which the Lord may designate for you, recognizing that it is not limited to use within the church building. What are you doing that you enjoy? What are you doing that is effective?
3. Consult with other believers who know you and your abilities to function with your gift. Also talk with other believers who are functioning with the same spiritual gift you believe God has given to you. Learn how they have used their gift (2 Tim 1:6; 1 Cor 12:7).
4. Look for an opportunity to respond to a need. In Acts 6:5, there was a need for serving; in Acts 8, there was a need for evangelism; in Acts 12, there was a need for hospitality, etc.
5. Begin to develop and use your gift. Make the necessary preparations. Teach a Sunday school class, witness to an unbeliever, encourage a friend, exercise hospitality, visit the lonely or sick
6. Recognize the blessing. Note how God seems to bless others in the utilization of your gift. They get more out of Bible study, people come to Christ, guests respond to your hospitality, believers are strengthened in their faith, purpose and order are given to projects or meetings.
7. Realize the benefit. There is spiritual growth in your life because of the utilization of your gift (Eph 4:13, 15-16). “I get more out of it than they do!”
8. Observe the growth in the body of Christ. Encourage others to use their gifts.