36. Spiritual Gifts
(This lesson, and the following one, are not in the form of a study guide, but are, rather, articles. I felt that you would be able to grasp the concepts of spiritual gifts better in this format.)
Q: What are the spiritual gifts?
A: The answer to this question lies in three Bible chapters: Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4.
Rom. 12:4-9 (NIV) Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 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. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 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. Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
1 Cor. 12:1-11, 28 (NIV) Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant. You know that when you were pagans, somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols. Therefore I tell you 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. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 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. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. . . . 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.
Eph. 4:11-13 (NIV) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's 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.
Here are the spiritual gifts that Paul mentions (I'm reducing the words to their root form so as to make it easier to understand. I've also mentioned prophecy and teaching only once as they are duplicated in other passages):
•Prophecy •Service •Teaching •Encouragement •Contributing/giving •Leadership •Mercy •Wisdom •Knowledge •Faith •Healing •Miracles •Distinguishing between spirits •Tongues •Interpreting tongues •Apostle •Evangelist •Pastor •Prophet
In order for you to understand them better, let me say a few words about each one. Every Christian will find her/himself working in many of these fields. However, the person who has the spiritual gift will have a greater desire and ability in operating in these areas.
● Prophecy: The gift of prophecy is different than the work of a prophet (described below). The gift of prophecy deals largely with revealing God's will by means of teaching God's word from the Bible, counseling, and encouraging God's people, and in so doing bring the church into stronger spiritual health.
● Service: In the KJV this is called “helps.” I'm sure you've known Christians who just love to do things for others; who go out of their way, spend a great deal of time, get involved (sometimes spending most of their free time) with helping those who are suffering for one reason or another. These people usually would rather work behind the scenes and rarely call attention to what they are doing—except to gain the support of others for their service.
● Teaching: These people have an inner urge to help others know the teachings of Scripture that they've learned in their own personal study. They often teach Bible classes in the church, or seek out those who are searching for truth and teaching them on an individual basis.
The spiritual gift of teaching should be separated from the occupation of teaching, such as in a school. The person who is employed in teaching—even in a parochial school setting—does not necessarily have the spiritual gift of teaching. It is possible, however, that a teacher will have this gift for the purpose of instructing those in the church in the Word of God. Each person must study this out for himself through prayer and meditation.
● Encouraging (KJV = Exhorting): The gift of helping others through difficult times—grief for losses: of a loved one; job; possessions either by fire or robbery; as the result of rape, violence; accidents, etc. They also seek to encourage other Christians to maintain their trust in God.
● Contributing (KJV = Gifts): An insuppressible desire to give to God money, time, or energy, often as a result of seeing the needs of others. The gift is given to God, though it may be applied to wherever the giver finds a need. This person considers her/himself (often without realizing it) as a conduit of God's money, an agent for God to relieve the sufferings of those around him/her. The giver also wants to give to the church, not only to support the local church, but also, through the church, to supply funds for mission work at home and around the world. A person who has this gift need not have a lot of money, but gives everything he/she is able to give (like the poor widow who gave her two mites—copper coins).
● Leadership: The ability to lead the church in setting goals in accordance with God's purposes for the future. He is also able to communicate these goals to the members so that they voluntarily and harmoniously work together for the glory of God
● Mercy: A great feeling of empathy for those who are suffering, and a desire—including putting forth the efforts—to help them.
● Wisdom: The gift of insight into how prior knowledge—or that given by the Spirit—may best be applied to specific needs arising in the church. People with this gift help by advising the church whether or not a plan of action they may be devising is the best way to go. (My wife has the gift of wisdom. This has been a blessing to our family and to the church.)
● Knowledge: The ability to understand and remember important information and instruction, primarily from Scripture. However, the gift of knowledge also extends to such activities as knowing the history of the church and of the world. This gift is often given to those who also have the gift of teaching. The gift of knowledge finds a practical application in remembering peoples names (this meshes with the gift of encouragement, because people feel good about the fact that you remembered their name)
● Faith: Though everyone is given a measure of faith, and our every prayer should be, "Lord I believe, please help my unbelief," yet some have greater faith than others. These people seem to be the ones who can “move mountains” by their faith. They can discern, and accept with extraordinary confidence, the will and purposes of God for His church.
● Healing: Those who have the gift of healing often serve as human intermediaries through whom it pleases God to cure illnesses and restore health—apart from the use of natural or medical means. They pray for the sick according to the instructions in Scripture. The person who has this gift often has the gift of faith.
James 5:14, 15 (NIV) Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.
● Miracles: Miracles are being played up today in such a way that anything that we can't readily explain is a “miracle.” And people who can do “miracles” can make a great deal of money by doing so. But these “miracles” are not necessarily the genuine article.
People with the gift of miracles work as “agents” through whom God is able to perform powerful acts that are perceived by observers to have altered the ordinary course of nature. God is the author of all true miracles. He uses people to perform miracles according to a need He knows about, not according to our perceptions. We must never exalt a person who has this gift. Usually they will want to do God's work quietly, with only a few leading people in the church involved as prayer-partners.
● Distinguishing between spirits: NRSV translates it as “discernment.” Some call this the gift of “insight.” This gift helps the person who has it to know with assurance whether certain behaviors or ideas, which supposedly come from God, are divine, human, or satanic. These people have a “keen ability to recognize inconsistencies; the tendency to spot what is wrong with an idea or teaching and to suggest how to fix it; a deep conviction not easily put to rest when they know people are being given half‑truths, misapplied truths, or false teachings." Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly, Feb 26, 1997
The basis on
which the one with this gift makes her/his judgment,
• Heb. 4:12 "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double‑ edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."
• There is a wide variety of spiritual phenomena today. God's church has a great need for the gift of distinguishing between spirits so that His people will not be blown by every wind of doctrine.
• 1 John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
The one who has the gift of discernment is given this gift for the express purpose of “testing the spirits.”
● Tongues: This is an often misunderstood gift. Many feel that every member in the church should have it in order to be saved. Paul deals with this concept in 1 Corinthians 12:14 through to the end of chapter 14. His instruction is interspersed with great lessons, such as chapter 13—the love chapter. But even this chapter deals with the need of practicing spiritual gifts in a loving manner.
According to Acts 2, the gift of tongues is the ability to speak another language without having known it before—for the purpose of sharing the gospel to those who don't know it. It is not given as a sign of salvation, but as a tool the Spirit uses to reach those who might not otherwise know and/or understand the gospel and how it relates to their lives.
Every member has a spiritual gift of one sort or another, but every member does not have the gift of tongues. Compare the hypothetical questions Paul asks:
1 Cor. 12:29, 30 (NIV) Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret?
The obvious answer to each of these questions, is “no.” Each person has a gift—or set of gifts—that the Spirit gives to him/her. But all do not have the same gift. (for further information about this gift, go to the opening page, click on “Bible Questions and Answers”/ “Questions on Bible Teachings”/ “Questions on Spiritual Gifts”/ “Speaking in Tongues”)
● Interpretation of tongues: Sometimes this is needed when a person is teaching in one language and some of the hearers don't understand that language. We would call them interpreters, but these people receive it as a gift that is not necessarily held before this particular need—and may not appear again.
There is also evidence in Acts 2:14 and onward, that this gift may appear as the gift of hearing another language and understanding it, or perceiving it to be her/his own language. I suppose, in these cases, we might call it the “gift of hearing.”
● Apostle: This is an authoritative messenger or representative. Paul uses the term informally, referring to messengers from churches on practical missions (2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25) and more formally, referring to the spiritual gift, one sent by Christ to proclaim the gospel (1 Cor. 1:1). We find it today in those “pioneers” who enter new areas to teach people about Jesus and prepare them for baptism and church membership. In this way they raise up churches for Jesus. We can also find the gift in administrative people of the church who seek to advance the work of God and who have the authority to organize the churches raised up by the pioneers.
● Evangelist: This is the gift of sharing the gospel with unbelievers in order to lead them to become Jesus' disciples and responsible members of the body of Christ. People who have this gift lead people to decisions for Christ in ways that seem almost impossible for others. God will give them words to speak, and He places them in situations where they find receptive people. A person who has the gift of evangelist may be a full-time, paid preacher who holds meetings to which he may invite a large area, or even a whole city to come. They preach from the pulpit, and visit in the homes of those who attend, helping them to make a decision to give their lives to Christ.
● Pastor/ “shepherd”: A person who assumes a personal responsibility for the spiritual welfare of a group of believers.
We need to see a difference here between the office of Pastor—one who cares for a church as spiritual leader (usually paid)—and one who has the ability to "shepherd the flock"—guiding the people of the church spiritually and practically in holding the church together as a body.
Not all those who have the office of pastor have the gift of "shepherding." One who is the pastor of the church usually has gifts of administration, leadership, knowledge, teaching, discernment, wisdom. But not all have the ability to shepherd the flock in such a way as to lead individuals closer to Christ. If a pastor discovers that he/she doesn't have this gift, then they should find someone in the congregation who has it, and encourage them to take up that responsibility.
● Prophet: A person who has the gift of prophecy, described above, but who, in addition, receives dreams or visions from God. The prophet then passes on the message God has given her/him, from the pulpit, through written books or articles, or directly to individuals—if the message is for only certain people.
I believe that there are many other spiritual gifts that Paul hasn't mentioned here. I'd like to think that spiritually uplifting music is a gift of the Spirit as well as Scripture-based, inspirational writing, among others. But as you can see, the spiritual gifts are vitally important to the church of God—and to those who have the gift as well.
Some of the gifts require training in order that those who have them can become adept in performing their task. For example: those who have the gift of teaching would find it helpful to study methods of presenting material in a way that draws the students into the discussion of the subject being presented, and thus makes the gospel more understandable to them.
Have you discovered your spiritual gift? As I said earlier, the Spirit gives everyone a gift when he/she accepts Christ. Recognizing that gift and prayerfully seeking ways to use it are vitally important to your spiritual growth, and to the health of the church.