The Gifts of the Spirit


Other articles this month show that God’s Spirit enlightens us about Christian doctrine, enables us in Christian living, and empowers us for Christian service. This article will show that He endows us with spiritual gifts, and God wants you to be familiar with that truth – “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant” (1Co 12:1).[1] First, some general observations:

Spiritual gift is different from natural ability and acquired skills, although these can be used for God. Someone with an aptitude for figures could be a useful assembly treasurer. Medical training, catering skills, or expertise in a trade can all be used profitably to further the Lord’s work, but these are distinct from spiritual gifts.

Spiritual gift and spirituality are not synonymous. The Corinthians “[came] behind in no gift” (1Co 1:7), but they were carnal – spiritual infants (3:1). We should not assess spiritual progress by how well a brother can preach!

Spiritual gift can be exercised mechanically, and lack warmth and affection. It then becomes just like an irritating noise, and the contributor has rendered himself ineffective (1Co 13:1-2). It is often said that the gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 are the machinery for assembly activity, with the machinery functioning in chapter 14, and the necessary lubrication of love that enables it to run effectively in chapter 13.

Spiritual gift is not essential for public participation at the Lord’s Supper or in the prayer meeting. In assembly life, some public functions do require the necessary gift, but every brother with holy hands ought to feel his responsibility to lead the saints in worship and in prayer.

Four main Bible passages deal with the subject of gift: Ephesians 4:7-16, Romans 12:3-8, 1 Peter 4:10-11, and 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14. The last of these is what readily springs to mind when referring to the gifts of the Spirit. For the most part, the teaching there is corrective, adjusting a mindset that was excited by the spectacular instead of valuing what was solid and edifying.

The Distribution of Gift

No believer can claim to be ungifted; “every man hath received a gift” (1Pe 4:10 RV). The Holy Spirit divides “to every man severally as he will” (1Co 12:11). So, inspired by the Spirit, both Peter and Paul concur that every Christian has a God-given gift that equips each to serve Him in some way.

As just quoted, the Donor is the Holy Spirit, who in His sovereignty has allocated your gift “as he will.” If you are not content with your role, your elders or fellow-believers are not to blame! Settle in your mind that God has set you in the body “as it hath pleased him” (1Co 12:18). That will preserve you from peevishly withdrawing your labor and saying, “I am not of the body” (vv15-16). It will also regulate your attitude to others. You will never regard their gift as inferior because it is different, and say, “I have no need of you” (v21).

The Diversity of Gift

“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1Co 12:4). The chapter contains lists of gifts that are augmented in the other passages. For the most part, the lists in 1 Corinthians 12 comprise gifts that are no longer in vogue. Some had been promised by the Savior: “And these signs shall follow them that believe” (Mar 16:17-18). Before that chapter ends, there is an explanation of what He meant, for the Lord was “confirming the word by the signs that followed” (v20 RV). These miracles were being used to authenticate the preaching of the new message of the gospel. For example, the gift of tongues was a sign to unbelievers, in particular, to unbelieving Jews, “this people” (1Co 14:21-22). When the new message was established, there was no further need of sign gifts, and they became redundant (1Co 13:8-13).

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul uses the analogy of the human body to illustrate diversity. The body is a single entity, and yet it comprises various organs and members, all with their specific function. Similarly, the assembly is a unit with multiple members, each with their Spirit-endowed gift which must function for the spiritual health of the whole company. You must exercise the gift that you have received rather than encroaching on someone else’s sphere of responsibility; having received a gift, “minister the same one to another” (1Pe 4:10).

The Design of Gift

As just quoted from 1 Peter 4:10, we minister our gift “one to another,” but as we do so, it results in “God in all things [being] glorified” (v11). That lofty objective is a strong motive to “stir up the gift of God which is in thee” (2Ti 1:6) rather than neglect it (1Ti 4:14).

The overall purpose for the gifts is “for profit” (1Co 12:7 JND), in particular, in edifying the assembly (14:12): “Let all things be done unto edifying” (v26). This is one area in which the gift of prophecy was superior to tongues. The one who spoke in tongues edified himself, whereas prophecy edified the church (v4). When exercising your gift, this is the acid test: “Is this benefitting my fellow-believers?”

The Desire for Gift

“Desire earnestly the greater gifts” (1Co 12:31 RV). While gift is bestowed sovereignly by the Spirit, we have a duty to desire gift. The three lists of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 total thirteen gifts, with those in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4 increasing the number to around twenty. In each of the three lists in 1 Corinthians 12, the gift of tongues with its companion gift of interpretation is always last. As stated earlier, the Corinthians were enthusiastic about the spectacular, so Paul downplays the importance of that gift in comparison to prophecy, and hence his exhortation to desire the greater gifts. Possibly he is suggesting that congregationally they should be anticipating God’s raising up prophets among them for the greater good of the company. If regarded as a personal desire for one of the better gifts, again the motivation should be the yearning to be of maximum help to the assembly.

The gift of prophecy was exercised when a brother received a direct communication from the Lord and relayed it to the assembly (1Co 14:29-33). It had this in common with tongues: it was a temporary gift (13:8-12). When the final inspired revelation was committed to writing, the function of the prophet ended. The need for the gift of teaching lives on.

In desiring a gift, ascertain what your gift is, and then function appropriately and zealously. Scripture promises the necessary grace: “Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Eph 4:7). There is a gift designated “helps” (1Co 12:28), which many believers have been given. If you fit in there, look out for opportunities to be helpful, and be as supportive and co-operative as possible.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.