Articles and Notes

Spiritual Gifts

One of the striking features of the early or apostolic church was the widespread participation and spiritual function within the body of believers. The word was not done by the apostles alone, nor by a small group of trained “clergymen.” An examination of such passages as Acts 2:46-47; 5:13-14; 6:2-6; 8:4 indicates that many believers were involved in proclaiming the gospel and in other activities. During this period there was great multiplication of the believers and considerable spiritual fervor. This widespread participation was a major cause of the spread of the Christian faith throughout the civilized world.

There has been a rediscovery of this vision of every-member participation today and a return to New Testament practice. At the same time there has been a flood of interest in the doctrine of spiritual gifts. When Jesus ascended He gave these gifts unto His followers (Ephesians 4:8,11). The purpose was “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12 NIV). Gifts are to be used in the development of all of God’s people so that they can do the work of the ministry. Paul used the picture of the human body and its parts in teaching this doctrine in 1 Corinthians 12. Proper functioning of the body requires that every part or member do its assigned task. No body could work properly if it were all mouth or hands. God has given to each believer something to be used for the benefit of others and the glory of God can change our lives and those of others.

Nature of the Gifts

1. Definition. Spiritual gifts are God-given capacities for spiritual service, supernaturally bestowed upon believers only. Our English word comes from two principal Greek words. One is charismata, which has given us our word “charismatic.” The root is charis, which is the word for “grace” or “undeserved favor.” The other word is pneumatika, meaning “spiritualities” or “something from the Spirit,” indicating its source is God, pertaining to the realm of the Spirit.

Gifts differ from natural talents, although both have their origin in God and may work together in certain instances. Natural talents come from the first or natural birth. Gifts come at the second birth. When spiritual gifts are properly developed and exercised, something supernatural takes place. There is an impact upon another believer in Christian growth and encouragement. Playing instruments, singing, doing artistic works are talents from God, but are not listed as spiritual gifts. The unsaved can also possess these. Gifts also differ from the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Fruit proceeds from within, pertains to character and is part of the process of growth for all believers. Unlike spiritual gifts, each quality of the fruit of the Spirit is available to all believers.

2. Source. Every good and perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). So it is with spiritual gifts. Since God is one, gifts come from the Father (Romans 12:3), from the Son (Ephesians 4:8), and from the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:11). Every believer receives one or more gifts from the risen Christ (Ephesians 4:7-8; 1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Peter 4:10). There is no such thing as a believer who has received no gift. In this sense, all believers are “charismatic,” whether they realize it or not. The body of believers cannot be divided Scripturally between “charismatic” and “non-charismatic” groups, although this is widely done in the Christian world. Gifts are not the property of a few ordained people. The force of this truth is to remind us of our responsibility to stir up this gift within us and make use of it (1 Timothy 1:6). We must not neglect it.

What determines which gift we receive? Some believers point to 1 Corinthians 12:31 and 14:1 as indicating that it depends on our aspiration and asking God. Yet the first reference uses the plural rather than a singular pronoun and evidently is addressed to the church as a whole placing special value, or desiring, for the local body, the more important gifts, such as prophecy. Gifts come from the grace of God and are not a reward for holiness or striving (Ephesians 4:7). It is the Lord’s discretion, not ours, which governs the apportionment of gifts. Are we wise enough to instruct Him as to our proper place in His body?

3. Purpose. The timing of this provision is related to the ascension of the Lord Jesus to heaven after His resurrection. It is particularly His provision for the church. The formation of the church at Pentecost makes clear that this is a new provision for believers, not available in prior ages. Gifts are to build up other believers so that they can do the work of the ministry (1 Corinthians 14:12,26; Ephesians 4:12); to promote growth in unity and love (Ephesians 4:16); to assist in the care of one another (1 Corinthians 12:25-26; 1 Peter 4:9-10); and to glorify God, especially in the ministry of the Word (1 Peter 4:11). There is no hint in any of this of self-improvement, self-edification or self-importance as a goal. Gifts are to be others-directed. But does it not say that tongues are to edify self in 1 Corinthians 14:4? This verse is a comparison between prophesying to edify the church and the Corinthian practice of tongues-speaking. The comparison makes tongues the lesser. The verse does not state that self-edification is a purpose of any spiritual gift. Edifying of self is a by-product. Gifts are to build others.

Classification of the Gifts

Bible scholars disagree as to the exact number of gifts. As few as nine and as many as twenty-two are recognized. Moreover, there is no agreement as to whether those listed in Scripture represent a complete catalog. Many believe that the major gifts are mentioned, but there could be others that are not listed in Scripture. Note the following lists of gifts:

1 Cor 12:8-10, 1 Cor 12:28, Rom 12:6-8, Eph 4:11, 1 Pet 4:10-11


1 Cor 12:8-10 1 Cor 12:28  Rom 12:6-8   Eph 4:11

Word of wisdom





Word of knowledge























Leading (ruling)


Discerning of



(administrations or wise counsels)


1 Peter 4:10-11






Interpretation of tongues




The question is intensely debated as to whether some gifts passed from the scene with the apostolic church. Many conservative writers believe that the sign gifts, such as healing, were for the times of the apostles primarily. Others vigorously deny this and say that the proof is lacking Scripturally. Many leaders have claimed that they are apostles of God, even possessing the powers and authority of the original Twelve. But apostles could only be with us in the secondary sense of the word, since none today could be a witness of the Resurrected Christ as was required (1 Corinthians 9:1; Acts 1:21-22). The matter of whether some gifts yet remain with us or whether others have now been added is still debated. It is beyond the scope of this lesson.

Various ways of classifying gifts have been used. Examples are (1) according to their nature (speaking, serving, signifying); (2) according to their sphere (church at large or church local); (3) according to their aspects (motivations, ministries, manifestations); (4) according to their duration (permanent or temporary). A description of the gifts, classified according to their nature, is given in Appendix B.

Utilization of the Gifts

Each of us is responsible to function as a servant of the church by using our gift. The New Testament does not present the picture of a few workers doing most of the service for God while others merely attend, enjoy the ministry and help a little financially. Remember the parable of the talents and our coming reckoning before God (Matthew 25:14-29). Each Christian is to be vitally involved in a body of believers and ministering according to God’s plan. How are we to go about doing this?

1. Discovery Of Gifts. This is not directly commanded in Scripture. However, there are many commands to serve the Lord in the fellowship of His church. Thus we can begin by serving in whatever way we can help. We need not wait until we discover our own particular gift before serving. We are commanded to function in many gift areas, without having that gift. These areas include serving (Galatians 5:13), exhortation (Hebrews 10:25), giving (2 Corinthians 9:7), faith (2 Corinthians 5:7), evangelistic work (Acts 1:8), discerning or distinguishing spirits (1 John 4:1), teaching (Titus 2:4) and shepherding (1 Corinthians 12:25). The special blessing of God in one of these areas of ministry is a sign of spiritual gift. But who would limit giving, faith and helping others only to the gifted? It appears that one person may have more than one gift (Paul, Philip). In any event, there should be no occasion for claiming spiritual superiority (1 Corinthians 12:21-24).

2. Development Of Gifts. Normally this comes when we are actively using them for God. They do not seem to be conferred in full bloom. Growth in the use of spiritual gifts seems to be governed by the same principles governing all areas of spiritual development. The command to present our bodies to Christ for His service that we might be a living sacrifice precedes a passage on gifts (Romans 12:1-2). A plea to walk worthy of our calling precedes another such passage (Ephesians 4:1). Such factors as obedience, effective prayer, diligent study of the Word, sharing our faith, active local church fellowship and a desire to do God’s will effects the development of our gift(s). No short cuts or speed-up processes exist to develop gifts. As in other areas of spiritual progress, there must be gradual growth.

3. Guidelines For Recognizing Gifts. The following guidelines may be helpful:

a. Be Others-Directed. Spiritual gifts minister to others, particularly in building them up so that they also can serve in the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). Do not concentrate on yourself.

b. Look for “Open Doors” Of Service (Galatians 6:10). Do not wait to discover your gift before serving. It may not be what you had in mind but there is a need and you could do it, if you made the effort. When needs and opportunities abound, it is not spiritual to be waiting around to “discover my gift first.” Jesus said, “I am among you as He that serveth” (Luke 22:27). Trying to concentrate on one area too soon may be a handicap.

c. Pray for Opportunities to Serve the Lord Jesus. Do not wait for someone to come and seek you out. Part of taking the whole armor of God is to be prayerful (Ephesians 6:18). Ask God for wisdom (James 1:5) to understand where He wants to use you. Review the list of gifts and seek to find some opportunity to serve. Do not underestimate your capacity to do what God opens up for you. Appropriate His sufficiency (2 Corinthians 12:9).

d. Seek the Counsel of Mature Believers Who Know You (Proverbs 11:14). We are often not the best judge of our own gift (1 Corinthians 14:29). Our personal desires may be utterly at variance with the mind of the Spirit. For example many gifted preachers of the Word at first shunned the whole idea of preaching. On the other hand, many actively seek the pulpit when their ministry obviously lies elsewhere. Be open to counsel. Accept closed doors.

e. Be Active in Serving. Activity may lead to discovery of your gift (2 Timothy 1:6; 1 Timothy 4:14). We rarely have need to fear “running ahead of God” when we serve where we can and where needed. Are you available or seeking to avoid responsibility? Are you faithful in present duties?

f. Do Not Expect Instant Development. Growth is the Scriptural way of development in almost all areas of Christian life (2 Peter 3:18). A gift does not spring into being fully developed. Unimpressive beginnings and discouragements often mark our stumbling beginnings. Beware of premature judgments which may shut off areas of growth.

Your life may be a dynamic reservoir of unused potential for God. You may serve prominently or quietly. You may serve in a humble ministry, such as helps, or in a compassionate ministry, like mercy. There seems to be no end of opportunity in these areas. In any case, commit yourself to use whatever God has given you and exercise it in the sufficiency of God. Do not neglect your gift. Stir it up!

Spiritual Gifts

1. List the various spiritual gifts shown in the following verses:

1 Corinthians 12:8-10 1 Peter 4:8-11

Romans 12:3-8; 28-30 Ephesians 4:11

2.How would you answer a statement to the effect that:

a. Only the more spiritual Christians have a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:7).

b. Any one gift is meant for all believers (1 Corinthians 12:28-30).

c. A person should pray to receive a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:11,18).

3. What are two purposes for spiritual gifts according to the following verses:

1 Corinthians 14:12 and Ephesians 4:11-13

1 Corinthians 14:20-25 (especially 14:22) and Hebrews 2:2-4

4. What two attitudes did Paul warn against in regard to spiritual gifts?

1 Corinthians 12:15-16 1 Corinthians 12:21

What would be the practical result of such activities?

5. What did Paul say about the Corinthian church concerning gifts (1 Corinthians 1:4-7)?

Did their gifts make them a spiritual church (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)?

6. From 1 Corinthians 14: What was the purpose of the gift of tongues?

How were the Corinthians abusing this gift?

What regulations did Paul lay down regarding tongues?

Explain the statement, “Five is better than ten thousand.”

7. In the following passages what is said about our attitudes in using our gifts? What is said about the way we exercise our gifts? What cautions appear to be associated with the gifts mentioned?

Romans 12:6-8

1 Timothy 4:13-15

1 Peter 4:8-11

8. According to 1 Corinthians 13:1-3,8-10,13 does God place more emphasis on knowing and exercising our spiritual gift, or on developing Christ-like character and exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)? Explain.

9. What do you think your spiritual gift is? How have you been using it in your local church? How do you plan to use it in the future?

10. What responsibility do you have if you do not know what your spiritual gift is?


How does God distribute spiritual gifts?

Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians chapter 12 make it clear that each Christian is given spiritual gifts according to the Lord’s choice. Spiritual gifts are given for the edification of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:7, 14:12). The exact timing of the giving of these gifts is not specifically mentioned. Most assume that spiritual gifts are given at the time of spiritual birth (the moment of salvation). However, there are some verses that may indicate God gives spiritual gifts later as well. Both 1 Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6 refer to a gift that Timothy had received at the time of his ordination “by prophecy.” This likely indicates that one of the elders at Timothy’s ordination spoke about a spiritual gift that Timothy would have to enable his future ministry.

We are also told in 1 Corinthians 12:28-31 and in 1 Corinthians 14:12-13 that it is God (not us) who chooses the gifts. These passages also indicate that not everyone will have a particular gift. Paul tells the Corinthian believers that if they are going to covet or long after spiritual gifts, they should strive after the more edifying gifts, such as prophesying (speaking forth the word of God for the building up of others). Now, why would Paul tell them to strongly desire the “greater” gifts if they already had been given all they would be given, and there was no further opportunity of gaining these greater gifts? It may lead one to believe that even as Solomon sought wisdom from God in order to be a good ruler over God’s people, so God will grant to us those gifts we need in order to be of greater benefit to His church.

Having said this, it still remains that these gifts are distributed according to God’s choosing, not our own. If every Corinthian strongly desired a particular gift, such as prophesying, God would not give everyone that gift simply because they strongly desired it. If He did, then who would serve in all of the other functions of the body of Christ?

There is one thing that is abundantly clear—God’s command is God’s enablement. If God commands us to do something (such as witness, love the unlovely, disciple the nations, etc.), He will enable us to do it. Some may not be as gifted at evangelism as others, but God commands all Christians to witness and disciple (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). We are all called to evangelize whether or not we have the spiritual gift of evangelism. A determined Christian who strives to learn the Word and develop his teaching ability may become a better teacher than one who may have the spiritual gift of teaching, but who neglects the gift.

Are spiritual gifts given to us when we receive Christ, or are they cultivated through our walk with God? The answer is both. Normally, spiritual gifts are given at salvation, but also need to be cultivated through spiritual growth. Can a desire in your heart be pursued and developed into your spiritual gift? Can you seek after certain spiritual gifts? First Corinthians 12:31 seems to indicate that this is possible: “earnestly desire the best gifts.” You can seek a spiritual gift from God and be zealous after it by seeking to develop that area. At the same time, if it is not God’s will, you will not receive a certain spiritual gift no matter how strongly you seek after it. God is infinitely wise, and He knows through which gifts you will be most productive for His kingdom.

No matter how much we have been gifted with one gift or another, we are all called upon to develop a number of areas mentioned in the lists of spiritual gifts: to be hospitable, to show acts of mercy, to serve one another, to evangelize, etc. As we seek to serve God out of love for the purpose of building up others for His glory, He will bring glory to His name, grow His church, and reward us (1 Corinthians 3:5-8, 12:31–14:1). God promises that as we make Him our delight, He will give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4-5). This would surely include preparing us to serve Him in a way that will bring us purpose and satisfaction.

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