Spiritual Gifts

We’ve just begun a series in 1 Corinthians 12-14. The sermons are expository rather than topical. But I haven’t been able to stop myself from compiling a list of the characteristics of spiritual gifts.

So far I’ve noticed that spiritual gifts are have the following characteristics.

1. They’re undeserved (12:4). They’re gifts; they’re not rewards for good behaviour. They don’t function like a wage. A wage is deserved; it’s what we get paid because we’ve earned it. Gifts are not earned. God gives them as gifts. And so we can’t boast if we have a particular gift. The fact that we have one particular gift or another doesn’t really say anything about us. They say more about the giver. We’re not special; but God is. It’s not a sign of greatness to have a gift.

2. They’re diverse (12:4). The ESV study Bible chart lists 16 different gifts from 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Corinthians 14, Romans 12 and Ephesians 4. The lists in the New Testament are not exhaustive; they’re illustrative. Spiritual gifts aren’t limited to those gifts alone. It’s not the case that if you think that you have an ability and it’s not on that list then whatever it is, it’s not a spiritual gift. There are a whole load of different abilities that God gives to his people. Some are extraordinary, like gifts of healings, which presumably is the God given ability to make someone who’s sick well again. But others are a little more ordinary, like the gift of administration.

3. They’re universal (12:7). Every Christian gets one. Therefore they can’t be the markers for a spiritual elite. There aren’t two grades of Christian; first class Christians who are gifted and second class Christians who aren’t. There’s one class of Christian; gifted, period. There’s no such thing as the giftless Christian. We’re all charismatics. So everyone can make a contribution to church life.

4. They’re purposive (12:7). They’re for the common good. They’re intended for the benefit of others. And so they’re not to be used selfishly. It’s not all about me and my abilities but what can I do for the sake of others. And it also means that there’s no such thing as a useless gift. We may elevate some gifts in our thinking and dismiss others. But that’s wrong. Each gift that God gives can be used for the building up of teh chruch of whcih we’re a part.

5. They’re allocated (12:11). God decides who gets what. He makes us what we are. He gives us our temperaments and abilities. He has made his sovereign decision and, like all his decisions, it’s wise. So let’s trust him. Let’s not whinge if we’re not gifted as we’d like to be. And let’s not be envious when others have what we want. Things are just as God intended them to be.

6. They’re abilities (12:12f). I think a spiritual gift is simply a God given ability to contribute something useful for the benefit of the church. I’m not exactly sure what the link between natural gifts and grace gifts is, except to say that there’s no such thing as a natural gift. God makes us what we are. He creates us as human beings and he recreates us as Christians. It deosn’t seem unreasonable to suppose that the God who creates us gives us abilities as non-Christians that we’ll one day be able to use as Christians. So, for example, it’s not surprising that some church pastors have a teaching background.

11 thoughts on “Spiritual Gifts

  1. Lauri June 24, 2010 / 9:21 am

    So the Spirit then gives gifts to non-Christians?

    • theurbanpastor June 24, 2010 / 9:30 am

      Did I say that?
      God gives all whom he creates their abilties, doesn’t he? We’re not self made men.
      A non-Christian hasn’t got the Spirit of God andf won’t use their abilities in the church for the benefit of others, so those abilities shouldn’t be described as spiritual gifts. Does that help clarify things? Or am I just deeper in the mire?

      • Lauri June 24, 2010 / 11:21 am

        Well, the question I posed was to teas out the difference between say a gift of administration for somebody who works for the good of the church and somebody who is not a Christian. This seems to be a problem in the overall analysis above, especially since you talk about non-Christians having talents that then turn into gifts when they become Christians and work in church… So spiritual gifts seem to be something else until they are used for church, in which case it begs the question as to why we need to call them “gifts of the spirit,” unless they are of the healing or tongues variety.

  2. Matthew June 24, 2010 / 9:29 am

    My only question would be “every Christian gets one”.

    That seems to imply a permanence that I believe is not necessarily stated. God in his wisdom gives us the gifts we need for a given situation through the Holy Spirit: thus I am sceptical of “Spiritual Healers” (although I accept that such occaisionally occur). I strongly believe that the Holy Spirit frequently manifests himself in healing in certain situations to the Glory of God – that doesn’t make the person-instrument a healer for the rest of his/her life. The same is true with all the gifts: all of us know very wise, spiritual people whose gift of discernment occaisionally goes walkabout!

    Many Christians seem to believe that the gift of tongues is a permanent gift that they need to practice at every possible opportunity – where my instincts tell me that gifts are very contextual.

    I suspect there are those who are lighting fires around big wooden stakes with my name on them, but I’m writing out of a sense of questionning rather than authority!

    • theurbanpastor June 24, 2010 / 9:38 am

      Hi Matthew
      Thanks for your observation. I agree. I didn’t mean to imply permanence. I’m not sure that there’s anything in the text that we have the same gifts for all time. God is sovereign. He does what pleases his good and perfect will.
      No pyres being erected here!
      One of my ‘problems’ with the gift lists in 1 Corinthians and other places is that the descriptions I’d love to satisfy my curiousity simply aren’t provided! God knows what he means and presumably the Corinthian church knew exactly what he was talking about. But we don’t. I’m not about to construct a theology of the word of knowledge on that small phrase, for example. God gave them gifts and eh gave them to be used for others. I think we can trust him to do what’s necessary and to give us what we need. The thrust of the passage is surely more to do with the exercise of teh gifts than the nature of the gifts, is that fair?
      Thanks mate

  3. Matthew June 24, 2010 / 10:16 am

    I like to think that getting my 15yr old daughter out of bed on a Sunday morning in time for Church is a spiritual gift – obviously the Corinthians didn’t need that one!

    • theurbanpastor June 28, 2010 / 7:07 pm

      d’ya know I think that might be one that slipped Paul’s mind! you’d need supernatural empowerment to accomplish that wouldn’t ya!

  4. Phil C June 24, 2010 / 12:37 pm

    How should we think about developing these gifts?

    Someone might have the gift of administration, and by going on courses, or through years of experience, they will get really good at it. That seems totally different to other gifts which you either have or you don’t.

  5. theurbanpastor June 28, 2010 / 7:11 pm

    whether it’s administration, teaching, prophesying or whatever, I see no reason why we wouldn’t want to improve our spiritual ability; for example I need to become a better teacher for the sake of those I teach; for the benefit of the church. I can do that by thinking about the task of teaching, eliciting some feedback from people that are skilled in it and thereby improving. It remains a spiritual gift, given by God for the sake of the church. And I don’t think there’s anything to suggest that God can’t improve on my gift as I work on it. What do you think? Am I barking up the wrong tree, or just barking?!

    • Phil C June 29, 2010 / 9:23 am

      I agree.

      I suppose I am trying to work out how the parable of the talents relates to this. Are our “talents”, as per the parable, at all comparable with spiritual gifts?

      I am used to thinking of talents as something you can develop from scratch (as per Malcolm Gladwell’s book on the topic, which says that if you put 10,000 hours into something you can become a genius at it, or something to that effect). So if I put my all into it, I could become an amazing piano player. Is that the case for spiritual gifts? Even if I don’t really show any sign of having the “gift of administration”, for example, if I went on a course and administered things for years, couldn’t I effectively develop it from nothing?

      Anyway. I’m just thinking aloud, really…I don’t know what the implications would be either way.

  6. Matthew June 29, 2010 / 9:36 am

    Can’t it work both ways? “pastoring” may well be a gift/talent that needs working on: occaisionally the Spirit intervenes for an urgent healing, where 10 000 hours just aren’t available

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