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.