. . . I do not want you to be ignorant (1 Corinthians 12:1). Despite Paul’s stated desire, most of the church is indeed ignorant, even fearful, of spiritual gifts. The New Testament described gifts in three passages: Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Corinthians 12-14.
Some years ago, my church at the time bought a course on spiritual gifts, which was available in a version for congregations that chose not to acknowledge tongues. Why would anyone censor any part of Scripture?
The authors noted that each of these passages has some gifts apparently in common with other passage, and some unique to itself. They proceeded to eliminate the “duplicates,” and since it appeared that none of the lists was complete, searched to find additional gifts. Then they tried to provide guidance so people could figure out which one or ones they had.
What a complete waste of time and paper!
Reading the three lists in context shows that each is complete in itself without duplicates. Each has a distinct significance within the body of Christ. The gifts in each are given by a different person of the Trinity.
Gifts of the Father
After urging church members to present themselves as living sacrifices, not to be conformed to the world, and to have sound judgment in thinking about themselves, Paul brings up gifts. Significantly, he does not say “spiritual” gifts, but “gifts that differ according to the grace given us.”
Grace comes in three degrees. Prevenient grace goes before. That is the grace in which everyone is born. It guarantees that no one can ever go so far away from God that he cannot save them. When anyone repents and accepts Jesus as Lord, he or she is justified. Having been justified God leads him or her to perfection through sanctification.
So grace is given before anyone is ever saved. The gifts that differ according to that grace are hardwired parts of the personality. They are
- exhortation (encouraging)
These gifts somewhat resemble natural talents, except that God intends for people to exercise them in his service. In the case of unsaved people, it is often possible to see exactly where they would fit in the church if they knew Jesus. Since we all start out unsaved, we all have gifts to develop and use as soon as we receive Jesus.
Prophecy, by the way, does not mean the ability to predict the future. It’s much broader than that. Prophecy announces God’s will, which most often means calling people to righteousness and obedience. Prophets of the Old Testament certainly gave predictive prophecies, but that is a small part of their message.
These gifts are often called foundational gifts, or motivational gifts. They determine to some extent what we will choose to do in Christian service, and they certainly determine how we will do it. Consider, for example, how someone with the gift of service might teach a Sunday school class differently from someone with the gift of teaching or prophecy.
Having one gift and not another doesn’t let anyone out of anything. God certainly calls all of us to serve, give, and show mercy, for example, whether we have that particular gifting or not.
Gifts of the Son
Ephesians 4:7 says that grace was given to each of us according to Christ’s gift. After describing Jesus’ descent to Earth and ascension back to heaven, Paul says that “he gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11).
In other words, he gave people to exercise various kinds of leadership, people to hold particular offices.
The American church tends to make two mistakes considering these five offices. First, it concentrates on evangelists, pastors, and teachers and completely leaves out apostles and prophets.
Has God sent more than 12 apostles? Certainly. Only 12 followed Jesus everywhere and directly experienced his teaching and leadership. They have a special place in the life of the church that no one else can approach, but the New Testament mentions 24 apostles by name.
Second, we tend to think of a pastor as someone who leads a congregation. Nowadays, that person has gone through an educational program and received ordination. Being a pastor in that sense, then, is a profession, a career choice. In the New Testament, such a person is called an overseer (sometimes translated elder or bishop).
The career churchman has accepted a position of administrative leadership, and these gifts of Christ are positions of spiritual leadership. All people in positions of administrative leadership ought to be people Christ has given as spiritual leaders. Unfortunately not all of them are.
More to the point, Christ’s gifts to the church are not limited to those people he has called to professional ministry. The pastor of the first church I joined after receiving Christ (let’s call him Herb) was painfully shy and distant. No one wanted to go to him for prayer or emotional support. For that, they went to the janitor (let’s call him George).
Herb had a vivid vision of how that congregation could serve the surrounding community. He kept starting ministries, and occasionally one would grow to where such a small congregation could no longer support it. He spun it off as an independent organization and start something else. Starting ministries where none existed before is one of the hallmarks of an apostle.
Herb had no capacity to serve as pastor (that is, to take care of the flock like a shepherd), so Jesus put George in the building all day so people could receive pastoral ministry from him.
Christ gave people to operate in five ministry gifts. Some of them serve as professional clergy in front of the congregation. Most of them sit in the pews. Every believer with any spiritual maturity is Christ’s gift to the church as some kind of minister. It has to be that way. Whether a congregation has one “pastor” or a dozen, Jesus has not equipped any one of them, or all of them taken together, to perform all the ministry of that congregation.
Gifts of the Spirit
Each Christian is “given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). In other words, the Spirit gives gifts that manifest his presence. The gifts of the Father are what we have, the gifts of the Son are what we are.
The gifts of the Spirit have, in a sense, nothing to do with us at all. We are only the vehicle on occasions of the Spirit’s choosing. He may choose to operate through one person with the same gift with some regularity, another person with a variety of gifts. He may choose to operate through one person frequently and another person seldom. It’s his choice.
There are nine gifts of the Spirit:
- word of wisdom
- word of knowledge
- healing miracles
- discernment of spirits
- speaking in tongues
- interpretation of tongues
Too many Christians blunder on the first two by ignoring the words “word of.” The Bible knows nothing about a gift of wisdom or a gift of knowledge. We are supposed to gain both for ourselves. The Holy Spirit tells people of his choosing either information or plans that they could never discover themselves—such as a predictive prophecy. As with the gifts of the Father, there is no prediction in the Holy Spirit’s gift of prophecy. That term covers other kinds of speaking for God.
The Spirit’s gift of prophecy differs from the Father’s because it is not a resident gift, and he gives it to anyone he chooses, which may well be someone who does not have the Father’s gift of prophecy. Jeremiah, for example, certainly received words of wisdom, knowledge, and prophecy from the Holy Spirit, but the Father appears to have given him the gift of mercy.
And notice faith as the third on the list of gifts of the Spirit. It is not saving faith. Every saved person has that faith. The Spirit chooses to give some people special faith on particular occasions.
Tongues and interpretation of tongues do not come last on the list because they are any less important, but because they did not appear until Pentecost. The first seven are evident throughout the Old Testament. Our new covenant with better promises also comes with two new gifts.
After a digression to describe love, Paul commands to desire spiritual gifts earnestly, especially prophecy—being able to speak the mind of God. Anyone can speak to God in prayer in known languages or unknown languages.
Some Corinthians and too many modern Pentecostals and Charismatics prize speaking tongues publicly because it is a more spectacular gift. It doesn’t help others much unless the gift of interpretation is also in operation. Tongues plus interpretation equals prophecy. Tongues in a public meeting without interpretation equals confusion. Paul cautions against confusion. He also commands the church not to forbid speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39).
But it’s spectacular and draws more carnal attention than the other gifts. That’s why some Christians fear it. That’s why the disastrously misguided set of lessons on gifts I described earlier came in an edition that didn’t mention those gifts at all.
For the sake of convenience I have described gifts separately according to which person of the Trinity gives them, but the Trinity is one God in three persons. Just as we can distinguish among persons of the Trinity but cannot separate them, we can distinguish among classes of gifts, but cannot separate them.
Take a look at all three passages that describe gifts. Each of them also compares the church to a human body. Each of them stresses love. Each of them, in fact, have so many other themes in common that I will have to write another post to describe all the gift wrapping.
God-given gifts. Source unknown
God the Father. Public domain
Five-fold ministry. Source unknown
Manifestation of the Spirit. Source unknown