Chapter 1: your spiritual gifts
Bible passages on the church as the body of Christ emphasize spiritual gifts. All God’s people have spiritual gifts.
Two obvious but sometimes overlooked aspects of spiritual gifts need our attention: they are gifts, and they are spiritual.
They are gifts
Spiritual gifts are given, they develop with use, and they vary among us all.
- Gifts are given, not earned
Christ our Lord, the head of his church, gives gifts to his people as he chooses. We do not gain them by special effort, holiness, orthodoxy or obedience. They are not a prize for good works, pure living, correct doctrine or personal dedication. Gifts of God’s amazing grace often show up in most unlikely people.
0ur obedience to God enhances our spiritual gifts. Like jewels in fine settings they shine best in wholehearted surrender to God’s will and in holy lives. The gifts, nevertheless, are not a reward for obedience nor a measure of our obedience. Like our abilities, they are part of us even when we fail or sin. Paul reminds us that ‘the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29).
God gives. We receive. His gifts express and demonstrate his grace; they do not depend on our worthiness.
- Gifts develop with use
They may not grow in us just because we are holy or dedicated. The more we respond to God in love and obedience, of course, the more anointed we will be and the more Christ-like we will become. Our Christ-likeness is the arena in which our gifts can grow and flourish. That growth, however, comes from use not from our worthiness.
Young, immature Christians can use their spiritual gifts wholeheartedly or enthusiastically and find that they grow in that use. They begin praying in simple faith for the needs of others. Their prayers are answered; their faith grows. As their faith grows their prayers and ministry become stronger. Yet they could still be immature Christians or not Christ-like. They may have much to learn, habits to change, deeper surrenders to make, and more of the fruit of the Spirit to show in their lives. Nevertheless, they can grow rapidly in using their spiritual gifts.
Spiritual gifts are given to use, not to hide away. We grow in ministry as we use our gifts for God’s glory. Gifts may also be abused, misused for our own glory, or used without love in harsh and divisive ways. The answer to abuse and misuse is not disuse but proper use – for the glory of God.
- Gifts vary
We differ from each other in personalities and in our gifting. As Christians we all have the Spirit of God within us. So we can grow in using a variety of the gifts of the Spirit and grow in using Christ-like fruit of the Spirit.
We don’t need to mechanically limit God’s work in our lives to just some of the gifts and some of the fruit of his Spirit in our lives. Most of us are more spiritually gifted than we realize. God gives abundantly. The fruit and gifts of his Spirit flow within and among us in many unexpected ways and in beautiful harmony.
Other people in Christ’s body often see our gifts more clearly than we do. Each of us needs to know our gifting and others can help us understand that, especially our spiritual elders or leaders. It’s unwise to think we have gifts which others do not see in us.
We can also confuse our natural abilities with spiritual gifts. Others can help us see the difference and use both for God’s glory. So we can confirm and encourage one another in using and developing our abilities and gifts.
They are spiritual
Our spiritual gifts are not just human abilities, they belong to the body of Christ, and we need one another to function with our spiritual gifts.
- Spiritual gifts are spiritual; not just human abilities
These special or spiritual gifts come from the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Jesus and the Spirit of God (Galatians 4:6). God’s Spirit expresses his life in us. He works in and through us as we yield ourselves to him and respond to his prompting or leading.
Personality and natural abilities differ from spiritual gifts although our spiritual gifts are expressed through them and enhance them. Both our natural abilities and our spiritual gifts bring glory to God. They flow together in our lives and service.
Our natural human abilities, however, can get in the way and choke off spiritual power. We may depend on them and not on God.
A preacher may be gifted in speaking, for example, so may not really listen to God’s Spirit nor depend on Him. Even agnostics or atheists can preach scholastic sermons. Some do! On the other hand, the gift of prophecy or speaking God’s word can flow with great power and wide impact through those naturally gifted in oratory or scholarship, but also in people not naturally gifted in public speaking.
Likewise, a Sunday School or Church School teacher may be an expert teacher who can use teaching aids well. Yet unless that teacher also uses a spiritual gift for teaching and caring for those being taught, the teaching is unlikely to give life. Similarly, a children’s teacher who is gifted spiritually in teaching will usually be effective, and that gift may also be expressed powerfully through natural teaching ability as well.
- Spiritual gifts belong to the body of Christ
“The unspiritual person does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to them, and they are not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Christians share Christ’s life. His Spirit indwells and empowers us. Yet, we can limit his work in and through us. We can quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19), grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), and resist God’s Spirit (Acts 7.51). We all do at times. Only Jesus was fully led by the Spirit all the time.
Even if our gifts have already grown with some use, we can still resist God’s Spirit in our lives. Then our ministry suffers. It fails to be as effective and powerful as it could be. Body ministry (the body of Christ functioning together) works well when all of us respond more fully to God’s spirit.
- We need one another for body ministry
No one is gifted in everything. All of us as members of Christ’s body share in ministry together; no one person can do it all. Spiritual ministry flows through all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.
That is the amazing but basic fact about body ministry: it is literally Christ’s body, not ours. We all are part of his body. Our spiritual gifts enable body ministry when we are led and empowered by the Spirit.
Body Ministry – in One Body
Each passage on the gifts of the Spirit stresses that we are one body in Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12‑13; Romans 12:4‑5; Ephesians 4:4). The whole context of Paul’s teaching on the gifts of the Spirit is one of unity with diversity; unity in community; one body with many parts functioning in harmony. Paul repeats many themes in the three key passages in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4:
- One body: The church is the one body of Christ on earth (1 Corinthians 12:12‑27; Romans 12:4‑5; Ephesians 4:4‑6).
- Gracious gifts: They are given, not earned and not achieved (1 Corinthians 12:1, 4, 6, 8‑11; Romans 12:6; Ephesians 4:7‑8, 11).
- All Christians have gifts: There are no exceptions; and each gift is important (l Corinthians 12:7; Romans 12:6; Ephesians 4:7).
- Gifts differ: Value our differences; we need each other (1 Corinthians 12:4‑7; Romans 12:4‑6; Ephesians 4:7 8).
- Unity: They function in unity and promote unity (1 Corinthians 12:12‑13, 25; Romans 12:4‑5; Ephesians 4:3, 13, 16).
- Maturity: Spiritual gifts build up the body in maturity (1 Corinthians 12:7; Romans 12:9‑21; Ephesians 4:12‑15).
- Love: Love is the top priority; gifts must be used in love (1 Corinthians 13; Romans 12:9‑10; Ephesians 4:4, 15‑16).
Right at the beginning of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul tackles the problem of divisions in the church. This letter was written to answer questions in dispute among the Corinthian Christians, e.g. lawsuits (6:1), marriage (7:1), food offered to idols (8:1), worship and communion (11:17), and gifts of the Spirit (12:1).
Division, even over spiritual gifts, was a problem in the early church, as it is now. Why does this happen? In 1 Corinthians Paul addresses the problems causing division:
taking sides (1:12);
worldly or unspiritual attitudes (2:12; 3:1);
childish or immature actions (3:1);
jealousy and quarrels (3:3‑4);
What are the answers to divisions over spiritual gifts? The passages on spiritual gifts specifically address division. Note some of Paul’s Spirit‑filled teaching:
Jesus is Lord (I Corinthians 12:3);
we need each other (1 Corinthians 12:21);
be concerned for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25‑26);
we all belong together (1 Corinthians 12:27);
be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1);
don’t conform to the world’s standards (Romans 12:2);
let God transform you (Romans 12:2);
be modest (Romans 12:3)
value our differences (Romans 12:4);
use our different gifts with grace (Romans 12:6);
become mature (Ephesians 4:13);
stop being childish (Ephesians 4:14);
speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15);
grow up (Ephesians 4:15);
be controlled by Christ (Ephesians 4:16);
fulfil your part (Ephesians 4:16).
The answer to abuse and misuse is not disuse but wise use of the Spirit’s gifts and power in our personal lives and our life together.
Gifts of the Spirit are given for mission, ministry or service.
They are tools for the job of serving God in the church and in the world, to meet the needs of people in compassion, grace, and with authority.
The book Body Ministry explores this topic in greater detail including current examples of the Body of Christ alive in His Spirit, as in revival.*
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