We’re currently preaching through 1 Corinthians 12-14, the main biblical passage on spiritual gifts. There is lots of confusion about spiritual gifts today, just as there was among the Corinthians that Paul is writing to. Part of this confusion is that we tend to approach spiritual gifts in very selfish ways.
Sometimes there is a tendency to approach them merely as a way to understand ourselves—spiritual gifts assessments much resemble personality tests—rather than as ways to better serve God’s church. In this, we might refuse to serve others because, well, “That’s not my area of gifting.”
Sometimes, as in Corinth, there is a tendency to elevate certain gifts, and those with them, as more valuable and important than others in the church. Thus, we create division.
So what should we believe about spiritual gifts. We began this past sermon by noticing six things the Bible tells us about spiritual gifts. Here they are, in brief form:
First, a definition: spiritual gifts are “manifestation(s) of the Spirit” (12:7). They are ways that God’s Spirit, who is given to indwell all true believers, equips and empowers them to serve other believers, make disciples, and build up the church.
Second, every believer is given a manifestation of the Spirit. Verse 7: “To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit…” (12:7).
This means that you don’t need to go seeking a second work of the Spirit, a “baptism of the Spirit” as it is sometimes called, in order to be equipped for ministry. You are baptized in the Spirit—given the Spirit to indwell in you—from the moment of conversion. And the Spirit will equip and empower you for faithfulness to God, service to the church, and outreach to the world.
Third, though there is diversity in the way the Spirit works, this diversity is no excuse for division. Paul’s emphasis throughout these chapters is unity. There is not a spirit of the more “charismatic” gifts, and a spirit of the more “natural-seeming” gifts. There is no division between God’s purposes in working one way in one person, and another way in another person.
Fourth, these manifestations or gifts are “for the common good” (7b). The question isn’t so much: “What gifts do I have?” but, “How has God equipped and empowered me to serve his church?”
Scripture actually tells us that God loves to use our weaknesses. The way that God wants to work through you might be in an area where you have no natural inclination or ability or desire. There may simply be an opportunity or need, and God wants to show his provision by having you serve in weakness and dependence on him!
Fifth, the gifts each believer are given are ultimately determined by the will of God. The Spirit “apportions to each one individually, as he wills” (12:11).
Now, we know that there is nothing wrong with desiring, even asking for, certain gifts, for Paul will go on to say, “earnestly desire the higher gifts” (12:31a), meaning gifts that more directly benefit the whole church.
However, God ultimately determines the ways we will serve his church. It is not something for us to demand.
Sixth, there is no definitive, exhaustive list of spiritual gifts, of the ways God works in his people. For one, the word used, “charismata,” simply means gracious gift from God, and it can be used to describe even the gift of salvation itself.
Secondly, there are five passages that list spiritual gifts, and they are all different. There’s some overlap, but no list has all the same gifts as another.
For this reason, we shouldn’t feel too much pressure to “figure out” our gifting. There’s something to be said for trying to understand how God is using you, but we can make too much of that. There may not even be a word that neatly sums up your role in the church. And the way God is calling you to serve in this season may change in another season.
This isn’t so much about understanding yourself, but about finding a place to serve and build up and benefit God’s church, with the strength and insight and resources he provides.