“For by the grace given me, I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully” (Romans 12:3-8).
People are very interested in spiritual gifts. Much has been published on the topic. You can take all kinds of tests to determine your gift. And yet in spite of all the information available, there is still confusion, even controversy, over the subject. I believe much of the confusion stems from an attempt to understand the gifts apart from the Spirit-filled life and apart from our roles in the body of Christ. Let’s take a look at three truths about spiritual gifts:
WE HAVE SPIRITUAL GIFTS THAT DIFFER ACCORDING TO THE GRACE GIVEN TO US
Spiritual gifts are distributed by the Holy Spirit as He wills. Both the gifts we have and the faith to exercise them are given to us by God. God’s gifts differ in nature, power, and effectiveness according to His wisdom and graciousness. Any distinction that set us apart from others in ability is a result of God’s grace—it is not earned or deserved, so we cannot boast about our gifts. God has determined the measure of each gift we have. Understanding this truth will help us to think soberly about ourselves and not too highly.
Upon conversion every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God and is given at least one spiritual gift, which he or she is to then use within the body of Christ for the building up or edification of the church. As each believer serves the church, Christ uses our caring for one another to build each other up and to strengthen us spiritually. Every believer has received at least one gift from God and is to use their gift for the edification of the body. Gifts are not for a few but for all. Every believer has abilities which the Holy Spirit has given. It is one of the supreme joys of the Christian life to discover what our spiritual gift is and then pour ourselves out to others as we use our gifts to strengthen the body of Christ.
EACH MEMBER FUNCTIONS TO SERVE THE BODY, NOT THE BODY TO SERVE THE MEMBERS
Paul uses the concept of the human body to teach how Christians should live and work together. What is true for your physical body is true for the body of Christ. Your nose is worthless apart from the body, and the same is true of your spiritual gift. Its worth is determined by its usefulness and availability to the body of Christ – or the church. A correlation exists between a believer’s physical body which has many parts with different functions and the community of believers in Christ as a spiritual body.
The primary purpose of spiritual gifts is building up the body, not the personal gratification of the individual member. The diversity of the many gifts accompanies the unity of the body. We are to live interdependently with other believers. Just as the members of a physical body work together to accomplish the will of the brain, so too the members of Christ’s body are to work together to accomplish God’s will.
If any member of your physical body began functioning independently of the others, or stopped functioning at all, you would take immediate action to correct the problem. You wouldn’t say, “Well, it’s just my lung. After all, I have two.” Or “I’ve got nine other good fingers; I’ll just work around this broken one.” The members of your physical body are so interdependent that they make it a priority to care for one another. In the same way, the body of Christ needs to make it a priority to care for one another because when one member suffers, we all suffer – just like a physical body.
Everyone in the church is part of the body of Christ. To experience the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives to the fullest extent, we must put ourselves in a position where the Spirit is free to express Himself through us for the common good of other believers. Men and women who are led by the Spirit will exercise their gifts within the body.
When we speak of building up the body, we are talking about developing a healthy body. Spiritual gifts are God’s way of administering His grace to others. When we exercise our gifts, we function as the hands and feet of Christ. When a man or woman with the gift of giving, for example, pays another believer’s electric bill, it is God’s grace. When a pastor gifted as an exhorter stands to deliver a message, it is God’s grace to the people. When a believer with the gift of service gives time to meet a need, it is God’s grace in action. In these instances, Christ is at work through His body. It is more than a matter of people being nice. It is Christ manifest on earth. When these things happen, it is as if Christ Himself reaches down to take care of us.
Many of us miss what God is doing. What we see as purely human can be a divine act. When we serve others through the use of our gifts, we are channels through which the grace and power of God are manifested. Gifts are special ways of serving others. They are not to make us feel important or superior over others. They are not for attracting attention to ourselves or a way of manipulating others because we claim to have certain gifts or insights. It is a way of helping others become what God wants them to be.
God’s plan to meet the needs of His people is His people. We meet those needs. That is why He has gifted us. After all, isn’t it a bit strange to pray for a friend who has a financial need when you have the resources to meet it? Do we think God is going to create money and drop it out of the sky? Of course not. When one hand gets a splinter, what does the other hand do? It goes to work to remedy the problem. And when you use your gift to remedy the problem of another believer, you become the hands of Christ. The body cannot function as well without you than with you.
The church is a body in which each member has a significant role to play in the functioning of that body. As a member of the church, what we do or refuse to do as an individual affects the whole body. Our participation counts. God’s will for our lives includes discovering our gift in the body and fulfilling our corresponding responsibility.
A believer who pulls away from the body to do his or her own thing is not walking in the Spirit. We can’t walk in the Spirit apart from functioning in the body of Christ. Spirit controlled Christians don’t function as lone rangers. Instead, they actively pursue relationships with one another. They look for ways to be involved in the body. They don’t sit back and let others do the work. Spirit-filled men and women jump at the opportunity to carry their fare share of the load.
It is like when a house is being built. Each worker is dependent on the others. The framers could not do their work until the masons did their work. The masons could not lay down the concrete until the plumber had put in the piping, and so on. Each worker depends on the others to do their job for the construction to be effective. And so it is with us. We need each other to be using our gifts to build up and strengthen the body of Christ.
Snowflakes are frail, but if enough of them stick together, they can stop traffic. In the same way, by God’s design, the lone ranger Christian has little impact on the world. Rather, it is when the diverse gifts of the individual members of a local church operate together that effective ministry takes place.
Do you tend to be a spiritual lone ranger? If so, I encourage you to begin praying today that God will give you a desire to be interdependent with the body.
THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SPIRITUAL GIFTS AND NATURAL ABILITIES
Many unbelievers have great abilities, but their abilities are not called “spiritual gifts” because they are not building up the body of Christ. No matter what abilities you and I have, if we are not strengthening others in the faith, then our ability is not a spiritual gift. It is only “spiritual” if the Holy Spirit is flowing through it.
When a believer exercises his or her gift, it is a glorious display of the Spirit’s power through him. It is not simply a matter of doing something he is good at. Spiritual gifts are manifestations of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will reveal Himself in a very special way through the exercise of our gifts. To refuse to use our gifts is to say no to the Holy Spirit.
This should have tremendous implications for how we choose church leaders. It means that we must never simply ask, “Does he have sufficient skill?” We must always go beyond that and ask, “Is he using his gift in such a way that he is strengthening others in the faith?” A church where the Holy Spirit is alive and powerful will be a church very sensitive to the difference between natural abilities and spiritual gifts.
Notice the last four gifts Paul mentions in verse 8: encouraging; giving; leading; showing mercy. The remarkable thing about these gifts (with the possible exception of “leading”) is that all believers are called to do them: encourage, give, show mercy. So the “gift” must be that some of us are enabled by the Spirit to do them more effectively and frequently than others. Any virtue in our life which we are enabled to do with passion and with benefit to others can be called our gift. A spiritual gift is any ability the Spirit gives us in order to strengthen the faith of another person and build up the body of Christ.
Probably the most common question I hear in connection with spiritual gifts is, “How do I find out which one I have?” When people ask me that question, I always respond with, “What do you enjoy most about serving the Lord?” Notice, I don’t ask, “How are you serving the Lord?” I am interested in what they enjoy doing.
You will enjoy exercising your gift. You will look forward to the responsibilities you are given that call on you to use your gift. On the other hand, you will not be as motivated for tasks that are outside your giftedness.
If your gift involves speaking, do not rely on your own insight, but look to God for wisdom to give His words through you. We impart grace to our listeners only if we give them a word from God. It may not be an exact word of Scripture, but a word prompted and guided by God, so that attention is directed to Him, not us. Our aim is to strengthen the faith of one another through the use of our spiritual gifts.
If your gift involves practical deeds of service, do not try to do them in your own strength, for then your gift would cease to be a spiritual gift. Our deeds of service must come from faith and reliance on God’s grace.
Think about it this way: if spiritual gifts are God’s primary means of administering grace to His people, what does that say about believers who refuse to exercise their gifts for the good of the body? Four things come to mind: (1) they are robbing the body of Christ; (2) they are forcing other members of the body to carry their load (3) they are dead weight in the body, dysfunctional limbs; (4) they are out of step with the Spirit of God. That’s not a very encouraging report. No one is a spiritual island. Our spiritual progress, as well as the progress of the entire church, hinges on our willingness to work together.
What about you? Are you plugged in? Are you using your gift for the common good of the body? Are you encouraging other members of the body to use their gifts? Or do they get in the way?
You have an important role in the body of Christ, and it is a role that only you can fill. It is God’s will for you and the church to be exercising your gifts for the common good of His people. You are a unique blend of talents, skills, and gifts, which make you an indispensable member of the body of Christ. So don’t cheat the rest of us. Get out there and get busy. Whatever you do, exercise your gift.
No one ever had a greater attitude about service than Jesus did. He didn’t come to be served, but to serve. Nothing was beneath His dignity. He fed the hungry, tended the sick, washed feet, and went to the cross. When Jesus was here on earth, He ministered in a physical body, but since He has returned to heaven, He is now ministering through us as His spiritual body.
The strength of churches depends strongly upon the willingness of people to serve. God cannot use us in the body until we make a complete surrender of ourselves to Him. Surrender and service always go together. The two cannot be separated. It is impossible to be surrendered to God and not be busy serving Him. We cannot be a living sacrifice, and be apathetic or indifferent toward the ministry of the church. God has gifted us to serve one another.
God’s ultimate aim in giving us spiritual gifts, and in giving us the faith to exercise them, is that His glory would be displayed through them. He wants us and the world to marvel at Him. There is nothing more thrilling, more joyful, more meaningful, and more satisfying than to use our gifts in the unfolding of God’s grace.
God gives us gifts, so we can build up His church. To use them effectively, we must (1) realize that all gifts and abilities come from God; (2) understand that not everyone has the same gifts; (3) know who we are and what we do best; (4) dedicate our gifts to God’s service and not to our personal successes; (5) be willing to utilize our gifts wholeheartedly, not holding anything back from God’s service.
As members of His body, we are to commit ourselves to God and to one another to be Christ-like in our lives and use our spiritual gifts for the purpose of strengthening and building up the body. We are to love one another as Christ loved us, honor one another above ourselves, be kind and compassionate to one another, encourage one another, comfort one another, and offer hospitality to one another. We are to let God’s light shine in and through us as we use our spiritual gifts for the strengthening of the church.
God gives gifts to His church as He wills. Our role is to be faithful and seek ways to serve others with the gifts He has given us.
Here are some spiritual gifts. See if you can determine which one(s) you have!
Leadership (Rom. 12:8)
Administration (1 Cor. 12:28)
Teaching (1 Cor. 12:28; Rom. 12:7; Eph. 4:11)
Knowledge (1 Cor. 12:28)
Wisdom (1 Cor. 12:28)
Discernment (1 Cor. 12:10)
Exhortation (Rom. 12:8)
Shepherding (Eph. 4:11)
Faith (1 Cor. 12:9)
Evangelism (Eph. 4:11)
Service/Helps (1 Cor. 12:28; Rom. 12:7)
Mercy (Rom. 12:8)
Giving (Rom. 12:8)
Hospitality (1 Pet. 4:9)