The Bible portrays the church as a body. There are many lessons that can be drawn from that image but two words that crop up a lot are “one” and “many”. There is one body made up of many parts. We have focused to some degree on the one – the unity of the body – but let’s turn to the many.
What are the many parts that the Bible refers to? The body passages talk about the diversity of spiritual gifts and, therefore, the diversity of ministries within the church. Different kinds of gifts… different kinds of service… different kinds of working (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).
I am sure you will remember too that these passages say that God has given to every Christian some gift, or gifts. Every one of us, assuming we have come to faith in Jesus, has at least one of these gifts. Do you know what yours are?
Today we are not going to identify our individual gifts but simply list the gifts the Bible talks about. Having said that, of course, it might be that as we talk about them, it becomes obvious to you that God has given you a certain gift. Or you might realise that someone else obviously has some gift.
The main passages that list spiritual gifts are Romans 12, and 1 Corinthians 12 although there are others. Let’s read them and identify the gifts as they occur. When you hear a gift mentioned, repeat it. So, if the reading mentions prophecy”, call out “prophecy” and Zheng will press the right key on the computer and hopefully that gift will come up on the screen.
READ Romans 12:3-8
Prophecy, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, mercy
READ 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 27-31
Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues, interpretation of tongues
Apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healing, helping, administration, tongues, interpretation
What about other passages? We have looked at Ephesians 4:11-12 recently. It talks about gifts that Jesus gives to the church but then lists five roles rather than gifts. In other words, it talks about the people and their ministries rather than the gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Three of those are listed as gifts in other passages and we can assume that God enables people for those roles with the relevant gifts. So we can almost certainly add evangelists and pastors.
READ 1 Peter 4:9-11
Is hospitality a gift? Hmm, it is not clear. It doesn’t say so; it is just that it is in the verse before Peter talks about using our gifts. Really he talks in somewhat general terms – of speaking and serving, so there are perhaps a number of gifts that fall under each of those headings – speaking gifts and serving gifts.
1 Corinthians 13 is obviously in the same context as 1 Corinthians 12. There Paul repeats a number of the gifts already mentioned but he adds two: voluntary poverty so as to give to the poor, and martyrdom (giving my body to be burned).
In Ephesians 3:8-9 Paul talks about his having been given the grace gift of preaching the gospel to Gentiles. That could refer to the gift of evangelism or it is specifically about cross-cultural evangelism – in other words, mission work.
1 Corinthians 7:7-8 suggests that celibacy is a spiritual gift. Jesus may also have said that celibacy is a gift, in Matthew 19.
Exodus 31:1-5 Then the Lord said to Moses, 2 ‘See I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills – 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts.
So, Holy Spirit-enabled craftsmanship. What about physical strength? Samson had supernatural strength. It clearly wasn’t natural because, without the Holy Spirit, he was weak.
What about music? I am not aware of any biblical text that specifically talks about music being a spiritual gift or a result of a person being Holy Spirit empowered. But there are a lot of skilled musicians in the Bible: David, the musicians in the Temple etc. It is certainly possible that many of them were Holy Spirit enabled. We will come back to that in a minute.
What about intercession (prayer)? Again, I am not aware of any verse that says it is a spiritual gift but there are certain people in scripture who are exceptional pray-ers, e.g. Epaphras (Col 4:12).
How many gifts are there? It is interesting that there is no definitive list. There are various incomplete lists and a lot of overlap between them. It seems that the lists just give examples and different lists list different examples. Prophecy and teaching are mentioned more often than others. Is that significant? Maybe they are gifts that are particularly valuable in the sense of helping people hear God.
1 Cor 14:1 Follow the way of love and eagerly desire the spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.
Prophecy is given some priority. Why? We will come back to that too.
The nature of the lists suggests that there is not a specific number. We have listed 29 and there could well be more. Or maybe some aren’t. So what qualifies as a spiritual gift? Let’s consider music as an example.
A spiritual gift is any God-given ability through which God wants to work supernaturally and repeatedly. Many people are highly skilled musicians. They have a natural ability with music. Even our natural abilities are God-given, of course. And music can be powerful in stirring people’s emotions. But is God at work? If the musician is not a Christian, or is even an atheist, could you say that this was a God-given gift through which God was working supernaturally? It is certainly God-given but we probably wouldn’t say God was working through it. Now, of course, God can use anything. He can use the musical talent of an atheist but that is likely to be an exception not something that He repeatedly does through this individual.
On the other hand, you could have someone who is less technically proficient but whom God uses powerfully. When this person makes music, somehow, God uses that music to speak or to minister into people’s lives. It is not just the person’s skill; it is not just the power of the music; it is God.
An example might be David’s playing when King Saul was demon-possessed. Somehow David’s music calmed Saul. You could say that music can do that but Saul’s problem was spiritual and you do not solve spiritual problems with natural solutions. It wasn’t just the music. It was God working supernaturally through a gift that He had given David.
Likewise, many people are hospitable and it can have a huge influence. But there are some people whose hospitality God seems to use in powerful ways. When you leave the house of a naturally hospitable person you really appreciate that person for the way they made you feel welcome and important and honoured. But when you leave the house of a person with that spiritual gift, you know that God has done something special in your life through that person.
What do these gifts mean in practice? What is the gift of prophecy, for example?
The common perception is probably that you are a prophet if you can predict the future but prophecy is much more than that. Anyone who has a gift for knowing what God is saying and who speaks God’s words into a situation is exercising the gift of prophecy. Sometimes God might reveal something about the future but that is just one aspect of the gift. So, for example, someone might stand up in a meeting and say something and there is the sense that God just spoke to that meeting. The people there were alerted to what God wanted to say into their situation.
A biblical example might be when Nathan spoke to King David using the story of a poor man who had been ripped off by a wealthy man. David was angered by that injustice and then Nathan said, “You are that man. You have done that to one of your poor subjects: taken his wife and had him killed.” When he said “You are that man” David was convicted knowing that God had spoken directly to Him.
Deuteronomy 18:18 provides a pretty good definition of prophecy.
Deut 18:18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him.
I will put my words in His mouth and he will speak them. Jesus is the ultimate example of this. He once said that He had not spoken anything from Himself but the Father who had sent Him had commanded Him what to say (Jn 12:49). Everything He said was prophetic – it came from God.
That possibly explains why the Bible says to eagerly desire the spiritual gifts especially the gift of prophecy. Imagine if everything we said was what God wanted said in the situation; everything we said was from God and we were just passing it on. Imagine the conversations! Wouldn’t that be a fantastic gift – to be God’s spokesperson. God says “eagerly desire the spiritual gifts especially that gift of speaking God’s words.”
Are there others on the screen that are a bit of a mystery?
Wisdom: the ability to make good decisions. The gift of wisdom would be the ability to say just the right thing that enables someone else to make a good decision. It might be saying the right thing to a person who is struggling – something that enables them to see with new clarity or to have the courage to act. It might be coming up with the solution when a groups is struggling to make a decision.
Knowledge: could refer to the person who is fantastic at handling information that God uses. Or it could refer to the supernatural ability to know something that could not have been known naturally. Jesus used that gift, for example, when He said to the woman at the well, “You are right in saying you have no husband. You have had five husbands and the man you are with now is not your husband.”
She went back to her town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” She had just experienced something supernatural. She had encountered God. It was clear. How otherwise could this man know these things about her? That is what led her to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. That is the power of the spiritual gifts.
I remember hearing a story once about a man travelling on a plane who looked at another passenger and saw the word “adultery” written across his forehead. He asked him if they could talk privately. He told him what God had revealed and the man repented and was saved.
That is the power of spiritual gifts. God works through us and when God works, things happen. If we work in the natural, that has no power but if we work in the supernatural, it is God who is working.
Are there other gifts up there that are not obvious?
God gives these gifts to every Christian. If you are a Christian, do not say that you don’t have any gift because God says you do. He wants you to work in the supernatural. He gives different gifts to different people but together we form the body of Christ. Are you keen to use your gifts? Do you want God to work through you? Do you know what your gifts are? We will keep working on this.