When you hear the word “gift,” what thought jumps to your mind? Perhaps Christmas, with lots of neatly wrapped presents under the tree. Or the birthday of a child, who is plopped in front of a cake and surrounded by a mountain of presents.
Spoiler alert: Christmas and birthday presents aren’t what the Bible has in mind when it comes to the topic of spiritual gifts! No, something quite different is in view. It will help to begin with a definition:
A spiritual gift is a Holy Spirit empowered ability, freely given to the believer for the purpose of serving others and building up the church for the common good of all.
This definition is meaty, so let’s break it down just a bit.
First, spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 12:8-11, the Apostle Paul emphasizes repeatedly that all spiritual gifts originate from the Holy Spirit. Over and over again, he presses the point: There are a variety of gifts, but they come from the SAME source, the Holy Spirit. This ought to be a humble reminder—we should never grow prideful about our spiritual gifts, because they didn’t originate with us. God gets the glory!
Second, spiritual gifts are not talents. The word “ability” in our definition might evoke the image of a particularly talented person putting that skill to use (i.e., LeBron James dunking a basketball), so it is important to remember that while both natural talents and supernatural spiritual gifts come from God, they are not the same.
“A talent is a natural ability or aptitude given by God to a person at birth. A spiritual gift is a supernatural ability given by God at rebirth. A talent can be anything from athletic ability to musical aptitude to artistic genius. … [Don’t forget that] all talents and spiritual gifts come from God. He can use talents and spiritual gifts to fulfill His purposes and bring Himself glory. The main difference between the two is that only Christians receive spiritual gifts because only Christians have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. As a believer in Christ, you are called to use your talents and your spiritual gifts for the glory of God.”
– Pastor Jeff Carver
Third, the spiritual gifts themselves.
There are five different places in the New Testament where we find lists of the spiritual gifts:
- 1 Corinthians 12:8-11
- 1 Corinthians 12:28
- Romans 12:6-8
- Ephesians 4:11
- 1 Peter 4:11
There are a few different ways to divide up the lists, so you’ll see different totals attached to the question of how many spiritual gifts are listed in the Bible, usually 19, 20, or 21 gifts.
None of the lists, by themselves OR put together, are meant to be exhaustive. In other words, in all likelihood, we do not have a complete list of all the spiritual gifts in the Bible. If we stop and think about it, this makes sense. Our God is the author of ALL creativity and innovation. Are we really to restrict Him to 19 or 21 ways of gifting His children?
“We do not want to limit God’s ability to give more gifts, He most certainly has, but we must be cautious when calling an ability a spiritual gift if it is not found in Scripture. [I] operate within the framework that there are likely many other spiritual gifts that have been given, but they should all connect categorically to those that are found in Scripture. For instance, a ‘gift of songwriting’ could connect with the categories of exhortation, or evangelism, or a ‘gift of cooking’ could be a form of the gift of serving and ministering.”
– Pastor Jeff Carver
While we do not have an exhaustive list, it’s not wrong to study the explicit gifts that are named.
Fourth and finally, your spiritual gifts are not about you! It might be tempting to make your spiritual gift all about you. After all, it’s your gift, isn’t it? That’s why the purpose statement in our definition above is so clear. What are your spiritual gifts for? They are for serving others and building up the church for the common good of all.
In another passage on spiritual gifts, Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul makes this purpose clear: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Edification of others is the end goal—your gifts are not about you!
Furthermore, they’re not just about the church, either. What a shame it would be if the church turned inward with her gifts, forgetting about God’s heart for all people! In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul includes this reminder: “To each [i.e., Christians] is given the manifestation of the Spirit [i.e., spiritual gifts] for the common good.”
This means that it’s just as important to consider ways to utilize your spiritual gifts OUTSIDE the walls of the church as it is inside. How might you be able to employ your spiritual gifts at home? At work? With your neighbors?
Are you gifted in teaching? Teach your children! Are you gifted in hospitality? Open up your home for a party, a study, one of our global partners who is visiting KC, or ________. Are you gifted in administration? Apply for a job where you could use that gift!
Whatever you do, don’t forget that your spiritual gifts are not about you, but are for the purpose of, as our definition says, “serving others and building up the church for the common good of all.”
Check out PART TWO of this blog post, coming later this year, which will dive into the process of discovering your spiritual gifts!