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Spiritual Gifts – PART ONE

Spiritual Gifts – PART ONE

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[1]

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[2]

While we do not have an exhaustive list, it’s not wrong to study the explicit gifts that are named.

A great resource to begin with is this list from Jeff Carver’s book on the spiritual gifts, Gifted by Grace.

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!


[1] https://spiritualgiftstest.com/faqs/ under “What is the difference between a talent and a spiritual gift?”

[2] https://spiritualgiftstest.com/faqs/ under “How many spiritual gifts are there?”

Resurrection Again…

Resurrection again. (Acts 9:32-43)

Yes, you read that right. If you’re anything like me, resurrection is something that’s associated with Easter or even with a guy named Lazarus who shows up in the book of John. Oh…and there’s also that time that Jesus brought a little girl back to life (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43).

But when you get to Acts 9, suddenly Peter does it too. To be sure, Peter is empowered by the Holy Spirit, but still this is Peter—not Jesus, not a deity, not God—the “Yes, I denied Jesus 3x” Peter! If you were reading the New Testament in large swaths, you’d think that even though the church is undergoing so much persecution, death is on the run.

So what’s going on?

After all the action (read: mass conversions and persecution) that’s been underway in Jerusalem, the church is beginning to scatter throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1). Little gatherings of these people with the “words of Life” (Acts 5:20) are popping up all over the place. And Peter takes it upon Himself to go and visit these burgeoning little faith communities.

One of the first places Peter visits is the town of Lydda. Upon arrival, Peter is introduced to a man named Aeneas who had been paralyzed for over eight years. Peter proclaims over this guy, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed” (Acts 9:34). And “immediately” Aeneas is healed. Linguists will highlight how the wording literally means, “right at this moment Jesus Christ heals you.”

It’s another astounding work of God on the spot. And just like the man born lame in Solomon’s Portico earlier (Acts 3:6), this was a catalyst to more people trusting in the power of the resurrected Jesus!

Well, word gets out, and Peter is summoned by followers of Jesus to another nearby town by the name of Joppa. A woman named Tabitha (in Hebrew) or Dorcas (in Greek), who was a pillar of the faith, has died. She was a woman who went out of her way to devote her life to works of charity for the vulnerable, especially widows. The ones the rest of the world ignored, she served. The ones who were shut up by the powerful cry out powerfully for her, and Peter is invited into this scene of grief.

What’s astounding isn’t just what happens next but how much this feels like déjà vu. If you were to read the situation of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5:21-24, 35-43, the parallels would be striking. In Mark, Jesus asked everyone to leave the room. So does Peter here in Acts 9. Jesus’ command in Mark 5 is Talitha kumi  [“Little girl, get up”], and Peter’s command here in Acts 9 is “Tabitha, get up,” which in its Aramaic form is Tabitha kumi. In both instances, they return to the grieving party, and everyone is surprised.

The similarity is striking. Peter empowered by the Holy Spirit is doing what Jesus did in Jesus’ name. Don’t miss this! God in Christ is working through the apostles and His church to such an extent that even the dead are raised. And people in Joppa and the surrounding country begin to embrace Jesus in droves like they did on that hillside in Galilee. It was an amazing day where even death seemed to lose ground.

Resurrection power today?

But when you sit at your computer, scan through your phone, check your Facebook feed, and go about your day-to-day, it’s so easy to feel distant from God and from His power—this kind of power we read about here—at work in the world.

But just because Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father doesn’t mean He’s disconnected from His world. This passage reminds us of this truth: Jesus is in heaven still working through His people to make His name and reign known this world over, and Jesus is just as zealous to redeem the lost and broken in the 21st century as He was in the 1st century.

To be clear, this should not make us presumptuous that God will work this way every time. More often than not, God doesn’t. He works much more often through the beauty of the weak, the fragile, and even the death of His people to put to shame the powers of this world. But as we face pain and suffering and stare down the dark and lonely road of death, may we remember that God is more powerful than it all, and He will never leave His people abandoned to death.

God is the author and giver of Life. He is the Life. And He has entrusted us with life in Christ (John 14:6) to share with all. Life and life abundant. Peter spoke it. Dorcas felt it. May we embrace it, share it, and have greater confidence today in our King of Life, our resurrected King Jesus who will come again to gather the living and the dead who are His!

Not for Sale

There is no “inside track” in Christ’s kingdom. You cannot hope to “get in on the ground floor” and make a killing when the venture goes public, or expect some kind special treatment because you’re close with the boss.

Money won’t grease your rise to the top, and talent can’t help you skip rudimentary work.

In Christ’s kingdom, those who are honored are servants. And serving is no glamorous task. The glory is God’s and God’s alone. His power advances His purposes, not human agendas. Christ’s Kingdom is about Christ. Not about us.

All this was lost on Simon the Sorcerer, who desired God’s power but not God’s person or God’s prerogative.  We encounter his story in Acts 8:4-25.

There, Luke tells us that Simon was a sorcerer with a big reputation. He was known to possess supernatural abilities that amazed kings and peasants alike. Simon encounters Philip, who had been advancing the gospel in Samaria, as he cast out demons and healed the sick in Christ’s name.

Immediately, Simon recognized something awe-inspiring and unique in Philip’s healing ministry. He noticed that the power Philip yields is greater than his own. So, he submits to being baptized by Philip and starts following Philip wherever he goes. As Simon followed Philip, he no doubt heard Philip’s insistence that the power he exercised came from the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, we can rightly assumed that Simon was baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as Jesus commanded. He would have been told that this Spirit was the divine person who was able to bring about supernatural deliverance or healing in individuals who experienced great need.

He no doubt would have heard stories of Pentecost and would have found himself amazed by the Spirit’s past and present work. After recognizing that Philip—along with Peter and John—had the ability to impart the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, Simon gets greedy.

He wants the Spirit’s power for himself.

He desires to leverage and dispense the Spirit, without desiring to be led by or to submit to the Spirit. So he approaches Peter and offers to pay him for the Spirit’s power, saying “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

But Peter quickly rebukes him.

“May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.”

Peter confronts Simon for trying to buy the Holy Spirit and says that his desire to exploit faith for personal gain has caused him to be “not right” with God. Peter urges repentance, and Simon takes him up on his offer, asking Peter to pray for Him so that He might avoid judgment.

Simon’s story teaches us three key lessons:

  1. It is possible to be a baptized believer in Christ and to still misunderstand key theological doctrines. The text says Simon “believed and was baptized,” and yet, it was not until Peter’s bold intervention that he learned God’s power is not for sale.
  2. It is evil to seek to exploit God’s power for personal gain or personal prestige. Simon’s greedy desires for the ability to impart the Spirit are met with stern warnings.
  3. God’s Spirit is not subject to human control; rather, Christ’s followers are subject to the Spirit’s control and act as conduits for the Spirit’s power at the Spirit’s leading. One of Simon’s key errors is failing to recognize that Philip, Peter, and John perform their remarkable signs at the Spirit’s prompting, not as the result of their own strategy. Because of his pre-Christ profession, Simon believes that supernatural power is something cunning people leverage for applause and profit. He is initially unable to grasp that true supernatural power—the power of God’s Spirit—is rather something that leverages human willingness for divine purposes.

In light of our engagement with this text, it is important for us to ask this critical question:

 

We owe it to ourselves to answer that question honestly. If we find, upon inward inspection, that we are wronging God by pursuing the benefits of knowing Him over the blessing of simply knowing Him, we can find hope in Simon’s repentance.

Indeed, the text seems to suggest that Simon, upon hearing Peter’s rebuke, abandoned his conquest for the Spirit’s power. So may we, if we ask God for help and pursue a faith characterized by humble imitation of our servant King instead of a faith that promises fame, power, and personal glory.