Demystifying Spiritual Gifts

quest-8-4Many of us have wrestled with questions about what constitutes a spiritual gift, what our spiritual gifts are and how we discover them. Based on Scripture a spiritual gift appears to be simply an ability or skill endowed on us by the Holy Spirit for the benefit of the church family. (See 1 Corinthians 12:4-7.)

My personal understanding from Scripture is that the Lord does not provide for us a complete list of spiritual gifts. The lists given in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4 contain both similar and unique spiritual gifts. None of these lists neatly overlap. This leads me to the conclusion that these lists provide examples of spiritual gifts, but are not intended to give us a complete inventory of them.

This factor becomes very important when trying to pinpoint the spiritual gifts God has endowed us with. For if the biblical inventory of spiritual gifts is not exhaustive, then we may have spiritual gifts that are not represented in the lists. The Scripture itself suggests this idea in Exodus 31. In that passage, Israel is about to construct the tabernacle under the guidance of Moses.

In Exodus 31:1-5 we read, “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts—to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship.’”

The passage in Exodus clearly indicates that the Holy Spirit gave Bezalel special “skills, abilities and knowledge in all kinds of crafts.” Such skills are not listed among the spiritual gifts in the New Testament, but that’s what they were. From this it appears that the gift itself does not determine whether it is a spiritual gift or not. Instead, two other factors come together to signify a spiritual gift. First, the Holy Spirit gives the gift; and second, the household of God benefits from the gifts given to its individual members. These two characteristics jive with the New Testament description of spiritual gifts as well.

What this means for us very simply is that the Holy Spirit has bestowed some amazing gifts on individuals in the church family in order to serve and build up that church family. In our church I think of people who are skilled artists, mechanics, designers, chefs, small group leaders, carpenters, financiers, leaders, servers, greeters, teachers, musicians, writers, and so on.

In the past we’ve gone to great lengths to try to distinguish between talents and spiritual gifts. But if an ability, skill or knowledge is endowed by the Holy Spirit and serves the church family, is that not a spiritual gifting? What would be the value of even trying to distinguish between the two? I’m afraid we’ve attempted to create an exact science of something that is highly relational and therefore highly variable. (See 1 Corinthians 12:4-6.)

Here are some simple questions and suggestions for helping us implement our spiritual gifts:

  • What special talents, skills, abilities or knowledge has God given you?
  • What were you doing when you and others have observed God using you most effectively?
  • What do others say that you’re good at?
  • What do you really enjoy doing that serves the church family?
  • If you’re not sure where to serve, simply pick an area or step into an opportunity and try it for a few months.
  • From time to time all of us may feel unqualified and unsuccessful when employing our spiritual gifts.
  • Remember, spiritual gifts must also be developed. You may have an aptitude for a skill, but lack the practice.
  • Simply ask God to use you and make yourself available to him and your church family!
  • Always exercise your spiritual gift with God’s strength, in his character and with others in mind.

©2009 Rob Fischer


1 Melinda Schofield { 11.05.09 at 3:53 pm }

I like the idea of not trying to put the Holy Spirit in a box by coming up w/ a definitive list. Let God be God.

2 Rob { 11.10.09 at 10:21 pm }

There’s another important facet of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6. Paul explains, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.” God the Father, the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit are all one and are behind the distribution, administration and empowering of spiritual gifts. Additionally, this passage explains that there are not only a variety of gifts, but also a variety of service or ministries in which a gift can be exercised. Furthermore, there are a variety of workings, results or effects from the exercise of a given spiritual gift.

As an example of this principle I think of my dad who had the gift of evangelism. My dad probably led hundreds if not thousands to Christ during his lifetime. But his approach was usually one-on-one. Billy Graham who also has the gift of evangelism is known for leading thousands to Christ often in a single meeting. Both of these men have the gift of evangelism, but the ministry and results of this gift differed from each other as the Holy Spirit saw fit. Again, this is why it’s so important we don’t try to compare ourselves with each other in terms of results or effectiveness. As Melinda said, “Let God be God.”