Introduction to the Gifts of the Spirit

by Scott

As I recently mentioned, at Cornerstone, we are beginning an in depth series on the gifts of the Spirit as found in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. So, on Sunday, we did just that. Here were the five points I emphasised from the text:

1) The knowledge of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:1)

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.

Paul did not want this group of believers to be uninformed, or ignorant. Well, for the Corinthians, they had knowledge, but they had wrong knowledge as well as wrong practise.

So Paul comes in and teaches about healthy and proper practise. Many times, out of fear, it is easier to steer clear of things that have been continually done wrong. For example, some are afraid to engage with evolutionary biology because so many people have utilised as an attack against Scripture and Christ. But I think this might be a bit too reactionary on our part.

The same is true with the gifts of the Spirit. Many people are not open to these because they know how unhealthy the practises of some have been. I’m sure you have a few names or groups in your mind already. And, yes, that is true. But misuse and abuse should never lead us to abandon something. Rather, as imitators of Christ, we are called to faithful and healthy use. Such instruction was very relevant to the Corinthian church.

But, with today’s church, whereas most people have moved away from a possible antagonistic view towards the gifts of the Spirit, due to the major moves of the Spirit across multiple denominations and church groups, including an enormous amount of solid men and women of God, you might still find quite a lot of people uninformed. The Corinthians had wrong knowledge in a lot of ways. Many present day churches are just not knowledgeable at all about these gifts. Our best ideas are from television, or even worse, YouTube. But that doesn’t become all that helpful for becoming informed about the reality of these gifts.

And, so, that’s where we need to be challenged. We are not to remain uninformed. We are not to remain ignorant. Almost 2000 years later, we are to remain challenged by these words of Paul:

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1 Cor 14:1)

Where do we start? Most of us probably know some person or people involved in a church that believes in and correctly practices the gifts of the Spirit. And there are plenty of solid resources and books to consider – here is a short list of some. But let not our desire be to remain uninformed of these gifts. And, even more, let us be stirred to earnestly desire such gifts.

2) The nature of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:4-6)

The first thing to briefly point out is the activity of the Trinity with these gifts:

4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.

Normally, the word Lord (kyrios in Greek) is utilised for Jesus and the word God (theos in Greek) is utilised for the Father. I am simply amazed at both the cooperation and unselfishness of the Trinity. If only the body of Christ could get a small glimpse of that reality, all that it might spur us on for what God Himself desires for us.

But, with regards to the nature of the gifts of God, all gifts, I believe there is a heavy amount of misunderstanding. It is all centred around certain thoughts that could go like this: First, we believe the gifts of God are secret, hidden abilities within us that we are called to search for, dig up and unearth. And, the way many of us do so is by taking a multiple-choice test to figure out what our top 3 or 4 gifts are. Then, we feel good that we have identified our gifts.

The thing is that such a pattern is not really left to us in Scripture, is it? Listen, I am not trying to say it is inherently evil to take a test for gaining information and understanding about the giftings and ministries God might have opened to us. But, when it comes down to it, we are not really ever asked to search and find out our gifts. God’s people are simply called to serve. We are told to get on with edifying the body, serving, blessing, building up, etc. Remember, these are serving ministries, not hidden abilities to unearth.

Think of it this way: The reason why we know someone is an evangelist is because they are drawing other people towards Christ. The reason why we know someone is a teacher is because they are faithfully explaining the truth of Scripture. The reason why we know someone has a ministry of leading is because people follow their lead. And so on and so forth.

There are 3 other reasons why I believe this is a more healthy approach to spiritual gifts than the test-to-find-out-your-gifts approach:

a) There are two main words in the Greek that we translate as ‘spiritual gifts’ – pneumatika and charismata. The word pneumatika (i.e. in 1 Cor 12:1) could probably be better translated as ‘spiritual people’ or even simply ‘spirituals’. There is nothing about hidden abilities to dig up that is found in this word. I don’t doubt that the Spirit puts things within us, since He does indwell us, and it might be that the word charismata could be used to make this point. But we still need to remember we have no precedence in Scripture to find out our gifts, especially through a multiple-choice test.

b) Look at the emphasis of vs4-6 again:

4Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.

Vs4 utilises the word gifts in the place of the Greek word charismata. But look how it is coupled with the two words from the following two verses – service and activities. These gifts are serving ministries (for ‘ministry’ simply means ‘service’). And these are actual activities, or workings, of the Spirit. They aren’t hidden. They are activities we walk out through serving!

c) Finally, note the emphasis of vs7

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Again, just as vs4-6 point out that they are something we serve in and are activities, here we are told they are manifestations. This also highlights that they are visible activities that take place – again, through serving.

So I focus in on the nature of these gifts because I believe we can easily hold to a warped view of such. We are not called to find out our gifts and, then, once we do, we slot in to where our gifts can be best used. It’s just not really done that way. Rather, we are simply called to serve. And as opportunities arise, if it is right, God will empower us to be used in such a service, in such a ministry, in such an activity, even a manifestation of God’s Spirit.

Therefore, I will be honest and say that I don’t believe the excuse, ‘Well, that’s not my gift,’ is a very valid one. So what if one doesn’t think they have the gift of whatever. Let’s be open and available to God in being utilised where we are weak. Remember, His grace is sufficient. His power will be made perfect in weakness (2 Cor 12:9).

Yes, I am very much aware of balancing this with wisdom. I am not saying we throw anyone and everyone into any and every ministry activity. But, I would remind us that I have been emphasising that that is not how it works. You don’t throw people in to ministry opportunities. You see where a ministry, a service, and a manifestation of God is needed, and available people step in to serve in just that way as they are empowered by God.

That is the nature of the gifts of God’s Spirit. All of them.

3) The result of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:7)

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

The gifts are given mainly to be a blessing to people – to build them up, edify, exhort, strengthen. This is similar to what Paul says specifically about the gift of prophecy:

On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. (1 Cor 14:3)

When people serve in these gifts, the body of Christ will be spurred on towards the things of God. That is the fruit, the results. Even with prophecy, there are many who think 1) it is mainly about predicting the future, 2) it must be in King James English and 3) it must always be rebuke. But that is not what prophecy is mainly about, as Paul reminds us in this verse above. Of course there will be times to challenge and rebuke. That is a reality. But, in all, it’s given (even in rebuke) to help people move towards Christ. And such is truly building them up, strengthening them, blessing them.

Also, let me take a minute to remind us that the reverse is true as well. If the gifts of the Spirit are for the common good, then if we don’t have the people of God being utilised in such gifts, the body will be found lacking. It is as simple as that. It doesn’t mean we will forever be held back from moving forward in Christ. But these specific gifts will help us move towards Christ more and more, just as all the gifts of God will. That is important to remember.

4) The list of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:8-10)

By no means do I believe these 9 gifts are exhaustive, or even that the other lists in the NT (1 Cor 12:28-29; Eph 4:11; Rom 12:6-8; 1 Pet 4:10-11) are exhaustive. There is quite a good representation amongst them. But there are plenty of other serving ministry gifts available to God’s people.

But these gifts remain part of the mix, no doubt.

Some find it helpful to divide these nine gifts into 3 groups of 3, as follows:

  • Gifts of power: faith, gifts of healings, workings of miracles
  • Gifts of thought: word (message) of knowledge, word (message) of wisdom, distinguishings between spirits
  • Gifts of speech: prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues

With Cornerstone, I am going to start with prophecy, as it seems the most readily available gift of the Spirit to God’s people (from my reading of passages like Acts 2:17-18 and 1 Cor 14). So, as and if I post articles about these gifts, I will probably follow my preaching order. We shall see.

5) The empowering of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor 12:11)

Finally I emphasise that these gifts are empowered in God’s people, and this is obviously done by the Spirit. I have written plenty on how God has been emphasising His power to me as of late, and I have specifically been focusing on the power of the Holy Spirit. And, so, in this short verse, we are reminded of this empowering:

All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

Similar words are found in vs6:

and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.

We need to be connected to the power source, if you will, which happens to be the person of God’s Spirit Himself. The Spirit was given in the first place to empower God’s people to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). I feel 100% confident in acknowledging that these nine gifts, along with all of God’s giftings, will be helpful in walking out our call as an empowered people.

So, thus, you have some of my introductory thoughts to the gifts of the Spirit, at least as found in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11.

Just as a side note, for the sake of moving more towards discussion of the gifts, I left out addressing why some people believe these gifts have ceased (known as cessationism). If you want to read more of my thoughts addressing the usual passages quoted by cessationists, and some ‘positive’ affirmations of the continuation of these gifts, you can read here and here. Another objection of cessationism is that these gifts seemed to have ceased pretty much in the second and third centuries and nor do we see them much throughout church history. Here is some food for thought on the charismata in church history.

Lastly, I leave you the audio file from my message on Sunday if you would like to click on it below, or you can download from our podcast or iTunes.


One response to “Introduction to the Gifts of the Spirit

  1. Pingback: The Gift of Prophecy 101 | To Be Continued…

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