Spiritual gifts have always been somewhat of a mystery to me. I think it’s partly because I have grown up in a decidedly not-Charismatic tribe where the gifts weren’t talked about often. I never had a clear picture of what spiritual gifts were, what they looked like, or how you got one.
Maybe I shouldn’t say that I didn’t learn or hear about spiritual gifts growing up. I did. But, the picture I was given – that the gifts of the Spirit flowed from the waters of baptism and the Word of God and that they looked like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control – didn’t jive with other pictures of spiritual gifts that came from TV preachers and “healers”. No one at my church spoke in tongues (that I knew of) or miraculously healed anyone.
So, this has always been swirling in the back of my mind, but recently at church we started to walk through 1 Corinthians 12-14 and as I’ve been studying and preparing for my messages the questions came back (not as thought they ever left). Here are some of my thoughts and reflections from my study
Spiritual gifts aren’t just “spiritual”
Well, of course they are. But, here’s what I mean: When the Apostle Paul teaches about spiritual gifts he’s not always referring to what we would look at and consider to be “spiritual”. In fact, that was the problem of the Corinthians. The Corinthians had narrowed the definition and scope of the spiritual gifts to a select few abilities and outcomes. For them, the spiritual gifts were 1. Speaking in tongues 2. Miraculous healings and 3. Prophecy. They were proud of their gifts. The church there thought they had the best of the gifts. Maybe even a monopoly on them. Their gifts, as great as they were, were a source of bragging and boasting.
And so Paul has to come along and set them straight. He tells them that yes, speaking in tongues, the ability to heal, and prophecies are spiritual gifts. But, the list doesn’t end there. His list includes things like: wisdom, knowledge, faith, and discernment. In other letters (Romans 12 and Ephesians 4) Paul lists even more things under the category of “spiritual gifts” – things like generosity, leadership, mercy, service, exhorting, and teaching.
I was surprised to read what Paul considers to be the spiritual gifts. Some of those things we might expect (i.e. speaking in tongues) but others look and feel decidedly less “spiritual” (i.e. generosity or knowledge”
What makes a spiritual gift “spiritual”
What Paul seems to be saying is that what makes a spiritual gift “spiritual” is not it’s miraculous nature or outcome, but where it comes from: The Holy Spirit. Spiritual gifts are not gifts that look and feel mystical or spiritual, but gifts that flow from the third person of the Trinity.
Why does God give spiritual gifts?
After opening the Corinthians minds, Paul goes on to tell them why God has given these gifts. And it wasn’t so that they could brag about how “spiritual” they were. God didn’t give them so we could look to them as the source of our identity. They were not meant to be the source of our confidence in the Lord either – as in, “God must be really happy with me, because look at what I can do!”.
No, the Spirit gives the gifts, as God tells us, “A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Spiritual gifts are given so that the Church, the Body of Christ, God’s family, might be built up and encouraged. As soon as these gifts become a point of pride or boasting, as soon as we begin to put our confidence or hope in them, we’ve morphed them into something they were never meant to be.
Spiritual gifts are entirely “other-centered”. They are not primarily about or for you but for your neighbor.
Okay, so how do I get one?
Well, maybe that’s not the best question to be asking. As we’ve already seen, they come from the Holy Spirit, which already lives in you as a baptized, believer in Jesus. The fact that they are called gifts is important too. That means they are freely given. They can’t be manipulated or earned. No, the Spirit living inside you will give as He sees fit.
So, maybe a better question to ask would be “Which gifts have I been given and how can I use them for the good of the Church?” And to that I have three suggestions
- Pray. Ask God to give you His gifts and to reveal how He is working in you. Pray for humility towards His gifts and assurance in His love. Ask for the strength and wisdom to use the gifts as He sees fit.
- Spend time in the Word. The Spirit works in and through the Word. That’s where He speaks. I’m not directing you to a specific passage/verse (although you could read some of the ones I’ve already mentioned). But, the more time in the Word you spend, the more you hear from God, the more wisdom and knowledge you gain, and the more God works to mold you and shape you into His image.
- Talk to other Christians. Sometimes the people around us recognize the gifts in us way before we do ourselves. Ask them how they see God working in you. Pray with them, that together you would use your gifts for the good of the Church.
If you’ve liked what you read and want to read more, check out my little book on Christian maturity called, “Growing Up: In, with, and under Jesus” on Amazon.