Spiritual gifts are special abilities God gives us that enable us to experience his divine life and reveal his heart to others. Everything God gives us – salvation, faith, righteousness, the Holy Spirit – is a spiritual gift. If you are good at something, such as writing music or showing hospitality, you can thank God for giving you that ability.
Yet in scripture, certain abilities are identified as “spiritual gifts”. These include gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues and so forth (Rom. 12:7–8, 1 Cor. 12:8–10, 28, 1 Pet. 4:11).
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:10)
“Each one has received a special gift” means every believer is gifted in some way. “Each one is given an expression of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7). You have spiritual gifts whether you know it or not.
“Employ it” means put your gift to work. There’s no need to wait. You do not need to earn any special qualifications before you start exercising your spiritual gifts. Nor are you disqualified by your gender, pedigree, or history. You are gifted and qualified by the Lord. The same grace that empowered the apostles, empowers you (Rom. 12:6).
“Good stewards” use what their master has given them. They don’t hide their light under the proverbial bushel, but they shine with the grace of God. In his book By Grace Alone, D.L. Moody says, “As God’s grace comes into our lives, it is manifested partly through gifts that God gives us as special abilities. And as we exercise these abilities, we are acting as stewards of God’s manifold grace.”
Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts… (1 Corinthians 14:1)
We desire spiritual gifts so that we may reveal the love of God to others. If God has given you the gift of healing, it’s so that others may encounter Jesus the healer and be healed. Like love, the spiritual gifts are other-focused. We use them to build up the church and shine in a dark world. We do not use them for personal gain.
We are complete in Christ an in him we have new life. But like a newborn babe, we have to grow into the new life. Jesus gives us a picture of what this new life looks like. During his time on earth, Jesus regularly exercised all the spiritual gifts. One with the Lord, we have the capacity to preach, prophecy, heal the sick, and do all the things that Jesus did (John 14:12). There is no reason why the body of Christ cannot minister just as Christ ministered. Indeed, Christ continues to minister today through his church.
Spiritual gifts can be imparted
For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established (Romans 1:11)
Spiritual gifts can be imparted or passed on from one person to another. In other words, the gifts possessed by one person can activate the gifts of another. For example, if you see someone healing the sick, you may be inspired to step out in faith and start praying for the sick too. Their faith may activate your own, especially if they lay hands on you and pray for you. Something like this happened to Timothy. Some elders laid hands on him and activated his gift to lead and teach (1 Tim. 4:14).
God gave the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers to help us grow (Eph. 4:11–13). They are like coaches who help us exercise our spiritual gifts. A prophet’s role goes beyond merely prophesying; it involves helping others activate and exercise the gift of prophecy. Similarly, an evangelist’s job is not merely to evangelize; it’s to help the church exercise the gift of evangelism. While we should recognize the unique gifts God gives people, we should not limit God’s generosity. We should not say things like, “I can’t do what you do.” The only limit on our gifts is our faith (see Rom. 12:6).
Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you… (1 Timothy 4:14).
If we are to grow into mature sons and daughters, we need to exercise the gifts God gives us. Your abilities, and the good works you do with them, are God’s gifts to you. Through you, God plans to reveal himself to others so that they may see your good works and give praise to your heavenly Father (Matt. 5:16).
An incomplete list of spiritual gifts
- Wisdom (1 Cor. 12:8). The gift of wisdom is the ability to receive spiritual insight, known as “a word of wisdom,” which illuminates and brings clarity to situations. A word of wisdom helps us understand the Holy Spirit’s read on a specific situation. To have the wisdom that comes from above is to see earthly problems from a heavenly perspective (see entry for Jas. 3:17).
- Knowledge (1 Cor. 12:8). The gift of knowledge is the ability to receive spiritual revelation – a word of knowledge – that helps us to know something that we could not have otherwise known (e.g., Acts 9:11–12, 10:19–20).
- Faith (1 Cor. 12:9): Although all believers have faith, the gift of faith is an extraordinary confidence in the Lord that inspires others to have greater confidence in the Lord (Rom. 1:11–12).
- Healing (1 Cor. 12:9, 28). The gifts of healing are the various abilities to reveal Jesus the healer by healing the sick (Mark 16:18, Acts 3:1–10, 5:16, 9:33–35, 28:8).
- Miracles (1 Cor. 12:10, 28–29). The gift of miracles is the ability to co-labor with Jesus the miracle-worker by working miracles such as healing and deliverance (e.g., Acts 19:11–12). Other examples include supernatural provision (e.g., Matt. 14:19–20), raising the dead (e.g., Acts 9:40), supernatural protection (e.g., Acts 28:5), and instantaneous travel (e.g., Acts 8:38–39).
- Prophecy (Rom. 12:6, 1 Cor. 12:10, 13:2). The gift of prophecy is the ability to impart truth from God’s heart in a way that encourages, strengthens, and comforts people (Acts 15:32, 1 Cor. 14:3). Sometimes this gift will be experienced as visions or foresight (e.g., Acts 11:28, 16:9–10, 21:10–11).
- Discerning of spirits (1 Cor. 12:10). The gift of spiritual discernment is the ability to distinguish the authentic from the counterfeit and to separate truth from error (e.g., 1 John 4:1). This includes the ability to reveal wrong motives and recognize false prophets and false teachers who preach another Jesus or another gospel (e.g., 2 Cor. 11:4, Gal. 1:6–7).
- Speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 12:10). The gift of tongues is the ability to speak, pray, or praise the Lord in an unknown language (Mark 16:17, Acts 19:6, 1 Cor. 14:14). Other languages include human languages (e.g., Acts 2:4–6) and heavenly languages (1 Cor. 13:1).
- Interpreting tongues (1 Cor. 12:10). The gift of interpretation is the ability to make sense of what has been spoken in an unintelligible tongue (1 Cor. 14:13). In public settings, speaking in tongues will ideally be accompanied by the gift of interpretation (1 Cor. 14:27).
- Service/helping (Rom. 12:7, 1 Cor. 12:28). The gift of service is the ability to reveal Jesus the Servant-king by supporting others (e.g., Acts 9:36, Rom. 16:1–2). This role is often complementary to those who preach the word (e.g., Mark 15:40-41, Acts 6:1–2).
- Hospitality (Rom. 12:13). The gift of hospitality is the ability to reveal the unconditional acceptance of Jesus by making a safe space for others. This is typically done by receiving people into your home or to your table (e.g., Acts 16:14–15). Although we are all called to be hospitable (Luke 14:12–14, Heb. 13:2, 1 Pet. 4:9), those with this gift are true ambassadors of the kingdom. They excel in making the unwelcome feel accepted and connected.
- Teaching (Rom. 12:7, 1 Cor. 12:28, Eph. 4:11). The gift of teaching is the ability to reveal Jesus the Living Word of God (Acts 4:2, 13:12, 15:35, 18:11, 28:31, Col. 3:16, 2 John 1:9). Teaching also includes the ability to unpack the scriptures (Acts 2:42).
- Encouragement (Rom. 12:8). The gift of encouragement is the ability to come alongside someone and strengthen them in the Lord (e.g., Acts 14:22, Col. 4:11). Sometimes this will involve exhorting or urging them to act in accordance with something God has said (1 Cor. 1:10, 1 Pet. 5:1–2).
- Compassion (Rom. 12:8). The gift of compassion or mercy is the ability to reveal the compassion of God by helping those who are hurting or in need.
- Giving (Rom. 12:8). The gift of giving is the ability to reveal the unbridled generosity of God through their extravagant sharing and also to inspire generosity in others (2 Cor. 8:3). The gift of giving is not limited to finances but includes giving time, skills, and other forms of assistance.
- Administration (1 Cor. 12:28). The gift of administration is the ability to steer or guide the ship and keep things running smoothly.
- Leadership (Rom. 12:8). The gift of leadership is the ability to set an example of relying so deeply on Christ that others are inspired to follow. We can all lead, but specific leadership roles mentioned in the context of the church include apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (see entry for Eph. 4:11).
- Apostleship (1 Cor. 12:28, Eph. 4:11). The gift of apostleship is the ability to take the gospel into new places by planting churches and ministries and by training leaders (Gal. 2:7–8). Often this gift is accompanied by signs and wonders (2 Cor. 12:12).
- Evangelism (Eph. 4:11). The gift of evangelism is the ability to persuade people to repent and believe the good news about Jesus. Often this gift will be accompanied by signs and wonders (Acts 8:5–6).
- Pastoring (Eph. 4:11). The gift of pastoring or shepherding is the ability to watch over and care for others primarily by attending to their spiritual welfare (1 Pet. 5:1–3).
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