A Look at the Gifts
Ships and boats have always intrigued me. Row boats, motor boats, fishing trawlers, riverboats, houseboats, battleships, and ocean liners—they all capture my imagination. As a child I knew the names of many famous ocean liners and traveled on both the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary to and from England where I lived for several years. When I was 11, I even built a model of the HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson’s flagship, which my sister promptly sat on about 20 minutes after it was finished.
It wasn’t merely the ships that fascinated me; it was also the crews. There is no mystery to running a tight ship; everything must be done with precision, and every crew member must be equipped to do a particular task to ensure the vessel’s optimal performance.
The importance of everyone doing his or her assigned task is no less significant in the church. Like the crew of a smoothly operating ship, Christians are equipped by the Holy Spirit for service that benefits the entire body of Christ.
Foundational to this equipping is an event that took place 50 days after our Lord’s resurrection. The disciples were celebrating Shavuot (Pentecost) when “suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:2–4).
On that day, a new organism—the church—was created consisting of all who place their faith in Jesus Christ and receive eternal life on the basis of His sacrifice at Calvary. This organism is as diverse as the members who constitute it. Yet it is unified by the fact that all members have been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the same body, with Christ as the Head (1 Cor. 12:12–14; Eph. 1:22); and each has been given a spiritual gift to use for the profit of all.
Spiritual gifts are supernatural powers that benefit the body (Eph. 4:4–6, 16). Like a physical body, the body of Christ is a complex unit comprised of numerous parts, each benefiting the whole. Since the gifts are bestowed by the Spirit, they are distinct from an individual’s resident ability. Consequently, a good and much-loved high school teacher may not necessarily have the gift of teaching; he may have the gift of helps. And a corporate executive may not have the spiritual gift of administration; he may have the gift of teaching.
Sometimes Christians find it difficult to determine what their gifts are. If you’re trying to discern your spiritual gift, it might be helpful to ask Christians who know you well. Often, through observation, they are able to discern what gift or gifts the Holy Spirit has given you.
The Greek New Testament describes spiritual gifts two ways: with the word pneumatikos, meaning “things of the spirit” to emphasize the Holy Spirit as the source, and with the words edothe he charis, meaning “gifts of grace” to identify the means of endowment (1 Cor. 12:1; Eph. 4:7).
Spiritual gifts are not earned. Nor are they bestowed because one has attained a particular level of spirituality. They are sovereignly distributed by the Holy Spirit on the basis of God’s grace (1 Cor. 12:7) and are given as enablement for service. They are not to be confused with the fruit of the Spirit, which indicates Spirit-controlled character.
For the Profit of All
Some of the gifts of the Spirit were early church gifts specifically designed to aid the transition into the Church Age and became unnecessary once the church was established. Others were designed differently. They are the permanent gifts, and they equip the saints for the ministry and edify the body of Christ.
The gift of evangelism is vital in all ages to the propagation of the gospel (Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:5). Although every Christian is responsible to carry out the mandate of the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18–20), the Holy Spirit endows certain individuals with the heightened ability, either through preaching or one-on-one interaction, to communicate God’s message of salvation effectively to the unsaved. Christ Himself also strategically places some with the gift of evangelism in key areas to stimulate church growth, resulting in people being saved and added to the church.
Dwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Jack Wyrtzen are examples of men who received the Holy Spirit’s gift of evangelism. When they spoke, people flocked to the auditoriums to hear them. In the 1940s, when Wyrtzen preached in New York City, 20,000 people would sit inside Madison Square Garden and another 10,000 would be standing in the streets. Forty thousand people braved the wind and rain to hear him preach in Yankee Stadium. Only God Himself knows how many people came to Christ because of Wyrtzen’s God-given gift of evangelism.
Those with the pastoral gift are appointed by Christ to lead, protect, and care for Christians under their influence. The care of the Christian community is committed to pastors (Eph. 4:11). The Greek word poimenas literally means “shepherds.” Men who hold the office of pastor must also demonstrate the gift of teaching. Not all teachers are pastors, but all pastors must be teachers.
The gift of teaching demonstrates the spiritual aptitude to communicate effectively in a way that clarifies, explains, and helps Christians apply biblical truth while living in the reality of everyday experience (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11).
The gift of exhortation differs from the gift of teaching in that its purpose is to motivate to action (Rom. 12:8). Preaching involves exhortation to some extent, but those with the gift of exhortation receive the specific ability to help Christians recognize and actively pursue God’s will for their lives. The Greek word translated “exhort” encapsulates the ideas of encouraging, warning, and convincing someone about the need for a particular action.
The gift of administration, or leadership, is vital to various groups within the body of Christ (Rom. 12:8; 1 Cor. 12:28). People with this gift have the ability to recognize and effectively communicate ministry goals while organizing and motivating a church or group of Christians to meet those goals and minister effectively.
The gift of ministry, or helps, is also vital to the work of the church. The Greek word for “helps” is often translated “deacon” (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28; 1 Tim. 3:13). Although every Christian should be willing to help, some have the spiritual gift to recognize and meet needs within the body of Christ. Some people with this gift provide rides for the elderly, taking them to church, the doctor, or the market. Others use this gift by doing home repairs or helping congregants move from one home to another. Geographic location, individual personality, and unique circumstances affect the way this gift is demonstrated, giving it amazing adaptability and diversity of expression. Its importance to the church cannot be overstated.
Faith, as well as being foundational to the Christian life, is a distinctive gift of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:9). Most believe it describes the ability to trust God and confidently move forward in the belief that goals will be achieved despite obstacles and appearances to the contrary.
George Mueller (1805–1898) of Bristol, England, is an example of someone who had the gift of faith. With no money of his own and the determination never to ask anyone for a penny, he built an enormous campus of orphanages entirely by faith. (See “The Man Who Got Things From God” by Bonnie Pearson in the September/October 2010 issue of Israel My Glory.) He prayed fervently about his needs, wholly believing God would provide; and in the course of his life, he received what would be the equivalent today of $400 million to build and operate the orphanages.
Giving is incumbent upon all Christians, but it is also distinguished as one of the spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:8). People with this gift are spiritually programmed with the particular ability to commit their earthly possessions to the Lord for His service.
Christians with the gift of mercy are moved to compassion when confronted by the suffering of others. Interestingly, Paul encouraged those endowed with this gift to exercise it with cheerfulness (Rom. 12:8).
The mystique that often surrounds the subject of spiritual gifts is unfortunate. The church enjoys a diversity of gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit on the basis of God’s grace. Their purpose is encapsulated in 1 Corinthians 12:7: “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” Do you know what the Holy Spirit has equipped you to do? Are you doing it?