A Study of Spiritual Gifts

There has been an appalling failure among assemblies to appreciate the importance of spiritual gifts, as determining the ministry of the local church, and as being essential to its fruitfulness. In most assemblies there is the jack-of-all-trades syndrome. Usually some dear brother is running around in circles doing ten different jobs, few of them effectively.

Leaders in local churches discourage the developments of spiritual gifts when they play the “I’ve got to do everything” superstar role.

While this act is being played, spiritual gifts lie dormant in many who should be sharing in the local ministry. The practice of acknowledging and developing spiritual gifts untaps resources of godly manpower. It thaws out frozen assets, roots out unemployment among believers, and reflects the priesthood of believers.

The result of this unleashing of this hidden power is the building, binding, and beautifying of the local body.

At this time let us ask ourselves, “What is a spiritual gift?”

A spiritual gift may be defined as a divine enablement which the Lord Jesus gives to every believer through the Spirit, to empower him to serve God in some specific way.

Every believer has one or more spiritual gifts. There are no ungifted believers. 1 Corinthians 12:7, 11; Ephesians 4:7; Romans 12:6.

There is a difference between a spiritual gift and a natural talent. Non-Christians and Christians have natural talents which have been present from birth. They are talented in music, they paint beautifully, they master languages, the orate eloquently, sing well, write efficiently, and have brilliant minds. All these are natural talents, not spiritual gifts. They instruct, inspire, and entertain on a natural level.

On the other hand, spiritual gifts come from God and relate to the building up of the saints and the winning of the lost to Christ. Paul calls them spirituals.

When a believer exercises his gift in the power of the Spirit, he enters a supernatural sphere. Spiritual gifts must never be regarded as an enlargement of natural powers. They must be regarded as spiritual and a supernatural gift, bestowed on believers by God in keeping with His will and purpose.

When did we receive these spiritual gifts?

Without exception, every believer of the moment of the New Birth receives a gift or gifts. These gifts are not normally seen immediately. Verify this thought by comparing the natural sphere. All the factors of ability and natural talent are latent in a newborn child. In both the natural and spiritual spheres it is a matter of development and use of these gifts, rather than additional gifts being bestowed at a later time.

There is a divine purpose in the life of each believer. Spiritual gifts are given to each one by the Godhead for the fulfillment of that purpose. 1 Peter 4:10.

Spiritual Gifts Differ in Value

While there is equality of privilege in the Christian faith, there is not equality of gift. 1 Corinthians 12:22.

Some gifts are more effective and essential than others. Paul contrasts the gift of prophecy with the gift of tongues. 1 Corinthians 14:5. He also said, “I would rather speak five words that can be understood in order to instruct you, than ten thousand words in a language nobody understands.”

Even though gifts differ in value, they are equally honorable. The growth and spiritual expansion of an assembly is often hindered by members who do not know their gift. There are others who know what their gift is but they neglect it and refuse to develop it.

Beloved child of god, you have received the great gift of eternal life, but do not forget that you have also a spiritual gift. It is important to you and to the local church that you know your gift and that you use it for the upbuilding of the saints, the reaching of the lost, and for the glory of God.

The Source from which Gifts Come

1 Corinthians 12:4. Not how the Trinity is involved. In verse 4 it is the Spirit, in verse 5 it is the Lord, in verse 6 it is God.

Note the distinction in the NT between spiritual gifts and gifted men to the church. Spiritual gifts has reference to the supernatural powers possessed by individual believers. Gifted men has reference to the sovereign placing of gifted men in the church for the purpose of winning souls and ministering to the body.

The principal thought in 1 Corinthians 12-14 is that of spiritual gifts given by the Spirit. Ephesians 4 states that gifted men are given to the church by the risen Christ.

A Description of the Permanent Gifts

1 Corinthians 12:7-8. These two gifts are intimately linked together.

Let us look at the gift of knowledge first. The Lord gives to some an extensive knowledge of the Word. They know the Book from Genesis to Revelation. They can unerringly turn to any portion under discussion. Their capacity for memorizing and knowing the Scripture is phenomenal. One may have the gift of knowledge and yet fail miserably because of the lack of ability to use the knowledge in the right way.

This is where the gift of wisdom comes in. this wisdom is the ability to use what God has revealed in a way that helps and blesses others and glorifies God.

Some people, despite their vast knowledge of the Word, use it so clumsily that they turn both saved and unsaved off. The gift of wisdom, on the other hand, is the ability to use the Word of God wisely, so that people are encouraged and built up.

There are other areas also in which the gift of wisdom operates.

v. 9—The gift of faith. This is not the faith by which we are saved. This is a special faith for a special service. George Muller of the Bristol Orphan Homes was the outstanding man of faith in the nineteenth century. He told the Lord, “Thou wilt have to supply the means.” He then spent every cent he had to open the first house. The Lord sent more money, more children were admitted, more houses were bought, and the work prospered and grew.

Brother Muller vowed that he would not ask or even tell his needs to anyone. He diligently laid them out before the Lord. During his lifetime he received $6,500,000. A glorious tribute to the faithfulness of God and the triumphant faith of George Muller.

A Gift of Faith

Some have tried to emulate what Muller did, and despite improved business technology, they have failed. Why? Because they were trying to do George Muller’s work without his faith.

Hudson Taylor is another example of one who had the gift of faith. When he founded the China Inland Mission he resolved never to ask any man for money, but to trust God for all his needs. God miraculously rewarded the exercise of Hudson Taylor’s gift of faith.

The missionary who went to China with no support.

Miss Gourlay in the incurable ward in the hospital in Edinburgh.

The Gift of the Discerning of Spirits

In everyday language this is the ability to see through people. The gift of discernment is the special ability to distinguish between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. A person with this gift has the ability to unmask Satan, especially when he is posing as an angel of light. It could be a brother or sister.

The discerner can also detect false teachers, even false teachings which sometimes are close to the truth.

Peter displayed this gift when he exposed the deceit of Annanias and Sapphira. He also exposed Simon the sorcerer as a professor and not a possessor.

We need men and women who are gifted in this way.

The Gift of Being a Help

The gift of helps carries the meaning of giving assistance, or lending a hand. The gift of helps is the Spirit-given ability to serve the assembly in any supporting role.

Usually this gift is demonstrated in the temporal sphere, but sometimes it moves into the spiritual.

Describe what happened after the appointment of the seven deacons. The Word increased and many were saved.

I was impressed with a story I read recently. A young minister just settled in his first pastorate in Philadelphia and was visited by some of his godly members. “You do not seem to be a strong preacher,” they said. In the normal course of events you will fail. But we are going to meet every Sunday morning before the service to pray for you. The church grew to over 1,000 members and the Pastor became one of America’s foremost preachers, and a world renowned evangelist—Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman. We was helped by the prayers of these godly helpers.

Potential outlets for the exercise of the gift of helps seem almost unlimited. The gift of ministering and the gift of helps would appear to be one in the same. These gifts are possessed by all believers to a lesser or greater degree. The task of the church would be impossible apart from this gift of helps.

The same word is used by Paul when he said, “Support the weak.” Acts 20:35. It is also used by Martha in intensive verb form when she said to Jesus, “Dost Thou not care that my sister hast left me alone to serve? Bid her therefore that she help me.” Luke 10:40.

Another example of the gift of helping is found in Acts 6. The Grecian element complained against the Hebrew sector, claiming that their widows were being neglected.

Satan was busy in the infant church by creating dissension and more importantly by turning the apostles from their divinely appointed ministry to lesser tasks. With divine instinct the Twelve resisted the temptation asserting that it would be a mistake for them to neglect the Word of God and wait on tables. They solved the problem by having the church choose seven spiritual men to take over this work.

These gift of helps was not really waiting on tables, though this was involved. The real help was in freeing the apostles to major in the Word and prayers.

The distribution of food was an incidental matter. Anyone who can help a Christian worker devote more time to spiritual ministry is expressing the gift of helping.

After the election of the seven deacons, or helpers, “The Word of God kept on increasing, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly.” V. 17.

This gift is not for helping the sick, the aged, orphans and widows. The gift of helps is lending a hand wherever it will release other workers to their spiritual ministries.

Acts 13:5—Barnabas and Saul referred to John Mark as their helper.

1 Corinthians 16:15—Stephanas addicted himself to the “ministry”; i.e., to helping the saints.

Preparing meals for God’s servants is certainly a ministry of helps. Thank God for the Marthas as well as the Marys.

The Gift of Governments or Ruling

Leadership is necessary in every church. The Lord appointed and trained the Twelve, who did some ruling in the early years of the Church. They maintained the testimony in Jerusalem and no doubt supervised the activities of the church when everybody else scattered abroad.

In their leadership capacity they advised the ordination of the seven deacons.

Paul saw to it that each new assembly had elders and ordained them.

Acts 20:17—There were elders or leaders in the church at Ephesus.

Philippians 1:1—There were elders and deacons in Philippi.

Titus 1:5—Titus was asked by Paul to ordain elders in every church.

The gift of ruling or governments is mentioned twice in the two lists of gifts. In Romans Paul urges that “he that ruleth should rule with diligence.” Romans 8:8. Thought the Holy Spirit leads and guides the assembly overall, yet some believers are given the gift of leadership. In Romans 12:8 the word rule means to stand over, superintend, preside. In 1 Corinthians 12:28 governments mean to go before, to lead.

It is also translated “Master”, meaning helmsman, demagogic, non-dictatorial. Spiritual leadership and authority expresses itself in wisdom, tact, example, humility and service. Paul equates leadership with labor. 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13. He also says that high esteem is due leaders, for their work’s sake.

Believers are exhorted to obey “Spirit-ordained elders,” for they watch for your souls as they that give account. Hebrews 13:17.

In most assemblies two groups are found side by side. One group wants to keep on doing things as always, to conduct business as usual. The other group wants new ways to reach out. One is preserving, the other prophetic. One is conservative, the other creative. One is traditional, the other inventive.

Those with the gift of leadership should know when to stay with the old way of doing things and when to innovate with new ministries. Whether piloting the church through unusual or routine maneuvers, the helmsman must keep the assembly in balance, lest it stiffen with traditionalism or run riot with liberalism.

The gift of leadership or ruling involves setting goals for the future, motivating people, and executing plans. They also should be open to discussion and review.

No assembly can function successfully without spiritual leadership. The gift of leadership is not confined to the eldership. Anyone who has this gift is exhorted to exercise it with diligence, i.e., with responsibility and zeal. Romans 12:8.

We need spiritual leaders and statesmen today.

The Gift of Showing Mercy

The gift of showing mercy is the Spirit-given ability to manifest practical, compassionate, cheerful love toward suffering members of the body of Christ. To show mercy is to have compassion on.

This is not a superficial feeling, but a deep down compassion, supernatural in its origin. It is not just kindness springing from the human heart. It is divine love, agape love, Spirit-inspired, acting in Christ’s name with the object of glorifying God.

The Lord’s compassion was expressed in deeds of mercy. He healed the blind, the lepers, and the sick. He also fed the multitude. His death on the Cross was the supreme evidence of His compassion for mankind.

Early believers showed mercy by selling their lands and houses to help the poor among them. Acts 2:44-45. Dorcus made coats and clothes for poor widows. Acts 9:36. The newly converted Philippian jailer showed mercy within a short time of His conversion. He washed the wounds on Paul and Silas’ backs. Acts 16:33-34. This gift has to be exercised with cheerfulness. Romans 12:8. The visitor in the sickroom should radiate sunshine.

The gift of mercy is directed to saints in distress. It often overflows to the outcasts, the poor, the underprivileged, the sick, the handicapped, the retarded, the unlovely, the shut-ins, and the hungry.

A widow came home from a two-month stay in the hospital and found her house cleaned from top to bottom by ladies from the assembly.

Showing mercy is taking a hot meal to a family where the mother is incapacitated.

Every believer should show compassion to the needy, especially those of the household of faith. Those who have this precious gift of showing mercy should practice it diligently. In some instances this gift is being neglected among us.

The Gift of Exhortation

Romans 12:8. This is a very important gift. It is practical and stirring. It is not necessarily bombastic, vociferous, or thunderous.

The word translated “exhorts” means to comfort, console, and implore.

The exhorter is one who admonishes, encourages, comforts and leads us into a closer realization of God’s will. The exhorter comes alongside and with supernatural ability helps, strengthens, and steadies.

The Gift of Giving

Most believers give to a lesser or greater degree.

Some give out of a sense of duty, some just give for giving’s sake. Others give to the best of their ability. Paul urges us to give liberally, generously, freely and with joy. This is normal but is not what is meant here.

Paul said of the Macedonian churches that the grace of God was bestowed upon them. Despite great trial and affliction and deep poverty they were willing to give to their limit and beyond their limit, in abundance of joy.

The gift of giving is also illustrated in the widow’s giving of her two mites. Luke 21:1-4.

Spiritual Gifts and How They Can Be Stirred Up

The development of gifts is very important to the individual and to the assembly.

Paul urges Timothy:

1. Neglect not the gift that is in thee—1 Timothy 4:14.

2. Stir up the gift of God which is in thee—2 Timothy 1:6.

Since every believer has been given a spiritual gift at conversion, the same exhortation is necessary today.

As responsible believers we must not neglect our gift, and at every opportunity we should stir it up.

In the process of finding our gift we should try various kinds of ministry. In some we will feel more comfortable than in others. In some forms of service we will find an inner satisfaction and peace.

Some of the believers will react favorably and confess to being blessed. The inner satisfaction with the attested outward blessing will give some indication as to where the gift lies.

The aforementioned would equate to stirring up our gift.

Then there is a second aspect which is important.

The elder and leaders have a responsibility to develop and stir up gifts. They must provide opportunities to exercise gifts.

Furthermore, as opportunity arises those who are mature should encourage and pray for the young brethren who are struggling with spiritual direction. There are a variety of ways in which we can involve our young men. They can be asked to give a testimony or a brief message. Others with aptitude could be involved in the opening of a meeting or in song-leading.

During the process of development much patience must be exercised by all. Sure, there will be lapses from normalcy. There even may be some embarrassing situations. But the progress made in the development of spiritual gifts far exceeds the occasional lapse.

Great wisdom and care needs to be shown in the process of development. Despite our personal wishes everyone will not turn out to be a preacher. To waste time or afford opportunity to one desirous to speak publicly but is not gifted is a grave injustice on the saints and dishonoring to the Risen Lord.

Our aversion to “one man ministry” must not drive us to an equally wrong position of “any man ministry.”

The aforementioned has to do principally with the “speaking gifts.” To discover our “serving gifts” a believer should spend much time in prayer.

A believer cannot function in the Body if he does not know his place and his gift. The recognition and use of the gift can be a tremendous blessing in the local church. There are several basic steps necessary to discovering one’s gift:

1. It is important to know the gifts which the risen Christ and the Spirit has given to the Church. These are found in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4.

2. It should be a matter of concern and a matter of prayer.

3. Various types of service should be tried.

4. There should be counsel with spiritual brethren.

5. We should develop our gift as opportunity affords.