If you have been with Christian friends or in places such as church for a reasonable amount of time, it is probable that you’ve heard people talking about spiritual gifts. Maybe you were even asked what your “gifting” was, which perhaps left you perplexed and maybe even envious of others around you who may have been more confident of themselves.
Sometimes, it also seems like some communities hold certain gifts to be more important than others, while other communities emphasize different gifts. Some even say there are gifts that we see in the Bible that we just don’t see anymore in our day.
As you approach this topic, you may have a ton of questions bombarding you. “What are these gifts? Where do they come from? What are they for? How can I know what my gifts are?” Let’s look and see what the Bible has to say about spiritual gifts, and what role they play in developing our relationship with God and His people.
What are spiritual gifts?
As the name implies, these gifts are something given to us freely by God. More specifically, they are graciously and generously given to God’s people by the Holy Spirit, and that’s why they are called “spiritual” gifts. We know from the large variety of gifts we are told about in the Bible that “spiritual” doesn’t necessarily mean something supernatural (though some are decidedly so), but refers to the source of the gifts.
Paul, in his first letter to the Christians living in the city of Corinth, put it this way: “All these [gifts] are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines” (1 Corinthians 12:11). The Spirit decides which gifts to give to each person who calls on the name of Jesus.
There are several lists in the Bible about spiritual gifts, and from there we get a glimpse of their wide range. The gifts most people know about, and the ones most often talked about, are gifts such as healing, prophecy, speaking and interpreting tongues (“tongues” refer to human languages) (See 1 Corinthians 12).
These gifts, though they seem flashy were limited to the Apostolic age and were to confirm the revelation given through the Apostles. It’s little wonder that people yearned for these because they seemed more obviously different and special.
The Christians in Corinth certainly felt that way, but Paul gently corrected them toward a better understanding. Other gifts such as serving, teaching, encouraging, being generous, being a leader and so on are also gifts that have a place in the family of God’s people (see Romans 12:3-8).
How do I know what my gifts are?
If there is a wide range of spiritual gifts, and if everyone who is a believer gets spiritual gifts, how do I know what my gift is? There are a few ways to go about this. One way is prayerfully looking at your own life after you professed faith in Jesus and noting what you have gravitated toward in terms of your interests and niche in serving the community of God’s people and beyond.
Some people find that they have a knack for teaching the Bible, while others find themselves with a large capacity for offering hospitality to others. You might not necessarily be the best at that thing, but it fits you and you find that doing it brings you joy.
Another way is to speak to the people in your life, especially your pastor or small group leader, Christian friends, and relatives. These are the people who spend a considerable amount of time with you, and so they know you. Seeking wisdom from these individuals can give you clarity on the gifts you’ve been given and where they see the Spirit working in your life.
Lastly, there are a variety of tests and questionnaires out there that can help you make sense of your spiritual gifts. Take one of these or speak to a Christian counselor who is well-versed in them and can guide you through the process.
Once I know my spiritual gifts, then what?
When you know what your gift is or what your gifts are, what do you do at that point? For one thing, whatever gift we have ought to be fanned into flame, as Paul tells his young protégé Timothy (2 Timothy 1:6). In other words, rather than resting on our laurels, we are to develop and use the gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit.
It isn’t an automatic thing to have our gifts come into full bloom. We get better at understanding and using our gifts the more we use them. Like a muscle or our natural talents, we need to learn how to use them, and to be actively using them for them to grow. It won’t happen by itself.
Developing our relationship with God is tied in with developing our spiritual gifts as we grow in the use of the gifts He has given us, we grow more into the people that God wants us to be. Remember, the Spirit gives us specific gifts for a purpose.
If leading is your gift, then leading diligently is your calling and arena for personal growth. If it is contributing to the needs of others, then we should grow in understanding the needs of others and how best to meet them.
We spoke about the source of the gift as being important. The source also determines what comes next – what we use our gifts for. In other words, when the Spirit gives us these gifts, what does he intend these gifts for?
More importantly, and beyond our personal development, the reason we are given these gifts by the Spirit is for meeting the needs of the community of God’s people. In a very real sense, these gifts are given to us, but they are not for us.
They are to be used in service of and out of love for others (1 Corinthians 12). Do we grow personally and develop our relationship with God in the process? Yes, we do! But the focus is on serving others who are part of God’s family.
To use the analogy that Paul uses for the Corinthian Christians, the community of God’s people is like a body with many parts. Each part is important in its own right and has a role to play in the proper functioning of the body. The eye helps the feet not to stumble; the feet move the body where it needs to go; we use our hands to hold things like utensils for eating, while the mouth does the chewing, and so on.
There are functions and purposes for each of us, and for each of the gifts given to us by the Spirit. Each of us is each given a gift by the Spirit and we ought to use those gifts to serve the community of God’s people. There is no useless gift, or a gift so useful that it doesn’t need any others to support it. We need one another, and we need one another’s gifts to come to full maturity as the people God wants us to be.
Our personal spiritual development and relationship with God are tied together with the spiritual gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit. These gifts are varied; some seem more sensational than others, while others seem mundane. Spectacular or otherwise, God has given us these gifts as a means of our growth as we serve others in the community of His people.
There are no gifts that are too small or insignificant, and there are none that are too important. The Spirit has given these gifts with the purpose of building Jesus’ community. Whatever your spiritual gift, use it and fan it into flame in daily life.
‘White Flowers”, Courtesy of K8, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Brown Plant”, Courtesy of Sincerely Media, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Woman in a Brown Dress”, Courtesy of Jonathan Borba, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Walking Alone in a Field”, Courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License