You might have grabbed this book because you wanted to learn more about spiritual gifts. I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that we’re finally here. The bad news is that, well, the gifts are presented in the Bible a bit differently than we usually talk about them.
Let me elaborate.
The most concise treatment we find in Scripture about spiritual gifts is in 1 Corinthians 12, a passage in which they’re not actually referred to as gifts at all. (It’s actually good news that they’re not, something I’ll explain in a moment.)
Most English translations suggest that in 12:1 Paul writes something like, “Now about spiritual gifts, I don’t want you to be ignorant…”
Or, “Now about the gifts of spirit, I don’t want you to be uninformed…”
In the Greek language Paul originally used, though, he actually wrote, “Now about pneumatikons…”
Or, in English— “Now about spirituals…”
In other words, he didn’t mention gifts at all.
You might recognize the word pneuma in pneumatikons. Pneuma is the word used for both “wind” and “Spirit” in Scripture. We see it today in words such as pneumatic tools— tools powered by compressed air moving through the hoses at a rapid pace. Throughout the New Testament, Pneuma most often refers to the Holy Spirit.
A few sentences later, in 1 Corinthians 12:4, the English translations insert “gifts” again— supplying it for a yet another Greek word. The translation in your hand probably reads something like: “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (12:4, emphasis mine).
Paul’s word this second time is actually charismata— a completely different word, even though we translate it the same. Earlier in our study we discussed the word charis— or “grace.” Charismata literally means “expressions of grace.” The concept fits nicely with the his encouragement in Ephesians 2:8-10 that grace (charis) saves you— not your good deeds— and that same grace also empowers you to live the destiny God has created for you, a path of good works for you to walk in. In other words, that grace expresses itself in the things you do every single day.
Let’s keep digging. I promise, we’ll pull these nuggets together in a moment.
Look at 12:5. The translation I’m currently using says, “there are varieties of service” (ESV, emphasis mine). This word misses the mark a bit, too. It emphasizes that the gifts are something we do. While service is certainly an action, the Greek word here is diareseis. It means “appointment,” as if God Himself set you in a specific place as part of a bigger design.
I like that idea better.
In the next sentence, Paul tells us there are varieties of energematon (read: “energies,” or “divine power-flow") which work through us, yet it’s the same Lord that does this in each of us (12:6). Then, in the next sentence he tells us that the manifestation (literally “appearing”) of the Spirit (pneumatos)— get this— is being given…
That’s right. Notice that it is currently being given. He doesn’t refer to gifts as a “past” or even “one time” event. He uses a present passive participle, indicating the the Lord continues doing this to us. That is, it happens to you. The Lord does the work. Yes, we’re told to eagerly desire the spirituals (not “spiritual gifts”) in 1 Corinthians 14:1 but when we put the pieces together here we realize a few important things about the gifts.
Let’s read through the passage and then I’ll point them out (1 Corinthians 12:1,4-7 NIV, emphasis mine).
Now about the gifts of the Spirit [pneumatikons, spirituals], brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.
There are different kinds of gifts [charismata, grace effects], but the same Spirit [Pneuma] distributes them. There are different kinds of service [diareseis, appointments], but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working [energematon, energies, divine power-flow], but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
Here’s an image to help you review the different Greek words we commonly translate as “spiritual gifts.”
That said, let’s make a few observations as to what we see.
The first is this: we can’t separate the Spirit from spiritual gifts. They’re not two different things such that you can have one without the other.
Spiritual gifts are actually God’s presence in us, working through us (v4-v6). The gifts are not something separate from God Himself; they are how God Himself expresses Himself through each of us.
(I think the “Armor of God” works the same way. When you pray that protection over yourself or your family, God isn’t providing you something extraneous to Himself. He gives you part of who He is!)
Think back through a few concepts we’ve learned thus far…
Perhaps this is why Paul resisted treating the gifts as something distinct from the Spirit. Quite simply, you can’t separate the two. It’s impossible to have one without the other.
That said, I’d like to do the following:
I’ll cover the first in this talk. We’ll move to the second in the next. We’ll move to the third in the talk after that.
By now you have an idea of what spiritual gifts are. Again, I’m not overly excited about using the term “gift” because the imprecision of the language makes it seem as if the gift is something separate from the presence of the Lord. Nonetheless, for the sake of easy communication, let’s use that term.
Here’s my working definition:
Spiritual gifts are the presence and power of God expressing Himself through His redeemed children to empower them for the work of ministry to the church and mission to the world.
Let’s work through that definition, making a few points to help clarify what I’m trying to communicate.
First, spiritual gifts are the presence God. I know, I keep continue boomeranging back to this concept, that the “gifts” are the presence of the Spirit Himself.
Second, spiritual gifts are the power of God. They’re supernatural. Jesus calls us to a great work— the humanly impossible task of restoring all things to Himself. Thankfully, He baptizes us in His Spirit, thereby granting us “equipment” comparable to the task.
Third, spiritual gifts are relational. They are literally God expressing Himself through His people to connect other people to His love. Since they’re relational, they function best in the context of… get this… relationships. That is, it’s extremely difficult to connect to the head (Christ) in a healthy way if you’re not connected to His body in a healthy way (church).
Fourth, spiritual gifts are a relational expression of God that works through His redeemed children. Whereas your talents and created design are given to you when you are born (i.e., first birth), your spiritual gifts come with the Holy Spirit when you are “born again” (i.e., new birth, second birth).
Fifth, spiritual gifts are for the church, that is ministry. Recall the Ephesians 4 passage we referenced earlier in the book. Paul explains that Jesus gives equippers— apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, and evangelists— to His church in order to empower that church to “grow up” into the measure of Christ. That is, Jesus envisions His church walking as a mirror reflection of Him on this earth. Our gifts enable us to do that.
But the gifts aren’t designed only to be used in the church for the church. That leads us to the final point about our working definition.
Sixth, spiritual gifts are for the world, that is mission. Let me define my words:
Both are important.
I used to think the ministry side was more urgent, that is, that the church needed to be healthy and whole first so that she might go on mission. Now, I don’t see things that way.
Ministry vs. mission is not an either-or proposition.
Nor is it a do-this-now-then-do-that-later type of thing.
Nor should ministry and mission be reduced to programs and events the church leadership schedules on the calendar.
If forced to choose, I’d guess— just a guess, mind you— more believers are instructed and empowered to serve outside of the church, on mission, than inside the church. Church leaders, however, really like ministry— we like to make sure we have enough people directing traffic in the parking lot, enough greeters stationed at the doors, enough volunteers enlisted to maintain the nursery and kids’ classes, enough small group or Sunday School teachers, and enough ushers to run the service. We like to make sure the “church programs” run efficiently. We like things we can count.
Here’s the two-fold problem with that perspective:
Problem #1: On one hand, we often reduce ministry to organizational structure. That is, it laser-focuses ministry on the things we can schedule.
For sure, I’m pro-organization and structure. I thrive on it. But most of the gift expressions we see are relational and abstract, far less concrete than how we generally think.
Again, I’m pro-structure. And I wholeheartedly believe the Lord uses our gifts in every area. The fact, though, is that most ministry doesn’t fit into a schedule.
Problem #2: On the other hand, we often confine “the call” to the four walls of the church. No, this isn’t our intent, but this is often the result. Like the graphic which follows illustrates, the gifts are for ministry (internal) and mission (external) use.
I’ve sat through countless new members classes— the kind where church leaders take a few weeks to teach you about the distinct traits of their congregation. They generally tell you who they are, what they do, and how they do it. I’m in favor of these; they’re a great way for people to quickly see if that particular church is a good fit for them and their family without spending months trying to figure everything out. More churches should host them and proactively communicate their mission and vision.
During these classes, though, leaders generally say something like, “Everyone is called to do something.”
Many even give you a few assessments and spiritual gift inventory tests like the ones placed throughout this book. After taking them, church leaders generally ask you what you would like to do to serve in that church.
Notice the disconnect: Everyone is called, but everyone needs to serve in this church.
Maybe they don’t. Maybe they should serve somewhere else.
If a physician can be just as called as an apostle, if a banker can be just as called as a prophet, and if a craftsman can be just as called as a pastor, maybe we don’t need them all serving inside the four walls. Maybe we need to help them discover their gift-mix, then trust the Spirit who expresses Himself through those gifts to lead those people to the precise place the need to implement HIs expression through them.
Because the “spirituals” are the presence and power of God working through us in relational ways. They empower us for both the work of ministry to the church and mission to the world. They are the—
In the next talk, we’ll expand our vision of the “spiritual gifts” even more. I’ll show you that God can work through you in numerous ways— even ways that aren’t specifically outlined in the Biblical text. Turn the page and prepare to see the expansive ways in which the Creator can move through you.
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