Have you ever taken a spiritual gift inventory? I have, and I assume many who are reading this blog have as well. Spiritual gift inventories, while a bit simplistic and overgeneralizing, can be helpful if you don’t know how you are gifted. However, they do not address the underlying purpose of spiritual gifts, nor do they accurately tell us what to do with the gifts once we know what they are. We need to understand what the Bible says about them, and let it tell us how to use them.
There are several passages that discuss giftings, but I will mainly focus on 1 Corinthians 12.
There is one church but many gifts.
Believers are unified by the Holy Spirit. The common confession, “Jesus is Lord” unites all believers. Recognizing commonality in the Spirit should therefore provide a correct perspective of spiritual gifts. There are many different gifts within this one church. Both diversity and unity have its roots in the Triune God, who through the Father, Son, and Spirit have diverse activities but remain unified.
All believers are gifted, but no believer has all the gifts.
Paul seems to confirm that the Spirit gives gifts to all believers, not for personal betterment, but for the common good of the church. In Romans 1:11-12, Paul himself is an example of one who desired to use his gifts to encourage others.
No believer has all the gifts. In fact, no believer even needs all the gifts, but instead needs the body of Christ, which is made up of a diverse group of gifted people who together have what they need. We are sinful, finite people. Yet the Lord not only gives us gifts to serve Him, He gives us the church to make up for all the ways in which we lack.
Paul also gives a list of the different gifts believers might possess. In fact, there are approximately 6 lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament. Like the Corinthians, we have to be aware of the tendency to elevate the more showy gifts. We are immersed in a culture that celebrates celebrities, and the church is not immune to this. However, those who have “public” gifts could not function well if it were not for those who work behind the scenes. All gifts should be used to glorify God and serve the church.
The body is one, but not just one member.
The last half of 1 Corinthians 12 presents a familiar metaphor. Paul uses the human body as an illustration for the church. Each member of the body functions to coordinate the whole body. If each did not play its assigned role, the body would not function at its best. So it is with the church. God has ordered each part to function harmoniously with the rest. It would be absurd for one part to rebel because they were not created as another part, and equally absurd if all parts were the same, for there would not be a body to begin with.
Paul does two things with this analogy. He reassures those who may be insecure or anxious about their gifts. He rebukes those who look down on the “less important” gifts. There is no need for an inferiority or superiority complex. All giftings are necessary for the church to exist as a single entity. There should be mutual support and encouragement to avoid division caused by overconfidence or insecurity. In addition, Paul ends his passage with an exhortation to “desire the greater gifts,” promising to show them a “more excellent way.” He elaborates in chapter 13, illustrating the uselessness of any gift if not used in love.
Use your gifts.
Be confident that the Spirit has gifted you (Romans 12:3-6; 1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:7). You may be unsure of what gifts you have. That is ok. There are ways you can find out what they are. Spiritual gift inventories are a good starting point. Do not just depend on them to tell you how you are gifted, though. Talk with fellow church members and friends who know you well and have them tell you ways in which they have seen your gifts manifest. They can give you counsel on how to use them. Seek out opportunities to serve where the church has needs.
It is not enough to just know how you are gifted. You actually have to use your gifts. Maybe you are gifted in teaching- volunteer to teach a Sunday School class or youth group. Perhaps your gift is hospitality- invite others to your home or bring a meal to someone who had a baby. Maybe you are gifted in evangelism- go out once a week to share the gospel and take others along with you. They may not be “officially” gifted in evangelism, but because all believers are called to share the gospel, those who are especially gifted in evangelism can lead others who are less comfortable with it. These are just a few examples, but there are a myriad of ways you can serve the church.
Encourage others to use their gifts.
Encourage others when you recognize their gifting. If you are in a position to do so, offer them ways in which they can serve. For example, if you are a small group leader but not so good with communicating with your group, find someone in your group who is gifted in administration and ask them to take over group communication. Take note of those who are serving in childcare and make sure to encourage them and thank them for doing an important job. Write your pastor a note thanking him for his pastoral care and teaching every week. Noticing gifts in others combats the tendency to get puffed up. It takes our eyes away from ourselves and reminds us that we are all in this together.