Gifts for the Common Good

Spiritual Gifts

On Sunday, in the midst of #snowzilla, I preached a sermon on spiritual gifts.  Here are the notes for the sermon, which will be helpful for Resto members who are in small groups this week.

A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Gifts

What are spiritual gifts?  ‘A capacity for service which is given to every true Christian without exception and which was something each did not possess before he became a Christian.’ (Ray Stedman)  In the NT the word for that kind of gift is charisma, charismata (p).  The most important thing about the word charisma is that it is based on the Greek noun charis, meaning grace.  Grace is unmerited favor, the emphasis is that spiritual gifts are dispensed by God according to his good pleasure.  One Christian will receive one gift, one will receive another.  Some may receive more than one. (J. M. Boice)

Where do they come from and when did they become accessible to everyone?  On the day of Pentecost, God pours out his Holy Spirit on men and women.  Luke writes:   “And they were all  filled with the Holy Spirit and began  to speak in other tongues  as the Spirit gave them utterance.”  (Acts 2:4)  Peter follows up in his speech that according to Joel, this was the plan all along: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit  on all flesh, and your sons and  your daughters shall prophesy…’”  (Acts 2:17)   All of the gifts are available to all people.  God did not give some gifts to a particular sex for a particular situation.  No.  Pentecost was a huge, generous outpouring of the Holy Spirit for the sake of the building of the body of Christ and the redemption of the world.  All the gifts are available to both men and women.

Before we discuss the diversity that comes from gifts of the Spirit, we must remember that we have tremendous unity in the body of Christ. No matter your religious background, your skin tone, your ethnic heritage, your socio-economic class, your marital status, your educational pedigree—  We are one body in Christ.  We have one way of entering in: baptism.  We have one way of being made right of being justified: the cross of Christ.  We have one future hope: the restoration of all things in a new heavens and earth.  Paul declares, “For just as  the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body,  so it is with Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:12) 

God is tremendously creative in the gifts He gives.  There are varieties of gifts…  one God.   

  1. Rom 12: 4-5  For as in one body we have many members,  and the members do not all have the same function, so we,  though many,  are one body in Christ, and individually  members one of another. 
  2. 1Cor. 12:4-6   Now  there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  and  there are varieties of service, but  the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.   
  3. “All the lists emphasize the variety of the gifts, each seeming to be a random selection of them.”  (John Stott)  These categories are not rigid or even static.  They are eclectic, illustrative lists.  “19 gifts mentioned, but that is not an absolute figure:  different words can conceivably be used to describe the same or nearly identical gifts, and there may be gifts not mentioned.” (James M. Boice)]

We each get one.  Every follower of Jesus gets at least one spiritual gift.  The gift is not about you (It’s grace-  a gift).  The gift is not a sign that you are superior because you got it. 

    1. But  grace was given  to each one of us  according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  (Eph 4.7)
    2. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another,  as good stewards of God’s varied grace:  (1 Peter 4.10)
    3. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor 12:7) 
    4. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: (Rom 12:6)

The gift is not about the gift.  It’s about the community in which the gift receiver resides.  God gives spiritual gifts “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”  (Eph 4.12)  You received a gift for the sake of the community to which you are called.  To not use your gift is to make the community weaker.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul addresses 2 Objections that frequently materialize in a discussion about spiritual gifts.  You have probably felt one (or both, although we usually lean one way or the other) of these.

    1. My gift is not important to you.   (Verses 14-20).  Paul attacks the notion that because we don’t have the gift that someone else has, we are not important to the body of Christ.  For example, ‘because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body.’  No.  We all have something that the body needs.  If we don’t give it, the body is missing something. 
    2. Your gift is not important to me.  We all desire to be autonomous.  We have a natural, sinful proclivity to make categories of people who we can dismiss because we don’t need them.  Instead Paul takes this head on:  “On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”  (v.22)   You want to be self-sufficient.  Maturity is learning that you are not.  Maturity is not needing people less.  Maturity is discovering the richness and fullness of the presence of others in your life.

What is the difference between a ‘spiritual gift’ and a ‘natural talent’?  This is taken from J. M. Boice (p. 608-609):  “Natural talents are also gifts of God…  it is also true that a Christian may exercise a spiritual gift through a natural talent.  Examples would be one who fulfills the gift of ‘helping’ through a talent for carpentry, baking, financial management, or similar things, or one who fulfills that gift of ‘exhortation’ through a natural ability to get close to people.  Still, spiritual gifts are not talents for the simple reason that they are given for spiritual ends only, and only to Christians.  They are ‘to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.’ (Ephesians 4:12)  An example from the Old Testament is Bezalel in Exodus 31: 3-5 “Bezalel had been given the natural talent of craftsmanship, but he had also been given the spiritual gift of knowledge or intelligence which directed him in the way his natural talents were to be used.  Because of the spiritual gift he was able to produce objects for Israel’s worship.”

What are categories of gifts that are mentioned in the New Testament?  See the attached table for where all 19 gifts appear.  Remember that this is an illustrative, not an exhaustive group.  As you group the individual gifts, you can see categories of gifting that may invite other specific gifts that are not directly mentioned. 

  1. Leadership Gifts:  Apostles, Shepherding, Administrating, Leading/ Giving Aid.   There were only 13 apostles (the 12+Paul) who were directly called to the office by Jesus himself.  But the gift of apostleship (as opposed to the office) is often found in pioneering entrepreneurs who start new things and tap new resources.  The other ‘leadership gifts’ are critical for helping people in all contexts and situations move from ‘here’ to ‘there’.
  2. Word Gifts:  Prophecy, teaching, exhortation, tongues, interpretation.  As followers of Jesus under the authority of Scripture, we live in tension between the revelation of God in His Scripture and the on-going revelation of God through His Spirit.  Words that are revealed in the Spirit through prophecy, teaching, and tongues can be enormously encouraging and convicting.  All of these words must be tested in community for authenticity and reliability.
  3. Insight Gifts:  Faith, knowledge, wisdom, ability to distinguish spirits.  God does not want His people to be uninformed.  Over and over He gives insight into situations, people, and problems so that physical, emotional, and spiritual breakthroughs can happen.  New understanding in science.  New art.  Clarity about demonic activity.  Clarity about justice, redemption, and punishment.  Supernatural strength to persevere in hope and trust.  The body of Christ needs these people for the endurance of the church. 
  4. Evangelism Gifts:  all of us are called to give a verbal witness  about Jesus.  Some of us are given a special gift from God such that this is easier and more fruitful.  We know how to creatively apply the Gospel to the lives of our friends and family.  We are bold.  We are courageous to close the deal.  The body of Christ needs these people for the growth of the church and the expansion of the Kingdom of God.
  5. Gifts that demonstrate the new heavens and earth:  healing, working miracles.  Some day every knee will bow.  There will be no more tears or pain or suffering.  We will have bodies that function as they were created.  That ‘day’ has begun but is not yet here.  In order to encourage His people to endure for that day, God sometimes heals and does miracles—  signs of the age to come.  The body of Christ needs these gifts for its witness to the world.
  6. Generosity gifts:  service, mercy, contributing.  All of us are called to serve, to give, and to be merciful.  Some people have unique gifts that make them particularly generous in these ways.  The body of Christ needs these gifts for the sake of being salt and light to a world that is inherently greedy and self-centered.

What is the purpose of my spiritual gift?  Here is Tim Keller’s paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 12: 7: ‘Every Christian (“to each one”) receives spiritual gifts. A spiritual gift is an ability (“working” or power) that comes to you freely (“gift”) for the purpose of ministering to needs (“service”) so as to build up Christian community in size and depth (“the common good”).’

Keller goes on to say,


Every believer has an almost unique “gift matrix.” We have different gifts in different constellations.  We have different gifts for different ministry venues and objects. We have different levels of ability. On top of this, there are different seasons in our lives, when the contexts we live in call the gifts out in us in different ways. Put these variables together and each person’s ministry may be as unique as a thumbprint. By implication, there are some deeds in life that only you can do! There are some people to reach whom only you can reach!  Spiritual gifts fit you for your mission in life (see Eph 2:8–10).

11.  How do I discover and use my spiritual gift(s)?

Serve in the body of Christ.  Serving is putting the needs of others ahead of our own, or putting the needs of the community ahead of our individual needs.  There are many benefits for doing this, but one of the best is self-knowledge.  You don’t know your real gifts and capacities until you do a lot of humble serving in many different capacities around your community. Only as you do that will you come to understand your own aptitudes.

We can discover our particular gifts when three factors begin to come together: Affinity (my passions and interests); Ability (the things I am good at); and Opportunity (the needs that are around me and my capacity to address them).  When all three factors come together, you can begin to see how God has equipped and called you to do something or to move in a certain direction. (Affinity, ability, and opportunity are categories derived from the works of John Newton).  The only way you will ever really come to know your gift(s) is if you do a lot of different things and observe how your ability, affinity, and opportunity converge.

A Table of Spiritual Gifts

Ephesians 4: 1-11

1 Corinthians 12: 8-10

1 Corinthians 12: 28-30

Romans 12: 6-8

1 Peter 4:11


Apostles Apostles


Prophets Prophecy (v. 10) Prophets Prophecy


Service Serves








Pastors/ Shepherds


Teachers Teachers Teaching


Exhortation Speaks oracles of God




Healing Healing*


Working Miracles Working Miracles*  (these are switched in order in 28-30)


Ability to distinguish between spirits




Helping Leading (can also be translated, ‘giving aid’)






Tongues Tongues


Interpretation of Tongues Interpretation of Tongues

This table lists out 19 spiritual gifts that are mentioned in the New Testament.  In the 5 places they are introduced, it always says ‘there are varieties of gifts’ but the same Spirit (or God).  Each passage also says, that we each get one.  For example, ‘grace was given to each one of us  according to the measure of Christ’s gift.’ (Ephesians 4:10). 

These 2 observations tell us 2 things about spiritual gifts

  1. The ‘variety’ means that this list is not static.  It is illustrative.  You could have a gift that is not listed here.  Instead of cramming yourself into a particular gift, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal yours to you.
  2. The ‘grace was given’ means that you DEFINITELY have a spiritual gift that is intended to be used.  It is a ‘grace’ meaning you don’t get to choose it and you can’t be envious of someone else’s.  You got a gift.  Ask God what it is and use it.