Since I actually got a request for a topic to blog about (!), I am excited to spend a couple blog posts on “Spiritual Gifts.” It’s a topic that comes up frequently in Christian circles and yet we all still seem to have ongoing questions about it.
What are spiritual gifts?
Usually people point to Romans 12:3-8 or 1 Corinthians 12 which contain lists of gifts that include things like: prophecy, serving, teaching, exhortation (or encouragement), giving, leadership, mercy, healing, miracles, words of wisdom or knowledge, speaking in tongues and healing. A few other mentions are sprinkled throughout the New Testament.
What’s confusing about them?
- First, there is no definitive list of all the spiritual gifts. The lists we have are examples of spiritual gifts, they’re not exhaustive. People wonder if they have to have one of the ones listed. They’re not sure they can call something else a spiritual gift if it’s not specifically mentioned.
- Second, some gifts seem like normal abilities that aren’t necessarily “spiritual” and others are miraculous. Some believe the miraculous gifts aren’t given anymore. Others seem to use these gifts on a regular basis. If you’re good at leadership, does it follow that it’s a spiritual gift or is it just an ability? What makes the difference?
- Third, some believe you get one or two gifts for life and others think you are given various gifts on a situational basis. To add to the confusion, some “gifts” are things that all believers are called to (encouragement, serving etc).
No wonder there is anxiety over not knowing what spiritual gifts really are and how to use them.
So are spiritual gifts important?
Yes and no. We need to get beyond the idea that we just need to “discover” our spiritual gift and then find ways to use it. It’s not a personality test where you apply your spiritual gift like a neat label and receive a specific role to go with it.
I also don’t think we need to worry about whether we have them, what they are or where we will use them. I think these are the wrong questions to be asking. In a sermon on spiritual gifts, John Piper explains that when Paul writes to the Romans in Chapter 1:11, he clearly wants to provide his spiritual leadership to them as a gift for their growth and strengthening. Piper writes, “The first and most obvious thing we learn from this text is that spiritual gifts are for strengthening others.” He goes on to say that all we have to do is look around, see if there is an opportunity for us to help strengthen someone else and do that in the way that seems most fitting.
This means that spiritual gifts are important, but we get hung up thinking about them the wrong way. We don’t need to discover our spiritual gifts, we need to pay attention to the world around us, we need to see where we could provide value. In short, I think we need to find our callings. When we start exploring our callings, we’ll likely also find our spiritual gifts at work.
One of the best treatments of spiritual gifts in connection to calling that I’ve seen is in Gordon Smith’s book Courage and Calling. I’ll dig into that a bit on Monday! In the meantime, what are your thoughts on spiritual gifts? What are the questions you have about this topic?