What is a spiritual gift and how can we categorize the gifts?
Simply put, a spiritual gift is a God-given ability for service. Many people look at themselves and say, that person is definitely gifted, but me, what do I have to offer? I don’t have any spiritual gifts. Did you know that every single Christian has at least one spiritual gift? You don’t believe me? Let’s look at God’s word.
1 Pet 4 – 10 EACH ONE should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others. Not some should use their gift, not only the clergy who are called should use their gift. No, each one, that means every single believer has a gift.
1 Cor 12 – 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to EACH ONE, just as he determines.
The Spirit gives to each one. We are all responsible to discover and exercise the gift that the Spirit has given to us. As Protestants, we have a problem with how Catholics created a strong line of demarcation between the clergy and the laity. While it is true that particular people are called to lead God’s people, that doesn’t mean that those who are not called to lead are off the hook. That’s how often this idea is applied. Priests and pastors, they are way up there and we are down here and God holds us to different standards. Martin Luther said, this is not biblical. We are all priests, there is a priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9 and Rev 5:10).
This means, we all have equal access to approach the throne of God. You don’t need a special title. You can go to God directly. This also means that we are all disciples of Christ. We follow Jesus, not a human figure. The Great Commission — that command is universal, not reserved only for those who are especially gifted in evangelism. The poor — that is every Christian’s responsibility and it’s not reserved for those who serve in a church committee.
The gift is not an individual pursuit. Gifts should be used for the common good and to build up the body of Christ.
Next, how can we categorize the spiritual gifts?
Let’s read —
1 Cor 12 – 4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.
I believe there are 3 categories of gifts listed in these 3 short verses.
3 categories: The first category — 1 Cor 12:4 — different kinds of gifts. These are the Generic Gifts. The second category — 1 Cor 12:5 — different kinds of service. These are gifts associated with a specific office in the church. Let’s call them Service or Ministry Gifts. The third category — 1 Cor 12:6 — different kinds of workings. These are the Miraculous Gifts. Usually when we think about spiritual gifts, we tend to think only about these supernatural gifts. But we mustn’t forget the other 2 categories of gifts.
The first category is the Generic Gifts. Verse 4 — different kinds of gifts. These shape a believer’s perspective on life and motivates his or her words and actions. They inform how we relate with others in the body of Christ and impact the body of Christ. You can think of it as inner motivations for what we say and do.
Rom 12:3-8 lists 7 Generic Gifts.
1) Prophecy – some call this the eyes of the body. They warn the body of sin or reveal sin. People with the prophetic gift are perceivers. They have a clear sense of right and wrong. They hate sin. They call things as they are. They grieve over others’ sins. Like the prophets of the Old Testaments who constantly called the nation of Israel to repentance.
2) Ministering/helping/serving – these are like the hands of the body. These people meet the needs of others. They are highly motivated. They are doers. They are the servants.
3) Teaching – this can be considered the mind of the body. Obviously, people with this gift like to teach. This gift is foundational for the health of the church. One thing to remember for those of us with teaching responsibility — James 3:1 warns, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”
4) Giving – these are providers of the body. People with the giving gift are excited about the prospect of blessing others. There is a strong financial connotation so people gifted in this area like to give financial gifts quietly in secret. Whereas many open their wallets reluctantly, these people give cheerfully. Paul mentions some churches like this who excelled in giving.
5) Exhortation/Encouragement – this has the connotation in the Greek of someone saying, come near, come beside me. It’s like a coach telling his players, come near me, learn from me, this is how you do it, now stand beside me and follow my ways. People with this gift desire to see people mature. They make great small group leaders, counselors and peacemakers.
6) Administration – these are the leaders of the church. They have the ability to see the overall picture. They can effectively plan long-term goals. They are good organizers, they are efficient, they gain a sense of fulfillment when others come together to complete a task.
7) Mercy – these people are involved in serving people in need, both inside and outside the church. For example, the ministry to the poor or the elderly or the widows, these are all acts of mercy. In 1 John, John writes that we are hypocrites if we say we love our brother and while he is in financial need, we don’t do anything about it. Social justice would also be included in this category. And there are ample verses in the Bible which talk about how God expected His people to fulfill this role in society and care for those in need, not just spiritually but also materially.
Those seven gifts are the Generic Gifts.
The next category is the Ministry Gifts. 1 Cor 12:5 refers to this category as different kinds of service. These are similar to the Generic Gifts in that they reveal a God-given ability and strength for each believer, but this category of gifts takes it one step further and organizes the gifts by office or functional role in the life of the church. The primary passage for this category of gifts is Eph 4:11-13 —
Eph 4 – 11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
These are more of the practical gifts that God uses to equip His church. Notice that these offices or positions in the church or specific callings are given, v12, to PREPARE God’s PEOPLE for WORKS of SERVICE, so that the body of Christ may be built up. I like this verse because it explains how the church was never meant to ride on the shoulders of a single pastor or even a few church leaders to run the show. No, a few people may be called out to lead and to equip the congregation, but together we are to be involved in works of service. That means, this church, it’s riding on every person in this room who is a committed member. And if everyone has that attitude that I love God, I love others in this room, I have an accurate self-assessment because I am known and loved and I am here to exercise my God-given gift and perform various works of service, then and only then will the body of Christ be built up.
While the generic gifts don’t necessarily have a specific office within the church in mind – with the Service gifts, a specific ministry position or function is associated with a gift.
The third category of gifts is the Miraculous Gifts. 1 Cor 12:6 describes this category as various kinds of “working.” I think this is where people start having issues. We are okay with the generic list of gifts. And we’re okay with the Service Gifts because we need some structure and official roles in the church. But these miraculous, or supernatural gifts are problematic just because it is so unfamiliar for many of us. To help us get a better handle on the Miraculous Gifts, these gifts can be broken down into 3 sub-categories:
1) Utterance gifts – gifts that say something (i.e. prophecy, tongues)
2) Power gifts – gifts that do something (i.e. faith, healing, performing miracles)
3) Revelation gifts – gifts that reveal something (i.e. wisdom, knowledge, discerning spirits)
The gift of wisdom refers to the ability to gain insight into doctrinal truth. The gift of knowledge refers to supernatural knowledge of facts and info that can only be revealed by God for the purpose of applying doctrinal truth. This includes spiritual dreams and visions.
These Miraculous gifts can be one-off events or they can be enduring gifts. Like a dream can be a one-off event or the gift of healing when you visit a hospital and pray for someone and that person is healed — this can be a one-off event. Or some experience these gifts such as healing on a more regular basis.
And the gift of discerning spirits is the ability to discern whether a gift is good or evil. We read about this gift in 1 John 4:1 —
1 John 4 – 1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
So to be sure, this area of Miraculous gifts is something we have to be cautious about because of the inherent danger and the possibility of false prophets.
One last thing I wanted to share about these 3 categories of spiritual gifts that I found fascinating was that each of these categories of gifts appears to have been given by a different Person in the Trinity according to the Scripture. Generic gifts are given by God the Father. This one is not as clear as the other two, but if you look at Romans 12:1-4, we see some clues —
Rom 12 – 1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of GOD’S mercy (God the Father is mentioned), to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to GOD (God is mentioned again)…
Jumping to the second half of verse 2, we read —
“…be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what GOD’S will is (third time God is mentioned)…”
Then, in v3, the second half —
“…but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith GOD has given you (fourth time God is mentioned).
Then, Paul goes on to talk about spiritual gifts in v4–
4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function…
The second category of spiritual gifts, the Service Gifts, is given by Jesus, the Son of God. This one is more obvious.
Eph 4 – 7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ (Jesus is mentioned) apportioned it. 8 This is why it says: “When he (second mention) ascended on high, he (third mention) led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” (the “he” who gave gifts to men is Christ).
Then v9-10 elaborate more on Christ and his death and resurrection in vv.9-10 —
Eph 4 – 9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)
And this section ends with Christ giving these Service or Ministry Gifts. We read in the next verse —
Eph 4 – 11 It was he (Christ) who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers…
The third category of spiritual gifts, the Miraculous Gifts, is given by the Holy Spirit.
1 Cor 12:7-10 talks about the different miraculous gifts — wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues — and then v11, we read —
11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
The Holy Spirit determines who gets these miraculous gifts and when and for how long. That’s why some people can speak in tongues and most can’t. Some have a gift of healing that they can use repeatedly. Some person or church as they pray for someone who is sick can experience a miraculous healing so that this can be an answered prayer or a gift of healing given for a specific incident and then taken away. That’s why it says in 1 Cor 12:11 — “just as he determines.” The Holy Spirit determines the timing, the duration, everything. Because these gifts are supernatural, God in His divine power has to intervene and intersect in our time and space for this type of gift to be realized.