The third list of spiritual gifts is found in 1 Corinthians 12:28-30:
And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:28-30)
Paul lists the following spiritual gifts and gifted persons in this passage: apostleship, prophecy, teaching, working of miracles, gifts of healing, helping, administrating, various kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues. Once again, Paul does not define or describe the various gifts.
Interestingly, there are two lists in this passage, but the two lists are not identical. Most of these gifts are listed in the previous section (1 Corinthians 12:8-10). However, teaching is not mentioned in the previous passage, and the gifts of administration and helping are unique to this list. Also, there are some gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 which are not mentioned here (word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, discernment). It seems that Paul was not working from a “standard” list of spiritual gifts.
Prior to this passage, Paul has just completed a long section where he used the “body of Christ” metaphor to encourage believers to see themselves as part of one another, working together for a common goal. He has exhorted them to recognize the importance of each individual and the necessity of each person’s gift for the health of the body.
In this passage, Paul reminds his readers that it is God himself who chooses how to apportion the spiritual gifts. The believers do not have the right nor the ability to choose their spiritual gifts. As we will see later, believers do have the capacity or the potential of exercising any spiritual gift, if God so desires. However, at this point, Paul says that this is not the way to God generally works within a group of believers. Instead, God chooses the various gifts that a person should or should not exercise based upon his will in building the health of the church.
Since Paul has just told the Corinthians that no spiritual gift is more important than another, it would seem that he does not enumerate apostles, prophets, and teachers because of their importance. Instead, it would seem more likely (given his previous teaching) that he is simply using the ordinal numbers as a rhetorical device, much as we would number chapters in a book without necessarily specifying the relative importance of those chapters.
What can we learn from this list of spiritual gifts in context? God chooses the gifts that he desires for each of us to exercise – we don’t choose. God does not gift everyone in the same way.
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. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:4-11)
In this passage, Paul lists the following spiritual gifts: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, distinguishing spirits, various kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues. Paul lists gifts and the individuals gifted in this list, but he does not say anything about the specific gifts themselves. The only common gift between this list and the list in Romans 12 is the gift of prophecy.
This passage contains the first of three lists of spiritual gifts and gifted individuals in 1 Corinthians 12, a section that deals predominately with spiritual gifts. However, we should still consider each list separately to try to determine why Paul used the list.
In these particular verses, the reason for the list seems clear. In four sentences (vs. 4, 5, 6, and 11), Paul emphasizes the varieties of gifts within the unity of God. The gifts are described as gifts, service, and activities in verses 4-6. But, as Paul says, though the gifts vary, they each have the same purpose: the common good. And, though the gifts vary, they are each given as God through his Spirit desires.
This lists of gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 are simply examples of the “varities of gifts” that are given according to the will of God and for the common good. This sets the stage for the following passage concerning the body of Christ. According to Paul, every member of the body is important, and every gift is important. There are no unimportant parts of the body of Christ. In fact, Paul will say that the parts that seem unimportant are actually considered more important and are given more honor by God.
Therefore, the author does not list spiritual gifts in this passage in order to discuss how to exercise each gift, but instead to show that the gifts are given for the good of other people – in other words, there is one purpose in spite of the fact that there are many different gifts.
The first list of spiritual gifts that I will examine in this series is found in Romans 12:6-8. These two verses are part of a larger paragraph that either includes (depending on your English version) Romans 12:1-8 or Romans 12:3-8. Whether or not the first two verses should be included in this paragraph, they certainly set the background for Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts and the remainder of the book of Romans. Therefore, let’s include them in our examination:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 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. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:1-8)
The gifts listed in verses 6-8 are prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and mercy. In this passages, both gifts (prophecy, service) and the ones exercising the gifts (the one who teaches, the one who exhorts, the one who contributes, the one who leads, the one who does acts of mercy) are variously addressed. As we will see in later passages, this blurring of distinction between the gifts and the ones exercising the gifts is common for Paul.
In context, Paul begins by encouraging his readers to offer themselves to God as spiritual worship or spiritual service. They do this by first renewing their minds and learning what God desires from them. It is interesting that Paul moves from his readers renewing their minds to not thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to think. He moves from not thinking too highly into spiritual gifts.
Paul says that each one has been given gifts according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. In spite of the fact that the gifts are different, the common attribute is God: “God has assigned,” “one body in Christ,” “members one of another.” When exercised according to the will of God, the different gifts do not fracture the body, but serve to bring the body together.
These gifts are often called “motivational gifts.” Some explain that everyone is given at least one of these gifts and are motivated to serve others through one or more of these gifts. However, Paul does not indicate that this list of gifts is different or special compared to other lists, nor does he indicate that this list is exhaustive, nor does he indicate that people are motivated to use one or more of these gifts. These are distinctions that others have placed on this passage in order to distinguish this list of gifts from other lists of gifts.
Instead of emphasizing motivation, Paul emphasizes that each person should exercise the gift or gifts that they have been given by the Spirit. They should not think too highly of themselves and attempt to exercise a gift that they have not been given. The body has many members and all are necessary; therefore there are no unnecessary or unimportant gifts. While Paul does not spell this out in this passage as he does in others, it does seem to be the focus of his passage.
Importantly, Romans 12:9 begins by describing “unhypocritical love.” If anything, the desire to offer spiritual service to God in hypocritical love is the motivation for each individual to exercise their specific gifts. As we think about how to serve God and as we think about the unhypocritical love that God is creating within us by his Spirit, we are motivated to serve others.
The question is how are we going to serve others? Are we willing to serve others in the way that God has chosen to gift us, or are we going to try to serve others in a way that we consider to be more important? According to Paul, we should not think too highly of ourselves, we should recognize that God has gifted us according to our faith and by his desire, and we should serve others with the gifts that God himself has chosen to give us. Otherwise, we are trying to serve with hypocritical love.
This is the opening post for a new series about spiritual gifts. I don’t plan to describe each spiritual gift and how to exercise each spiritual gift, because I don’t think Scripture primarily approaches spiritual gifts in this way. While scholars write chapters and books and multi-volume works describing how to be an apostle, or how to speak in tongues, or what it means to prophesy, the authors of Scripture did not spend much time explaining these things.
So, what does Scripture tell us about spiritual gifts? That’s what I hope to determine through this series. I plan to examine each passage of Scripture that lists spiritual gifts, gifted persons, or even the result of exercising spiritual gifts. I plan to study those lists in context to determine what the author was saying about spiritual gifts in general. As I see it, that would include the following passages of Scripture: Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 1 Corinthians 12:28-30, 1 Corinthians 14:26, Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Peter 4:10-11.
I’ve decided to examine these texts in canonical order – that is, the order that we find them in the Bible. However, it would also be interesting to examine these passages in chronological order – that is, in the order they were written – to determine if there is any development in the understanding of spiritual gifts.
For the most part, though, I think we can learn about spiritual gifts by examining what each author says about them in context. There are similarities between each passage, but there are also differences. By comparing the similarities and the differences within the context of each section and letter, we can try to determine why the author chose to write about spiritual gifts at that particular point in his letter, and what he was trying to accomplish: that is, what did he want his readers to know or do based on his teaching about spiritual gifts.
It would be interesting to try to determine the scriptural definition of each spiritual gift, such as teaching, or service, or giving, or words of knowledge. But, remember, that will not be my purpose in this series. Perhaps someone else will choose to do that study. For now, I hope you will take the time to follow this series, and add your comments so that we can help each other learn what Scripture tells us about spiritual gifts.
Alan Knox is a PhD student in biblical theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and a web developer. His interests include PHP and ecclesiology. His dissertation topic is the purpose of the gathering of the church in the New Testament. By God’s grace, he tries to live what he is learning about the church.
He writes about how our understanding of the church affects (or should affect) the way the we live our lives among other brothers and sisters in Christ. He's found that many aspects of our understanding of church (gathering, leading, teaching, etc.) are woven together such that it’s almost impossible to focus on only one aspect.
Find out more on his website, The Assembling of the Church.