The goal of this study and this series of posts was to study passages which included lists of spiritual gifts in order to determine what the writer was saying about spiritual gifts. As we’ve looked through these lists of spiritual gifts, there are several general things that we can take from our study.
First, the actual exercise, description, or definition of the gifts involved was never the emphasis for the author. In fact, we are never told exactly what the gift of apostleship entails. The gifts of tongues and giving are never described. We are not told how to exercise the gifts of prophecy or administration. The authors do not explain the differences (if there are any differences) between word of knowledge, word of wisdom, prophecy, teaching, exhortation, etc. Perhaps we can glean certain information about the various gifts from other passages of Scripture. But, if exercising, describing, or defining the gifts are never the emphasis of Scripture, then why do we emphasize this so much?
Second, we are never told to find out what our spiritual gift is. Never. Not once. Instead, we are told that God gifts us as He desires. He chooses how to use our speaking and our serving. We don’t decide. Think about this for a moment. If I speak to a group of people, some people may be taught, others may be encouraged, others may receive it as prophecy – all from the same instance of speaking. Which gift did I exercise? I suggest that I did not exercise any of the gifts. I simply spoke as God directed, and he used the speech as he chose – to teach some, to exhort others, etc. Perhaps, then, Peter’s exhortation in 1 Peter 4:10-11 would be the best to consider when we are going to speak or serve. We should not ask ourselves if we have the gift of teaching, but if we are speaking the words of God. We should not ask ourselves if we have the gift of serving, but are we serving in the strength that God provides.
Third, the gifts and the categories are not as clear cut as we would like to make them. I’ve already mentioned that Scripture does not tell us the difference between words of knowledge, words of wisdom, prophecy, teaching, exhortation, etc. Most definitions and descriptions come from human attempts to pull out of Scripture what is not there. Even speaking and serving are not distinctive categories. Is the gift of apostleship a speaking or serving gift? Yes. What about pastoring? Yes, again. I think this is true for all of the “gifts”. They will all include aspects of speaking and serving. Even teaching – because we are told that teaching involves both what we say and how we live.
Fourth, love is emphasized in several of the passages that list spiritual gifts. Sometimes we only give a wink and nod at love, but without love, “spiritual gifts” are not spiritual gifts. As Paul said, I can speak or give or prophesy, but without love it's all nothing. Perhaps, the next time we prepare to speak or serve, we should start by asking ourselves if we are loving the people that we want to speak to or serve. If not, then we should start with that – work out the problems before we ever start to speak or serve. Otherwise, we are doing nothing.
Fifth, we are not given spiritual gifts for our own benefit. We are given gifts by God for the benefit of others. God uses our words and our actions to exhort, comfort, edify, etc. those around us. If we are more concerned with what we are getting out of our speaking or serving, then we are not exercising spiritual gifts. In fact, if speaking and serving for the benefit of others bring glory to God (which Peter says), then speaking and serving for our own benefit do not bring glory to God.
Sixth, spiritual gifts are never connected to leadership. I’m not saying that leaders do not have spiritual gifts. However, we do not choose leaders because of their spiritual gifts. I realize that this is contrary to much contemporary teaching, especially teaching surrounding the five-fold ministries. However, if these five gifted individuals are necessary for the birth or growth of a church, it would seem that Paul or someone would have been a little more clear. Even the spiritual gift of teaching is not necessary for a leader. A leader should teach – but then, every believer is supposed to teach. Instead of choosing leaders based on their giftedness, believers should follow those who best exemplify the characteristics that all believers are supposed to have.
Seventh, and finally, when the church gathers, it should not be a one man – or even a two man – show. In fact, every believer should expect to speak to or serve brothers and sisters whenever they get together with them. Multiple people speaking or serving one at a time is not disorder – in fact, this is Paul’s very definition of order. We miss what God wants to say to us and what God wants to do among us when we do not allow everyone to speak and serve as God directs. Will it be messy? Probably. But, people are messy, and we are fooling ourselves if we think our highly planned and efficient meetings keep people from being messy. If anything, our meetings hide the messiness, or sweep it under the rug, instead of actually dealing with people and their lives and their messes.
I would love to hear what you have to say about spiritual gifts.
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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.