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Understanding Spiritual Gifts

Church Matters

Last Sunday at Calvary Bible Church, the sermon was on growing strong together as a church. Our text was Ephesians 4:7-16, and a large part of the focus was on the fact that every believer is given a spiritual gift to use in the building up of the body of Christ. We did not have time to delve into the details of the gifts themselves, so I thought it might be a good idea to follow up last Sunday’s sermon with a few thoughts on spiritual gifts.


Because God has called us to serve, every believer receives a special gifting from the Holy Spirit for that service. There are four places in the NT that address spiritual gifts, Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 & 28, Ephesians 4:11, and 1 Peter 4:11. None of these passages give an exhaustive list of the spiritual gifts. They each just list some examples of gifts that are given. The point in each of these passages is that we are all given a gift (or gifts) and the purpose of those gifts is for the building up of the body. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:7, “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”


Beyond a basic understanding of the source and purpose of spiritual gifts, a natural question for every believer is, “what spiritual gift have I been given?” That’s a great question, and one we should all carefully consider. In answering that question, it would be helpful to know what the possibilities are. What are the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives? As I mentioned earlier, no list of spiritual gifts in Scripture is exhaustive. They all vary from one another and there is a considerable amount of overlap between the lists.


What are the Gifts of the Spirit?

In his book “Bible Doctrine” (p 398), Wayne Grudem lists a total of 20 spiritual gifts from the passages mentioned above. They include the following:

  • Apostle
  • Prophet
  • Teacher
  • Miracles
  • Kinds of healing
  • Helps
  • Administration
  • Tongues
  • Word of wisdom
  • Faith
  • Distinguishing between spirits
  • Interpretation of tongues
  • Evangelist
  • Pastor-teacher
  • Encouraging
  • Contributing
  • Leadership
  • Mercy


Classification of the Gifts of the Spirit:

The gifts that are listed in Scripture can be classified into two groups: temporary gifts (revelatory/confirmatory), and permanent gifts (speaking/serving). It is important to recognize that there are differing views on the gifts of the Spirit, namely whether all are for today or that some have ceased. Whichever position one takes it is important to note that this is not an issue that is essential to salvation. There are godly Christians on both sides of this discussion. That being said, the following is the view that we take here at Calvary Bible Church.


Temporary Gifts (revelatory/confirmatory):

Temporary gifts were given to authenticate the gospel as the Church was founded during the apostolic age. In 2 Corinthians 12:12 Paul says, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” The author of Hebrews reasoned in a similar way, that God confirmed the apostle’s message, “testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will” (Hebrews 2:4).


From those passages we understand that “God’s primary purpose for the miracles he worked through men with temporary giftedness was to authenticate his messengers as bearing a true revelation from God” (Biblical Doctrine, General Editors, John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, p 381). With the completion of the New Testament Scriptures God was no longer revealing truth that needed to be authenticated, and therefore these apostolic gifts ceased to function. There are nine temporary gifts that ceased to function at the end of the apostolic era. They include the gifts of apostle, distinguishing between spirits, healing, miracles, prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues, utterance of knowledge, and utterance of wisdom.


Before moving on to the permanent gifts, I want to make something very clear. Just because I believe that these temporary gifts have ceased to function does not mean I don’t believe that God does miracles today. I believe He does do miracles, including those of physical healing. But the miracles God does today are not done through an individual with the apostolic gift of miracles or healing. They are simply done when and where God chooses to do them, usually in response to the prayers of His people.


Permanent Gifts (speaking/serving):

The permanent gifts listed in Scripture are given to believers for ministering in the Church. Specifically, they are for the building up of the body of Christ. They are never for one’s own personal gratification, but for the Church’s mutual edification (1 Cor. 12:7). There are eleven permanent gifts listed in Scripture including: evangelist, exhorting, faith, giving, helping/serving, leading/administrating, mercy, prophecy/preaching (the nonrevelatory, divine enablement to forthtell, that is, to proclaim the Scriptures), shepherd/teacher, spiritual discernment, and teaching. The permanent gifts can be divided into two categories including speaking gifts and serving gifts.


Identifying Your Gift of the Spirit:

Now whenever we talk about spiritual gifts the question comes up, “how do I know what my spiritual gift is? In answer to that question, I would say that you can spend time doing spiritual gift inventories, but I think the best way to find out what gift you have is to simply look for opportunities and make yourself available to fill those needs.


In a helpful article called “Spiritual Gifts,” by Fred G. Zaspel, 3 practical steps for identifying spiritual gifts are given.


  1. Examine your Desires. Ask yourself, what is it that I have a desire to do? What do I enjoy doing? If God has gifted you to do something, your desires will probably line up with that gifting.
  2.  Examine the Evidence: Zaspel says, “Don’t be naïve like the man who was sure that he had the gift of teaching but was puzzled why no one else seemed to have the gift of listening!”

This isn’t to say that if you have the gift of teaching, you’re going to be a good teacher right from the get-go. It will probably take time for you to develop and grow in that area of gifting. When Stephanie and I were in Bible College we had just gotten engaged and were taking a class on public speaking. About half way through the semester, after hearing Stephanie deliver a really good message, the professor joked to me that if we were going to be in church ministry together, I had better learn how to play the piano! All that to say, it takes time for us to develop and grow in the area of our giftedness.

     3.  Examine the Opportunities: Look around you and see what the opportunities            are. See what needs there are that you could fill. In many cases this is how                  people discover where they are really gifted. Just get in there and serve!


One last thought on spiritual gifts. Don’t think that just because you have the gift of teaching or administration, that when an opportunity to serve in another way comes along, you are exempt because that’s not your area of gifting. Mercy or helps may not be your primary gift, but if someone needs mercy or help, you need to be willing to give it.


God has given us spiritual gifts. As we saw from Ephesians 4 last week, Jesus left the glories of heaven, came to this earth, died on the cross, was raised three days later, and ascended to heaven. When He did so, He didn’t just provide forgiveness of sins and eternal life, but as Ephesians 4:8 says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.” Jesus went to great lengths, literally leaving the glories of heaven to come and suffer on this earth, so that we could have spiritual gifts to employ in His Church for His glory. The question is, are you using your gift in His Church for His glory?