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What are Spiritual Gifts


Written by James Nored

 

There is a growing awareness today that the church is by its very nature missional.  The word “missio” means sent, and so the missional church concept is that of a church that has been sent out into the world.  In other words, mission is not one among many things that the church does; the church is missional. The missional nature of the church is based upon the sending action and mission of God.  Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (Jn. 20:21).  As the sent out body of Christ, we seek to fulfill Christ’s mission to the world--to seek and save the lost (Lk. 19:10), serve and give our lives for others (Mk. 10:45), and proclaim the good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God (Mk. 1:15, 38; Lk. 4:43).

When the body of Christ metaphor is taken seriously, it becomes clear that in order for the church to maximize its mission, all parts of the body must be working together as God intended. This in turn leads to a necessary emphasis upon Spiritual gifts discovery in the body.  These gifts are given to “each of us” by Christ, chosen and allotted by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:11), and activated by God (1 Cor. 12:6). These gifts are given not merely for their own sake, but to help the church in its mission.

This study seeks to help God’s people learn and discover more about their Spiritual gifts so that the church can more fully realize its mission. There are (at least) four New Testament passages which list various Spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:1-13; 1 Cor. 12:1-30; Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 4:1-16).

The definitions and descriptions of the various Spiritual gifts in this study are based upon the following factors:

  • Word and concept study--Most of the standard Greek and Hebrew word study tools were employed in this work; however, words only have meaning in context, and most of the gifts are in lists, which by their nature are somewhat lacking in context. Where the words are ambiguous, I usually choose one definition over another based upon the other biblical passages where this word or concept is used. Occasionally, where it may be warranted, two similar shades of meaning are included in the definition.
  • Differentiation between gifts--There are some gifts that might be defined in more overlapping fashion. This is where the practical aspect of the study is given deference. In order to clearly differentiate between certain gifts, one aspect of a gift may be emphasized in a definition and another aspect de-emphasized. For instance, service and helping possibly have at times overlapping meanings; however, in the study I place an emphasis on tasks in service and and an emphasis on a people-orientation in helping.
  • Seeking to define as many gifts as possible--Since Spiritual gifts are never listed in a systematic fashion in the New Testament, it is likely that the gifts that are listed are not intended to be exhaustive. This means that there are very likely other Spiritual gifts; however, once the list is expanded beyond the biblical lists, the criteria for inclusion or non-inclusion of an ability as a gift would become unclear. Some of the practical distinctions between gifts allows for a fuller range of gifts to be defined and used. Since the lists are likely not exhaustive, and this is a practical tool, this hopefully gives further legitimacy to the process that I have used.

Definitions of spiritual gifts abound; however, most see spiritual gifts as abilities given by God, Christ, or the Holy Spirit, for some kind of ministry purpose.[1].[2] As noted above, there are four main New Testament passages on spiritual gifts from which typical definitions and understandings of spiritual gifts come (Rm 12:1-21, 1 Cor 12:1-31, Eph 4:7-16, and 1 Pt 4:7-11). There are several points to be made from these passages.

  1. Spiritual gifts are from God and bring grace into every believer’s life (Eph 4:7) for they are apportioned to “each of us” by Christ (Eph 4:7), chosen and allotted by the Spirit (1 Cor 12:11), and activated by God (1 Cor 12:6).
  2. The use of spiritual gifts in a Christian community demonstrates Christ’s conquering of evil (Eph 4:8-10).
  3. Spiritual gifts are to be used in service to others (1 Pt 4:1). While the above points are all drawn from the biblical passage on spiritual gifts and are valid, this understanding of spiritual gifts must be placed in the overall context of a missional theology—something which is missed by most spiritual gifts authors. It should be noted that spiritual gifts are spoken of in the context of the body of Christ. As the body of Christ, we must take up the mission of Christ. Once this body of Christ metaphor is taken seriously, it becomes clear that spiritual gifts are an essential part of God’s plan to fulfill his mission.[3]

Based upon this theological framing, spiritual gifts  are defined in the following way: “Spiritual gifts are abilities (and/or functions) which are given to believers and the church by the Spirit to serve God and others and fulfill the mission of Christ.”[4]Drawing upon the four main New Testament passages that list various Spiritual gifts (Rm 12:1-21; 1 Cor 12:1-31; Eph 4:7-16; 1 Pt 4:7-11), these are the spiritual gifts that I have identified:[5]

  • Administration (Coordination of People/Projects),
  • Administration (Tasks),[6]
  • “Apostolic”/Missional Leadership,[7]
  • Discernment,
  • Encouragement,
  • Evangelism,
  • Faith,
  • Giving,
  • Helping,
  • Hospitality,
  • Knowledge,
  • Leadership,
  • Mercy,
  • Pastoral Care/Shepherding,
  • Prayer,
  • Prophetic Ministry,[8]
  • Service,
  • Speaking,
  • Teaching, and
  • Wisdom.
    [9]

 

 



[1] I first began to write on spiritual gifts and their use in evangelism in 2008. See  ADDIN EN.CITE Nored2008410James Nored, “Spiritual Gifts Discovery and Use and Its Impact Upon Evangelism” (A paper written for the course, “EV715: Reinventing Evangelism: New Perspectives on Outreach, Conversion and Discipleship”, Fuller Theological Seminary, 2008).41041032James NoredSpiritual Gifts Discovery and Use and Its Impact Upon EvangelismDoctor of Ministry2008Pasadena, CAFuller Theological SeminaryA paper written for the course, “EV715: Reinventing Evangelism: New Perspectives on Outreach, Conversion and Discipleship” James Nored, “Spiritual Gifts Discovery and Use and Its Impact Upon Evangelism” (a paper written for the course, “EV715: Reinventing Evangelism: New Perspectives on Outreach, Conversion and Discipleship,” Fuller Theological Seminary, 2008). Alan Roxburgh and Van Gelder rightly note that the Spirit’s role in ministry goes beyond spiritual gifts. See  ADDIN EN.CITE Van Gelder2007143724Craig Van Gelder, The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 24.143714376Van Gelder, CraigThe ministry of the missional church: a community led by the Spirit204 p.Mission of the church.Holy Spirit.2007Grand Rapids, MIBaker Books9780801091391 (pbk.) 080109139X (pbk.)14809240Jefferson or Adams Building Reading Rooms BV601.8; .V28 2007 Jefferson or Adams Building Reading Rooms - STORED OFFSITE BV601.8; .V28 2007http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/ecip0716/2007015763.html Craig Van Gelder, The Ministry of the Missional Church: A Community Led by the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), 24. However, spiritual gifts are a significant way that the Spirit works in and through Christ-followers to help them participate in God’s mission, particularly when combined with a discernment process of how the Spirit is at work in the world and in the Christ-follower’s life as is advocated below. Frost and Hirsch place a significant emphasis upon spiritual gifts in the outworking of mission in Christ-followers, particularly the five-fold gifts of Ephesians 4:11: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher. See Frost and ADDIN EN.CITE Hirsch2003146165-81Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, 165-81.1461466Michael Frost and Alan HirschThe Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church The Shaping of Things to Comemissional church, ecclesiology, evangelism, Spiritual gifts, missional leadership2003Peabody, MAHendrickson Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, 165-81.

 

[2] These spiritual gifts definitions are fundamentally theological, or related to an understanding of God. Peter Wagner writes, “A spiritual gift is a special attribute given by the Holy Spirit to every member of the Body of Christ, according to God’s grace, for use within the context of the Body.” Bryan Caraway writes, “Spiritual gifts are supernatural endowments and abilities that are selectively given to every Christian by the Holy Spirit for the purposes of personal ministry and for the advancement of the kingdom of God.” Erick Rees contends that a spiritual gift is “a God-given ability, given to every believer at conversion by the Holy Spirit, to share his love and strengthen the body of Christ.” Leslie B. Flynn states, “A gift is a Spirit-given ability for Christian service.” Bruce Bugbee writes, “Spiritual gifts are divine abilities distributed by the Holy Spirit to every believer according to God’s design and grace for the common good of the body of Christ.” Kenneth Cain Kinghorn states, “A spiritual gift is a supernatural ability or capacity given by God to enable the Christian to minister and serve.” ADDIN EN.CITE Wagner19946732Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts, 32.67676C. Peter WagnerYour Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church GrowYour Spiritual Gifts2721994Ventura, CARegalWagner, Your Spiritual Gifts, 32; ADDIN EN.CITE Rees20068734Erik Rees, S.H.A.P.E.: Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 34.87876Erik ReesS.H.A.P.E.: Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for LifeS.H.A.P.E.255Spiritual Gifts2006Grand Rapids, MIZondervanErik Rees, S.H.A.P.E.: Finding and Fulfilling Your Unique Purpose for Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 34; ADDIN EN.CITE Flynn20048826Leslie B. Flynn, 19 Gifts of the Spirit (Colorado Springs, CO: NexGen, 2004), 26.88886Leslie B. Flynn19 Gifts of the Spirit226Spiritual Gifts2004Colorado Springs, CONexGenLeslie B. Flynn, 19 Gifts of the Spirit (Colorado Springs, CO: NexGen, 2004), 26; ADDIN EN.CITE Bugbee2005122938Bruce Bugbee, What You Do Best in the Body of Christ: Discover Your Spiritual Gifts, Personal Style, and God-Given Passion, Revised and Expanded ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 38.122912296Bugbee, BruceWhat you do best in the body of Christ: discover your spiritual gifts, personal style, and God-given passionWhat you do best in the body of Christ170 p.Revised and ExpandedGifts, Spiritual.Lay ministry.Pastoral theology.2005Grand Rapids, MIZondervan0310257352 (pbk. alk. paper)13704887Jefferson or Adams Building Reading Rooms BT767.3; .B84 2005http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/ecip0422/2004020588.htmlhttp://www.loc.gov/catdir/enhancements/fy0633/2004020588-d.htmlhttp://www.loc.gov/catdir/enhancements/fy0642/2004020588-s.htmlBruce Bugbee, What You Do Best in the Body of Christ: Discover Your Spiritual Gifts, Personal Style, and God-Given Passion, Rev. and Exp. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 38; ADDIN EN.CITECarraway19958659Bryan Carraway, Spiritual Gifts: Their Purpose and Power (Enumclaw, WA: Pleasant Word, 1995), 59.86866Bryan CarrawaySpiritual Gifts: Their Purpose and Power304Spiritual Gifts, evangelism1995Enumclaw, WAPleasant WordBryan Carraway,Spiritual Gifts: Their Purpose and Power (Enumclaw, WA: Pleasant Word, 1995), 59.

 

[3] Lloyd Edwards writes, “We must continually remind ourselves that the purpose of the gifts is for the restoration of the world. All ministry is ultimately for that purpose. When most of the gifts of the members are used only within the parish, it has lost its balance in favor of introversion; it risks becoming ineffective in the world.” ADDIN EN.CITE Edwards19887338Lloyd Edwards, Discerning Your Spiritual Gifts (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1988), 38.73736Lloyd EdwardsDiscerning Your Spiritual Gifts144Spiritual Gifts1988CambridgeCowley PublicationsLloyd Edwards, Discerning Your Spiritual Gifts (Cambridge: Cowley Publications, 1988), 38.

[4] Evangelism is an essential part of Christ’s mission, and therefore spiritual gifts are tremendously important for the church’s evangelistic endeavors. Furthermore, because spiritual gifts are spiritual, each gift reflects some aspect of God. Indeed, in the practical work that I have produced, Using Your Spiritual Gift, I have an underlying assumption that, because he had the “Spirit without limit,” Jesus had all of the spiritual gifts (John 3:33). So as Christians exercise their gifts, they not only help the church in its evangelistic endeavors, but they themselves are transformed and become more like God.

 

[5] ADDIN EN.CITE Nored20081379James Nored, Using Your Spiritual Gifts (McKinney, TX: PrintRight, 2008).137913796James NoredUsing Your Spiritual Gifts2008McKinney, TXPrintRightJames Nored, Using Your Spiritual Gifts (McKinney, TX: PrintRight, 2008).

[6] The division of administration into two parts, coordination of people/projects and tasks, is based on doing numerous assessments with people on this gift. I observed that many had organizational skills who did not have coordination skills for large projects or “management” of people. On the other hand, most everyone who has the administration skills for people and projects seems to also have administrative tasks skills as well.

[7] I have been greatly influenced by Alan Hirsch in recognizing some form of this gift today. Frost and ADDIN EN.CITEHirsch2003146Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come.1461466Michael Frost and Alan HirschThe Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21 Century Church The Shaping of Things to Comemissional church, ecclesiology, evangelism, Spiritual gifts, missional leadership2003Peabody, MAHendricksonHirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, and ADDIN EN.CITE Hirsch2006145149-177Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, 149-177.1451456Alan HirschThe Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional ChurchThe Forgotten Ways295leadership, missional church, Spiritual gifts, apostolic, missional leadership2006Grand Rapids, MIBrazosHirsch, The Forgotten Ways, 149-77.

[8] As D. A. Carson states, the varying thoughts on the nature of New Testament prophecy are “legion.” Various positions include: 1) an emphasis upon social justice, right and wrong, and consistency in a godly lifestyle; 2) preaching or expounding of Scripture; 3) some form of direct revelation; or 4) some combination of positions one through three. ADDIN EN.CITE Carson19879591-106D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1987), 91-106.95956D. A. CarsonShowing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14Showing the Spirit220Spiritual Gifts, 1 Corinthians, Prophecy, miraculous, worship, Christian assembly1987Grand Rapids, MIBakerD. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 91-106. In the practical work, Using Your Spirit Gifts, the first definition is included under the gift of “Prophetic Ministry” and the second definition is included under the gift of “Speaking.” The third definition could be included in either the Prophetic Ministry or Speaking gift, for both those who are concerned about social justice and those who preach in some way “hear the voice of God.” Wayne Grudem has made a case for some form of continuing revelation. ADDIN EN.CITE Grudem200072Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000).72726Wayne GrudemThe Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and TodayThe Gift of Prophecy400Spiritual Gifts2000Wheaton, ILCrossway BooksWayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000). For a rebuttal, see ADDIN EN.CITE Thomas1999112123-73Robert L. Thomas, Understanding Spiritual Gifts: A Verse-by-Verse Study of 1 Corinthians 12-14, Second ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1999), 123-73.1121126Robert L. ThomasUnderstanding Spiritual Gifts: A Verse-by-Verse Study of 1 Corinthians 12-14Understanding Spiritual Gifts299SecondSpiritual gifts, 1 Corinthians, Prophecy, miraculous, evangelism1999Grand Rapids, MIKregelRobert L. Thomas,Understanding Spiritual Gifts: A Verse-by-Verse Study of 1 Corinthians 12-14, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1999), 123-73.

[9] The gifts of healing, tongues, interpretation of tongues, and working of miracles are not included in this work. These gifts, often called the “miraculous gifts,” have long been debated as to whether or not they are ongoing gifts that have been given to the church today. ADDIN EN.CITE Grudem199671Wayne A. Grudem, ed. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: 4 Views, ed. Stanley N. Gundry, Counterpoints (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996).717128Wayne A. GrudemStanley N. GundryAre Miraculous Gifts for Today?: 4 ViewsCounterpoints368Spiritual Gifts1996Grand Rapids, MIZondervanWayne A. Grudem, ed. Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?: 4 Views, ed. Stanley N. Gundry, Counterpoints (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996).

 

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