What are the gifts of the Holy Spirit?

holy spirit spiritual gifts

Do you think of yourself as particularly gifted?  If you were to ask a group of people who know you rather well to describe what they felt you were particularly good at, what do you think they would say?

Recently, I flew to Tennessee to spend time training with a group of podcasters and authors from throughout the country.  We make a point to meet up twice each year to sharpen one another and exchange ideas.  During one of the sessions, one of the authors asked everyone to share a single word to describe each person in the room.  We all took turns doing it, and it revealed what we believed each other's strengths happened to be.  It was an interesting exercise that revealed the many talents and skills that were present.

 Rush Limbaugh was a conservative talk radio host for decades.  Some people loved him and others didn’t, but one saying he would often repeat as he opened his show was the phrase, “Talent on loan from God.”  That really is a great way to view the ways the Lord has gifted us.  Our gifts and talents are a stewardship that God entrusts to us so we can use them to glorify His name and serve other people.

 When we read 1 Corinthians 12, we can see that the apostle Paul had a lot to say about the ways the Lord supernaturally gifts us.


Be informed about what God is doing in your life

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.  (1 Cor. 12:1-3)

 When our children were little, my wife and I noticed a curious pattern that emerged when we were driving.  Whenever Andrea and I would say something to each other, they were intensely interested in knowing what was being said.  Without fail, I would say something to my wife and then almost immediately hear a voice come from the back of the van saying, "What did you just say?"  No one wants to be out of the information loop.  No one wants to be uninformed.

 Now regarding the church in Corinth, Paul likewise wanted to make sure that they weren't uninformed regarding the important work God was accomplishing in their lives.  Specifically, Paul wanted to make sure they understood the often misunderstood concept of spiritual gifts and the role they play in the life of a believer in Jesus Christ.

 A spiritual gift is a special ability to serve other Christians for Christ's glory.  It is different from a natural ability.  Every believer in Jesus Christ has received at least one, if not more spiritual gifts that they're encouraged to use, and not all of us have been gifted in the same way.

 Among the issues that had clearly divided the Corinthian church, you would think that this might not be one, but it appears that unfortunately, this was also an issue they were quarreling about.  It seems that some believers may have even been bragging about the ways God had gifted them.  Some were even using their giftedness as an excuse to avoid others who had been gifted differently.  What a shame.  They clearly were missing the point of this great work that the Holy Spirit was doing in their lives.

 And it may be that their pagan backgrounds were adding to some of the confusion.  One of the gifts that is mentioned in this passage is the gift of speaking in tongues.  Speaking in tongues is a gift where the Lord communicates His truth through someone in a language they do not naturally know.

 Satan loves to mock and distort whatever God is doing and it's my understanding that in some of pagan religions of the time, evil spirits would routinely speak through those who were worshipping idols.  Among what Paul was communicating here, he also wanted them to know that the experience of having the Holy Spirit speak through one of them was utterly different from what they had experienced in the past during their season of idol worship.

 The stark difference Paul emphasizes related to what was being said about Jesus.  This is always where the rubber meets the road.  'Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.' (1 Cor. 12:3)

 This is also the test of our faith.  Who is Jesus to you?  What do you say about Him?  Do you confess Him as Lord of your life, your God, your Savior, or is He merely a distant teacher relegated to some corner of the past? Are you informed about what He wants to do in your life?


Serve one another for the common good

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. For 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 Cor. 12:4-11)

 I like teaching about portions of Scripture like this because this is one of those passages that people struggle to know what to do with.  Paul describes a partial list of some of the ways the Holy Spirit has empowered believers in Christ to serve their brothers and sisters in the faith.  And he emphasizes that gifts are given to each and every Christian.  He speaks about gifts like, utterances of wisdom and knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, the ability to distinguish between spirits, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues.  

 There are other lists of spiritual gifts in Scripture.  Some of the gifts listed include:  Helping (1 Cor. 12:28), Administration (1 Cor. 12:28; Acts 6:2-3), Ministry/service (Rom. 12:7; 2 Tim. 1:16-18), Teaching (Rom. 12:7; Eph. 4:11-14), Encouragement (Rom. 12:8; Heb. 10:24-25), Giving (Rom. 12:8; 1 Cor. 13:3; Acts 4:32-35), Leadership (Rom. 12:8; Acts 13:12), Mercy (Rom. 12:8; Luke 5:12-13), Apostleship (Eph. 4:11), Evangelism (Eph. 4:11; 2 Tim. 4:5), Pastoral guidance (Eph. 4:11), Grace (Rom. 12:6; Eph. 3:7; 4:7; 1 Pet. 4:10-11), Willingness to face martyrdom (1 Cor. 13:3), Intercession (Rom. 8:26-27), Hospitality (1 Pet. 4:9), and Celibacy (1 Cor. 7:8).  And the truth is, we're usually more comfortable talking about the gifts mentioned elsewhere in Scripture than the gifts spoken of in 1 Cor. 12.

The gifts mentioned in this chapter seem a little freaky to us and sometimes, their acceptance and emphasis tend to be associated with some pretty strange preachers.  Growing up, I didn't even know there were people who believed these gifts were in use today.  

When I was a new pastor, fresh out of college, I was adamantly opposed to the thought that God was still using some of these gifts, but I found it interesting that in the town I was serving in, the pastors that I most enjoyed spending time with, and the church leaders that seemed to have Christ as the center of their focus were the local Assembly of God pastors (a group that believes these gifts are for today).  I will admit, they stretched my thinking a little.

 So what do you think?  Are these gifts in use today or were they just for the first-century church?  Were they used prior to the New Testament being written down as a way to authenticate the message of the gospel and then their purpose was fulfilled or are they gifts that Christ is still using to build His church?  

Does my friend who translated the Bible into an uncommon Guatemalan dialect have the gift of tongues or interpretation or just an extraordinary aptitude for language?  I used to think I had all the answers for this debate.  Now I'm old enough and wise enough to tell you confidently that I don't feel like I know for certain (although I’m still inclined to believe that their use was meant to authenticate the message of the gospel before the New Testament was written down).  But the greater point is that you use whatever gift God has given you to serve your brothers.


Why don't each of us have all the gifts?

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 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? But earnestly desire the higher gifts.  

And I will show you a still more excellent way.  (1 Cor. 12:27-31)

 As this chapter closes, Paul emphasizes once again that there are a variety of people in the family of God who have been called to serve in different ways.  God has established apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, healers, helpers, administrators, and speakers.

 When we look at Jesus, we can see each of these gifts displayed in their perfection.  He is the perfection of apostleship, prophetic work, teaching, working of miracles, healing, and more.  In Him, we see the presence of everything we can ever hope to be gifted with, but God has intentionally not given you or me all of the spiritual gifts.  You and I have one spiritual gift or possibly several, but not all of them.  This is very much on purpose.  Why do you suppose God ordained the church to operate this way?

 What is the big lesson God wants us to learn in this life?  He wants us to learn to trust Him.  He wants us to experience the life of walking by faith in Jesus Christ, not the life of walking by sight or dependence on our flesh.  If we individually possessed all of these gifts, how might that impact our relationship with Christ?  Would we still perceive our daily need for Him?  Would we still look to Him for what we lack, or would we become self-reliant and smug?

 And taking that one step further, if we individually possessed all of these gifts, how would that impact our relationships with each other?  Would we sense any need for the presence of our brothers and sisters in Christ?  Would we bother to reach out to each other?  How involved would we be in each other's lives?

 But as it is, Christ has made us interdependent as a visible reminder of our daily dependence on Him.  He meets our greatest need, includes us in His family, gifts us with supernatural abilities, welcomes us to be part of His mission, then sends us out to serve in His name.

 If you have faith in Jesus Christ, you have been gifted to serve others in His name.  Take the time to understand what He’s doing in your life through His Spirit, and let’s serve one another for the common good so that each of us is built up in the faith.

©  John Stange, 2023


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