What is a Spiritual Gift?

Before you reel off in your head biblical references for spiritual gifts such as prophecy, teaching, exhortation, mercy, hospitality etc etc, let me ask this question in a different way.

What makes an attribute, talent or skill a possible spiritual gift when, clearly, we may have been ‘gifted’ in these areas before we became a Christian?

This is something I have pondered for some time. How do you define a spiritual gift when, for example, there are people who are very good teachers but not Christians? And if someone with those attributes becomes a Christian, do those skills automatically become a ‘spiritual gift’. For example if one is gifted in teaching must they teach within the church?

Before we formulate an answer I think we need to pull back and define the function of spiritual gifts and how are they given.

For 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 of one another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them… (Romans 12:3-6)

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. (1 Peter 4:10)

From these texts two things become very clear:

  1. Out gifts are given in accordance to the faith and grace God has given us. We cannot take credit for our gifts, as they are given to us by God. Faith and God’s bestowed grace seem to be the means by which we are to exercise our spiritual gifts, of which all Christians have at least one as noted in 1 Peter 4:10. But it’s by faith and grace that God enables us to exercise these gifts. The Romans passage states that we have different functions and measures of faith. Why is that? Why would God give us varying degrees of faith? So that the strong can humbly serve the weak and the weak gratefully accept help from the strong. And don’t think that the strong are always strong or that our dependence and focus on Christ is always at a high level. Even though we are  always to strive to honour God, trusting and serving Him  (John 14:15Phil 2:12-13) I think it would be fair to say that everyone’s faith varies throughout their lives. This continuing flux in faith, and therefore potential to serve effectively, means that members of the Church body have a huge interdependence upon one another. This provides a culture that glorifies God in our humble reliance on Him and service toward one another. That leads me to the second point.
  2. We are given spiritual gifts to serve one another and glorify Jesus Christ. God gives to us so that we can glorify Him. Unfortunately it’s easy to get caught up in our presumed ‘spiritual gifts’ and lose focus on why God has gifted us in the first place. In fact we shouldn’t presume we have a spiritual gift unless we are using it to edify others and glorify Jesus in pointing others towards Him. That is the purpose of a spiritual gift. We can be very talented but not be exercising spiritual gifts. This is why Paul in the letter to the Romans says we must FIRST think of ourselves with sober judgment and remember that we exist to humbly serve  God and others, not exalt ourselves.

So, a spiritual gift employing our natural talent is being exercised when we are serving and glorifying God by serving others.  As we lovingly support those around us, we will find our service in some areas is more effective than in others. Gifts may also overlap and vary throughout our lives. We shouldn’t try to package ourselves into a set box.

Let us be careful not to become proud in our service to the Lord. It is only by His grace that He has granted us the capacity to serve others in the church. If, when serving others, we claim the credit for ourselves, whether intentionally or not, we rob God of His due glory. Remember, being talented doesn’t automatically mean you are spiritually gifted in that area. Our character and servanthood attitude must be tested first. So humbly serve and love others and God… and our spiritual gifts will naturally bubble to the surface.

Have you discovered your spiritual gift yet? Why not share this discovery with us by explaining what it is and how God has empowered you to use it.

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