What Are My Spiritual Gifts?

Charles C. Ryrie
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The doctrine of spiritual gifts is almost exclusively a Pauline teaching, the only use of the Greek word for “spiritual gift,” charisma, outside of Paul being 1 Peter 4:10. The major passage in Ephesians 4 attributes the giving of spiritual gifts to the risen and ascended Christ (vv. 7-11). The major passage in 1 Corinthians 12 emphasizes the Spirit’s activity in giving gifts (vv. 7-11). The third principal passage, Romans 12, leaves the giver of the gifts unspecified.

What Does “Spiritual Gifts” Mean?

The Greek word for spiritual gift (charisma) is related to grace, for charis means “grace”; thus a spiritual gift is due to grace. The use of the word in the New Testament ranges from referring to the gift of salvation (Rom. 6:23) to the gift of God’s providential care (2 Cor. 1:11). But most frequently it is used of the special grace of gifts or abilities given to men by the risen Lord and the Holy Spirit.

When referring to a gift for service to the body of Christ, a spiritual gift may be defined as a God-given ability for service. God-given reminds us that Christ and the Spirit are the Ones who give gifts; ability is a synonym for the concept of a spiritual gift; and for service captures the emphasis in the principal passages that gifts are to be used in serving the body of Christ.

What Does “Spiritual Gifts” NOT Mean?

It is not a place of service. A spiritual gift is not primarily a place of service. The gift is the ability, not where that ability is exercised. Teaching can be done in or outside a formal classroom situation, and in any country of the world. Helping can be done almost anywhere.

It is not an office. A spiritual gift should not be confused with an office. The gift is the ability exercised, whether or not one holds an office in a local church. In this regard confusion exists over the gift of pastor. The gift is the ability to shepherd people. This can be done by one who occupies what we call today the pastorate, which is an official position in the church. But, of course, the gift of pastor could be exercised by a dean of men in a school. And for that matter a dean of women could and hopefully would have the gift of pastor. Or a father or mother in a home could have the gift of pastor and serve his or her family and neighborhood.

“God knows what each church needs and gifts it accordingly.”

It seems to me that only the gift of apostleship was given to men only. God apparently can give other gifts to men and women alike. This does not mean, however, that there are no restrictions on where or to whom such gifts are ministered. Men and women alike are given the gift of teaching, but restrictions are placed on how women should use it (1 Tim. 2:12; Titus 2:3-5).

It is not a particular age-group ministry. A spiritual gift is not primarily a particular age-group ministry. There is no spiritual gift of young people’s work or children’s work. If there were, then there would be a gift of old people’s work—a gift I have never heard anyone claim to have! Children, young people, and young and older adults all need to benefit from the exercise of the gifts of pastor, teaching, helping, administering, and so on.

It is not a specialty or technique. A spiritual gift is not primarily a particular specialty or technique. There is no gift of writing or Christian education or music listed in Scripture. The gift of teaching, which is named, for instance, may be exercised through writing or through the educational program of the church or through music. Techniques are channels through which gifts can be exercised.

It is not a talent or learned skill. A spiritual gift is not the same as a natural talent or a learned skill.

Many are born with talents. May have opportunity to learn skills. Although it is true that all we have is from God (1 Cor. 4:7), in a special way spiritual gifts are bestowed by the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit. I am frank to acknowledge that I do not always know what difference would be seen, for instance, between a naturally talented teacher, a teacher who has been well trained, and one who has been given the spiritual gift of teaching.

A spiritual gift is the ability, not the place or office of ministry, nor the persons upon whom it is ministered, nor the specialty of ministry.

The Distribution of Spiritual Gifts

The distribution of gifts is under the sovereign direction of the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit. “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills (1 Cor. 12:11; see also Eph. 4:11). The Scriptures reveal certain characteristics about the distribution of gifts.

Limited by the Will of the Agents

As stated, Christ and the Spirit are the Agents who give gifts. People can and do have a part in developing them, but the ultimate source of all spiritual gifts is God. He knows best what is needed by the body of Christ and what best fits each believer for service. Understanding that would keep us from complaining that we are not like someone else and would motivate us to use to the fullest the gifts God has given each of us.

Limited as to Extent

Although every believer has at least one spiritual gift (1 Pet. 4:10), no one believer has all of them. Every believer is either single or married, both states being spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 7:7), and likely many believers also have the gifts of helps or serving and showing mercy. But because no single believer has all the gifts, we need the ministry each can give to others. Neither should we assume that each local church necessarily has all the spiritual gifts represented in that congregation. God knows what each church needs and gifts it accordingly.

Limited as to Time

If every Christian does not have all the gifts, then it is likely that every generation does not necessarily have all the gifts. Indeed, the Scriptures teach that the Spirit has not given all the gifts to each generation in the history of the church. The foundation gifts of apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20) belonged to the founding era of the church, and do not appear in the periods of building the superstructure of the church.

Yet all who live after the founding era of the church benefit from those gifts. To say that. We should expect apostles and prophets today whenever a new local church is planted is to ignore the context of Ephesians 2:11-22, which speaks of the “new man” (v. 15), “one body (v. 16), “God’s household” (v. 19), “whole building” (v. 21), and “holy temple” (v. 21)—all descriptions of the universal church.

The Scripture also teaches that those who were contemporaries of Christ experienced certain miraculous gifts of the Spirit that were not experienced by the generation which followed Him (Heb. 2:3-4). Actually, it is no argument to say that every gift must appear in every generation of the history of the church so that no generation will be slighted. If a gift is given once, it is given to the entire church. For instance, the gift of apostleship given to Saul of Tarsus is a gift to the entire church in all generations. We still profit today from that gift given once in the first century.

The Spirit endows the church as He wills, and He knows exactly what each believer, each congregation, and each generation needs.

The Development of Spiritual Gifts

Although the Spirit is the source of spiritual gifts, the believer may have a part in the development of his gifts. He may be ambitious in relation to his own gifts to see that they are properly developed and that he is doing all he can for the Lord (1 Cor. 12:31). To covet the better gifts is not a matter of sitting down and conjuring up enough faith to be able to receive them out of the blue. It is a matter of diligent self-preparation. For instance, if one covets the gift of teaching, he will undoubtedly have to spend many years developing that gift. The Holy Spirit is sovereign in the giving of gifts, but in the development of them He works through human beings with their desires, limitations, ambitions, ability to discipline themselves, and the like.

The Discovery of Your Spiritual Gifts

The “peril of the pendulum” operates in teachings concerning spiritual gifts. On one extreme of the pendulum is the idea that spiritual gifts were given to the early church only and are irrelevant to the church today. According to this view the important concern for today is spiritual maturity, not gifts. But if gifts were given to the early church only, then why do they appear in the books of the New Testament that were clearly written to the second generation of believers and to believers scattered throughout the Roman empire (Ephesians and 1 Peter, even Romans and 1 Corinthians, would have had second-generation readers)?

In Ephesians 4:11-13 Paul states that the purposes for giving spiritual gifts are “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” If gifts were necessary for those essential purposes in the second generation, how can anyone say we can achieve those purposes today without any spiritual gifts? Or if elders, for instance, are required to be “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2), and if the gift of teaching is no longer given, would they be able to mature enough to meet this requirement by their own efforts and without the help of others who have the gift of teaching?

At the opposite swing of the pendulum is the teaching that you must know your spiritual gift(s) before you can do anything for the Lord. When the apostles listed the qualifications for choosing their first helpers (usually called deacons; Acts 6;1-4) no spiritual gifts were included. The qualifications were (1) male, (2) good reputation, (3) Spirit-filled, and (4) wise. Often in the very process of serving, spiritual gifts come to light.

Nevertheless, here are some suggestions for discovering your spiritual gifts.

Take Inventory

Every once in a while take inventory of what abilities you have. Remind yourself of the natural abilities God gave you. Think about the acquired abilities you had the opportunity to learn. Check the list of spiritual gifts in the biblical passages. Just taking inventory periodically may help you to consider what areas of service you should be active in.

Prepare Yourself

This suggestion works well in all three areas of abilities a person has. Sharpen your natural talents. Continue to take opportunities to learn skills. And work on some of the more obvious spiritual abilities. For instance, being a good steward in all areas of life may bring to the surface the gift of giving. And however little or much one may have to give, he or she must be disciplined in finances in order to be able to give at all. If you suspect you may have the gift of exhortation (too often exercised as the gift of criticism!), then you need to know the Scriptures well in order to exhort correctly, both in the content and spirit of the exhortation.

Be Active in the Lord’s Work

Gifts are discovered and developed by active service. If a person is active in doing what he or she can, then other doors of opportunity may open that may bring to light additional spiritual gifts. We remember Philip as Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8). But he was first the one who ministered to needy and bickering widows (Acts 6:5). Later the Lord gave him evangelistic opportunities (Acts 8:5 and 35). The same was true of Stephen. He first served the widows, then served as an evangelist.

In studying this subject one time I noted that certain spiritual gifts given only to some believers have similar commands that are given to all believers.

If I may be facetious for a moment, let me say this. If you do not know your spiritual gift, then just obey some of these commands. If you spend your entire Christian life obeying these seven, I believe I can assure you that our Lord will not upbraid you when you stand before Him at the judgment seat for not knowing what your spiritual gifts were.

For Further Reading:

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by Charles C. Ryrie

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