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What are Spiritual Gifts?

What Does the Bible Say About Spiritual Gifts?

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Spiritual gifts are the source of much controversy and confusion among believers. This is interesting and something of a sad commentary, since these gifts are meant to be graces from God for the edification of the church. Even today, as in the early church, the misuse and misunderstanding of spiritual gifts bring division--splitting up, rather than building up--in the church. This resource seeks to avoid the controversies and simply explore what the Bible says about spiritual gifts.

What are Spiritual Gifts?

In 1 Corinthians 12, we learn that spiritual gifts are given to God's people by the Holy Spirit for "the common good." Verse 11 says the gifts are given according to God's sovereign will ("as he determines"). Ephesians 4:12 tells us these gifts are given to prepare God's people for service and for building up the body of Christ.

The term "spiritual gifts" comes from the Greek words charismata (gifts) and pneumatika (spirits). They are the plural forms of charisma, meaning "expression of grace," and pneumatikon meaning "expression of Spirit." While there are different kinds of gifts (1 Corinthians 12:4), generally speaking, spiritual gifts are God-given graces (special abilities, offices, or manifestations) meant for works of service, to benefit and build up the body of Christ as a whole.

Biblical References to Spiritual Gifts

The spiritual gifts can be found in the following passages of Scripture:

Identifying Spiritual Gifts

Although there is a great deal of disagreement over spiritual gifts among different denominations, most Bible scholars classify these gifts into three categories: ministry gifts, manifestation gifts, and motivational gifts.

Ministry Gifts

The ministry gifts serve to reveal the plan of God. They are characteristic of a full-time office or calling, rather than a gift that can function in and through any believer. The ministry gifts were once presented to me through a five finger illustration that I've never forgotten:

  • Apostle - An apostle establishes and builds churches; he's a church planter. An apostle may function in many or all of the ministry gifts. He is the "thumb," the strongest of all of the fingers, able to touch every finger.
  • Prophet - Prophet in the Greek means to "forth tell" in the sense of speaking for another. A prophet functions as God's mouth piece, speaking forth God's Word. The prophet is the "index finger," or pointer finger. He points to the future and points out sin.
  • Evangelist - An evangelist is called to be a witness for Jesus Christ. He works for the local church to bring people into the body of Christ where they can be discipled. He may evangelize through music, drama, preaching, and other creative ways. He is the "middle finger," the tallest one who stands out in the crowd. Evangelists draw a lot of attention, but they are called to serve the local body.
  • Pastor - The pastor is the shepherd of the people. A true shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The pastor is the "ring finger." He is married to the church; called to stay, oversee, nurture and guide.
  • Teacher - The teacher and the pastor are often a shared office, but not always. The teacher lays the foundation and is concerned with detail and accuracy. He delights in research to validate truth. The teacher is the "pinky finger." Though seemingly small and insignificant, he is designed specifically for digging into tight, dark places, shinning light and picking apart the Word of truth.

Manifestation Gifts

The manifestation gifts serve to reveal the power of God. These gifts are supernatural or spiritual in nature. They can be further subdivided into three groups: utterance, power, and revelation.

Utterance - These gifts say something:

Power - These gifts do something:

Revelation - These gifts reveal something:

    • Prophecy - This is the "forth telling" of the inspired Word of God primarily to the church, for the purpose of confirming the written Word and building up the entire body. The message is usually one of edification, exhortation or consolation, although it can declare God's will in a particular circumstance, and in rare cases, predict future events.
    • Speaking in Tongues - This is a supernatural utterance in an unlearned language which is interpreted so that the entire body will be edified. Tongues may also be a sign to unbelievers. Learn more about speaking in tongues.
    • Interpretation of Tongues - This is a supernatural interpretation of a message in tongues, translated into the known language so that the hearers (the entire body) will be edified.
    • Faith - This is not the faith that is measured to every believer, nor is it "saving faith." This is special, supernatural faith given by the Spirit to receive miracles or to believe God for miracles.
    • Healing - This is supernatural healing, beyond natural means, given by the Spirit.
    • Miracles - This is the supernatural suspension of the natural laws, or an intervention by the Holy Spirit into the laws of nature.
    • Word of Wisdom - This is supernatural knowledge applied in a godly or correct way. One commentary describes it as "insight into doctrinal truth."
    • Word of Knowledge - This is supernatural knowledge of facts and information that can only be revealed by God for the purpose of applying doctrinal truth.
    • Discerning of Spirits - This is the supernatural ability to distinguish between spirits such as good and evil, truthful or deceiving, prophetic versus satanic.

Go to Page 2 - Spiritual Motivational Gifts

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