How do spiritual gifts work?
Those who receive God’s gift of salvation in Christ are granted spiritual gifts that enable them to play key roles in the life of the Church. Through the Holy Spirit, God empowers believers to use their gifts for the good of others and for His glory.
As Christians exercise their gifts, they experience personal fulfillment and a deep sense of joy. As they mature in the use of spiritual gifts, they achieve maximum fruitfulness with minimum weariness. Consequently, the Body of Christ is strengthened and encouraged. That is how spiritual gifts “work.”
Many Christians don’t realize that spiritual gifts equip them to see needs that are overlooked by others. Rather than being frustrated by others’ failures to see the same needs you see, regard these situations as opportunities to confirm your gifts and help others (who have different spiritual gifts) recognize the needs you see. Become alert to the needs others see as well. Learn to value each of the spiritual gifts and the perspectives they represent.
Recognize Three Types of Spiritual Gifts
There are three categories of spiritual gifts. One way to understand and learn to appreciate the differences between these categories is to see how each of them is involved in a person’s relationship with God.
- A Christian’s motivational gift represents what God does in him to shape his perspective on life and motivate his thoughts and actions. The motivational giftprovides a frame of reference through which the believer sees the needs of others.
Romans 12:3–8 describes “basic motivations,” which are characterized by inherent qualities or abilities within a believer—the Creator’s workmanship in him or her. A person’s motivational gift is activated when he or she receives salvation. There are seven motivational gifts: prophecy, teaching, serving, organizing, exhorting, giving, and mercy. (See Romans 12:3–8.)
A Christian’s ministry gifts represent what God does with him, how he serves and meets needs within the Body of Christ. These gifts are the ministries and offices in the Church that God uses as He leads and guides each of His children.
In Ephesians 4:11 the Apostle Paul mentions five ministry gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. In I Corinthians 12:28, he includes the gifts of helps and governments (administrations).
A Christian’s manifestation gifts represent what God does through him in a given situation to demonstrate His supernatural power. The manifestation gifts are granted as the Holy Spirit works through believers’ motivations and ministries to meet the needs of the Church and bring glory to God. There are nine manifestation gifts listed in I Corinthians 12:7–11: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, divers kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues.
Value Every Gift
Each part of a person’s body is needed for the body to function in health and wholeness. In the same way, each member of the Body of Christ is needed for the Church to function according to God’s will. No one is more gifted spiritually or is more important than anyone else in the Body of Christ.
Romans 12:4–6 says: “For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us . . . .”
I Peter 4:10 says, “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
Based on these two simple passages, we know that:
- Every believer has received “the gift” for the purpose of using it for ministry to others.
- Although the Body consists of many members, all members do not have the same function.
- Members of the Body have different gifts according to the grace given to them.
“The gifts are placed in the church as resources to be utilized at the point of need for ministry in the body. This means that not every believer will have the same gifts as every other believer. Rather, the Holy Spirit is the Author and Dispenser of the gifts to bring about integrity in worship and kingdom expression” (Walker, page 2022).
Walk in the Spirit
The gifts of the Spirit are supernatural abilities, not natural abilities. Therefore, problems occur when Christians try to live out their spiritual gifts in their own strength rather than through the energizing power of the Holy Spirit.
As believers walk in the Spirit, demonstrating the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance), the Lord works through the gifts of the Spirit to accomplish His purposes in their lives, in the Body of Christ, and in the world. “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will” (I Corinthians 12:11).
When a believer walks according to the Spirit (see Galatians 5), his unique perspective (prophecy, serving, teaching, exhorting, giving, organizing, or mercy) is demonstrated through traits that reflect the character of Christ (the fruit of the Spirit). However, when a believer walks in “the flesh,” making choices that are determined by his sinful nature, his unique perspective is consequently exhibited with undesirable, ungodly traits. (See Galatians 5:16–17.)
The Spirit of God is the Source of all spiritual gifts, and they are manifested to bring God glory. We are to “covet [desire] earnestly the best [stronger] gifts” (I Corinthians 12:31). And most of all, we are to carry out the goal of spiritual gifts: genuine love.
Demonstrate God’s Love
The thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians is a well-known description of genuine love. It is significant that the Apostle Paul wrote this exhortation in the context of instruction about spiritual gifts. Here we are clearly shown the framework in which spiritual gifts are to “work”:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done way (I Corinthians 13:1–10).
God gives the gifts in love—He gives them for our good and His glory—and He desires us to use them in love for Him and for one another. The motivation of genuine love brings lasting worth to spiritual gifts.
Use the Gifts Until Christ’s Return
Until the Lord returns, let us learn to use the gifts He has given to His Church. Let us demonstrate genuine love as we exercise all of these supernatural gifts. Let us walk in humility, kindness, purity, perseverance, and hope. Ultimately, none of the spiritual gifts will be needed, because when “that which is perfect,” the Lord Jesus Christ, returns to take us to be with Him eternally, “that which is in part shall be done away. . . . Then [we shall see Christ] face to face” (I Corinthians 13:10, 12). Glory to God!