What Are Spiritual Gifts?

  • after church one Sunday morning, two pastors stood over a table filled with a pile of money – the biggest offering ever taken in the history of that church
  • the two pastors stand there perplexed, wondering what triggered such an outpouring of generosity
  • as one looks over his sermon notes from that morning, the other says, “Look again, it must have been something you said!”
  • I feel a little like one of those pastors
  • no, we didn’t have a record offering last week
  • but I have never received so much feedback after a sermon as I did from last week
  • I want to thank you for it
  • what I said last week was simple: we have a plan
  • we have a plan to lead every member to fruitful, impassioned service at Richview Baptist Church
  • I told you that a Gallup survey found that 10% of church members are already involved in active ministry within the church
  • I asked those of you who are currently active serving God in some ministry of the church to stand
  • well over 10% of you stood, and that didn’t include those who were working in the Churchtime and nursery programs running during the service
  • I thanked you, and told you that help is on the way
  • and then I asked those of you who are not yet involved in ministry but would like to be to raise your hand
  • Gallup says that this number should be around 40%
  • to be honest, not many of you raised your hand
  • but I promised those of you who did that we had a plan to help you find your place of service within the church
  • and something puzzled me later
  • a lot of you neither indicated that you were involved in service or wanted to be
  • and some of you who I know are involved in service never raised your hand at all
  • and then, with the resulting feedback I received this week, I began to realize that I needed to clearly communicate what I meant when I talked about spiritual gifts, ministry, and our expectations
  • few topics create more confusion and criticism in the church than the subject of the Spirit’s work in gifting the church
  • if you want to create a fistfight, handpick people from various denominations, throw them in a room together, and bring up the subject of the gifts of the Spirit
  • churches have split over the issue
  • libraries are filled with books on the topic
  • and yet we can’t ignore them
  • the Bible says that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for every member of Christ’s body, the church
  • and that includes you and me
  • SO LET ME BACK UP THIS MORNING AND ASK, WHAT IS A SPIRITUAL GIFT?
  • I’ve argued that we all have one and that we should all be using them
  • what exactly is a spiritual gift?
  • how does it differ from a natural ability?
  • when do you receive a spiritual gift?
  • and is a spiritual gift permanent, or can it be taken away?
  • the Greek word for spiritual gift is charisma, a word that has made its way into the English language, when we talk about somebody possessing charisma, and also when we talk about the charismatic gifts
  • its best English translation would be a “grace gift” – a gift of grace
  • and when it is used in the New Testament in relation to spiritual gifts, it usually means an endowment of the Holy Spirit for service to advance Christ’s kingdom
  • it’s used, for instance, in the following passages
  • (1 Peter 4:10) Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
  • (1 Corinthians 12:1) Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.
  • (Romans 12:6) We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.
  • let me give you a working definition of spiritual gifts, that will provide a starting point:
  • “A spiritual gift is any ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in any ministry of the church”
  • and let’s break it down a bit more, before I ask other questions
  • “A spiritual gift is any ability”
  • some have asked the question, “How can you tell the difference between a natural ability and a gift of the Spirit?”
  • sometimes there is no question, because some of the gifts tend to be more miraculous and not related to natural ability
  • but on the other hand, other spiritual gifts seem to be closely related to natural abilities – teaching, showing mercy, administration, leadership
  • so, I would argue from the Scriptures that some natural abilities can in fact be used as spiritual gifts, provided some conditions are met, as we’ll get to in a minute
  • for instance, if someone naturally is able to teach, they can use that natural ability, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, within the church
  • this is where we realize that each one of us has some natural ability that would be useful in Christ’s kingdom
  • you have some ability that can be used in the church to glorify God
  • but one word of caution here: the Bible never draws a distinction between natural and supernatural gifts
  • there is a danger of overemphasizing the supernatural gifts and de-emphasizing the gifts we think are natural
  • if we do this, we fail to see God’s hand working in all the gifts and fail to thank him for all of them
  • but a spiritual gift is not just an ability, but it is an “ability empowered by the Holy Spirit”
  • (1 Corinthians 12:11) All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
  • the Holy Spirit is sovereign in distributing gifts
  • the word here “gives” or “apportions” is in the present tense
  • you could translate it, “The Holy Spirit is always continuing to distribute or apportion gifts according to his desires”
  • the Holy Spirit has a unique role in taking natural abilities and supernaturally empowering them
  • or sometimes in taking people who lack natural ability and supernaturally empowering them to do his work
  • just think of Moses
  • Moses didn’t feel that he had the necessary gifts or abilities to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian bondage
  • and yet God’s response to Moses was to let him know that the task would be accomplished by God’s power working in him
  • and what I’ve learned is that the Holy Spirit’s empowerment is the key factor
  • natural ability, without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, will lack lasting results
  • but one more phrase under this definition:
  • “A spiritual gift is any ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used in any ministry of the church”
  • the key phrase here is “used in any ministry of the church”
  • (1 Corinthians 12:7) Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.
  • (1 Corinthians 14:26) What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.
  • gifts are not given to make us feel good or to advance our personal agenda
  • they are to flow through us to the benefit of others around us in the church
  • gifts are designed to be used within the church
  • as much as we can use our spiritual gifts on committees and in services outside the church, we are not fulfilling our role until we are using our gifts within the church
  • the divine ability you have been given enables you to meet a need in the church and to make a kingdom difference
  • next week we’re going to look at the amazing variety of spiritual gifts available and present within this church
  • looking out at each of you who are believers, I can confidently assert that you have received a generous endowment of spiritual giftedness as a token of God’s grace
  • when we know our spiritual gifts, we will know our spiritual job description
  • our ministry will become more focused

(1 Corinthians 12:27) Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

  • each one of you is a vital part of the ministry at Richview Baptist Church
  • which leads me into my next question
  • WHAT IS A MINISTRY?
  • last week I asked those of you who are involved in ministry to stand
  • some of you are involved in ministry, and yet you never stood
  • it’s possible you’re involved in ministry, and yet you don’t know it
  • it’s also possible that some of you think you’re involved in ministry, yet you aren’t
  • let me tell you what ministry isn’t
  • ministry isn’t sitting on a committee or a board
  • I’m not saying that this isn’t important, but many church members are so busy attending meetings that they have little time left over for real ministry
  • Rick Warren writes, “I’ve often wondered what we’d have left in Christianity if we cut out off the meetings. After all, Jesus did not say, ‘I am come that you might have meetings.’ But if you ask typical unchurched people what they notice most about their Christian neighbor’s lifestyles, they are likely to say, “They go to a lot of meetings.’ Is that what we want to be known for?”
  • he continues:
  • “My guess is that the average church would be healthier if it eliminated half of its meetings to allow more time for ministry and relational evangelism…If a layperson comes to me and says, ‘Pastor, I have four hours a week to give my church in ministry,’ the last thing I would do is to put him on some committee. I want to get him involved in ministry, not maintenance.”
  • what is the difference between a committee and a lay ministry?
  • committees discuss it, but ministries do it
  • committees maintain, ministries minister
  • many churches need to streamline and release people from being bureaucrats to being ministers
  • so ministry isn’t sitting on a committee or a board
  • ministry isn’t necessarily a position
  • a lot of people have never been appointed or elected to a position, yet they are involved and fruitful in ministry
  • a lot of people have been appointed or elected to a position, and yet they’re not ministering
  • the type of ministry I’m talking about belongs within the church
  • as much as I am supportive of people giving of their time and their gifts, I believe in reading 1 Corinthians 12-14 that the local body of which you are a member needs you to exercise your gifts in that place
  • (1 Corinthians 12:27) Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
  • so what is ministry?
  • the use of any God-given gift or ability to accomplish the purposes of the church
  • a phone call to someone who is discouraged; the relief of poverty; visiting the sick; mailing encouragement cards; sharing your faith with an unbeliever; praying; teaching a class; and more we’ll be looking at next week
  • any time you do something to minister to another person in the context of the local church and its purposes, you are ministering
  • some of you who didn’t stand last week have been ministering – you just didn’t know it
  • and maybe some of you who stood last week need to cut back on your meetings, and turn your focus to ministry
  • I WANT TO CLOSE BY LISTING SOME ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT LAY MINISTRY THAT ARE IMPORTANT FOR EVERYONE TO UNDERSTAND
  • first, everyone is a minister
  • you are a minister
  • God has given you a spiritual gift that is essential to the proper functioning of the church
  • the problem is, the young think they’re too inexperienced
  • the older think that they’re too old
  • but listen: if you’re young, we need you to serve
  • we want to give you permission to be more exuberant and to make mistakes or do things differently than older people would
  • isn’t that right?
  • and if you’re older, we understand that health and other concerns might keep you from doing things the way you used to
  • but you still have a vital role to play in the church
  • we need you
  • and I believe that you’re here in this church for a reason
  • God has something he wants to do through you that will match your giftedness, your personality, and also your capabilities
  • God won’t give you a bigger job to do than you can handle in his strength
  • second, every ministry is important.
  • there is no spiritual gift ghetto
  • there are no second and third-class gifts
  • your gift is important to me and to this church
  • third, we are dependent on one other
  • we need each other’s gifts!
  • if you’re a leader, we need you to lead
  • if you’re a giver of mercy, we need you to give mercy
  • if you are a teacher, then we need you to teach
  • if you’re a leader, we want you to lead
  • four, we will never start a ministry without a minister.
  • I personally believe that in the interim, things will get worse before they get better
  • some existing ministries might temporarily shut down as we re-align our church
  • over and over again, we need to tell each other that we are not going to plug somebody in who is not gifted just to fill a need
  • we will not continue ministries if there are no ministers
  • closely related to this is the principle that we do not want anyone ministering out of guilt
  • the very opposite of fruitful, impassioned service in your area of giftedness is ministry out of obligation or guilt
  • let me say that if a ministry or a committee is going to shut down because they are lacking one person, you don’t have to be that person
  • to put it another way, just because someone throws you a ball doesn’t mean you have to catch it
  • we do not want anyone serving God out of guilt or obligation
  • another assumption: people will be allowed to quit or switch ministries gracefully
  • as we enter new areas of ministry, we need to give each other permission to fail
  • you will make mistakes; I will make mistakes
  • in a few weeks, I’ll be talking about giving God our best
  • but right now I’ll give the other side of the equation: if it’s worthy doing, it’s worth doing poorly
  • I don’t mean giving God less than our best, but when we start out in a new area of ministry, we won’t be pros overnight
  • when I first started preaching, the people left that evening and said, “That sermon reeketh”
  • it was beyond being bad; it took real discernment to think that I could ever preach and people would listen
  • but somebody had the grace to allow me to make mistakes, because that was the only way I was going to learn
  • when we discover that we are in an area in which we aren’t as gifted as we thought we were, we will give each other permissions to make a change
  • that if they find out they aren’t gifted in a certain area, they’re allowed to make a change
  • I would like to institute something called the one or the two-hat rule
  • here’s what it means
  • every one of us will wear one hat – we will have something we can call our ministry at Richview Baptist Church
  • it will match our giftedness, our passion, our personality
  • it will not be serving on a committee – it will be an area of service that uses your spiritual gift
  • and we will want you to wear that one hat well
  • if you are really ambitious, although we won’t encourage it, we will allow you to wear two hats
  • my dream is that everyone here will have one, maybe two hats, but no more
  • what this allows you to do is to have a ministry, and to do it with excellence
  • it will also allow us to say no to other ministry opportunities without guilt, knowing that we are already serving God using our spiritual gifts within the body
  • one comment about serving
  • there will still be certain occasions where serving will take place even outside our giftedness
  • we will all sti ll have the challenge of evangelism, even if that isn’t our gift
  • and when tables need to get put away or dishes need to get washed, it won’t be a matter of, “That’s not my spiritual gift”
  • it will be a matter of humbling ourselves and meeting an evident need, of becoming a servant like Jesus and following his example of washing feet
  • the goal will be, however, to serve God primarily in the area of our giftedness, still staying sensitive to his leadings to become a servant whenever needed
  • let me conclude with some words by Tony Evans:
  • “One has only to look at the anemic nature of so many of our churches today, coupled with the reality that in most places 10 percent of the people are doing 90 percent of the work, to understand what happens when spiritual gifts are not working properly. The church’s impact upon its membership, as well as the community it should be serving, is stunted.
  • “Instead of being salt and light in the world, the church becomes satisfied functioning as a weekly Bible study with a few songs mixed in…
  • “Absolutely nothing can replace the power, influence, and impact of a church that is fulfilling God’s kingdom agenda through the operation of the gifts in the body. Why? Because that’s how the Spirit manifests himself, and when the Spirit manifests himself, powerful things happen”
  • let’s pray
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Liberty Grace Church in Toronto. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada