11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
Every believer is called to be filled with the Spirit – to yield to His rule in every area of our lives by continually putting off sin and putting on Christ-likeness. We confess, or agree with God about the existence and ugliness of our sin. Then we accept His forgiveness and turn toward God, reminding ourselves of His truth and allowing His Spirit to re-create that area of our lives for the good of the Body of Christ.
It is important to remember that, upon conversion, the Spirit indwells every member of the Body of Christ. He immediately gives us a new heart that is alive in Christ. But He does not stop there; the Spirit then births in us ongoing desire for Christ and moves us toward Him.1 As the Spirit lives in us, He bears fruit in us. It is inevitable, because God is good and can do no wrong. Good trees bear good fruit. And none of this is from ourselves. Even as we strive mightily against sin and for righteousness, we recognize that every step is made in God’s power 2 and every good work was prepared in advance by God Himself. 3
Let’s now bring the abstract notion of fruit down to earth. While the list of fruits that Paul gives the Galatians – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – is perhaps the best known, it does not stand alone. Fruits are nothing more than godly characteristics that are listed and mentioned piecemeal through Scripture. The apostle Peter builds a similar case to Paul’s, starting with our participation in God’s power and divine nature through the Spirit and moving on to the development of godlike characteristics.
- 2 Peter 1:3-8
These characteristics are not optional. They are inseparable from true faith, which lives life based on the certain hope of reward found in Jesus Christ. We emphasize this now, at the beginning of our discussion of spiritual gifts with talk of spiritual fruit because it is all to easy to forget about our common calling when faced with the idea of particular gifts. Every believer is called to a life of balanced godliness and to make every effort to see godliness developed in the lives of others. Gifts are an additional grace in the life of the believer meant to increase their ability to see the body around them built up. Thus, gifts augment, not replace, our common calling.
Paul on Spiritual Gifts
With that foundation laid, let’s talk more specifically about the gifts. We will use Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 12-14 as our framework as it offers the most thorough look of any passage in Scripture. Do not miss the emphasis on loving unity that runs from the beginning of the discussion to its end, for that is entirely the point of gifts.
- 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Spiritual Gifts v. Natural Gifts
While there are many disagreements in the discussion of spiritual gifts, there are a few things that everyone should be able to agree on. First, spiritual gifts are all given by the same Spirit, the Holy Spirit and third member of the Trinity. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones points out, this differentiates spiritual gifts from natural gifts.
We all have natural gifts, but the spiritual gift, which any one of us may possess, is something separate from and entirely different from this. It is a gift that is given directly to us by the Holy Spirit. Let us go further and say that it does not even mean the heightening of a natural gift. Some people have fallen into that error. They have thought that what a spiritual gift really means is that a person’s natural gift is taken hold of by the Holy Spirit and heightened or made more vivid so that it therefore becomes a spiritual gift. But that is not what the Scripture would have us believe. A spiritual gift is something new, something different. 4
Not only are they given by the Holy Spirit, they are given according to His sovereign will. In other words, He gives gifts “just as he determines” 5 and arranges “the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” 6 This takes away any room for entitlement on the behalf of the receiver. As Lloyd-Jones explains further:
It is He who decides and not us. He decides what particular gift to give to a particular person. And I wonder whether we are going too far when we say that the idea of the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit in the dispensing of these gifts carries implicitly not only the which and the to whom but also the when; that it is the prerogative of the Holy Spirit, in His sovereign power as one of the three Persons in the blessed holy Trinity, not only to decide what person and what gift, but also when to give particular gifts, to withhold them if He chooses and to give them if He chooses. He is Lord.7
Spiritual Gifts and Unity
The purpose of gifts is to bring about unity and maturity within the Body. This is the “common good” spoken of in verse seven and is made clear in the discussion that follows.
- 1 Corinthians 12:12-20
Paul uses the imagery of the body is to reinforce in the minds of his audience the purpose of spiritual gifts. As Christians, the reality is that we have become members of the body of Christ and every member of the Body of Christ has been given a gift by the Spirit. 8 With the gift comes the opportunity and responsibility to build up the body by developing and using our gift for the good of other believers. As Paul says elsewhere, the goal of building up the body is that “we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” 9
Every local body should aspire to be mature, with each of its members doing his or her part to build up the whole. Only then, Paul says, will we be giving the world a full and accurate image of its God. Though the church is made up of an incredibly diverse mix of individuals, we have one Spirit living in us all. Our diversity working in otherworldly unity is the defining characteristic of the church in the world. 10
Spiritual Gifts and Diversity
A third principle that is readily apparent from the text is that every single Christian receives a gift that is necessary to the life of the Body, but varying in regard to value and honor. The great danger of varying natural and spiritual giftings within the Body is that they will distract from its unity, which is why Paul gives so much time to talking about the interdependence of the various parts of the Body.
- 1 Corinthians 12:21-31
The fact that Paul says “eagerly desire the greater gifts” leaves little room for discussion about varying value among gifts. It is not hard to imagine that the order of gifts – apostle, prophets, teachers, miracles, healings, tongues, interpretation – is purposeful and denotes, in descending order, their value to the church. However, even more significant is where Paul goes from this point. He proceeds to write one of the best known chapters in all of the Bible on the “most excellent way” of love.
- 1 Corinthians 13:1-7
Spiritual Gifts and Love
This brings us to our fourth principle regarding gifts: all gifts are to be used within the context of love for others. Without love, even the most gifted of humans gains nothing. As Lloyd-Jones points out, love is the measure of a person’s spiritual state, not giftedness:
Paul is most concerned to emphasize that whatever the gift, it must be used in love, which, indeed, entitles us to say that you should never estimate or judge a person’s spirituality solely in terms of the gifts that are possessed. These two things do not always run parallel. A man or woman may have a remarkable gift and yet may be failing in certain respects, so you cannot always equate these things...You will often find in the history of the Church, and especially perhaps in the history of revivals, that God has chosen men and women with few natural gifts and has given them some remarkable spiritual gifts. I repeat, on both counts we must never be quick to make deductions about people solely on the basis of the gift that they possess. There are these other factors that have to be brought into consideration. So all the gifts must be used in love. Ultimately they are of no value to us and we shall not profit by them unless we use them in love. The gift may be used, as God could use people like Cyrus and others in the Old Testament, but it does not necessarily tell us anything about the state of the soul. 11
No Universal Gift
The last principle that seems readily obvious from this passage is that there is no universal gift. While some will argue that a particular gift, such as tongues, will be manifested by all who are baptized of the Holy Spirit that is simply not what we see in this passage. Instead Paul points again and again to the uniqueness of our gifts. Everyone gets one, but not everyone gets the same one. This is the clear implication of Paul’s questioning, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” 12
Specific Spiritual Gifts
- Apostleship. The word apostle means “messenger” or “one sent by another.” In a general sense, we are all “sent ones” of Jesus Christ as each of us is called to go and make disciples on His behalf. However, the gift of apostleship carries with it very specific criteria as Easton’s Bible dictionary explains it was characteristic of the apostles and necessary that 1) they should have seen the Lord, and been able to testify of Him and of His resurrection from personal knowledge; 13 2) they must have been immediately called to that office by Christ;14 3) they must be infallibly inspired, and thus secured against all error and mistake in their public teaching, whether by word or by writing;15 4) and possess the power of working miracles.16 In light of these criteria, many Christians believe that the twelve disciples and Paul are the only ones who have had this gift. 17
- Prophecy. In biblical terms, a prophet is a spokesman for God, speaking both in God’s name and His authority. As Easton’s Bible dictionary explains, “The foretelling of future events was not a necessary but only an incidental part of the prophetic office. The great task assigned to the prophets whom God raised up among the people was ‘to correct moral and religious abuses, to proclaim the great moral and religious truths which are connected with the character of God, and which lie at the foundation of his government.’”18 While all Christians are called to be truth-tellers, the gift of prophecy entails the distinction of bring new revelations from God to his people. Many believe that this gift existed only prior to the closing of the canon of Scripture – a foundation upon which the church has been built and has no need to add on to. 19
- Teaching. This involves reminding others of God’s truth and instructing them to obey it. In contrast to prophecy, teaching involves continually retelling God’s age-old truths in relevant ways and not attempting to bring forth new truth to God’s people. Teaching is clearly expected of every Christian. It was in Jesus’ mind an essential part of making disciples20 and has been an expectation of God’s people as early as the days of Abraham.21 However, the gift of teaching is an additional grace, which is to say that some will be more effective at bearing fruit through teaching than others. In choosing our teachers we must remind ourselves that this gift is a spiritual one and has nothing to do with natural talents or training.
- Miracles. The miracles of the apostles and other leaders of the early church were performed in Jesus’ name, in continuation of His ministry and in the power of the Spirit that He sent. As with other spiritual gifts, the debate of whether the gift of miracles was confined to the apostolic age continues. But we may at least say that the New Testament miracles were distinct from any subsequent ones by virtue of their immediate connection with the full manifestation of the incarnate Son of God.22
- Speaking/Interpreting Tongues. Speaking in tongues is the spiritual gift that generates the most controversy today. The following seem certain: 1) speaking in tongues is a Spirit-inspired utterance; 2) the regulations for its use make it clear that the speaker is not in ecstasy or out of control, but rather, the speaker must speak in turn and must remain silent if there is no one to interpret;23 3) it is speech unintelligible to both the speaker and other hearers, and is directed basically toward God. The interpretation of tongues is an obvious companion to speaking in tongues, precisely because of the unintelligibility of the latter. The interpretation of what the speaker said is for the benefit of the community. 24
The previous list only included gifts that Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:29-30. Other spiritual gifts listed in Scripture include: service, exhortation, generosity, leadership, mercy, faith, wisdom, knowledge, helps, and evangelism. 25
After reading through the above descriptions, you may well find yourself wondering what your particular gift is. In any case, gifts are discovered over time as you take part in the life of the Body. Everyone has gifs, though not everyone will know or see their gifts quickly. Some gifts will take years to show themselves or be revealed. Any gift comes from the Lord. Thus, it does not flow from our natural talents nor can we create or conjure a gift up for ourselves. We must wait on His timing; we cannot force Him to do anything, let alone produce gifts in our lives.
Still, knowing our gifts and developing them through proper use is essential of the unity and maturation of the Body. So, ask the Lord for guidance in discovering and understanding your gift(s). Seek out the counsel of believers, specifically our leaders, disciplers, and other Christians with whom we enjoy regular contact for insight into your gifts.
In the process of obeying the Lord, you will find some things that seem to come more naturally and other things that do not. Explore the former without forsaking the latter aspects of godliness. Always remember, particular gifts do not excuse a neglect of those aspects of godliness that do not come easily.
All gifts should be discussed at a point of maturity in the believer’s life. That is to say, it is not among the first discussions that you would have with a new believer but only after a period of training and discovering how the Lord has particularly gifted a certain believer. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is for every believer and should be presented to a new believer after they have grasped certain doctrines, such as salvation, grace, etc. Discussing gifs with the believer comes after a time of obedience in holiness and godliness. Too many believers have been thrown into intense areas of ministry, without proper time to nurture his or her tender heart to obey the Lord. Nurture the young believer, expecting quality and consistently produced fruit, and give him or her time to truly take root in his or her faith.
- What are some of the roles of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer?
- What are the differences between fruits and gifts?
- What is the Spirit’s primary goal and how do fruit and gifts contribute to that?
- Take a sober look at your life. Is there an area in which you feel like you have been given an additional measure of grace in order to bring Jesus glory? Would (or do) others agree with you about the gifting?
- How have you used your gift(s) in the past? Did it benefit the body or yourself?
1 Corinthians 12:29-30
How does this study reinforce your belief in the gospel?
- Ezekiel 36:26-27
- Colossians 1:29
- Ephesians 2:10
- Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1997). God the Holy Spirit (265). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossways Books.
- 1 Corinthians 12:11
- The Holy Bible: New International Version. 1996 (electronic ed.) (1 Co 12:18). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1997). God the Holy Spirit (266). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossways Books.
- 1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:7
- Ephesians 4:12–13
- John 17:23
- Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1997). God the Holy Spirit (267–268). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossways Books.
- 1 Corinthians 12:29-30
- John 15:27; Acts 1:21, 22; 1 Corinthians 9:1; Acts 22:14, 15
- Luke 6:13; Galatians 1:1
- John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:13
- Mark 16:20; Acts 2:43; 1 Corinthians 12:8–11
- The most notable exception is the Roman Catholic Church which claims “that she has been receiving revelation exactly as the apostles and prophets did, that she is as inspired as they were, that certain truth has been revealed to her since the end of the canon. That is why the Church has promulgated its doctrine of the immaculate conception and, more recently, the assumption of the Virgin Mary, and so on. It is claimed, you see, that the bishops are the continuation of the apostles and that there is inspiration today as there was then.” (Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1997). God the Holy Spirit (267–268). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossways Books).
- Easton, M. (1996). Easton's Bible Dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
- See Ephesians 2:20 and Revelation 21:18-19
- Matthew 28:18-20
- Genesis 18:19; Deuteronomy 6:1-9
- Wood, D.R. W (1996). New Bible Dictionary. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press.
- 1 Corinthians 14:27-28
- Fee, Gordon D (1987). The New International Commentary on the New Testament: the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co.
- Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4:11