In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to begin by saying I was raised in a Pentecostal home, so this series on the Holy Spirit covers topics I am well versed in. For those who aren’t familiar with the word “Pentecostal” — it’s a sub-group of Christians who expect the supernatural works of the Holy Spirit to show up in their lives on a regular basis. So, I was given the opportunity to share about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, as I should supposedly have such a rock-solid understanding of it, given my upbringing.
In fact, I was raised with a clear-cut understanding of what the gifts of the Holy Spirit were because it was a Bible Quiz question I had to memorize as a kid. Bible Quiz was a competition where kids memorized a box of over 500 questions and then competed in teams against other churches. I can remember hearing the judge ask, “For 30 points, What are the gifts of the Spirit?” And the answer was to quote 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 where 9 gifts of the Spirit are listed. (Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophesy, discernment of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues.) It was a very black and white issue.
But I know now, it’s not quite so clear cut. That’s why across Evangelical Christianity, we hold all sorts of different ideas about what the Gifts of the Holy Spirit are and how they apply to our lives.
- Some of you believe the list of gifts I learned have all ceased and are no longer gifts we receive today.
- Others of you learned what a spiritual gift is when you took a spiritual gift inventory at a church. After answering a bunch of questions about your personality and internal wiring, you were told what spiritual gift God gave you. “Hooray, I have the spiritual gift of nursery worker!”
- And yet for others of you, this whole discussion of spiritual gifts is rather murky ,simply because you have never been taught about the gifts or knew they were available and maybe even at work in your life.
So, knowing we all come from different places with varied backgrounds and understanding on this topic, my aim is to find some common ground in understanding what the gifts of the Holy Spirit are and what they mean for us today.
Paul’s Teaching on Spiritual Gifts
I think any conversation about spiritual gifts has to begin at 1 Corinthians 12. This book of First Corinthians was the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth. They were a growing and active church, but they had lots of problems and most of this letter is Paul replying to the problems that he has heard about from them. In chapter 12 now, he turns his attention to their use of spiritual gifts.
As we walk through his entire argument through chapters 12, 13, and 14 we realize that the church in Corinth did NOT have a problem using their spiritual gifts God gave them — BUT they had a BIG problem knowing how to use them the right way, for the right reasons, and with a right understanding.
So really, we aren’t too different than the church in Corinth. True, we aren’t speaking in tongues and prophesying regularly in our Sunday morning gatherings like they did in Corinth, but we don’t really have a good understanding of the gifts, we don’t know how to use them, and we are unsure of why we need them today anyway.
I want to key into today on verses 4-7 of 1 Corinthians 12.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. —1 Corinthians 12:4-7
Natural and Supernatural Gifts
The first thing I want you to notice in this passage is the great variety. You know variety is a key idea in this passage when the word is used three times in a row, each time paired with a different word.
What this means to me, is that there are not just nine gifts of the Spirit like I was taught as a child. The verses that follow this passage give a SAMPLE of the gifts the Holy Spirit may give you. But later in the chapter we get two more lists, with some new gifts and services and with some repeated. And then Romans 12:6-8 gives another list, again with some new gifts and some repeats.
Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. —Romans 12:6-8
So, when we think, “What are the spiritual gifts?” I think it’s fair to combine all these lists and know that your list is still not complete. When we do that, our list looks something like this:
Wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, working of miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues, helping, administrating, serving, teaching, exhorting, contributing, leading, acts of mercy.
Now I know, some of you have learned that only the supernatural gifts in First Corinthians 12 are the spiritual gifts AND OTHERS of you have learned that the supernatural gifts are finished and only the natural gifts of Romans 12 are available to us. I think the best way to understand what we find in scripture and in the experiences of people across this word today is to recognize that ALL these are spiritual gifts available to us today. Both the natural gifts like service and leadership, AND the supernatural gifts like healing and prophecy.
Even the Southern Baptist Convention made a pretty big turn on this issue just this past week by changing their stance to now allow missionaries who claim to speak in tongues to still be commissioned by their denomination. It’s hard to deny the supernatural experiences reported regularly from around the world and even in many churches here in America.
God is the Source and Distributes by Grace
I believe the Gifts of the Holy Spirit available to us today are both natural and supernatural, because of the second point I want to make about this text. God is the source of all these gifts and he distributes them by his grace! It is God who empowers all these gifts in all of us.
So, if all the Gifts of the Spirit come from the Almighty God, it seems odd to me to limit God to not being willing or able to allow his children to use supernatural gifts that used to be a normal experience for believers during the 1st century after Jesus. And it seems odd to me to limit God’s gifts to ONLY the unexplainable, therefore implicitly communicating that those who serve, do acts of mercy, and give generously are not operating in a gift given to them by God.
And the second half of this point is as important as the first. Yes, God is the source of the gifts AND he gives them to us by his grace. Like I read in Romans 12:6 already, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…” This means we can’t earn which gift the Spirit chooses to give to us, nor can we take credit for the gifts the Spirit chooses to use in our lives. Additionally, this means that the gift is never OURS. If God ever used me to do a miraculous healing, I couldn’t claim to OWN the gift of healing and then go out and do healing services for money. Because the gift isn’t mine and that isn’t WHY he gave me the gift.
The Gifts are for the Church
Which leads to the third point I want to draw from this text. The gifts of the Spirit are for the Church. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” These gifts aren’t given to us for the purpose of benefiting ourselves, but to benefit others!
And if the gifts are for others, than it means that WE NEED YOU TO USE YOUR GIFTS. In February when I taught on our core value of Connection and how we are Better Together, I used the text that immediately follows this passage about the gifts — Chapter 12 verses 12-26- the analogy of the church as a body and Jesus, our savior as the head of the body, each of us offering our gifts to the full functioning health of the body of Christ on this earth.
So, when we are talking about using spiritual gifts, this isn’t meant to be an optional part of the Christian experience. This is a key part of how we are to build up one another so that as a whole, we can be a mighty expression of God’s love to the watching world.
What Does this Mean for Us Today
1) I want you to consider how the Holy Spirit has already used spiritual gifts in your life.
—Maybe you were the recipient of somebody using their spiritual gifts. Perhaps you have been built up by a word of wisdom or maybe you had somebody pray for you who the Spirit chose to give the gift of healing to and your prayer was answered and you were healed!
—Maybe you have been using the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit has given to you either knowingly or unaware the gifts were from Him. For instance, some of you have the gift of faith and are great prayer warriors for others in need.
2) I challenge you to be willing to step out of your comfort zone if the Holy Spirit leads you.
—The Spirit may lead you to do something supernatural that totally freaks you out – and that’s OK. Will you listen, trust, and obey? If it’s the Spirit leading you, and it’s going to bless someone else, then what are we so afraid of?
—I had a mentor when I lived in Seattle who told me a story of when the Holy Spirit asked him to do something crazy in order to bring healing to a man. My mentor was a pastor and a first time visitor came to the front after service for prayer. Before he knew what the man wanted prayer for, he felt the Spirit leading him to hit the man right in the middle of his back… and he did! And the visitor fell down to the floor! And I know right now some of you are thinking, “I can’t believe he did that.” But the thing is, my mentor was a man of great faith who recognized the voice of the Spirit and trusted that he could obey, as crazy as it seemed. Back to the story – when the visitor got up from the floor, he told my mentor he had been in back pain for a decade and the moment he hit the floor it all went away. And that visitor became my mentor’s close friend and joined the church!
—Now I know that story seems almost frightening to some of you, but that isn’t the only way the Holy Spirit operates in the life of a Christian. Maybe what the Spirit is going to ask of you won’t be as supernatural as that, but it may be just as uncomfortable. The whole reason I was recently ordained was because I responded to the Holy Spirit leading me to step into this gift of leading people as a shepherd. Seven years ago, I wasn’t looking to change careers. I was happy with my life just as it was. I had a great wife, good job, lots of disposable income, and a future I could control by climbing the corporate ladder. But the Spirit led me to see that he had given me gifts he wanted me to use, not for myself, but for the building up of the church.
Today I want you to know that the Holy Spirit wants to give you gifts so you can be a blessing to the world. But ultimately, each of us gets to decide if we will follow the prompting of the Spirit to use the gifts he offers to us or if we will stay in our comfort zones and only do what we have done before.
The difference between those two responses will determine if we as a church are a mighty demonstration of God’s power and love to our community — offering life and freedom and transformation to the world around us OR if we are a safe place for Christians to gather on Sundays, feeling secure in our salvation, but lacking in the Power of God to advance His Kingdom!
Let us never settle for safe. Let us not stick by what we know, but make ourselves available for God to use us however he sees fit. Maybe he will lead you into pastoral ministry like me, maybe he will lead you to go overseas as a missionary, maybe he will use you to pray for somebody who will receive a miraculous healing. But you will never know what he could do with your life if you don’t make yourself available to the leading of the Holy Spirit and the gifts he wants to give to each one of you.