Imagine your friends and family holding a birthday celebration in your home. Picture people coming in the door with brightly wrapped packages and wishing you a “happy birthday!” After a delicious meal topped with the traditional cake and ice cream, everyone gathers in your living room to watch you open presents.
Suddenly you announce, “Thank you for all the birthday presents, but I’m kind of busy today, so I don’t really have time to open them. Besides, I don’t want to be a show-off, so I’ll just put them in the closet for now.” Your friends are bewildered. Your family is embarrassed. People leave awkwardly wondering, Isn’t he (or she) grateful for the gifts we’ve given?
The Bible teaches that God has given each of His followers spiritual gifts. Yet often these gifts are like unopened presents, waiting to be used to brighten the world and build God’s kingdom. Do you have spiritual gifts gathering dust on some shelf in your life?
What the Bible says
The apostle Paul in the New Testament introduced us to the concept of spiritual gifts in three primary passages: Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4. There are other references (such as 1 Peter 4), but these three lay a foundation for why God has given His people special gifts and how they are to function.
Paul explained the purpose of spiritual gifts in Ephesians. He said, “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11, 12, NKJV; italics added).* God doesn’t give us these abilities so we can show off our spiritual muscles. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16, NKJV). We are to use our spiritual endowments to build up the church and spread the gospel.
Paul also warned us about the misuse (or lack of use) of these God-given talents. Using the human body as an illustration of how different church members are to function as a unit, he brought out, in a humorous way, a dialogue between different parts of the body. “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body?” (1 Corinthians 12:15, NKJV). Paul’s point is that some people don’t think they are “gifted” if they don’t have certain abilities. But he said that everyone is given at least one talent, and each one is important. Can you imagine waking up one morning and your foot talking to you and saying, “Because I’m not a hand, just go ahead and cut me off. I’m not necessary”?
It’s just as ridiculous to look at it from the opposite spectrum. “And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’ ” (verse 21, NKJV). Some people think, Because I can’t get up front and preach before an audience or give special music, I don’t really have a spiritual gift. Yet it takes a variety of gifts for the church to function. Some people have artistic gifts in writing, music, or painting. Others work well with their hands in creating things. Still others can understand and explain Bible truth with clarity. Then there are those who can mow lawns and clean bathrooms—what the Bible calls the gift of service (Romans 12:7, NIV).
We noticed some of the gifts listed in Ephesians 4. Let’s look at the other two examples of gift lists. In 1 Corinthians 12:8–10, Paul listed these gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing spirits (discernment), various kinds of tongues (languages), and interpretation of tongues (languages). In verse 28, he added apostles, prophets, teachers, helpers, and administration. Romans 12 adds more to the list: service, exhortation (encouragement), giving, leadership, and mercy.
Notice that these lists are not identical. Paul apparently did not intend to give us a final list of gifts. Perhaps his purpose was to teach us that the Holy Spirit is unlimited in the ways we can build up God’s kingdom. Some Bible scholars add gifts found in other places in Scripture, such as hospitality (1 Peter 4:9), craftsmanship (Exodus 31:3), and intercessory prayer (1 Timothy 2:1, 2).
Discovering your spiritual gifts
With all this talk about gifts, you probably wonder, “Do I have any spiritual gifts? And if so, how can I know what they are?” There are many ways you can learn about the special abilities God has given you. The most important place to begin is in your personal Bible study and prayer time. Read through different passages on spiritual gifts and ask God to help you discover and use your gifts for His glory, not your own.
Another helpful way to discover your gifts is to take a spiritual gifts inventory. Many of these are found in books you can purchase at Christian bookstores. You can also find free assessments on the Web by searching for “spiritual gift test” or “spiritual gift inventory.” Some churches conduct classes in gift discovery and will guide you through a process of learning about gifts.
One of the often overlooked ways to discover your spiritual gifts is to talk with other Christians who know you well. Ask them, “Do you recognize any special abilities God has given me?” Those who are especially acquainted with the Bible’s gifts may share helpful insights and encourage you to use your talents for Christ. And remember not to confuse being unsure of yourself with not having a gift. We all need to begin somewhere! Children and youth should try serving in a variety of areas in order to discover their God-given abilities.
The missing ingredient
In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul gave us one major warning about spiritual gifts. We usually hear this “love chapter” being read at weddings, but it’s actually written in the context of using our spiritual gifts. So what was the apostle’s concern?
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging 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, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1, 2, NKJV).
Paul was writing to people who were using their gifts but without God’s love in their hearts. He warned them that their service meant nothing unless it prompted them to use their talents unselfishly to help others rather than boasting about their abilities. You and I can take 12 spiritual gifts inventories and have 100 people tell us how talented we are, but if those gifts focus on building up ourselves, in God’s eyes it would be better to not even have these aptitudes or strengths.
If you have given your life to Jesus, God promises that you have been given special gifts to build up the body of Christ. Whether it’s opening your home to provide a place for a Bible study, placing your arm around a grieving friend, sharing wisdom with a confused teen, helping construct a church building, teaching children about grace, or giving extra funds to start a new ministry, you are gifted, and this makes you a necessary part of God’s family.
Don’t let your gifts gather dust in some corner of your heart. Ask God to reveal your special talents—His gifts—to you. Then open them up and use them. Bring the light of God’s love into your world!