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Spiritual Gifts

IntroductionChristians have been given special gifts to aid us in our service for the Lord, and to benefit the whole body of Christ. These spiritual gifts are mentioned in a number of different contexts, and it is helpful to keep in mind the distinctions between gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, and Romans 12, etc. 

Charismata and domata. Two different Greek words are used for a spiritual gift. The first is charismata, used in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Charismata means "gracious gift", and it refers to a special ability given to a Christian to enable their service for the Lord. Once a person has been given a charismata, it can never be taken away. In 1 Tim 4:14 and 2 Tim. 1:6 we have the expression "the charismatos (gracious gift) that is in thee". Timothy had been given a spiritual gift, and it remained inside him, even if he wasn't using it. The second word is domata, used in Ephesians 4. Domata means "gift" in a broader sense, and it refers to a person who is given to the universal Church to edify and build her up. The Apostle Paul had a charismata (teaching), but he was a domata (a teacher). We are told that every believer has a charismata, but not every believer is a domata. That being said, there is a slight difference in charismata as used in 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12.

Three mentions of gifts. I will go through these three primary passages in detail, but a brief summary is shown below in tabular format:

Reference Greek Word Giver & Recipient The Gift
Eph. 4 domata Given by Christ to the Church The gift is the person themselves.
1 Cor. 12 charismata Given by the Spirit to the member The gift is a manifestation of the Spirit’s power in special abilities and skills.
Rom. 12 charismata Given by God to the member The gift is an allotment of grace given to the member to empower their ministry.

Ephesians 4:8-12In v.8-10 we learn that through the Lord’s victory over death He has obtained these gifts (domata) who were lost sinners, but now turned into vessels of blessing. He received them and as the ascended and glorified Head, and He has given them to men. In v.11 we find a listing of some of the gifts He has given, “he has given some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some shepherds and teachers”. Notice that the gifts are the persons themselves. Finally, in v.12-16 we find seven reasons why He gave us these gifts. To summarize, the gifts in Ephesians 4 are individual persons, given by Christ to His Church; to perfect the saints, to further the ministry, to build up the body of Christ, to establish Christians in the truth.

1 Corinthians 12:1-11. Paul prefaces the subject by stating his desire to enlighten the Corinthians on the subject of “spiritual endowments”. He then contrasts what these believers were used to under Paganism with many idols and many demons to what they had now under Christianity with one Spirit, one Lord, and one God. He connects the giving of gifts (charismata) with the Spirit of God (see v.4); i.e. the charismata are but outward manifestations of the power of the indwelling Spirit. The manifestations of the Spirit is given to each individual for profit. In v.8-10 we have a listing of some (nine) of the manifestations of the Spirit: (1) The ability to communicate wisdom, (2) the ability to communicate knowledge, (3) faith, (4) gifts of healing, (5) operations of miracles, (6) prophecy, (7) discerning of spirits, (8) tongues, and (9) interpretation of tongues. Finally, Paul emphasizes that through these many different manifestations, the one and self-same Spirit operates through it all, and distributes power to each individual at His own discretion. Later in the chapter (v.12 – end) the subject of Christ’s Body is discussed, and then he returns to gifts in the last verse, “desire earnestly the greater gifts, and yet shew I unto you a way of more surpassing excellence.” We see throughout ch.12-14 that the greater subject is really the functioning of the members of the Body of Christ. If a gift or ability is required to do my function as a member, then the Spirit will manifest itself.

Romans 12:1-8. After the great doctrine of the gospel has been brought out in previous chapters, Paul beseeches us to present our bodies a living sacrifice, a request which is our intelligent service; that is, an intelligent Christian who understands his salvation will be more than happy to give all to Christ. We can’t do this if we are conformed to this world. We need to be transformed, so we can live out the perfect will of God in our lives. In our service for the Lord, each one of us much be careful “not to have high thoughts above what he should think; but to think so as to be wise, as God has dealt to each a measure of faith.” This verse is critical in understanding the character of gifts that follow. It is the measure of faith that regulates the use of gift in Romans 12. Then Paul brings out the unity of the Body (“we, being many, are one body in Christ”) and the diversity of the members (“all the members have not the same office”). We find that the different members have different gifts (charismata). How do they differ? “According to the grace which has been given to us.” We must use the abilities we have been given in a manner that is commensurate with the measure of faith (v.3) and the measure of grace (v.6) that we have been given. For example; two different brothers might have the gift of an evangelist, but one might have been given the special faith and accompanying grace to preach on street corners, while the other has been given a quiet work among his neighbors and co-workers. For the one given a quieter work to attempt what was given to the other could end in disaster! In summary, each one of us is a different member of the Body of Christ. But we all have been given gifts (different measures of faith and grace) and we need to not go beyond the measure we have been given. Basically, focus on the work God has given you to do! Don't try to do someone else's job.

Quarterback AnalogyAn analogy might be helpful in understanding the differences between Eph. 4, 1 Cor. 12, and Rom. 12. a common example that anyone in North American can understand is a quarterback on a football team. In the Ephesians 4 sense of gift, we might look at the quarterback as a gift to the team. The quarterback was drafted onto the team for the perfecting of the team, and with a view to the success of the team on the field. Here the player himself is a gift to the team. Our responsibility is to recognize the gifts Christ has given to the Church, and thank Him for them. In the I Corinthians 12 sense of gift, we might look as the quarterback and say, “He really has a gift.” What we mean is that he has been given extraordinary ability to throw the ball, strategize football plays, etc. For that matter, every player on the team has a gift; their gift enables them to perform their part on the team. Our responsibility is to do the work given us, knowing that God has placed us in the body as it has pleased Him, and that the Spirit of God will manifest Itself as we are enabled by the that power. In the Romans 12 sense of gift, we might look at the proper level of the quarterback’s involvement as a gift. He might be a gift to the team (Eph. 4), he might have tremendous ability (I Cor. 12), but he can ruin the game if he insists on throwing the ball every play when sometimes a running play would be more advantageous. We need wisdom for how to use our gift.

Source of the GiftsNotice that the gifts in Ephesians 4 are given by Christ, in I Corinthians 12 they are manifestations of the Spirit, and in Romans 12 they are dealt to us by God. The whole Trinity is involved in the giving of spiritual gifts in various aspects!

Selfishness warned against. It is important to understand that spiritual gifts are not given to each of us for ourselves. They are given to us for the blessing of others! Peter speaks of this in his first epistle: "As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God" (1 Pet. 4:10). We are stewards of the gifts we have been given. A steward does not hold an exalted position. We will have to give an account for how we have used the gifts given to us for the blessing of others. 

Pride warned against. Paul warns the very gifted leaders in Corinth about a prideful attitude toward their gifts; "For who makes thee to differ? and what hast thou which thou hast not received? but if also thou hast received, why boastest thou as not receiving?" (1 Cor. 4:7). If you have a gift that makes you somehow different from your brethren, it is not something to glory in. The gift came from the Lord, not from you! They were thinking that they had somehow merited their gifts, rather than received them from God. If you could have merited it, worked for it, paid tuition for it, or been born with it then it wouldn’t be a gift. Paul is addressing the root of their difficulties: pride. They took glory for themselves that belonged to God. We have nothing that we did not receive from God. 

Wasting warned against. In Matthew 25:14-30 we have the Parable of the Talents. There three servants are given differing amounts of money (one, two, and five talents), and the two useful servants gain their lord a 100% return-on-investment, and both are given the same reward. This is like several believers who are given a different amount of resources to use for the Lord. Each has a different amount of responsibility. Both are given the same reward, because it isn't how much we are given, but what we do with those resources that matters. The one wasteful servant did not use his talent for the Lord, and as a result forfeited his reward. We need to take this to heart as regards all resources we have been given, spiritual gifts included. God hates waste. Are we using our gift for Christ? Our reward in His coming kingdom will be based on our faithfulness at the present time. See also the Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:12).