Spiritual Gifts Encyclopedia


Every believer has been given a special gift to aid them in their service for the Lord, and to benefit the whole body of Christ. These spiritual gifts are special abilities, and they are supernatural, although they do not always appear to be "miraculous" in the conventional sense of the word. Spiritual gifts are "spiritual", in that they do not come from man, although they could be given by apostolic power as in the case of Timothy (2 Tim. 1:6). People are not born with spiritual gifts, nor can they be gained by study or theological training. They are conveyed to a believer by the Holy Spirit upon salvation; hence they are "gifts". You cannot purchase a gift of God with money (Acts 8:20). God can use “unlearned and ignorant men” like Peter and John the fishermen, or He can use a well-educated man like the Apostle Paul, who learned at Gamaliel's feet. The Spirit uses "whom He will" (1 Cor. 12:11). I do not believe the lists of gifts in scripture are exhaustive, but they do give us generally the spheres of Christian ministry.

List of the gifts. Following is a list of all the gifts from the three main passages that deal with spiritual gifts:
  1. Apostles†
  2. Prophets† (Prophecy*)
  3. Evangelists
  4. Pastors
  5. Teachers*
  6. Faith‡
  7. Healing‡
  8. Miracles‡
  9. Discerning Spirits‡
  10. Tongues‡
  11. Interpreting Tongues‡
  12. Helps
  13. Governments
  14. Service
  15. Exhortation
  16. Giving
  17. Leading
  18. Compassion
* These gifts are mentioned in all three places; Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians. I distinguish the New Testament prophets from those who might have the gift of prophecy today.
† These are foundation gifts; they were given to establish the Church, but ceased to exist when the canon of scripture was complete.
‡ These are sign gifts (a sign to unbelievers), which mark out a fresh work of God.

Charismata and domata. Two different Greek words are used for a spiritual gift. The first is charismata, used in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and 1 Peter 4. 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. 

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.

 I will go through these three primary passages in detail, but a brief summary is shown below in tabular format:
Reference Ephesians 4 1 Corinthians 12 Romans 12
Greek Word domata charismata charismata
Giver & Recipient Given by Christ to the Church Given by the Spirit to the member Given by God to the member
The Gift The gift is the person themselves. The gift is a manifestation of the Spirit’s power in special abilities and skills. The gift is an allotment of grace given to the member to empower their ministry.
The Scope The whole body; the universal assembly is impacted. The local assembly; although not limited to that sphere. The individual’s service; although not limited to that sphere.
Ephesians 4:8-12. In 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, “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 manifestation of the Spirit is given to each individual for profit. In vv.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. Two more are added in v.28; (10) helps, and (11) governments. 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. The overall subject of ch.12-14 is the functioning of gift in the sphere of the local assembly. Gift is not limited to a location, but the gifts listed in 1 Cor. 12 have their primary function in the local assembly; e.g. the gift of governments would primarily be used in the assembly care meeting. This is why evangelists are not mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 (not a local function), but are mentioned in Ephesians 4!
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 (and 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.
1 Peter 4:7-11. Peter also mentions spiritual gifts briefly in his first epistle. He uses the word charismata, and speaks of gift very much like Paul in Romans 12. The gifts are given to the believer by God, and the exhortations have to do with how we use our gift. Peter does not take up the truth of the body, and consequently he doesn’t bring out how the gifts work together to edify the body. Instead he presents the ultimate goal of spiritual gifts as bringing glory to God; “that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ”.
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 America 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 1 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 (1 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 Gifts. Notice that the gifts in Ephesians 4 are given by Christ, in 1 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!
Sign gifts.

There is a great deal of misunderstanding today with regard to these gifts. I will make a few brief points. First, these gifts were given as a sign for unbelievers (1 Cor. 14:22). It was very rare for the apostles to heal believers (one exception might be when Peter healed Dorcas; Acts 9:36-42), and they never used their gifts to heal themselves. Secondly, sign gifts were given to confirm the spoken Word of God. When the apostles went forth, the Lord worked with them, allowing them to perform miracles, etc. "confirming the word with signs following” (Mark 16:20, see also Hebrews 2:3-4). Thirdly, scripture indicates that sign gifts would fade with time (1 Cor. 13:8). F.B. Hole gave the example of a new ship. When a new ship first sails out of the harbor on it's maiden voyage, it is covered with flags and streamers to mark the occasion. But once the voyage is underway, those flags are taken down, and the regular operation of the ship commences. It was fitting that God would mark the early days of the Church with these signs, but now their use has faded, except perhaps in mission fields etc. where they are really needed to reach the unbeliever.

Hardness warned against. Spiritual gifts need to be used as motivated by divine love. This is the great lesson of 1 Cor. 13. Great eloquence, great gift, and great devotion are futile apart from love. We must remember that if I “have not love, I profit nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3). A prophet or teacher should never speak simply because they have the gift for it. All Christian activity must spring from the motivation of love.
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).
The Development of Gift. There are several stages with regard to spiritual gifts which are important to distinguish. First, the vessel must be prepared to receive the gift. We get this in Matthew 25:15, where the talents were distributed to each servant “according to his particular ability”. The “abilities” would seem to be more natural abilities, compared to spiritual resources pictured by the “talents”. The point is this; a man has a certain natural aptitude from God first, although we cannot equate spiritual gifts and natural abilities. W. Kelly said:
“Many think that the one qualification of the servant of God is that of the Spirit. This is, of course, essential, and most blessed; but it is not all. The truth is that Christ gives gifts; but He gives them “according to the ability” of the individual. The union of the two facts, the ability of the servant and the sovereignly-bestowed gift given him to trade with, is of all-importance to keep distinctly in view.”1
Secondly, the spiritual gift must be given by God to the believer, which happens when the believer is sealed with the Spirit. This gift is something that the believer never had before. Spiritual gift really is special, and it goes beyond the range of natural ability. For instance, it does not follow that if a man was a schoolteacher before salvation, he will automatically be a teacher in God’s assembly. Finally, the gift must be developed over time. The believer is responsible not to neglect their gift (1 Tim. 4:14), but rather to stir it up (2 Tim. 1:6) or else it will become weakened and unprofitable, but never ultimately lost (Rom. 11:29). As gift is exercised it will grow in strength and even become more fine-tuned. We are to give ourselves “wholly” to the particular service we are called to, and the development of our gift will “appear to all” (1 Tim. 4:15). The cultivation of gift is pictured by the multiplication of talents in the parable. Development is not the idea of being given an additional gift that is different from our current gift. Rather, our current gift(s) can be further developed and made more effective.
How to know what my gift is? A very common question that Christians have about gift is that of knowing what our gift is. This is an important question because the New Testament assumes we know our gift! Here are a few practical points that may be a help:
  1. Do what the Lord has put in front of you. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Ecc. 9:10). If the Lord puts something on our heart, perhaps to share the gospel with someone, or some other service, we need to obey the prompting of the Holy Spirit. There are many Christians who have never discovered their gift because they have never acted on the urging of the Spirit, and as a result their gift lies dormant and undeveloped. 
  2. It will fit you. When you are serving the Lord in the area aligned with your gift it will feel like you were made for it… because you were! This doesn’t mean it will be easy. We still have the flesh, which is lazy, disobedient, discontent, etc. Our service may also entail suffering, rejection, hard labor, etc. which are also not easy. Nonetheless, there will be a certain suitability between the servant and the service when the gift is being used.
  3. The Lord might confirm it by prophecy. Often the Lord will confirm to His servants that they have a certain gift through prophecy. We have an example of this with Timothy. His gift was said to be given him “through prophecy, with imposition of the hands of the elderhood” (1 Tim. 4:14). This means that the Spirit of God led certain prophets to speak to Timothy or others that Timothy had a gift. Then the elders laid their hands on Timothy, showing their fellowship with him in his service. The same can be true today. The Lord may lead certain ones to speak to you and encourage you in your service. If it is merely human opinion it means nothing, but if it is the leading of the Spirit of God through them to utter a prophecy, it may be the Lord’s work of confirming to you that you have this or that gift.
However, there is a danger in being overly occupied with ourselves. We do well to focus on serving the Lord and walking in dependence on Him, rather than spending a great deal of time wondering about our gift. If we don’t know what our gift is, remember that “there is a more excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31), and we can simply strive to be a channel of Divine love!

Three Spheres of Christian Activity. What God has asked the believer to do (i.e. Christian activity) can be largely divided into three spheres: office, gift, and priesthood. When all of these spheres are maintained in their proper order, the result is the God is glorified and His people are blessed. There is a danger of confusing the various spheres of activity, and this can lead to serious trouble.

Read more…
  1. Kelly, William. Lectures on the Gospel of Matthew.
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