There is possibly no topic within Christian circles that has more buzz and speculation than that of spiritual gifts. What are they? Who gets them? How do I know what mine are? These are all very valuable questions. After all, at the heart of every believer is a desire to be useful, but sometimes more pronounced is the need to belong. We want to feel like we actually belong to this body, this great machine of Kingdom-building, Christ-proclaiming, roof-raising people who are about the Father’s work.
But how do you do that if you don’t know what you are supposed to do?
I know. I get it. We’ve all been there. While the knowledge that others are with you in this dilemma may be somewhat comforting, it doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, though, does it? What many of us want to know is—What are my spiritual gifts?
In order to actually get to the answer—an answer that is real and useable—we really have to back up to the “why’s” of the question. Why do we want to know? What’s our motivation in needing an answer? This is vitally important because knowing why we want to know also reveals our hearts behind the quest.
A simple Google search will reveal all of the spiritual gifts as they are laid out in the Bible: administration, being an apostle, discernment, evangelism, exhortation, faith, giving, healing, helps, hospitality, knowledge, leadership, mercy, prophecy, serving, speaking in tongues, teaching, and wisdom. This list, however, was never meant to be exhaustive. The Apostle Paul was simply laying out many of the gifts as they are manifested, but there are many, many more. Consequently, a simple knowledge of what all the gifts are is not only impossible, it’s also pretty unnecessary.
What we all really want is a formula for service. We want to know what’s available, how we can figure out where we fit in, and then we want to do it. Unfortunately, there’s a little more to it than that, and it’s my contention that this formulaic method for seeking and attaining our spiritual gifts has brought not only consternation on the part of many believers, but also hearts that are bent in the wrong direction when it comes to the utilization of these very gifts.
Paul laid out a list of some of the spiritual gifts in his letters to the Romans, the Corinthians, and the church in Ephesus.
In Romans 12, Paul calls these the “gifts of grace,” and that title is very intuitive of what Paul was actually trying to get across to his readers. In verses 3-5, before he even begins talking about individual gifts, Paul stresses the reason for these gifts. He said,
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (ESV)
Then after listing some of the gifts, he goes on in the next set of verses with a list of do’s and don’ts, all designed to get to the heart of motivation for wanting these gifts. He talks about love, and honoring one another, service, rejoicing in hope, patience, generosity, forgiveness, unity, harmony, and humility.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul gives a slightly different list to the members of this church, but not because they got different gifts. The list wasn’t his point. The list was secondary. Paul had written to the church in Corinth because they were having some serious problems, and the problems weren’t that they didn’t know what their spiritual gifts were. The problem was a lack of unity. There was division and strife, along with a general movement toward incorrect beliefs and moral laxity.
Paul gave them a list of some of the manifestations of spiritual gifts, but his point was, as he went on to say in that same chapter, unity of the body. He told them that the most important thing was that they all practiced unity of mind in Christ as they served each other, which is exactly why he followed up his exhortation about gifts and how they are used with one of the most famous chapters in the entire Bible—Chapter 13, “The Love Chapter.”
At the end of Chapter 12, he simply says in verse 31,
And I will show you a still more excellent way. (ESV)
More excellent than what? The “more excellent way” is more excellent than trying to figure out what your spiritual gifts are so that you can find your place in the body. It’s more excellent than trying to figure out how we measure up to each other or which position God honors best. The “more excellent way” is love. It’s loving and serving one another. It’s simple and it’s straightforward, which is precisely why Paul ends even his exhortation to love with verse 12 in 1 Corinthians 13,
For now we see in a mirror dimly (we don’t understand everything now in our fleshly tents), but then face to face (once we’re with God, we’ll actually see Him; we’ll understand Him). Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known (God knows me completely, and when I finally see Him, I will completely understand these mysteries).
It’s more of the same in Ephesians 4. Even the sub-title in my Bible at the beginning of this section supposedly about spiritual gifts says, “Unity in the Body of Christ.”
That’s Paul’s point. It’s unity. It’s service. It’s love and humility toward our brothers and sisters. Jesus said in John 13 that He’s given a new commandment to his church, a commandment to serve and love as He has done. (John 13:31-35) This has always been it.
Spiritual gifts are important, and it’s valuable to know what yours are. However, it’s not the point. You may have a talent that lends itself to the gift of administration, but what may be needed right now is someone to work in the nursery. Serve first. You may be really good at teaching and therefore have that gift, but what that young woman sitting alone on a pew needs is for you to take her to coffee and minister to her. Serve.
There is a more excellent way. In that, you will see and move in your spiritual gifts. Serve first. Love always. That is the heart of matter.