Unwrapping Your Spiritual Gifts
April 1, 1990
The name Peter Drucker will be familiar to you if you are a student of business or economics. To put it simply, he is one of the great minds of the 20th century. His writings include Managing for Results, The New Society, The Effective Executive, and America’s Next Twenty Years. For over a generation he has taught in the leading universities of America.
These are his words: “Progress is obtained only by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems. When you solve problems, all you do is guarantee a return to normalcy.” It is a statement worth pondering. Most of us spend most of our time solving problems, and in so doing, we think we are making progress. In actuality, merely solving a problem only returns us to the status quo. The same is true of every human endeavor. We spend most of our time solving problems and wondering why we don’t make any progress.
It is no less true when we come into the church. The biggest part of our energy is spent solving problems, putting out fires and sticking our finger in the dike to hold back the onrushing water. Problem-solving is important, even crucial, but it is not progress. Progress comes only when you exploit opportunities.
Such is the situation before us this morning. Today we begin the next 75 years in the history of this church. We stand poised on the brink of incredible opportunities. All the conditions are right, all the lights are green, there is nothing holding us back.
I sense two things in our congregation that persuade me that the time has come to make significant progress. First, I sense a contagious optimism about the future. On every hand I hear people talking about what God is doing in our midst. People say, “You can feel it.” That’s true. You can feel it. Second, I sense a new willingness to get involved. We are seeing a reawakening of the volunteer spirit and that always bodes well for any church.
A New Beginning
It is against that backdrop that we are today beginning a major new sermon series on spiritual gifts. From now through the first Sunday in July, we will study together on Sunday mornings what the Bible has to say about spiritual gifts. We have three major goals in this sermon series: First, we want you to know what the spiritual gifts are. To meet that goal, I am preaching an introductory message today and then beginning next Sunday, we will take up the various spiritual gifts one by one. Second, we want you to discover which spiritual gifts you possess. You will begin to do that as you listen to these sermons. Third, we want you to decide to use your spiritual gifts in the service of the Lord. In order to help you do that, we will be making available to you a Spiritual Gifts Inventory. You can take it yourself and, if you like, you can ask a friend to take it and apply the answers to you. By comparing the results, you will have a good idea of which gifts you possess. At the back of the Inventory will be a checklist of specific ways each individual gift can be used right here at Calvary.
In essence, we want you to listen to these sermons, take the Inventory, discover your gifts, match your gifts with the checklist of ministries opportunities, and having done all that, find a specific place to put your spiritual gifts to work for the Lord.
To do all of that will be quite an accomplishment. But I believe this emphasis on spiritual gifts is God-given for this moment in our history. In studying spiritual gifts, we are not trying to solve a problem; we are instead attempting to exploit an opportunity God has placed before us.
In light of all that is before us, nothing is more important than that the full potential of this congregation be released. This is no time for us to hold back. It is rather a time to push ahead with vigor and enthusiasm for the cause of Christ.
To put it in the negative, there are three things that happen when the truth about spiritual gifts is ignored. There is wasted effort as people try ministries for which they are not gifted. There is unused potential because a great many people would like to serve the Lord but don’t know where they fit in. Finally, there is uneven quality as some ministries prosper because people with the right spiritual gifts are involved, while others flounder and eventually die because they lack properly-gifted leadership.
So, no matter how you look at it, this study of spiritual gifts is tremendously important for all of us. My prayer is that God will use this time to ignite many of us as we begin to discover and use the spiritual gifts God has given us.
Some Preliminary Questions
In the weeks ahead, we are going to take the gifts out of mothballs, unwrap them one by one and show you how they work. Like a wide-eyed child on Christmas morning, you are in for a treat. Get ready for some surprises. But before we begin, we need to spend some time answering questions which may have puzzled you. The first one is basic to everything else.
I. What Is A Spiritual Gift?
Unfortunately there is a great deal of confusion and fuzzy thinking on this topic. Some people think that a spiritual gift is the same thing as a natural talent—like playing the piano or throwing a football or tinkering with your car. Others think that a spiritual gift refers only to those who speak in tongues. Because there is so much confusion, a precise definition is important.
Here is the definition we will use during this sermon series. A spiritual gift is a God-given ability which enables a believer to effectively serve the body of Christ. Every part of that definition is important. Spiritual gifts are God-given, which is why Ephesians 4:7 says you “receive” your spiritual gift. You don’t earn it or apply for it. A spiritual gift is an ability, which means it qualifies you to do something you wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. Spiritual gifts are for believers only, which is why we say they are different from the natural talents all people possess. And they are given to enable you to effectively serve the body of Christ. Of course, there are many people who serve but not very effectively. Those who discover and use their spiritual gifts serve effectively in the body of Christ.
By way of further clarification:
1. A spiritual gift is not a natural talent. A person may have a natural talent in some area and not be spiritually gifted in that area at all. Sometimes talents and gifts go together; sometimes they don’t.
2. A spiritual gift is not the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit refers to the nine character qualities mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23 (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control). All believers are to manifest those character qualities all the time, but those things are not spiritual gifts.
3. A spiritual gift is not a ministry role. That is, there is no such thing as the gift of youth work or the gift of writing Christian music or the gift of urban ministry or the gift of evangelizing Buddhists. Those are simply cases where believers use gifts like teaching, evangelism, service and helps in a particular way. But those same gifts could be used in other ways as well.
II. Does Every Believer Have A Spiritual Gift?
There are many sincere individuals who doubt that they have any spiritual gift at all. They see no place where they can effectively serve Christ. But the Bible leaves no doubt on this key question. Let’s look at three fundamental verses: 1. Romans 12:6—”We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” 2. I Corinthians 12:7—”Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” 3. Ephesians 4:7—”To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” Notice the repeated expressions—”We have different gifts,” “To each one,” “To each one of us.” In Romans he uses the word “gifts,” in I Corinthians he says “manifestation of the Spirit,” in Ephesians he simply says “grace.” But Paul is talking about the same thing each time. Spiritual gifts are grace gifts which manifest the Spirit’s working in a believer’s life. And they are given to each of us. Therefore we can say without the slightest doubt that spiritual gifts are given to every believer. If you are a Christian, you have a spiritual gift.
As a matter of fact, you probably have more than one. I think Paul had several gifts—apostleship, prophecy, teaching, tongues, evangelism and leadership. Dr. Ryrie points out in Acts 6 that Philip has the gift of service and later in Acts 8 exercises the gift of evangelism. On that basis, I think it’s likely that most of us will have one or two dominant gifts and several other lesser gifts. We are therefore on safe ground talking about a “gift mix” where one believer might have the gifts of giving, teaching and faith while another would have evangelism and leadership.
III. When Are The Gifts Given?
The Bible does not directly address this question, but an analogy is helpful. We receive our natural talents by virtue of our natural birth into our earthly families. It makes perfect sense to believe that we receive our spiritual gifts as part of our spiritual birth into the family of God. That is, the spiritual gifts are given at the moment of our salvation.
Someone may ask, Is it possible to have a gift for years and never know it? The answer is yes. It is very possible to neglect a spiritual gift (I Timothy 4:14; II Timothy 1:6). Spiritual gifts are like seeds—some come up earlier and some later. But the seeds were there all along.
IV. Why Are The Gifts Given?
This is no doubt the most important question for us to answer. Our definition suggests that the basic purpose of spiritual gifts is to enable us to effectively serve the body of Christ. That’s essentially what Romans 12 says: “Just as each of us has a body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (12:4-6) The church is like a body and we are like body parts. There are eyes and toes and hips and elbows and ears and lungs and belly-buttons, and all the rest. Each part of the body fulfills a particular role. Your spiritual gift is given to enable you to fulfill your God-given role in the body of Christ.
That’s why there are so many different gifts. Some are teachers, some are givers, some helpers, some prayers, some evangelizers, some organizers, and so on. The different gifts are like the different body parts.
I heard it put this way. When God got ready to organize his church, he didn’t set up a dictatorship with the pastor at the head. He also didn’t set up a democracy where everybody had an equal say in everything. When God got ready to organize the church, he set up a body with Christ as the head and each Christian as a part of the body. Spiritual gifts enable the body parts (you and me) to function correctly.
That’s why the question, “What is my spiritual gift?” is so important. Unless you know the answer, you’ll never be 100% effective in your service for Jesus Christ. You may spend your life doing something for which you were not gifted by God and so be frustrated and ineffective.
It’s sort of like taking one of those big offensive linemen and putting him out at wide receiver. He can’t run, he can’t catch and his hands are like bricks. But put him at left guard and he’s right at home because he was born to knock people on their backside.
In the same way, some people throw up when they are forced to go door-to-door witnessing. They aren’t gifted in evangelism. But put those same people over the finances and, because they have the gift of administration, they are incredibly successful. There are others who could never get up and teach a class, but they know how to lead a small group because they have the gift of pastoring. Still others work behind the scenes caring for the sick, bringing over meals, comforting those in sorrow. They have the gift of mercy, but don’t ask them to speak in public. The very thought makes them break out in hives.
It is the obligation of the leadership of the local church to encourage people to discover their spiritual gifts. And once they discover them, to find a place to use those gifts in the body of Christ. That, I say, is a solemn obligation of local church leaders. It is the only way in which a church can ever reach maximum effectiveness for Jesus Christ.
V. How Many Gifts Are There?
This is a controversial question. No matter what I say, there will probably be someone here who disagrees with me. Part of the problem is that the New Testament doesn’t contain a unified list of gifts. It actually contains six lists in four passages: One in Romans 12, three in I Corinthians, one in Ephesians 4, and one in I Peter 4. Furthermore, the lists don’t completely overlap. Some gifts are mentioned in one list and not in the others. Some gifts are mentioned several times, some only once. So it’s a bit confusing.
If you study the various writers on this question, you will find quite a bit of disagreement on this question of how many gifts are listed in the New Testament. Dr. Ryrie mentions 14, Dr. Walvoord 16, Chuck Swindoll 16, Bill Gothard 17, John Grassmick 18, Leslie Flynn 19, Kenneth Gangel 20 and Peter Wagner 27. I find clear evidence of 19 gifts—but I won’t go to the wall for that number. For the sake of convenience, I list them in four categories:
Service: Mercy, giving, helps, service
Leadership: Leadership, faith, discernment, wisdom, knowledge, evangelism
Teaching: Teaching, pastoring, exhortation
Foundation: Apostleship, prophecy, tongues, interpretation, miracles, healing
An even more difficult question is whether all the spiritual gifts are in existence today or whether some passed away after the first century. Naturally there is great disagreement on that point.
But there is one more question which may not have occurred to you. Are the various lists of spiritual gifts in the New Testament meant to be exhaustive or suggestive? That is, do the various lists—when taken together—give us all the possible spiritual gifts or could there be others not mentioned? A surprising number of people believe that Paul never intended to list every possible gift of the Spirit and therefore the lists are meant to be examples of the ways the Holy Spirit gifts believers. Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, the founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, essentially says that in his massive seven-volume systematic theology. Dr. Chafer’s point is that no two believers will ever have exactly the same gifts because the Holy Spirit fits us for our particular and unique circumstances. Dr. Buswell, the former president of Wheaton College, says in his systematic theology that the list of spiritual gifts might be “extended indefinitely.”
That view makes sense to me. In this sermon series we are only going to consider the gifts actually mentioned in the New Testament, but that does not mean other spiritual gifts do not exist. Our God is infinitely creative in the way he deals with his people. Therefore, I look at the various lists as representative of the kinds of God-given abilities you can find in the body of Christ.
VI. Why Should You Attempt To Discover Your Spiritual Gifts?
In one sense, this whole sermon is an answer to that question. However, I think there are three great benefits that ought to be pointed out.
1. By Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts You Clarify God’s Will For Your Life. Your spiritual gifts are like your personal job description from God. As you discover your gifts and begin to use them, you are fulfilling God’s will for you. If your gift is giving, then as you seek opportunities to meet material and financial needs, not only do you help others and not only are you personally satisfied, but you are also doing God’s will for your life. If your gift is evangelism, and you go door-to-door for Evangelism Explo-sion, you are doing the will of God for your life. You could say the same thing for every spiritual gift. They are signposts that point the way toward the will of God. God will never call you to a position (or ministry) without first giving you the gifts you need to be successful in that position. Therefore, knowing your spiritual gifts will help you make wise decisions.
2. By Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts You Benefit The Whole Church. That’s Paul’s point in Ephesians 4. In 4:16 he explains exactly how your spiritual gifts help the church grow. “From him (that is, from Christ) the whole body (that’s the church), joined and held together by every supporting ligament (that’s you and me as we work together in the church), grows and builds itself up in love (that’s the end result) as each part does its work (that’s the key!).” The church is a body, Christ is the head, and we are the joints, the ligaments, the bones and the muscles. As each of us exercises our own spiritual gifts, the church grows. This is God’s plan for church growth— each member using his spiritual gifts to build up the body.
By the way, there is one interesting sidelight in that verse. Paul said that as this happens the church is built up in love. Which means that the doctrine of spiritual gifts—when properly understood and properly taught—tends to promote love and unity in the body of Christ. No more competition, no more complaining, no more paralyzed body parts. As we all use our spiritual gifts, we grow in numbers, we grow in grace, we grow in love for one another.
3. By Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts You Glorify God.
Listen to the words of I Peter 4:10-11. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If any one serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
God is glorified when you yield yourself to him because he is then free to use the spiritual gifts he has given you for the good of the body of Christ. God has no hands in this world except the hands of his children yielded to him. He has no feet except the feet of his children going for him. He has no lips except the lips of his children speaking for him. He has no eyes except the eyes of his children watching for him. He has no ears except the ears of his children listening for him. So God is glorified through the yielded service of his gifted children.
VII. What Steps Should You Begin To Take Today?
Before I finish, I want to suggest a few things you can do right now. I’m not going to talk about how you can discover your spiritual gift. That will come later when we give you the Spiritual Gifts Inventory. But there are at least three things you can do this very week.
1. You Can Read. That’s simple. Most of us can do that. You can take your Bible out and read for yourself what it says about spiritual gifts. The four key chapters are Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 and I Peter 4. I’m not asking you to take my word on this crucial topic. Go back to the Bible and read it for yourself.
Beyond that, there are several good books you can read. Let me mention five inexpensive paperbacks on spiritual gifts. You can find them at most Christian bookstores. While they differ on some points of interpretation, all are very helpful.
Flynn, Leslie. Nineteen Gifts of the Spirit. Victor Books.
Gangel, Kenneth. Unwrap Your Spiritual Gift. Victor Books.
McDowell, Clyde B. How to Discover Your Spiritual Gifts. David C. Cook.
McRae, William. Dynamics of Spiritual Gifts. Zondervan Books.
Wagner, Peter. Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow. Regal Books.
I highly recommend that you purchase one of these books as a good starting point in the study of spiritual gifts.
2. You Can Pray. Ask God to show you what spiritual gifts he has given you. You might pray, “Open my eyes and show me where I fit in the body of Christ.”
3. You Can Ask. This is the most interesting step of all. Simply go to several friends who know you well and ask them to tell you what spiritual gifts they think you have. You may be surprised at the answer you receive. Your friends may have seen evidence of a spiritual gift at work in your life that you never even considered.