Understanding Spiritual Gifts

Last week my wife and I ventured into Target to do some Christmas shopping. The experience wasn’t all that bad, actually. Of course, most people there were buying Christmas gifts. In fact, one elderly couple checking out in line in front of me spent close to $600 for their friends and family! Christmas has to easily be the largest gift-exchanging time of the year. To commemorate Christ’s birth and the gifts that were brought to Him, billions of people worldwide will travel great distances and conquer obstacles just to give the perfect gifts for their loved ones.

If you are a Christian, you have been given gifts from the Holy Spirit. We call these “spiritual gifts.” Today we’re going to look at this subject. We’re going to learn about what they are, what they aren’t, and how we should seek and learn to use them. It would help to define the term before we get too far along:

A spiritual gift is any ability that is empowered by the Holy Spirit and used for the ministry of the church.

Spiritual gifts is a topic that has been greatly misunderstood and even abused, but it is extremely important to the spiritual health and effectiveness of a church. In 1 Corinthians, Paul explained to the Corinthian church about these “gifts of grace.” Corinth was a culture full of what are called the mystery religions. These religions elevated experience and emotional ecstasy over all things. It was not uncommon for worshipers of these mystery religions to work themselves up into trances through their endless chanting and dancing, etc. The end goal in “worship” was to experience some sort of emotional ecstasy. In addition, if anything supernatural was ever performed, the Corinthian culture automatically attributed it to God. Therefore, Paul had a lot of explaining to do about the true nature of spiritual gifts. The first thing he tells the Corinthians is to:

(1) Be aware of false spiritual gifts

He writes, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.” (1 Cor. 12:1)

The Greek word for spiritual gifts is literally just “spirituals.” Paul is teaching about spiritual things or acts. True spiritual gifts build up the body of Christ; not tear it down.

He mentions, “You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led.” (2 Cor. 12:2)

The word “pagans” is a catch-all phrase used in this context to represent non-Christians. The phrase, “led astray,” was often used to describe prisoners being taken by armed guards to a prison or to be executed. Therefore, this verse alludes to the fact that the non-believer is marching to his spiritual and eternal death yet doesn’t realize it.

Paul continues: “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3)

The Corinthian church was so worldly that people would curse in worship. Apparently, some false teachers who claimed to be preachers of God would use foul language and sometimes even curse God! Yet, because they said they were God’s, people believed them. Language was no longer a “test” for whether someone was truly of God or not. Instead, impressive and showy worship performances were seen as truly being of God.

Furthermore, Paul states only true believers will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will demonstrate the works, words, and actions that go with saying such. One knows a believer by their fruit and by what they claim, say, and do.

Even today, there are churches which elevate emotional experience over truth and doctrine. We need truth and doctrine by which we will worship and have appropriate emotional experiences. Those who claim to be spiritual but whose lives do not match up with what they say or should be saying are false spirituals with false spiritual gifts. Therefore, when we are discussing the spiritual gifts of grace, we need to beware that there are false gifts of grace demonstrated by unbelievers.

Paul’s second axiom to the Corinthian church was that they needed to:

(2) Understand the source of spiritual gifts

Paul states in verse four of chapter 12: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit”

The word “gift” is the word charisma and it essentially means, “gift of grace.” There are a variety of grace gifts that the Spirit gives believers when they receive Christ. We all have natural gifts and abilities, but spiritual gifts are supernatural gifts.

Furthermore, there are all sorts of gifts given to believer by the Spirit:

“and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;” (1 Cor. 12:5)

The word service is where we get our word for deacon. This word could also be translated, “ministry.” Spiritual gifts are not given to bring glory to the person. They are given as a tool to serve others. They are not given for self-edification. They are given to serve. Paul adds,

“and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.” (1 Cor. 12:6)

This word translated “activities” literally means what is “worked out” or “carried out.” This is the effect of the gift that has been given. Our spiritual gifts are energized and brought to fruition by the power of the Spirit. They cannot be powered by our natural abilities.

Paul concludes:

“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Cor. 12:7)

To “manifest” something means to “make it known.” Spiritual gifts “make known” the Holy Spirit’s work in the church and world. They shine light on God and His work and are given for the common good. This means to “bring together” people. Spiritual gifts are not isolating or polarizing. They are unifying. When spiritual gifts are used rightly, they bring unity and benefit the church.

Finally, I want to give you four impacts when spiritual gifts are used correctly:

(1) Christians will receive tremendous blessings

Christians will be blessed when they use their gifts and they will bless others as they use their gifts.

(2) The church will become a powerful and effective witness

When the people of the church are using their Spirit-given gifts, the church will become powerful and effective. A dead church is filled with people not using their gifts. A church that is alive, healthy and growing both spiritually and numerically, is a church where the majority of the people are activating their spiritual gifts.

(3) Church leadership is properly exhibited

A church which is filled with believers exhibiting their gifts will be a church whose leadership is successful. When this happens, the leadership blossoms and the entire church is blessed.

(4) The church experiences the joy of unity, love and fellowship.

When a church is exercising their gifts of grace, the church experiences unity, love, and fellowship. And this true experience cannot be manufactured. It can’t be faked. It can’t be marketed. It’s real. People know it’s real. No amount of natural ability or organization or leadership or planning or work can accomplish what true spirit-filled people can accomplish as they use their spiritual gifts.

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