William Borden was heir to the Borden dairy fortune, but he abandoned immeasurable wealth to serve God as a foreign missionary. Tragically, he contracted meningitis before reaching his destination and died. Among his possessions was found this scribbled note, summarizing his life’s passion: No reserve, no retreat, no regrets. His story and motto captured the heart of a generation, and galvanized thousands for mission service.
How can our faith be as bold and joyous as his? How can we serve Jesus with such passion today? “Spiritual gifts” are a crucial, often neglected part of the answer.
God’s supreme gift to his people is himself. He gave his Son for us, sending him to die in our place so our sins could be forgiven (John 3:16). He has made us his children by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), giving us new life in his Spirit (Romans 8:9).
Now his Spirit lives in us (1 Corinthians 3:16), and wants to use us to lead others to follow Jesus. He has given us “spiritual gifts” as a means to this end. Spiritual gifts are to the church what organs and limbs are to the human body. When we learn about spiritual gifts, we discover the anatomy of the church, the body of Christ.
Our gifts are God’s equipment, provided to help us grow in our faith. When we identify our God-given gifts and abilities, we know better how to serve our Father. We are empowered by God’s Spirit for accomplish God’s will for our lives. We live and share the Christian faith with joy. And at the end of our work on earth we can say, No reserve, no retreat, no regrets.
Every believer has at least one spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:7, 11; Ephesians 4:7), given at his or her salvation. No believer has every spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:12, 27, 29-30). Our gifts differ from each other (Romans 12:3-6a). We receive our gifts according to God’s will, not our own desire or experience (1 Corinthians 12:11; Ephesians 4:7-8).
What are the “spiritual gifts”?
The New Testament includes three lists of spiritual gifts. In Romans 12:3-8 we encounter seven gifts: “prophecy,” serving; teaching, encouraging, “contributing to the needs of others,” leadership, and mercy
In 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 we find nine gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, “speaking in different kinds of tongues”, and “the interpretation of tongues”.
And in Ephesians 4:11 we discover five gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (some interpreters see pastors and teachers as two separate gifts, though the Greek syntax seems to indicate that they are one function).
This gifts discovery tool does not include the so-called “sign” gifts (healing, miracles, tongues, interpretation of tongues) even though we believe they are valid today, because most churches do not offer ministries which use them. We include the additional gifts of “music” and “hospitality” since many interpreters see them as spiritual gifts (see 1 Corinthians 14:26 and 1 Peter 4:9-11), and because they are very important to most churches’ ministries.
Combining the various lists, this discovery tool catalogues 18 different gifts:
- administration: organizing people and ministries effectively
- apostleship: adapting to a different culture to share the gospel or do ministry
- discernment: distinguishing spiritual truth from error or heresy
- evangelism: sharing the gospel effectively and passionately
- exhortation: encouraging others as they follow Jesus
- faith: seeing God’s plan and following it with passion
- giving: investing with unusual sacrifice and joy in God’s Kingdom
- hospitality: using your home and/or resources to help others follow Jesus
- intercession: praying with unusual passion and effectiveness
- knowledge: discerning and sharing the deep truths of God’s word and will
- leadership: motivating and inspiring others to serve Jesus fully
- mercy: showing God’s grace to hurting people with unusual passion
- music: sharing God’s truth and love with unusual effectiveness
- prophecy: preaching the word of God with personal passion and effectiveness
- serving: meeting practical needs with unusual sacrifice and joy
- shepherding: helping others grow spiritually
- teaching: explaining God’s word and truth with unusual effectiveness
- wisdom: relating biblical truth to practical life with great effectiveness
Some of these ministry areas are the responsibility only of those gifted to fulfill them, while others are the responsibility of all believers. For instance, those with the gift of prophecy should preach; those with the gift of teaching should teach the Bible to others; those with the gift of apostleship should be our leaders in missions ministry.
On the other hand, God expects all of his people to discern truth from error, share their faith, encourage others, have faith in him, give sacrificially, show hospitality to others, intercede regularly, seek to know and share his word, offer mercy to hurting people, meet practical needs with joy, help others grow spiritually, and relate his truth to life.
Whether we are “gifted” in these areas or not, we are responsible to meet these needs as God directs us. Those with spiritual gifts in these areas will typically be called to lead the rest of us in these ministries, and will model them with great effectiveness. Those I have known who possess the gift of evangelism, for example, encourage me to share my faith when they demonstrate their gift in action. Those with the gift of serving will take the initiative to help in this area, and will show the rest of us how to serve with joy.
The spiritual gifts, then, do not confine our service only to the areas where we are gifted. Rather, they point the way to ministries where we will lead and serve with our greatest passion and joy.
What are my spiritual gifts?
Several “spiritual gifts analysis” tools are available today. Our ministry has developed an interactive spiritual gifts analysis you are welcome to use. The assessment is based on the belief that our passions and opportunities indicate the spiritual gifts God has imparted to us. Our passions indicate those areas of service which correspond with our desires, abilities, and interests; we may or may not have used these passions in ministry to this point in our lives. Our opportunities show us areas where God may have opened doors of service to us, and may indicate areas of spiritual giftedness.
As you utilize it or other approaches, know that the Father wants you to discover and use your gifts even more than you do.
And remember: the Lord gives his greatest joy to those who help fulfill his Great Commission. When you find and use your spiritual gifts, you will find the passion, purpose, and peace of God.