Throughout the 1990s I was a divorced father of two. Because of the joint custody agreement I was privileged to have my adorable kiddos with me every Christmas. My intention was to do everything I could to make it a happy and memorable occasion. Christmas mornings they’d wake up to find our tree surrounded by presents. I’d done my best to find out what they’d asked Santa for and finagle my meager finances accordingly to surprise them with stuff from their wish lists. We never had a bad Christmas day. Since my mom and dad had moved to Alabama many years earlier we had no family gathering to attend so my kids would have all day to enjoy their new toys. Yet by that evening a modicum of jealousy and squabbling would inevitably arise between them over a particular item. The same thing happens in the Christian ranks sometimes. Not so much with service-oriented spiritual gifts but mainly over those given for personal enjoyment. Those who are somewhat immature in their walk with Christ start to covet the talents other believers have. Conversely, the person they envy can become prideful and conceited about their gift. Both are wrong but that’s because we’re all too human. The Holy Spirit who doles out the presents is not to blame. All God’s adopted children should be grateful and humble concerning the spiritual gifts they receive because they ultimately play a vital part in the outworking of God’s glorious plan for mankind. As I would tell my youngsters, be content and generous with what you got. It didn’t cost you a thing.
Spiritual gifts are listed in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4 so the fact they come from God is impossible to dispute. The Scriptures teach that everyone who accepts Jesus as Lord is given at least one of these gifts. 1 Corinthians 12:7 states, “To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all.” We’re going to be held accountable for what we do with our God-given talents so this is an important topic to delve into. No gift is insignificant. Paul likened the functioning of the Church to our own bodies. When all parts work together in harmony we maximize our efficiency. In verses 14-21 of 1 Corinthians 12 you’ll find these nuggets of wisdom. “For in fact the body is not a single member, but many. If the foot says, ‘Since I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,’ it does not lose its membership in the body because of that…. God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. If they were all the same member, where would the body be? So now there are many members, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you,’ nor in turn can the head say to the foot, ‘I do not need you.’” He’s saying there’s no useless part to be found no matter how things may look to us. Verse 22 reads, “On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential.” How we feel about our particular spiritual gift is not the point. The depth of our determination to utilize it for the glory of God is. The great I AM created the human body to be a complete organism. He designed the body of Christ similarly. Each member is unique and irreplaceable. There’s not another “me” or “you” in the universe so, likewise, is your gift. God definitely gives related talents to different folks but none of them can manifest them in exactly the same way you can. Therefore if a believer doesn’t make the most of his/her individual gift Christ’s church can’t function at its peak ability.
The Greek word charismata is employed in the New Testament to include and encompass all the various gifts the Holy Spirit gives to Christians. In modern usage the term “charisma” connotes an indefinable personality trait somebody possesses that intrigues and attracts folks like bears to honey. Every influential and/or famous person has it to one degree or another. In Acts 18 we read about an evangelistic teacher named Apollos who had an abundance of it, especially compared to Paul who had nada. Yet both men owned extraordinary spiritual gifts – charismata – God had supernaturally given them. Today we define charisma as being a mysterious, intangible influence no one can quite put their finger on, much less dissect. But in the Bible it means “a gift of holy grace.” What I’m saying is charisma in the Apostles’ era had a completely different meaning than the one we assign it nowadays. Other than a single instance in 1 Peter, charismata is found only in Paul’s writings. Specifically it means “manifestations of grace,” and is usually expressed in most Bible translations as “gifts.” The reason I’m bringing all this up is to emphasize that the word was used originally to denote the various spiritual talents bestowed upon individuals for the benefit and growth of the body of Christ. In Ephesians 4 Paul employed other Greek words dorea, doma and pneumatika in describing these talents. The latter, precisely defined, means “things belonging to the Spirit.” Therefore charisma isn’t necessarily something only rock stars have. It’s any divinely-bestowed talent the average follower of Jesus receives as a special “gift.”
In exploring the subject of spiritual gifts it must be made clear they come to us via the Holy Spirit. He decides who gets what and we have no input whatsoever. Our task is to utilize what we’re given to the best of our ability. By the same token, we’re not responsible for what we weren’t given. We’re also warned against coveting someone else’s gift or harboring envy over any success they may gain from exploiting it. It’s a human tendency to wish we had certain desirable talents and it’s no sin to ask for them. However, if it’s not the will of the Holy Spirit, we just ain’t gonna get ‘em. Period. Now, if we become dissatisfied or disgruntled because He didn’t deliver the goods we would’ve preferred we enter the realm of sin. In my case, even though I didn’t ask for them, I was given an ability to compose cohesive sentences and to make music but, alas, not enough in either field to be ranked aside the likes of Stephen King or Bob Dylan. Still, I’m immensely grateful and I know if I failed to develop those wonderful gifts to their fullest I’d be committing a shameful sin. The same as if I pouted or turned intentionally unproductive because I didn’t receive the accolades and attention those two aforementioned superstars garner. I’ve come to accept there are some gifts I don’t have and never will. My dad, despite only having a 3rd grade education, could fix anything mechanical without ever consulting a manual. Me? I’m lucky to screw in a lightbulb properly. His gift was different from mine. Billy Graham wrote, “The gifts you and I have are the ones God has seen fit to give us, and we should seek to discover and use them for His glory.”
One other point is this: The Bible speaks often of the fruits of the Spirit and that every Christian on the face of the Earth should produce them. But they’re not the same as the gifts of the Spirit. In other words, every believer should put forth the same fruit (the good news of the Gospel) as every other believer but the means involved in delivering it will differ from person to person. In His infinite wisdom, the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts in such a way as to guarantee each Christian has at least one special acumen uniquely his or hers. Thus we should never expect every believer to have the same talent or to presume they should have a specific gift that would help us do the work God has assigned us to perform.
When you check out those New Testament passages listing spiritual gifts you’ll discover there are about twenty. The Old Testament mentions a few more. Yet there are some talents that aren’t in the Bible at all but we all know are God-given gifts. Some have an aptitude for mathematics or for learning foreign languages. Some are artisans who can paint stunning landscapes or fashion wonderful things out of wood, clay or cloth. Some have an uncanny knack for working with children or the elderly. All these gifts come from the Creator. He can also take any natural talent and transform it by the power of the Holy Spirit into a spiritual gift that can benefit the Church. In that scenario the gift becomes a tool to be used to further the kingdom rather than just being something personally gratifying. Like a carpenter’s hammer or a surgeon’s scalpel, your talent can be employed for use in the ever-expanding Body of Christ.
I was reading in Exodus 31 recently about a fellow named Bezalel. Verses 3-5 state, “…I have filled him with the Spirit of God in skill, in understanding, in knowledge, and in all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work with gold, with silver, and with bronze, and with cutting and setting stone, and with cutting wood, to work in all kinds of craftsmanship.” In the following chapters we’re told he was instrumental in making the tapestries, the frames, the furniture, the altar and more for the holy place of worship. Not a bad guy to have around, huh? Obviously his impressive abilities, granted him by the Spirit, included not only manual skills but also the intellectual wisdom and creative imagination essential to all art forms. All this was a divine bestowal. James 1:17 reads, “All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change.” God gave to mankind aesthetic faculties which, sadly, were corrupted by the default of Adam and Ever but are still with us nevertheless. It’s up to us to either use them for the cause of Jesus or for assuaging our ego.
The great I AM has a purpose for distributing various gifts among his children. Paul explained in Ephesians 4:12 they’re intended to “…equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ…” All Christians have a particular job to do and we’ve been granted the supernatural gifts to “git‘er done.” And, like it or not, we’ll be held accountable before the judgment seat of Christ. Yes indeed, the Bible teaches we’ll stand before our Savior someday to tell Him how faithfully we used our gifts in His service. It’s called the bema or “Christ’s judgment.” 2 Corinthians 5:10 states, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.” This isn’t the same ominous courtroom unbelievers will find themselves in. That’s referred to as the “Great White Throne.” Nope, I’m talking about the special judgment reserved for Christians. While our horrible sins have been erased by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we’re nonetheless responsible for everything we did after getting saved. Even though our salvation is eternally secure Paul wrote that there will still be consequences to face. 1 Corinthians 3:14-15 says, “If what someone has built survives, he will receive a reward. If someone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” I surmise what he’s conveying is that if we use our gifts for selfish reasons and not for the common good we’re going to feel a certain amount of heat. Philippians 2:3-4 states, “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well.” The Church should be the principle recipient of our gifts by our helping to unite Christians into one world-changing entity. In Ephesians 4:4-7 we’re told, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ.”
All this begs the question, “How do I determine what my gift is and how to best use it?” There are several ways to do this. First, believe God has given you at least one spiritual talent that sets you apart and He wants you to get busy using it. In 2 Timothy 1:6 Paul said to his protégé, “…I remind you to rekindle God’s gift that you possess…” Second, discovering your spiritual gifts requires quiet time with God, along with studying His Word and prayer. In your supplications be sure to inform God you’re willing to make good use of whatever talent He reveals you have. Third, as you read your Bible on a regular basis strive to gain a deeper understanding about spiritual gifts in general. And fourth, diligently review your personal history to acquire keen insights concerning your abilities. What you’ve gone through in life and how you dealt with it (for better or worse) may illuminate aptitudes you’ve overlooked or didn’t think mattered. Examine the things you seem to be good at and try to develop them into being positive influences on others.
Still clueless? Volunteer to assist in a variety of your church’s ministries. You’ll know pretty soon when and if you’ve found your niche. Listen to what others tell you about yourself, too. They might see what you can’t. For example, you may not be aware you’re an attentive listener (a requisite for being an encouraging and trustworthy Christian counselor). If people start gravitating to you for advice or if they feel comfortable enough around you to open up about their problems you’ll know you’ve discovered a rare and extremely valuable gift. At that juncture you might decide to acquire additional education and/or experience so you can become more effective at utilizing your talent.
Six years ago when I crawled back into church looking for rescue from my obsession with porn that was threatening to destroy my marriage I was sure I had nothing to offer the congregation. They seemed to have every base covered. One Monday night I was attending my weekly Celebrate Recovery meeting and the leader mentioned they were desperate to locate someone who could play bass in the praise band. I wearily glanced heavenward and thought, “Really God? Don’t you realize I need to concentrate on overcoming my awful habit, not start playing music again?” You see, when I was 15 years old I acquired a Sears Silvertone electric guitar and commenced to pursue a career in rock & roll for the next decade and a half of my life. After turning 30 I worked with various “weekend warrior” combos for the extra dough until 2000 when I hung up my strap for good. But that night I knew playing bass guitar would be easy for me so I volunteered. I also ended up playing in the larger sanctuary ensemble part time. Folks in the pews were impressed but I didn’t feel special. You chip away at something long enough and you eventually figure it out, I’d tell them. I completed a Spiritual Gifts Analysis on the church’s website and it indicated, to my shock, I had a talent for teaching. Strange, I’d never taught anything in my life! When I became a leader in the CR ministry they asked me what capacity I’d want to serve in so I so I relayed the questionnaire’s opinion. At CR we alternate weekly between hearing a live testimony and a lesson gleaned from the Step Study guide. When I started delivering the lessons to a room full of sinners just like me I realized I was able to speak to them without any nervousness or trepidation. I’d studied journalism in college so I was able to incorporate my meager writing skills into the lessons, embellishing them with quotes and anecdotes I’d picked up from reading books by Christian authors. Just goes to show you never know what spiritual gift God’s going to reveal if you just surrender to Him and follow His lead. The Lord can and will use each of us to further His kingdom.