Paul listed five spiritual gifts in Ephesians 4. More are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 (also Romans 12) and we’ll take a look at them in this essay. They’re also ones Christians are most familiar with. Take note: in 1 Corinthians 12:4 the apostle emphasizes, “Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit.” That means no matter what particular talent a believer gets, it’s a supernatural present delivered and installed by the Holy Spirit. In no way, shape or form do we cultivate a gift via our own volition or wherewithal. Furthermore, profound understanding of our gifts can’t be gathered from any source outside God’s Holy Word. The Bible is our ultimate owner’s manual that teaches us how to magnify and efficiently use our God-given talents. Keep in mind that, while rudimentary gifts like wisdom, knowledge and faith are given to all followers of Christ, not all receive the same amount. Take spiritual wisdom for example. All believers have some of it but there are those whom the Holy Spirit figuratively drenches to the bone in it. On the other hand, there are some talents like healing very few receive in any capacity. In fact, those individuals so gifted are extremely rare birds, indeed. But, lest I digress, let’s initially focus on wisdom, the first spiritual gift Paul cited in 1 Corinthians 12.
There are three kinds of wisdom. There’s a basic instinctive type that, as mammals, we’re born with in order to survive. The second is wisdom acquired through learning. It’s something we choose to accumulate (or not) depending on our ambition. The third is spiritual wisdom, the highest kind to be had. It comes to us directly from the Heavenly Father, doled out through the gracious work of the Holy Ghost. Of course God is the ultimate source of all universal truths in general but to those who’ve surrendered their life to His Son Jesus Christ He dispenses a unique ability to digest the spiritual teachings found in the Scriptures. A select number are granted a double or even triple dose of spiritual wisdom in order to further His Kingdom and only He knows the reason.
The second spiritual gift Paul lists is that of knowledge. Knowledge is different from wisdom in that it connotes how well we acquaint our minds with the spiritual information we accumulate. I’m sure we all know folks who can quote verbatim from the Bible chapter and verse ad infinitum but who don’t have a clue as to how to apply what those passages convey in practical ways. The history of the church is littered with brilliant preachers who, despite their admirable memorization abilities, made egregious mistakes and committed horrible sins that eventually destroyed their ministries. That’s why the gifts of wisdom and knowledge must work in tandem. Likewise, we must cooperate with those who’ve been given different spiritual talents than ours.
Jesus spoke of a scenario where Christians need to lean heavily not only on wisdom and knowledge, but unshakable trust. In Mark 13:11 He said, “When they arrest you and hand you over for trial, do not worry about what to speak. But say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.” The Disciples of Christ often had to defend themselves in front of angry mobs, governors and kings. It’s no stretch of the imagination to picture a shackled Paul standing before Caesar in Rome. Here’s what I’m getting at. The sublime brand of knowledge bestowed by the Spirit is increased only through diligent study of the Holy Word of God. But the ability to apply that knowledge to actual situations we find ourselves in goes way beyond study. It comes to us exclusively through trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit. Billy Graham wrote, “Wisdom is the gift from the Spirit which shows us how to use knowledge.” Thank God we don’t have to rely on our own smarts to be effective witnesses to our Savior’s love and forgiveness. By depending on the leading of the Holy Ghost residing in us we don’t have to fear tripping over our own tongues. We can speak confidently. 1 Peter 3:15 reads, “But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess.”
It’s worth noticing something else Peter said: “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18) By setting aside quiet time every day to commune with the great I AM we’re able to access a higher plane of knowledge and wisdom, one the material world can’t offer. Never overlook how valuable that privilege is. All of us, sooner or later, encounter quandaries and difficulties for which there’s no answer available on the human level. That’s when we must pray for guidance. And I dare say every church on the planet, regardless of how well-intentioned the core people in the organization may be, will eventually come to an impasse concerning some sticky issue or face some kind of conundrum that seemingly has no resolution. Those leaders who collectively and humbly bow their heads and ask God for wisdom and patience will undoubtedly be shown a way to get through it. Without fail it’ll be the person in the group most gifted with the talent for receiving and relaying spiritual wisdom who’ll come up with an amenable solution.
Next Paul brings up faith. The word is derived from the Greek term meaning “steadfastness.” In 1 Corinthians 12:9 he says some are granted “faith by the same Spirit.” Now, the existence of saving faith is a given. Ephesians 2:8 states, “For by grace you are saved through faith…” and in 2 Corinthians 5:7 we’re told, “…for we live by faith, not by sight.” Yet in the context of 1 Corinthians 12 this type of faith is an extra special gift the Holy Spirit bestows at His good pleasure. Therefore we need to distinguish between the grace of faith and the gift of faith. The grace of faith means we can put all our trust in God to do everything He’s promised to do. Every follower of Jesus has that grace. It stands to reason that if a believer doesn’t have faith in the Bible’s guarantees he/she is committing a sin against God. However, the “good book” doesn’t address every single contingency a Christian can come up against in their terrestrial journey. If it did the tome would be so enormous it’d take several centuries to read it! That’s why the Savior taught us to include in our prayers, “Thy will be done.” That statement covers a lot of otherwise shaky ground. I think what Paul was alluding to is a gift of faith that blankets situations the Bible never directly addresses.
Take the case of 19th century evangelist George Muller, the notable director of the Ashley Down orphanage in Bristol, England. He never asked anybody to donate a dime. Through daily prayer he depended solely on God to provide – and God always came through. This illustrates the gift of faith Jesus talked about in Matthew 17:20, “…I tell you the truth, if you have faith the size of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; nothing will be impossible for you.” Dr. Graham claims the Holy Spirit has, at times, granted him this special gift of faith when he’s run into what seemed an impassable roadblock in his ministry and he couldn’t find an applicable answer in the Bible. One instance came in 1957 as the crusade he’d led at New York’s Madison Square Garden was to finally conclude with a big blowout at Yankee Stadium after a spectacularly successful six-week run. Because so many souls had been saved, many in the organization felt the crusade should continue while just as many thought it’d be anti-climactic and unproductive to return to the Garden afterwards. Billy was so stressed out over the dilemma he was losing sleep so one night he got on his knees and said to God, “I don’t know if it’s your will or not, but by faith I’m going to tell the committee tomorrow we should keep this revival going.” Ten weeks later the crusade climaxed in an open-air rally attended by 75,000 people in Times Square broadcast live on TV and radio to the nation. Now, that’s a gift of faith! It goes to show there are times in our lives when we as Christians have to make decisions based solely on what we sincerely feel is the will of God, trusting that the faith needed to do what the Father wants done will be provided by the Holy Spirit abiding in us.
Paul then lists the gift of discernment. The Greek equivalent embodies a variety of ideas: to consider, examine, understand, hear and/or judge closely. The Scriptures point out false prophets and deceivers will come and go with regularity but as the second coming of Christ approaches they’ll become even more numerous and alluring. They’ll look like the real deal to a lot of decent folks, too. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11:14-15, “…even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness…” That means many so-called “religious leaders” in the world today are anything but servants of the one true God. They serve the antichrist. The tragedy is that billions of people will fall for their lies. Including some Christians. 1 Timothy 4:1 reads, “Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the later times some will desert the faith and occupy themselves with deceiving spirits and demonic teachings…” Thus it’s critical we distinguish falsehood from truth and that’s why followers of Jesus need to respect the opinions of those who have the gift of discernment. 1 John 4:1 states, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” In other words, don’t take anybody’s “spiritual revelations” at face value alone. Put them through the wringer that is the infallible Word of God. And listen carefully to those to whom the Holy Spirit has given an uncanny gift for detecting gnats in Satan’s seemingly soothing ointments. It was this talent that allowed Peter to see through the hypocrisy of Ananias, Sapphira and Simon of Samaria. The Bible is full of warnings about anything labeled as being a new, improved version of “the truth.” Believers should be on their guard against false teachings, especially questionable doctrines that may even come from their own church pulpits.
Near the end of 1 Corinthians 12 Paul mentions the gift of helps. The root Greek word means “support” or “assist.” In Acts 6 the apostles appointed deacons to take over the various tasks of the church, allowing regular lay people to contribute to the promotion of the kingdom of God through counseling, prayer, handling administrative duties and witnessing. The gift of helping encompasses a vast sphere of social services – feeding and clothing the poor, tending to the sick or infirm, caring for orphans and the neglected, contributing funds or volunteering to join charitable causes or simply by encouraging the downtrodden or those struggling with addiction. Helps is simply the gift of showing mercy. By doing these things others get freed up to better utilize their own specific spiritual gifts. Many church pastors unwittingly become tightly-wound micromanagers because their zeal for Christ has led them to believe if they don’t do it themselves it won’t get done right. It’s only a matter of time before they end up jaded due to burning their candle at both ends too long. The most successful pastors are inevitably those who delegate responsibilities and let people who’ve been given the gift of helping do just that. Even Jesus assembled a team around Him and sent them out on occasions to minister two by two. In Acts 12:25 we’re told Paul and Barnabas recruited Mark as an assistant. We know Paul relied on his team of dedicated workers to help him immensely in the facilitation and spreading of his ministry. Those with the gift of helps are vital and irreplaceable. No matter if it’s vacuuming the sanctuary, cleaning the restrooms or mowing the lawn at your church, there’s something you do that no one else can do nearly as well. “…Whoever serves, do so with the strength that God supplies, so that in everything God will be glorified through Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 4:11)
Then there’s the gift of leadership. The Greek word implies steering, piloting or directing. Some translations call it the gift of governing or of being an efficient administrator. Every church needs members who are talented in those areas to step up. Jesus knew the value of leadership and He spent a good deal of His time turning his dozen disciples into leaders who’d carry on His work after the ascension. They, in turn, appointed and trained folks to be loyal, hard-working leaders in the churches they founded. In 1 Timothy 3 Paul prescribes the qualifications for somebody becoming a bishop who’ll oversee a particular church jurisdiction. While some denominations disdain any concept of a person holding a position of leadership most of them end up contending with personality conflicts that can divide the congregation. Since the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit gives men and women the gift of leadership it would seem to me that God’s will is to let them lead already! Hebrews 13:17 states unequivocally, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls and will give an account for their work.” Accordingly, church leaders must be held to a lofty standard. They are not to be dictatorial, egotistical or stodgy. They are to be humble, gracious, courteous, kind souls filled with Christ-like love who’ll nevertheless stand firm when it comes to doing what’s right. Therefore generous dashes of the gifts of knowledge and wisdom are prerequisites, as well.
If we need a role model of leadership we need look no farther than our Lord Jesus Christ. He was a self-proclaimed servant. Mark 10:45 Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” We discover in Philippians 2:7 that He “…emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave…” In John 13:16, after washing the feet of His disciples, Christ said, “I tell you the solemn truth, the slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent as a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” Contrary to the way human beings normally think, Jesus was demonstrating by His own actions that a real leader is one who’s willing to be subservient to every person they come in contact with. Galatians 5:13 exhorts us: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another.”
It was never God’s intention the Church would be destined to drift aimlessly in the oceans of uncertainty without a compass, captain or crew. The Holy Spirit provided leaders for the steady navigation of Christ’s Church, keeping it afloat and on course throughout and despite the vicissitudes and calamities of history. He has done this by dispensing the multifaceted gifts of the Spirit amongst the children of God. At the end of 1 Corinthians 12 Paul says we shouldn’t rest on our laurels but be “…eager for the greater gifts.” The Holy Ghost may have given you one gift or several. That’s great. But here’s what’s most important: first, we should recognize and cherish our gift(s). Second, we need to nurture them and do everything possible to improve their effectiveness as we generously employ them. Those with the gift of teaching should be better teachers with every passing day. The person with the gift of wisdom should be a wiser man or woman on Friday than they were on Monday. Fact is, someday we’ll have to give an accounting before the great I AM as to what we’ve done with our gift or gifts. If we were given the blessing of a lot of talents, lots will be expected from us. Our hope should be that when we meet the Lord face to face his comment will be, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:21)