Spiritual Gifts: The Believer's Toolbox
By Charles F. Stanley
Do you know what your spiritual gifts are? Are you using them to build the body of Christ? Each person's role in the body of Christ is determined by their spiritual gift. A spiritual gift is a special ability from God. William McRae, who wrote Dynamics of Spiritual Gifts, defined it as "an ability to function effectively and significantly in a particular service as a member of Christ's body, the church." In The Holy Spirit, Billy Graham compares spiritual gifts to tools. Each member of the body of Christ has been given one of these tools to use in building the body.
Through the distribution and networking of spiritual gifts, God has created a system ensuring that: (1) every believer has a significant role in the body of Christ; and (2) believers work together to accomplish His overall purpose.
The Holy Spirit distributes gifts according to His will. And His will is in accordance with the Father's plan for the church. Three truths need to be emphasized:
1. Spiritual gifts are manifestations of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7). When a believer exercises her gift, it is an exhibition of the Spirit's power through her. It is not simply a matter of doing something she is good at. Spiritual gifts are a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. This is readily acknowledged when the more spectacular gifts are exercised. For example, we are quick to give the credit to God when someone is miraculously healed. But when someone with the gift of mercy exercises his gift, we say things like, "Isn't he sweet?" or "He is such a good listener." The gift of mercy or giving or administration is no less a manifestation of the Holy Spirit than the gift of healing or the effecting of miracles (1 Cor. 12:10).
If walking in the Spirit involves sensitivity to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and if the Spirit manifests Himself through the gifts, is it possible for someone to walk in the Spirit without exercising her gift? Absolutely not. The Holy Spirit will reveal Himself in a special way through you, through the exercise of your gift. To refuse to use your gift is to say no to the Holy Spirit.
2. Spiritual gifts are for the common good of the body (1 Cor. 12:7). The primary purpose of spiritual gifts is building up the body, not the personal gratification of the individual member. Your nose is worthless apart from its service to the body. And the same holds true of any particular spiritual gift. Its worth is determined by its usefulness and availability to the body.
The more spiritual men or women are, the more involved they will be with the body of Christ. Why? Because as they give free rein to the Holy Spirit, He will continually lead them to exercise their spiritual gifts for the common good of the body. And that necessitates involvement.
Many believers have been hurt by organized religion. But despite their protestations, they are part of an organized body. A body in which each member has a significant part. A body that cannot function at will without them as it can with them. To experience the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives to His fullest extent, they must put themselves in a position where the Spirit is free to express Himself through them for the common good of other believers. Men and women who are being led by the Spirit will exercise their spiritual gifts within the body of Christ.
When we speak of building up the body, we are not talking necessarily about building a bigger body. The gifts were given to aid in developing a healthy body as well. Spiritual gifts are God's way of administering His grace to others. When we exercise our gifts, we function as the hands and feet of Christ. For example, when a man loses his wife, it's comforting for him to know that he will see her again someday. But that is not nearly as comforting as having friends around to succor him. Believers with the gift of mercy gather around him to listen. Another with the gift of administration takes care of all the funeral arrangements. A neighbor with the gift of hospitality invites him to spend several nights with his family. When these things happen, it is as if Christ Himself reaches down to take care of one of His own. Through the exercise of these gifts, this wounded soul is dispensed a healthy portion of God's grace.
3. Spiritual Gifts are distributed as the Holy Spirit wills (1 Cor. 12:11). The Holy Spirit decides gift assignments. There is emphasis these days on getting certain gifts. But we must leave the administering of the gifts to the Holy Spirit. Notice what the apostle Paul says: "But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills" (1 Cor. 12:11). And a few verses later, "But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased" (1 Cor. 12:18). God has the big picture. He knows exactly how much of what is needed in the church. From His perspective, things can be kept in perfect order and balance.
Paul instructs the believers in Corinth to place a high value on spiritual gifts. "Hold them in high regard," he says, " especially the greater gifts." He implies that believers should hold the gift of prophecy in such high esteem as to envy (not covet) those with that particular gift, for that is the greatest gift next to apostleship. When it comes to pursuing something, however, "pursue love," he says (1 Cor. 14:1). We can't get enough of that. And suddenly, we have gone full circle! For Paul defines love as a life characterized by the fruit of the Spirit (1 Cor. 13). To sum up Paul's entire argument, "You can have all the gifts in the world, but if your life isn't characterized by the fruit of the Spirit, they don't mean a thing!" Gifts are important. But apart from the fruit of the Spirit, they are worthless.
The presence of fruit, not gifts, demonstrates a believer's dependency on the Holy Spirit. Everybody has a gift. Possessing a gift says nothing about a believer's compliance with the promptings of the Spirit. As the apostle Paul says, the focus of the pursuit should be love.
Excerpt from The Glorious Journey, by Charles Stanley, pp. 215-218