FAQ About Spiritual Gifts
Answers to Questions about Gifting
Click on the question for which you would like an answer.
- When people say we should discover our spiritual gifts, what do they mean?
- Why is it important for Christians to know their gifts?
- Why do different Bible scholars come up with varying numbers of gifts?
- How should the gifts be categorized?
- What is the difference between talents, natural abilities, and spiritual gifts?
- What is the difference between spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit?
- When does a person receive his/her spiritual gift(s)?
- If gifts are given to us by the Spirit and not by a pastor, elder, or another human, why are there references to Timothy receiving gifts when hands were laid on him (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6)?
- Must gifts be developed?
- Can I lose my spiritual gifts?
- What is meant by the term "gift-mix?"
- Why do some people have only one gift while others have several gifts?
- If all believers have at least one gift, why don't they evidence it?
- Does the exercise of certain gifts make a person more spiritual?
- How valid are spiritual gifts tests?
- If a person doesn't have a certain gift, is he/she exempt from ministry that uses that gift?
When people say we should discover our spiritual gifts, what do they mean?
Be aware that the word "discover" is not a biblical term with spiritual gifts. Passages regarding spiritual gifts seem to assume the fact of spiritual gifting. Discovering your gift(s) is not a matter of determining which gift(s) you have. If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, you have at least one gift. The Holy Spirit is the One who determined your gifts, not you or any other person. He distributes the gifts, as He deems best. When we talk about "discovering" our gifts, we are merely referring to identifying those gifts that we already have.
More: Help on discovering your spiritual gifts.
Why is it important for Christians to know their gifts?
Being able to label your gift(s) is not of utmost importance. Using your gift(s) is. Knowing your gifting, however, helps you to be able to develop that gift better. You will know what to look for and can avoid pitfalls someone with that gift can fall into. You will be able to use your knowledge to encourage others in their gifting. You will have a point of reference for plugging into ministry where you can be most effective.
More: List of the different spiritual gifts and their definitions.
Why do different Bible scholars come up with varying numbers of gifts?
Some people look at the key passages on spiritual gifts (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4) and limit the gifts to the ones listed therein. But even within that there is discrepancy. Some people say the gifts of administration (1 Cor. 12:28) and leadership (Rom. 12:8) are the same gift. They also say service (Rom. 12:7) and helps (1 Cor. 12:2) are the same gift. The problem with that is --if you look at the original Greek words, they are all different words with distinct meanings. Click here for a list of what gifts are in which passages.
Some people add in craftsmanship and music because of the skilled people that God brought in to help with the Old Testament tabernacle. In Exodus 31 it says God filled Bezalel "with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts..." From passages similar to that, people have concluded that craftsmanship and music are spiritual gifts. Others stick with the gifts listed in the New Testament. Some see craftsmanship as a vehicle to exercise the gift of service. Music may be seen as a vehicle to exercise the gift of exhortation.
Yet other people will add the possibility of a few other gifts ---celibacy, hospitality, martyrdom, missionary, voluntary poverty, and intercession. If you look at the context of the verses where they are found, you will see the Greek word "charisma" which is the same word used in other passages interpreted as 'spiritual gift' used in all but intercession. At least one person who pegs intercession as a spiritual gift does so because he can't imagine it isn't since prayer is so important. Or, could it be that prayer is a vehicle through which those with the gifts of faith, healing, and miracles operate?
More: Scripture references and definitions for celibacy, hospitality, martyrdom, missionary, and voluntary poverty.
Be careful about getting dogmatic on the number of gifts. God leaves it a little open. If you look at the list of gifts in the three main passages, no list is the same. There is some overlap but each list has some gifts not listed in the others. No one list is comprehensive. This could indicate that there could be other gifts as well. No one passage is complete in itself.
How should the gifts be categorized?
There does not appear to be any one Biblically ordained way of classifying the gifts. Names for categories of gifts are given by people based on similarities they find among the gifts or types of ministry the gifts lead to.
What is the difference between talents, natural abilities, and spiritual gifts?
The bottom line is that all we have is from God so in that sense they are all gifts from God. Scripture, however, appears to set apart spiritual gifts as something different from talents and natural abilities. Perhaps we could say that talents are natural abilities which seem to be hereditary, to run in the genes. Unbelievers, as well as believers, have talents. Perhaps we could say that natural abilities are either talents or skills that have been learned through conditioning from the environment we lived in or training we have received. Again, both believers and unbelievers have natural abilities. Spiritual gifts, however, are an empowerment of divine origin, not a result of genetics, training, or conditioning. Only believers have spiritual gifts.
What is the difference between spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit?
Spiritual gifts are a special divine empowerment to do something for God like teaching, leading, encouraging, giving, showing mercy, etc. Spiritual fruit is the result of what we do in His power like the development of character traits, new converts, or praise given to God. Spiritual gifts therefore have more to do with the process of ministry whereas spiritual fruit is the product of ministry. Both, however, are works of the Holy Spirit. See 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 on spiritual gifts. See Galatians 5:16-26 on the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit and spiritual gifts are two distinct workings of the Spirit.
When does a person receive his/her spiritual gift(s)?
Some believe we have our spiritual gifts from physical birth and tie them in with our personality traits. Others believe we receive our spiritual gifts at our new birth in Christ. Factors to keep in mind are that the Bible clearly teaches that spiritual gifts are a work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7-11). A person does not receive the Spirit until salvation. Personality traits are linked to genetics, tempered by our environment. Spiritual gifting is a manifestation of the Spirit, tempered by our walk with God. If a gift lies dormant within us until salvation or such a time as it becomes manifested, does that mean an unbeliever has spiritual gifts within? How does that reconcile with Scripture about the condition of the unregenerate man?
If gifts are given to us by the Spirit and not by a pastor, elder, or another human, why are there references to Timothy receiving gifts when hands were laid on him (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6)?
There is a Greek word in those verses, "meta," that means "with." The laying of hands accompanied the giving of the gift and was the instrument or means of him receiving the gift. The source of Timothy's gifts was still the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament times, they needed confirmation to lend them credibility, to authenticate. They did not have the New Testament Scripture as we do today. Their task in the beginning of the church age was unlike ours, calling for a greater authentication.
Must gifts be developed?
In 2 Timothy 1:6, Paul tells Timothy to "fan into flame the gift of God" which was in him. Initially a spark may go unnoticed. If it makes contact with fuel and oxygen it can be stirred up into a major fire. Similarly, a gift may be that small spark inside of us that needs to be developed and nurtured to reach its full potential. If a fire is neglected it will die out. Likewise, gifts need to be used if we are to evidence them. The best way to develop gifts, to fan them into flame, is to use them.
Can I lose my spiritual gifts?
While there is plenty of Scripture to support the loss of effectiveness and fruitfulness, the Bible does not indicate the actual loss of gifts. Some may use parables like the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 to conclude that you can lose your gifts if you don't do anything with them because the master tells them to take the lazy servant's talent away from him. Understand that it would be pure interpretation to say that the talents represent spiritual gifts. Read on to see what happens to the lazy servant's talent. It is not only taken from him but given to the one who had ten. You are going to run into some serious logistical problems with that. Plus, it implies that gifts are merit-based in saying that the faithful are rewarded with the gifts neglected by others. Scripture is clear that gifts are given because of grace (Romans 12:6a) ... nothing earned or merited. One of the main Greek words used for gifts, 'charima,' means grace. Perhaps the question of whether we can lose our spiritual gifts must be answered with a deeper question -- whether you can lose the Spirit who bestowed your gift(s) on you at salvation when He indwelt you.
What is meant by the term "gift-mix?"
Many people have more than one spiritual gift. The gifts may or may not be of equal measure. The combination of those gifts in their differing measures is what we call our "gift-mix." Our gift-mix is what helps to make our service unique. Two people can have the gift of teaching. One may have the gift of teaching mixed with the gift of pastor. The other may have the gift of teaching mixed with the gift of knowledge. These two teachers will look very different in their emphasis. The first will put more emphasis on the long term care of the people being taught, making this person a good Sunday School teacher or pastor of a church. The latter will put more emphasis on teaching correct doctrine, making a good Bible college teacher or curriculum writer.
Why do some people have only one gift while others have several gifts?
First, remember that gifts are given according to the Holy Spirit's discernment (1 Cor. 12:11, 18). In His omniscience, He knows exactly what gift(s) would be just right for you and the church body you are in. God gives the gifts in the right proportions as He deems best which means we do not have to feel envious or cheated. Second, realize that it is due to grace that we have spiritual gifts, not because we earned or merited them. We are all on the same plain. The person with one gift has that gift because of God's grace. The person with many gifts has those gifts because of God's grace. It is not a competitive or comparison issue. It is a matter of trusting God to have made you and equipped you with just what you need to do the work He has for you.
If all believers have at least one gift, why don't they evidence it?
The reasons could be many including ignorance about spiritual gifts and God's design for the Body (1 Cor. 12:1), disobedience (1 Pet. 4:10-11), neglect (1 Tim. 4:14), not in fellowship with the Lord (Jn. 15:4-5), failure to develop their gift (2 Tim. 1:6), or lack of love which exhibits itself in self-centeredness (Jn. 21:15-17; also compare Jn. 14:15 with Gal. 5:13).
Does the exercise of certain gifts make a person more spiritual?
Scripture does not teach that gifts are a sign of spirituality or maturity. Immature, even carnal, Christians may use gifts. The Corinthian church is a prime example. In 1 Corinthians 1:7 we read where the Corinthians were not lacking in any gift yet in 3:1-3 they are described as carnal.
God's long-range goal is that we become conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). Traits of godliness do not include the use of spiritual gifts but character qualities (2 Pet. 1:5-11). In discussing qualifications for leadership in the church, no reference is made to spiritual gifts but much about character traits (1 Tim. 3; Titus 1). The fruit of the Spirit, of the same Spirit who gifted us, are character traits all reflecting Jesus Christ (Gal. 5:22-23).
Love is at the top of the list in measuring maturity and spirituality, not gifts. According to 1 Corinthians 13, any or all gifts mean nothing without love. Note that the expression of love is in the context of each list of gifts.
How valid are spiritual gifts tests?
Spiritual gifts tests can be useful tools which help you identify your spiritual gifts. (Example of a spiritual gifts test.) Once you are able to label your gifts, you can go on to better understand and develop them. Gift inventories, however, can be fallible. First, they are man-made not divinely inspired. They are based on someone's interpretation of what the individual gifts are and how they are defined. Tests usually have a number of statements that describe each gift. Varying opinions do exist regarding different gifts. Consequently, tests may have a given bent based on the theology or understanding of the person who designed the test. Second, the test is taken by human beings who may be influenced in their responses by a variety of factors which could hinder accuracy. Therefore, use any spiritual gifts analysis as a tool rather than an end. Test the results through prayer and further experience in ministry areas utilizing the gifts you are said to possess. Seek God's confirmation. Let Him have the final word. For a few pointers on how to identify your spiritual gifts without using a test.
If a person doesn't have a certain gift, is he/she exempt from ministry that uses that gift?
Evangelism is a good example. Some may feel that because they do not have the gift of evangelism that they do not have to evangelize. Timothy, in the New Testament, obviously did not have the gift of evangelism but yet Paul told him to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5). We are all commanded to be a witness (Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:19-20).
Make a list of all the gifts found in the key passages on spiritual gifts (Romans 12; 1 Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4; 1 Peter 4) and you can find counterpart commands for all believers to participate in activity pertaining to those different gifts with the exception of tongues and interpretation of tongues.
People with the corresponding gift will usually be more effective, devote more time and energy, and see greater results in a given area than those without the gift. Yet, to an extent, as God gives opportunity, we are all to evangelize, teach, serve, show mercy, etc.