God has a dream for you! He made you for a purpose, and gifted you to accomplish that purpose. We want to help you discover that dream and live it. Live the dream! Do what you were made to do!
God’s dream for you is hardwired into who He made you. It is written in your heart, in who you are and how He made you. For the next few weeks, we want to think about the following things:
The spiritual gifts God has given you.
The natural abilities and talents He entrusted to you.
The experiences that have shaped who you are.
Your passions: what things make your heart beat faster.
The personality traits that make you unique.
Today, we’re looking at spiritual gifts. God has given every one of you spiritual gifts to use. What are they? That’s what we’re talking about today.
An introduction to spiritual gifts.
Let’s start with an introduction to spiritual gifts. Everything I’m going to tell you can be found in the four passages listed at the top of your outline, which include virtually all of the New Testament teaching on spiritual gifts. I hope you’ll read and study these passages this week in your Life Groups or on your own: Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12-14, Ephesians 4:7-13, 1 Peter 4:10-11. We’re going to focus on the Romans passage, but this introduction to spiritual gifts includes ideas from all four passages.
What are spiritual gifts? They are God-given, God-empowered abilities for serving God and others.
They are called gifts because they are God-given. You didn’t earn them, work for them or deserve them. They were simply given to you as a gift of grace. That’s why you should never brag about spiritual gifts.
They are called spiritual because they are God-empowered and enable you to do God’s work. They are from God and for God and empowered by God—
Who has spiritual gifts? Every Christian does! When you become a follower of Jesus, God gives you one or more spiritual gifts that equip you for His service. The Bible teaches that each one of you is gifted by God for His work.
1 Corinthians 12:7 Now to each one the manifestation (gifts) of the Spirit is given for the common good.
1 Corinthians 12:11 All these (gifts) are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one just as he determines.
Ephesians 4:7 But to each one of you grace (gifts) has been given as Christ apportioned it.
1 Peter 4:10 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others.
Who has spiritual gifts? Each one of you! The Bible says that:
Everyone has one or more spiritual gifts. No one is left out. No one is insignificant or unimportant.
No one has all the gifts. Everyone needs others. No one is independent or all-important.
No single gift is given to everyone. Everyone has at least one, but not the same one.
How did you get them? God gave them to you. Look at those verses again: given, gives, given, received. God gave them; you received them from Him. You were born with certain natural abilities and talents—we’ll talk about those next weekend. They were part of your genetic code.
ILL: One of my twin daughters has a beautiful singing voice, and her twin sister has amazing artistic ability. I don’t have either, so those genes came from their mother. They have taken voice and drawing lessons to sharpen those abilities, but the natural ability was already there. And if it’s not, no amount of training will give you the ability. I could take lessons forever and never sing or draw like my daughters. Of course, they’ll never be a stud-muffin like me!
You were born with natural abilities too—part of your genes, part of the physical package. And when you become a Christian, you are born again—with spiritual gifts—part of the spiritual package. You were born physically with physical abilities; you are born again spiritually with spiritual gifts, given to by God.
Can you get more? Is it possible to receive more gifts from God? Yes! I say that confidently for three reasons. First, God can do anything he wants, and if He wants to give you more, He can. Second, there are examples of Holy Spirit empowering people to do new things that they’ve never done before. They received more. Third, we are told in 1 Corinthians to eagerly desire the greater gifts (12:31). I don’t think he would tell us to desire something we couldn’t have. So you can ask God for more.
Some people believe that the gifts listed in Romans 12 are more fixed and resident—you receive those at conversion and keep them and they define your calling; while the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12 are more situational and temporary—you receive them on an “as needed” basis. They call Romans 12 “motivational gifts”, meaning they are a permanent part of who we are and they motivate us. And they call 1 Corinthians 12 “manifestation gifts”, meaning these are temporary manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power. I don’t think the text itself is quite that clear-cut or black and white. But I do think that this is a helpful idea, that it is true that God gives us resident gifts that define our calling, and can also give us temporary gifts to meet an immediate need.
What are these gifts? Each of the four passages lists various gifts:
Seven in Romans 12:
In 1 Corinthians 12, there are 9 in one list:
Message of wisdom
Message of knowledge
Gifts of healing
Distinguishing between spirits
Speaking different languages
Interpretation of languages
and 8 in another list:
Workers of miracles
Gifts of healing
Those able to help others
Gifts of administration
Speaking different languages
Five in Ephesians 4.
And two in 1 Peter 4.
Obviously, none of the lists individually is intended to be complete, and there is considerable duplication among them. Since none of the authors were trying to be complete or exhaustive, all of the gifts may not be listed. There may be more than what is listed.
How do I know which gifts I have? I’ll talk more about this in a minute. But the short answer is: by using them. By trying. By serving. By experience.
Can I develop these gifts? Absolutely. Just like you can develop your natural abilities by use and training, you can sharpen your spiritual gifts by use as well. Once you are aware of what gifts you have, you ought to learn all you can about that gift and how to best use it. And then, use it. Your gifts get stronger with use.
Let’s take a more in-depth look at spiritual gifts in one of these passages. Notice three things in Romans 12:3-8.
1. Assess yourself correctly. 3
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.
“Think of yourself with sober judgment.” Philips translates it, “Try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities.” Assess yourself correctly. This is the first thing Paul says about spiritual gifts. Know yourself. Know what you have and don’t have. Assess yourself correctly.
There are two mistakes you can make. It’s possible to think too much of yourself, to be proud or to think that you can do more than you really can.
ILL: I have some pastor friends who regularly speak well over an hour. They’re not that good. If you are going to speak that long, you not only need a speaking gift, you need an outstanding world-class speaking gift. Assess yourself correctly.
“Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought.” Some people do.
But I think even more people err on the other side. They think too little of themselves. They think that they don’t have any gifts, or if they do, that they are small and inconsequential. “What can I do?” This may be worse than pride. At least the person who thinks too much of himself is willing to try something, but the person who thinks too little of himself usually won’t try anything. “What can I do?” More than you think! And you’ll never know how much until you try.
ILL: My son Michael was reluctant to run at the first track meet of spring. He is a freshman, running against boys that are four years older. He didn’t think he had a chance. The coach kept telling him that he was fast, and finally talked him into running the 200 meters at the second meet of the season. Just before the race, Michael told me, “I’m going to get creamed, Dad. I’ll probably come in last.” He finished first in his heat, five yards ahead of the second place finisher. He’s got a gift: he’s fast! The kid is a chip off the old block!
Lots of us are like Michael when it comes to our spiritual gifts. “What can I do?” More than you think, and you’ll never know until you try.
Assess yourself correctly. Don’t think too much of yourself, but don’t think too little either. “Think of yourself with sober (or sound) judgment.” Have a realistic and accurate appraisal of your gifts. Assess yourself correctly.
How do you assess yourself correctly? How can you discover your spiritual gifts? Here are four suggestions.
Take a spiritual gifts inventory, such as the Wagner-Houts Modified Inventory, or the Uniquely You Spiritual Gifts Inventory, or the Heart-2-Heart Inventory. All these assessments are good starting points but are not definitive. An inventory may give you a rough idea of what your gifts are, and its greatest value is that it gets you thinking about it. We offer an inventory in Servenet—it’s a good starting point.
Evaluate your experiences. What are you good at? Where have you already been successful or fruitful? By honestly evaluating your past experiences, you may be able to discern a pattern of effectiveness in certain things. For example, I noticed that after I did counseling, people jumped off buildings or drove their cars into bridge pilings…and usually it was me. I could listen for a little while to someone talking about his problems, but then I wanted to jump up and scream, “Well fix it!” I concluded that I didn’t have the gift of mercy or counseling. But I also looked back and noticed that I have ended up leading almost every group of people I’m in. I’m not a counselor, but I am a leader. Evaluate your experiences.
Ask for feedback from friends. Ask someone else to evaluate you. Let them know that you aren’t just fishing for compliments, but want honest feedback. Spiritual gifts can be observed and confirmed by others who know you well. If you think that you’re a good teacher, but no one else agrees, guess what? If you’re gifted, other people will see it and confirm it. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback.
Experiment. The best way to discover your spiritual gifts is to try different kinds of serving. I could have taken a hundred tests and never discovered that I had a speaking gift until I tried speaking. But when I tried it, I discovered I had a gift, and others confirmed it. As a freshman in college, I spoke at a church in Portland, Oregon—it was the first church I had ever spoken in other than my home church. Afterwards, the pastor pulled me aside and said, “You have a gift, young man. You could be the next Billy Graham!” He was a little goofy, but I went away thinking, “Maybe I do have a gift. Maybe I could do this.” I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t tried. Many people get this backward. They say, “Discover your gift and then put it to work for God.” But usually, we just start serving, doing the work, experimenting with different ways of serving God and people, and we discover our gifts. You may not discover your gift until you actually use it. So experiment! Give it a try, and if it flops, it was an experiment, not a failure!
Assess yourself correctly. Know yourself and what you can do. But this is not just about you. You are part of a team.
2. Understand your role on the team. 4-6
4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.
Whenever Paul talked about spiritual gifts, he used the illustration of the human body. Your body is a single organism made up of many parts. Each part has a role to play, a function that contributes to the overall health and well-being of the whole body. The eyes see, the feet walk, the stomach digests, the nerves feel, the head aches.
Paul says that the church is like that. The church is the body of Christ, and each of us is a member or part of that body. We have each been designed and gifted for a specific function, and Jesus, the head, coordinates all our efforts.
Every time Paul talked about spiritual gifts, he used this illustration of the human body. The diversity of our gifts is always discussed in the context of the unity of the body. Your individual gifts and calling are always seen in relation to the larger good. It’s not about me; it’s about us and Him. Today, we have individualized Christianity. When we talk about spiritual gifts, it’s usually highly individualized. It’s all about me discovering my gifts, finding my role, achieving my happiness. But in the Bible it’s always about us fitting together to do God’s work. We are a community, a family, a team, a body. And for us to do God’s work effectively, you need to understand your role on the team.
ILL: No member of your body exists for itself or does its own thing. Imagine what would happen if your hands decided to do their own thing. That’s spastic! And dangerous! And impossible because no part of your body exists just as an individual part. Each part is connected to others and functions as part of the whole.
And that’s true of us as Christians. We aren’t Lone Rangers, doing our own thing. We are members together of a body, and we work together.
ILL: I quarterbacked my high school football team. We had 11 men on the field, and each man had a role to play, a specific function on each play. If each guy did his job, the team succeeded; we moved the ball down the field and we scored. And that’s what it was about. It wasn’t just about me and my role, or the center, or the wide receiver. It was about the team and its goal of scoring and winning. Our individual roles existed only as part of the larger good. Without a football team, I wouldn’t have been a quarterback. My role existed only in relation to the rest of the team.
There are no one-man football teams. And there are no one-member bodies, no 180 pound eyeballs, or 120 pound fingers. The individual parts of a body only make sense in relation to the rest, and the members of a football team only exist in relation to the team.
And you will only make sense of your life and your dream in relation to God’s great dream for all of us. What part of the body are you? What is your role on the team? How are you helping to move the ball down the field? It’s not about you, it’s about us—together—and God.
Paul says that we don’t have the same function; we have different functions, different roles on the team. And he says we have different gifts—gifts that match the function or role we’ve been given. God matches roles or functions with gifts.
ILL: My football team did that. Where did we put the 245 pound guys? Interior line: guards and tackles. What about the 6’2” 180 pound greyhound who could leap and had soft hands? Wide receiver. Or how about the 5’10” 200 pound bowling ball with thunder thighs? Fullback! What about the guy who couldn’t run, couldn’t catch, wasn’t big and wasn’t fast? Quarterback.
We matched gifts with roles. God does that: different functions, different gifts. God has given you spiritual gifts to match your role in His game plan. As you discover and use your spiritual gifts, you will naturally fulfill your role in God’s plan.
Assess yourself correctly. Understand your role on the team. And…
3. Use your gifts to serve others. 6-8
You know what your gifts are and your role on the team. Now get to work! Use your gifts to serve others.
If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
Paul lists seven gifts—again, the list is not exhaustive—we know there are more than seven spiritual gifts. But after each gift, he says, “Use it.” If your gift is prophesy, use it! Serving—then serve. Teaching—then teach. And so on. Use your gifts to serve others.
Let’s run through these seven gifts and see if any of them ring your bell.
Prophesying. This is the hardest of the seven to pin down. Here’s what I think. When we think of prophecy, we usually think of foretelling the future. But in the New Testament it usually meant that you spoke God’s message to a person or group of people for a certain time or situation. 1 Corinthians 14:3 says that those who prophesy “speak to people in a way that strengthens, encourages and comforts them.” Prophesying is discerning what God is saying right now, and saying it in a way that builds people up. It often involves public speaking, but doesn’t have to. You can speak God’s message to one person over coffee, or many. By the way, it says that you should prophesy “in proportion to your faith.” Other translations read, “in agreement with the faith,” meaning your message must square with the revealed tenets of the Christian faith. It has to match the Bible. That’s why the Bible says that prophesy is to be judged: make sure it matches what we know is true.
ILL: One guy prophesied in a meeting, “Thus says the Lord: There’s fear in the east, there’s fear in the west, sometimes I’m even a little afraid myself, says the Lord.” Oops.
Prophesying: discerning what God is saying right now and saying it in a way that builds people up.
Serving. Some people find great joy in doing whatever needs to be done to accomplish the team’s goals. The Bible is clear that every Christian is a servant. But some of you have a serving gift. You are wired in such a way that you can’t wait to help, you look for ways to serve, and you’re willing to do anything needed. Help, serve, needed. Just those words make your antenna go up! “Someone needs help?” Serving: doing whatever needs to be done.
Teaching. If you have a teaching gift you probably enjoy studying, learning, and then sharing what you know to help other people grow. You are motivated by seeing the light go on for someone else. Teachers are learners first—they love to learn—and then they love to help others learn, and they’re good at it. Don’t think just of classrooms or platforms. Lots of teaching happens one-on-one or in small groups. You may coach or mentor one person at a time and have a teaching gift. Teaching: helping others learn and grow.
Encouraging. Some people have a gift for stirring up and motivating people. They put the wind back in your sails. They warm you up and cheer you on. They renew your courage. Some folks drain you; encouragers always fill you up. You see them coming, and get a smile on your face, because you know you’re going to get a boost. The Greek word, parakaleo, means “to come alongside to help, encourage or exhort.”
ILL: When I ran a marathon a couple years ago, Laina met me at the 20-mile mark—where most people hit the wall, and I did too—and she jumped in ran alongside me. For the last six miles, she kept me going when I wanted to quit. “Come on, honey. You can do it.” I told her that if I ever talked about doing this again, to take a hammer and hit me in the shins! She ran with me and talked me through the last six miles. She was my paraklete—my encourager.
By the way, it’s interesting that the Holy Spirit is called the paraklete, the Encourager, the One who comes alongside to help and encourage. Encouraging: coming alongside people to cheer them on.
Giving. Every Christian is to give—that’s clear in the Bible. But some people have a gift of giving. They love to give generously to help others and see God’s work advance.
ILL: One pastor told about a young management executive in his church who said, “Pastor, one of my life goals is to be the leading giver in our congregation.” At the time, he made a modest salary and was on a bottom rung in a multinational corporation. He gave enthusiastically as much as he could.
He advanced quickly in his corporation, and he now heads a major division. Recently, his pastor told him, “Bob, I thank God for your commitment to do what God called you to do. This past year your dream was realized. You have become the leading contributor to this church.”
Bob’s motives were not selfish; his church does not publish what people give; no one but he and the pastor knew what he gave. His ambition was no different than the person who says, “I want to be the best kids’ teacher in our church.” He wanted to be the best giver. Why? Because he had a gift.
I’ve known people who believe that God gave them an unusual ability to make money so that they could give it. God entrusted them with large resources to be channeled towards God’s work. R.J. LeTourneau was a multi-millionaire businessman who practiced reverse tithing: he kept 10% of his income, and gave 90% to God’s work? He had a gift of giving. If you have the gift of giving, give generously! Giving: joyfully and generously giving to help others and advance God’s work.
Leadership. The Greek word literally means “to stand before, to be out front.” That’s what a leader does—a leader goes first. A leader sets the pace, leads the way, gets out front and says, “follow me.” Good leaders not only lead the charge, but direct the army. The leaders make it possible for all the other gifts to do their jobs in harmony, to pull together and get it done. Without leaders, you have chaos. I was the quarterback on my high school football team not because I was the best athlete, but because I was the best leader. My job was to lead our team, and make sure each guy knew what his role was and that he did it. Paul says if your gift is leadership, lead with diligence, earnestness, zeal. Don’t drag your feet—lead with diligence. Leadership: be out front, lead the way and direct the team.
Mercy. Soft hearts. People with the gift of showing mercy have tremendous compassion. They feel for others. When a mercy person sees someone crying, they want to cry too, and they can’t help but put an arm around the shoulder and ask, “Do you want to talk about it?” They are terrific listeners and understand what others are going through. If you’re in the hospital, it’s a mercy person that’s likely to come visit you. If you’re sick, it’s a mercy person who will show up to mow your lawn, or pick up your load at work. Paul says, “Show mercy with cheerfulness.” Put a smile on your face! Mercy: soft hearts that feel compassion and show it in practical ways.
These seven aren’t the only gifts, but I’ll bet that just about everyone here has at least one of these. Raise your hand when I name yours.
Prophesying: use it!
Giving: give generously!
Leadership: lead with diligence!
Mercy: show mercy with cheerfulness!
Use your gifts!