Which gifts are “spiritual”?

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel his pleasure.

Eric Liddell

Have you ever read the lists of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 or Ephesians 4 and wondered about your own gifts, and whether they “count”? The word “spiritual” (πνευματικῶν) only actually appears in one of the passages, but the structure set out in each of the three passages is the same: one God, giving different gifts to different people, in order to build up the body of which He is the head.

God made us, and every good gift comes from Him, so in that sense, every single thing that we’re good at is a gift from God – as reflected in the Eric Liddell quote at the start of this blog. However, the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12-14 have something in common – they all require an ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit to exercise. God gave Eric Liddell a fast body (and a disciplined mind!) so he could run fast any time he wanted to; however, nobody has the bodily ability to heal another, or to know the secrets of another person’s heart – that ability must be given each time by the Holy Spirit. This is why Paul refers to them as “different manifestations of the same Spirit”.

We are urged to eagerly desire these Spirit-given gifts (1 Cor 12:31), but they are also mixed in alongside other gifts in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4, which indicates that these other gifts – service, teaching, encouragement, pastoral care – are also of great value. So perhaps a better question is not, “is my gift Spiritual?” but rather, “how can I use my gifts Spiritually?” In my reading of Scripture, there are two ways to ensure that we do this:

  1. Exercise the gift in faith and relationship with the Lord

I have no doubt that the most successful people in any field – science, sport, commerce, or anything else – have been given gifts by God that enabled them to excel. However, unless they have been reconciled to God, those gifts are being used according to their own ends, as they thing right. Sometimes that may happen to coincide with how God would want them to use them – where it brings about greater justice, brings peace or perhaps healing. At other times it will actively oppose the Kingdom of God. Clearly that gift isn’t being used spiritually.

However, it’s possible for a believer to also detach their gift from their relationship with God – to pray, worship and obey God, and yet to see their gifts as separate from their “Christian life”. Pause and ask yourself a question:

  • If you look after children full-time – what makes you a good parent to them? What would they say they appreciate about your character and skills?
  • If you are employed – what makes you a good employee, and what skills would go on your CV?
  • If you manage an aspect of your household – what are your strengths in that regard?
  • What would your closest friends say they most appreciate about your character, and in what circumstances would they seek you out?

Once you’ve put together that list, ask yourself – which of those attributes or skills do I talk to God about? Which ones do I ask Him how I can best use? Am I conscious of God when I use them? It’s an amazing thing that when he ran, Eric Liddell’s mind wasn’t simply on his legs, his opponents, or the finish line – he was aware of God’s pleasure!1If you look at some quotes by him, you’ll see that he viewed his running with a healthy sense of perspective!. Why not seek to do the same in exercising your own gifts?

  1. Use the gift for building up the Body of Christ

At my previous church, there was an Indian couple who had gifts of encouragement and hospitality. Quite apart from cooking the best curry I’ve ever tasted, they had a way of making pretty much anyone feel at ease in their company. It was frequently the case that when we would finally manage to connect with people who’d been on the fringe of church for a while and weren’t easy to contact, we’d find that they’d already been to Sam & Ree’s house once or twice, and were exchanging text messages on a semi-regular basis. They also scooped up people who were isolated – students staying up over the holidays, single people who’d recently arrived in the city and didn’t know anyone – and connected with them. There were plenty of people in the church who had a gift of hospitality, but it was clear that this couple excelled in actively seeking to use their gift for the building up of the Body.

In my experience, helping people to exercise their gifts for the sake of the church is much easier amongst young people – students and 20s-30s in particular – because they’re at a stage of constant change anyway, and are comfortable with the idea of growing and developing in their relationship with the church, and critically they’re also used to the idea that they’ll not necessarily do something well and will need to learn. I’ve found it to be significantly harder to convince older members of the church to begin using a gift that they aren’t already using – where people haven’t been encouraged to use their gifts for decades, it can be hard to ask them to be inexperienced learners once more. However, Scripture teaches us that while youth is not a barrier to wisdom, yet we should expect treasures of wisdom to be found most commonly amongst the older members of our congregation2Job 12:12-13, Proverbs 16:31, 1 Timothy 4:12. When combined with a gift of pastoral care or encouragement, this is a particular blessing to the church.

If you already have an idea of what your gifts might be (or if the questions above gave you some clues) then why not ask yourself, “how can I use this in the service of God, and of His people?” And if you’re still not sure, please reach out to the church leadership team, because it may be that there are needs you’re not aware of!

One last thought – some might be concerned that saying “here are my gifts – find me a way to use them in the church!” sounds proud or arrogant. This comes down a lot to the attitude with which it’s brought. It can be done in a way that suggests, “I am gifted and I deserve a place doing …” and that certainly does sound a lot like pride; however, remembering that all gifts come from God, it certainly isn’t pride to say, “I believe God has given me these gifts – how can I be of service?”

This blog is one of a series on how we use our gifts in the church, which will grow over the coming weeks. The main post and the links to other topics can be found here. As always, if you have any thoughts or reflections, please do comment below – and if you would like to have a longer discussion on a specific area or your personal situation, please do drop me an email.

2 thoughts on “Which gifts are “spiritual”?

  1. What’s the difference between a spiritual gift and doing something that you’re able to do, mostly because it needs doing?
    Or, is the pragmatic approach to serving in church unspiritual?

    1. Good question! I’d say the difference isn’t the word “spiritual”, but rather the word “gift”. To my mind, if you see a need, and step up because you want to serve God’s people, then the motivation is still love and the act is still a spiritual one.
      Interestingly, though, I think the outcomes can be mixed. In the short term, the need is met and that’s usually helpful. In the medium-term, we may develop a love for the work and possibly increased aptitude in it too – that’s more or less what happened with me when I started helping with 7-11s kids’ Church a decade ago. However, another effect can be that someone else who really has a God-given gift in that area (and perhaps less confidence) might not come forward because the role is being filled and the need’s no longer apparent, or because to step up might imply that they think they’re better than the other person.
      There is something qualitatively different when someone has both God-given aptitude in a task and also a sense of calling into it, or faith for it – they can do more with less, or they can inspire faith in others; they often gather teams around themselves because the way that they use their gift inspires confidence in others. To me, that’s one of the great joys of a spiritual gift well-used.

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