Tag Archives: Spiritual gifts

What is the purpose of Spiritual Gifts?

I think there are two purposes that Scripture reveals for Spiritual Gifts. In fact, these two reasons complement one another because it’s unlikely you’ll be able to have one without the other for very long. They are:

  1. Building
  2. Uniting

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, (Ephesians 4:11, 12)

Building up the Body is listed as the reason that Christ has empowered some people to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. Another way you could translate this verse would be to say that he equipped them “for the purpose of building up the Body of Christ.” In other words, we weren’t given spiritual gifts to use them on ourselves. In fact, that idea is completely out of the question. For example, imagine a soldier whose been trained, conditioned, equipped with all his gear. The times comes for him to deploy, but instead of going to war he takes all his training and equipment and goes on a hunting trip. It’s the same way for anyone who has been granted a spiritual gift and merely uses it for their own benefit. Not only are they being selfish, they are squandering their gift on themselves when it should be used for building up the entire Church. Instead of benefitting ourselves, our spiritual gifts should be benefitting dozens–if not hundreds–of people. I should add here that when I say “building up the body” I mean both outward and upward. We should be building out–which is why there are apostles, prophets, and evangelists–and we should be building up–which is why there are shepherds and teachers. But, beware of creating an atmosphere of competition to see who has the superior spiritual gifts. This leads to division, which is antithetical to the second purpose of spiritual gifts.

…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ… (Ephesians 4:13)

When each part is working properly, per Ephesians 4:16, the body will “build itself up in love.” The spiritual gifts are meant to build the body up, and part of being built up is being unified. Jesus said that no group which is divided against itself can stand (Mark 3:24, Matthew 12:25). This applies to the Church. If spiritual gifts are not being used properly–for example, if they are being used out of pride, selfishness, etc.–then they will inevitably be used by the Destroyer to slowly and subtly dissolve unity. Think about it, when Paul wrote that “when each part is working properly [it] makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16)” he must have surely known the opposite was true. When each part is not working properly it prevents the body from growing, which means that it will destroy itself in hatred.

So what does this mean? First, it means we are called to use our spiritual gifts. Part of “working properly” is working; in other words, if you’re not serving you are not properly using your spiritual gifts, period. Second, everyone has spiritual gifts. Not all spiritual gifts are equally flashy, but all people are given spiritual gifts which means that all people are necessary if we are to reach full maturity. Finally, as we use our spiritual gifts, we must constantly check our hearts and our motives. If we are using our spiritual gifts for anything beyond building and uniting the body, we must do the hard work of checking our hearts and repenting where necessary. So I encourage you to examine where God has given you both gifts and passion. Be open to serving in several different capacities before you decide you’ve found out exactly where you fit in the Body. And remember to do all things in a manner that builds and unites the Church.

Lesson One: Spiritual Gifts

Once upon a time and for only about 8 long weeks, I was training to be a combat controller (I was medically disqualified because of my eyesight, but now I see God’s hand in that). Becoming a combat controller demands that all candidates be in world-class physical condition and one of the big philosophies ingrained in me early on is that you must focus on your weaknesses. If you’re a really great runner but you’re horrible at push-ups, then you need to double your training-efforts to get better at push-ups. If you can knock out pull-ups with no problem but you sink like a rock in the pool, then you need to spend extra time developing your form. It made a lot of sense, because all combat controllers need to be pretty evenly rounded when they’re out on missions.

Somehow, this mentality stuck with me for the rest of my military career and, even worse, as a Christian. While there is some merit to this approach, I think it’s significantly short-sighted when it comes to our spiritual gifts. This is the first lesson God has taught me in seminary. According to 1 Cor 12:7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (Another translation I just learned about, the J.B. Phillips New Testament, puts it like this: “Each man is given his gift by the Spirit that he may make the most of it.”) Later on, Paul develops this thought a little more specifically by saying that we’ve each been given very specific gifts for very specific reasons and that no one is a miniature body with all the gifts (1 Cor 12:18-20). This diversity is meant to cause unity and interdependence in the Church.

Coming into seminary, I thought “I feel like God has given me a gift and a calling to teach, so I need to supplement that with classes about pastoring and shepherding.” I had imported the combat control mentality that I needed to be “balanced” or “well-rounded” into my calling. This really doesn’t make sense when you think about it. Paul agreed in 1 Cor 12:17 when he points out how ridiculous it would be for every member of the church to try to have the same spiritual gifts.

I’ve realized that, instead of trying to compensate for areas where God has not gifted me, I should be focusing on the areas where God has gifted me. Instead of trying to be a flashlight and shine over a wide area, I should be like a laser and focus on the central area where God has gifted me. In Maximizing Your Effectiveness: How to Discover and Develop Your Divine Design, Aubrey Malphurs says about spiritual gifts:

“God has sovereignly made us just the way we are–God is the Architect, the Master Designer, the Potter. Whether you are an ear or an eye, 1 Corinthians 12:18 teaches, “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” Therefore, there is no need to be upset with our place or function in the body of Christ. Instead, there is much satisfaction in knowing we are ministering in accordance with God’s design and purpose for our lives. The key is discovering which body part you are, then functioning according to that design.”

So, the first big lesson that God has taught me is that it’s time to embrace the gifts He’s given me and realize that others in the Body will be able to minister in areas where I’m not gifted. This season of my life is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to harness my spiritual gifts in preparation for full-time ministry. It would be foolish and wasteful of me to try to become the spiritual equivalent of a Swiss-army Knife when God has gifted me to be something far more specific and useful. I encourage you to pray for wisdom and discernment and ask God to reveal the gifts He’s given you; then serve in those areas mightily for God’s glory and your joy.