In recent years, much has been said about spiritual gifts—those God-given abilities He equips us with to serve effectively. And yet, many people in church today still fail to understand and embrace exactly what He’s provided.
Our spiritual gifts are specifically chosen for each of us by God—for our good and for the good of the church. The Lord wants all of us to serve His kingdom in some manner, not just because there’s work to be done but also because serving draws us closer to Him. He’s provided everything we need, so it’s our responsibility to discover our spiritual gifts and then develop and exercise them with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Discovering Our Spiritual Gifts
Paul told the Corinthians, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware” (1 Cor. 12:1). God isn’t trying to hide our abilities from us. On the contrary, He wants us to know what they are and how to use them. Scripture contains several lists of the various gifts. (See Rom. 12:6-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-11, 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11-12.) Although they differ in many ways, all of them come from one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4). To discover our spiritual gifts, we should examine how we respond to situations or needs. Instead of dwelling on what we should do or how others are serving, we must focus on what motivates us. For example, if we have a passion to study the Word and share what we’ve learned, we may have the gift of teaching. If we love to help others or show compassion, that might indicate we have the gift of serving or mercy.
Developing Our Spiritual Gifts
Once we have discovered our gifts, the next step is to cultivate them. Although they are given to us at the moment of salvation, they do not come fully developed. Through practice, we learn how to employ them. It’s similar to the development of a talent: Someone may have a natural musical ability, but if he never receives instruction from a qualified teacher or makes an attempt to play an instrument, that talent will lie dormant. However, since these are divinely given abilities, not natural ones, they must be empowered by the Spirit in order to be effective. Self-effort results only in strain, exhaustion, and fruitlessness. But when we walk in the Spirit, yielded and obedient to Him, He makes our efforts succeed.
We can’t manufacture God’s love any more than we can effectively use our spiritual gifts in our own strength.
The mistake we often make is in thinking that spiritual gifts are all about doing. In reality, they first require abiding in Christ and walking in the Spirit. We must be willing to say to God, “I won’t get in the way of You doing in and with me whatever You choose. Remove anything displeasing and produce in me whatever I am lacking.”
Exercising Our Spiritual Gifts
Once we’ve discovered our gifts and have begun to develop them through training, practice, and submission to the Spirit, we’re ready to put them to full use. Peter says, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). No matter how little we have to offer, God wants us to make ourselves available for service. We won’t realize our potential until we act. Therefore, we should never underestimate what God can do through us.
There is one more element that’s essential for the effective exercise of our gifts. Sandwiched between two chapters about spiritual gifts, Paul writes of the importance of love (1 Cor. 13:1-3). No matter how great our gifts or how proficiently we use them, if we do not have love, they are ineffective and profit us nothing. Without love for those we serve, all our work will be burned up in God’s judgment like wood, hay, and straw (1 Cor. 3:12-15).
Spiritual gifts first require abiding in Christ and walking in the Spirit.
Although this seems like an impossible standard, we must remember that spiritual gifts are divinely empowered and motivated. We can’t manufacture God’s love any more than we can effectively use our spiritual gifts in our own strength. But when we walk in the Spirit, Jesus lives His life through us.
Appreciating All of the Spiritual Gifts
Jesus Christ is the full expression of all the spiritual gifts because He alone is the God-man who lived a perfect life. After ascending to the Father, He entrusted the church with the task of carrying out His work on earth. To accomplish this, He gave a variety of spiritual gifts to His followers who are now His body. Christ is the head, and He’s the one who fits us together to form a well-functioning body that grows and builds itself up in love (Eph. 4:15-16). When all of us are operating according to our gifting, together we become what we long to be—a New Testament church.
It’s not enough to discover, develop, and exercise our own gifts; we must also value other people’s (1 Cor. 12:18-21). No one sees the entire picture or has all the answers. We need each other to point out our blind spots, teach us humility, and handle matters we cannot tackle alone. God uses our differences to shape us into Christ’s image so we can display the fruit of the Spirit. We each have a job to do in the church. Therefore, let’s be good stewards of our gifts in the power and love of the Spirit so that one day we will hear our Lord’s commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21 NIV).
Adapted from the sermon “God’s Children: Gifted for Ministry” by Charles F. Stanley