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What are spiritual gifts?

Why do we receive spiritual gifts, and what should they be used for?

In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 Paul mentions:

  • The word of wisdom
  • The word of knowledge
  • Faith
  • Gifts of healing
  • Workings of miracles
  • Prophecy
  • Discerning of spirits
  • Different kinds of tongues
  • Interpretation of tongues

It doesn’t seem like this is a comprehensive list of all the spiritual gifts, but that he mentions these merely as examples, for later in the chapter he adds:

  • Gifts of helping
  • Gifts of administration

He also writes:

“There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.” 1 Corinthians 12:5-6.

But then Paul adds: “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.” In other words, spiritual gifts are meant to be profitable, to meet a need. Paul writes further about the body where the members are different (he means that not everybody has to have the same spiritual gifts) and that the members of the body should care for each other. In this connection (care for each other) we also need spiritual gifts.  And then he ends the chapter with: “But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.” 1 Corinthians 12:31.

A more excellent way

I can receive spiritual gifts by faith, I can fight for them and I can practice using them. But if I don’t think about helping people and if I am missing a care for people, I can quickly go astray. Then it is easy for me to start believing that the spiritual gifts alone give content or value to those who use them. Then I am being motivated by the wrong thing and soon I will start thinking about honor and being great in the church. Then even envy and jealousy can become my motivation to use spiritual gifts

That’s why Paul writes: “I show you a more excellent way,” and then comes 1 Corinthians 13. He uses a lot of words to warn us and assure us that we are nothing if all we have is spiritual gifts. And he explains that it is quite possible to use the spiritual gifts without love. You could almost think that all of those who use spiritual gifts have love, almost as if they were one and the same. But that’s not the way it is!

A more excellent way (better than just receiving the spiritual gifts as gifts of faith) is when love is the motivating factor. Then it is like a person who has found water in an oasis and is desperately looking for a container so he can bring water to someone who is dying in the desert. Spiritual gifts are like such a container. The container isn’t terribly useful by itself, but when it is used by somebody who has love and who has themselves found what can give life to a thirsty soul, then it becomes useful. And in this context, it is also stupid to think about getting honor from your fellow Christians.

Don’t think about what is “great”

Using spiritual gifts is often closer than you think when you do not think about what is “great.” Works are prepared for me and it’s often right in front of me where I can help those close to me. And for example the gift of prophecy is not meant to be reserved only for great crowds – when I can encourage my brother or sister and strengthen their courage and faith by prophecy in a private conversation, so they begin to look at life with hope and smile at their future in a life with Jesus and with the saints, then I have done exactly what spiritual gifts are meant for.

Spiritual gifts will cease, but love gives us something of value here in this life and we will bring that with us as content in our eternal lives. So we mustn’t choose wrong! And I can test myself if I have love by reading 1 Corinthians 13, and then I can judge myself in that light and pursue love above all things. And then at the same time in this live I can diligently make use of the gifts I feel the Spirit wants to give me because I can see a need and long to find a tool to fill that need.

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