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Bible Dictionaries

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary

Gifts of the Spirit

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According to common usage, the expressions ‘gifts of the Spirit’ and ‘spiritual gifts’ refer to those abilities that God gives to Christians for use in his service (Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:4). The Bible usually speaks of these gifts in relation to the local church, where, through the proper use of all the gifts, the members of the church are spiritually built up (1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:11-12).

Variety of gifts

Different gifts and different forms of service do not indicate different levels of spirituality. All the abilities come from God, and he distributes them according to his will (1 Corinthians 12:4-7; 1 Corinthians 12:11). The variety of gifts in the church is likened to the variety of functions in the human body. As the body functions best when each part carries out its function properly, so the church functions best when each person exercises his or her gifts properly, without pride, competition or jealousy (1 Corinthians 12:14-26). Although there is variety, there is unity (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12; 1 Corinthians 12:27).

In several places the New Testament lists some gifts of the Spirit (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10; 1 Corinthians 12:27-31; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Peter 4:9-11). These lists, whether separately or combined, do not provide a complete catalogue of all the gifts, but give examples relevant to the writer’s purpose. No list can be complete, because God’s sovereign Spirit equips people according to the changing circumstances of different times and places (Acts 13:2; 1 Corinthians 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:11; Galatians 2:9; 1 Timothy 4:14). This work of the Spirit may begin with the God-given natural abilities that people possesses even before they become believers (Acts 9:15; Galatians 1:15-16).

Sometimes the New Testament speaks of gifted people themselves as gifts whom God gives to the church. This is particularly so in the case of the teaching and leadership gifts (Ephesians 4:11; see APOSTLE; PROPHET; EVANGELIST; PASTOR; TEACHER). These gifts may not be as spectacular as some other gifts, but they are more important (1 Corinthians 12:28-31).

The more spectacular gifts include the power to heal sickness and disease (1 Corinthians 12:9; 1 Corinthians 12:28; cf. Acts 3:6-8; Acts 8:7; see HEALING), the ability to perform miracles (1 Corinthians 12:10; cf. Acts 9:36-41; Acts 13:11; 2 Corinthians 12:12; see MIRACLES), special faith that achieves what normally seems unlikely (1 Corinthians 12:9; cf. Matthew 17:19-20; Hebrews 11:33-40) and abilities relating to speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues and distinguishing between different kinds of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10; cf. Acts 8:13-21; 1 Corinthians 14:13; 1 Corinthians 14:27; 1 John 4:1; see TONGUES).

Other gifts may be less spectacular, but they are nevertheless important. These include the various capacities that people have for administering affairs, giving generously, helping others and showing mercy (Romans 12:8; Romans 16:2; 1 Corinthians 11:28; cf. Acts 9:36; 2 Timothy 1:16-18).

Using the gifts

While some people exercise their gifts mainly within their own locality (Acts 20:28-32; Colossians 4:12-13; Colossians 4:17), others do so over a wider area, spending longer or shorter periods in various churches (Acts 11:25-26; Acts 18:11; Acts 20:31; 3 John 1:5-8). Church leaders should be constantly looking for those who show ability and should help them develop it (1 Timothy 4:14-16; 2 Timothy 2:2; cf. Acts 13:5; Acts 16:1-3).

At the same time individual Christians should desire spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1) and should pray for them (1 Corinthians 14:13), especially the more important gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31). Some, however, might seek gifts with the wrong motives; others, in spite of their good intentions, might wrongly assess their own abilities (Romans 12:3-5; 1 Corinthians 12:1-3; 1 Timothy 1:7; 2 Peter 2:1). Church leaders must therefore have the ability to distinguish between the true and the false (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1).

Christians develop their spiritual gifts by using them (Romans 12:6). They should work hard to achieve excellence in their performance (1 Timothy 4:15) and must exercise their gifts within the guidelines God has set out (1 Corinthians 14:27-31).

But good performance is not in itself enough. There must also be practical godliness in daily living (1 Timothy 4:16). Believers can carry out spiritual work properly only by the work of God’s Spirit within them (1 Corinthians 2:12-13). If they exercise spiritual gifts in the wrong attitude, they may even cause harm (1 Corinthians 13:1-31Pe_4:10; 1 Peter 5:5).

An indication of the Spirit’s work in the lives of believers is not the spiritual gifts they exercise, but the spiritual fruit they produce (Galatians 5:22-23; cf. 2 Corinthians 3:17-18). Spiritual gift varies according to the ability that God gives, but spiritual fruit is the Christian character that God desires for all his people. Gifts are limited to service in the present world, but character will endure into the world to come. That is why the development of spiritual gift must be accompanied by a corresponding development in true Christian love (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).

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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Gifts of the Spirit'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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