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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Spiritual Gifts

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The skills and abilities which God gives through His Spirit to all Christians, which equip Christians to serve God in the Christian community.

In the Old Testament, the Spirit of the Lord was given to selected leaders rather than to all of God's people. When the Spirit came to an individual, He brought with Him one or more gifts which equipped the individual to serve God by serving Israel. Examples of this are: Bezaleel, who was given the gift of craftsmanship (Exodus 31:2-3 ); Othniel, who was equipped to be a judge (Judges 3:9-10 ); Gideon, who was given military skills (Judges 6:34 ); Samson, who was given physical strength (Judges 14:6 ,Judges 14:6,14:19 ); Saul, who was given political skills (1 Samuel 10:6 ); and Micah, who was given prophetic gifts (Micah 3:8 ).

These Old Testament stories are the background for the Christian understanding of spiritual gifts. The Christian view of spiritual gifts begins with Jesus. He was the unique bearer of the Spirit (Mark 1:10 ). The Spirit directed and empowered Him for His ministry (Luke 4:14-18 ). Jesus promised His disciples that they, too, would receive the Spirit one day and that the Spirit would guide them (see Mark 13:11; Luke 11:13 ).

These promises were fulfilled on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-47 ). The Spirit was given to all Christians, not just to selected leaders (Acts 2:3-4 ,Acts 2:3-4,2:17-18 ). Peter made it quite clear that the Spirit would continue to be given to all who accepted the Christian gospel (Acts 2:38 ).

Paul's letters reveal that this continued to be true in all the churches; every Christian was given the gift of the Spirit, so that Paul could write: “Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:9 TEV). When the Spirit came into a person's life, He brought with Him a gift, or gifts, which that person could use to serve God. “Each one, as a good manager of God's different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God” ( 1 Peter 4:10 TEV).

Like Peter, Paul believed that every Christian had a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:4-7 ). Neither Paul nor any other New Testament writer suggested that some Christians might be without gifts; all Christians are given gifts. Paul always set his discussion of gifts in the context of the church. In our day many people tend to think individualistically; it is easy to do this with reference to spiritual gifts. This can lead us to become arrogant about our gifts (“I have the gift of evangelism”), or else to be ashamed of our gifts (“My gift is only working with children”). Paul spoke of gifts in terms of the whole church, not in terms of individuals only. The church, he said, is the body of Christ; each Christian is a member (eye, ear, leg); and each member has its appropriate ability (to see, or hear, or walk). This understanding leaves no room for arrogance or shame concerning our gifts.

In his writings Paul referred to about twenty different gifts, including such things as preaching, teaching, and leadership. Some interpreters have suggested that by putting Paul's lists of gifts together, we get a comprehensive list of spiritual gifts. This seems unlikely, as we today can recognize some gifts which Paul did not mention, such as the gifts of music, of working with youth, and of counseling.

Some Christians today tend to want to distinguish spiritual gifts from natural abilities, but this distinction seems not to have occurred to Paul, for he included both in his lists (see, for example, Romans 12:6-8 ). His assumption seems to have been that whatever skills a Christian has are given to him by God and are to be used in God's service. What matters, then, is that Christians discover what their gifts are and then develop them.

Which specific gift is the most valuable one? Paul's answer to this is clear and emphatic: the one gift all Christians should have, love (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:1 ). Love is the ultimate spiritual gift. If we have all other gifts and lack love, we have nothing; if we have love and nothing else, we have everything. Paul said that love fulfills the entire law (Romans 13:10; compare Matthew 22:39-40 ). Love makes possible the fellowship of the church and guarantees that gifts will be used unselfishly. Love is the greatest gift given to us by the God who is love. See Holy Spirit; Tongues, Gift of.

Fisher Humphreys

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Spiritual Gifts'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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