Spiritual Gifts: A List?

I have a question for you today about the various lists of spiritual gifts in the NT. I will give here the list in Romans, but we can then look to 1 Cor 12, Eph 4 and 1 Peter, and can ask this question: Are these substances (specific, discernible gifts) or are they various manifestations of what the Spirit does when at work in the community of faith?
Romans 12:6-8:
Prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, compassion.

Does one, then, find each of the lists, add them all up for a comprehensive listing of gifts (numbers vary a bit), and then figure out which one each person has? And then train folks to identify which gift they “have” (or excercise).
Or, alternatively, do we see what God has gifted persons to do and see whatever that is as the sorts of gifts God gives to the Church? Do we plug “singer” into one of the gifts in the list or do we see singing as another gift to the Church?

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  • Scot, I tend to want to see the lists as broad catgories under which each can fit in their distinctively God-given way. The broadcast categories (I believe in Peter) are speaking and serving. But then there are the lists, such as here.
    Also I see situational gifts as in 1 Cor 14, where God gives something to someone that he may give to another at a different time. As well as the more constitutional gifts, such as the gift of teaching which you have.
    As for singing and doing cultural works, I haven’t thought through that, except to say, in Scripture, it is said that God gives such gifts to people. So I accept it as that. And see the speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and Spirit-given songs as definitely part of all this, too.

  • broadest, not broadcast (it’s early)

  • I think I agree with Ted. All of the “gifts” listed seem like they could have multiple subheadings. I’m especially convinced of this thought by the fact that “ministry” is included in the list. There are so many ways that one could minister that it seems impossible that the New Testament writers intended an individual to be prepared to do every kind of ministry.

  • Tim Gombis

    Might it be that the “lists” are instances of Paul just brainstorming for the wide variety of kinds of things to be done in community–imaginative ways for Jesus-shaped community life to be carried out?
    I remember taking a class on how to determine your spiritual gift, and we took a survey-type thing and, voilla!, our popped the answer–your gift is…., wait for it….., teaching! Or, the gift of “helps”! How absolutely bizarre! I remember thinking that it was odd that you could take a survey and get a score that would tell you your gift, and do this while living a life that was absolutely bereft of any signs of spiritual vitality at all.
    I like how you put it: Jump into community life and seek to serve, and, most likely, whatever it is that you find yourself joyfully doing, that’s probably your “gift.”

  • Tim,
    We ought to be teaching together: identical to my own thoughts. I think that whole approach to finding gifts that lists them all, gives a test, and then informs you on what you are “supposed” to be doing misses what these NT lists are saying.
    To begin with, they are never the same — which ought to be a clue that there isn’t an official list.
    Then there is some kind of core list that shows up at some level because every local church needs certain things — leadership and teaching and hospitality etc.
    Then there is variation — as the author looks out to see what God’s Spirit is gifting people to do.
    Thus, look to what God is doing and mark those as gifts.

  • RJS

    Romans 12:1-8 was the text preached in our church this last Sunday so I have been thinking about it some this week.
    Sermons, Sunday school classes, seminars, books etc. on spiritual gifts always leave me somewhat mystified. Tools or recipes for discerning gifts always seem artificial (as pointed out by Tim). And then to top it off this is one of those areas where I have heard many many contradictory opinions preached or taught throughout the years – ranging from mystical reality to scientific rationalization.
    Could these passages (Romans 12, 1 Cor. 12, and Eph. 4) not just be one expression of the reality that we all fill and should fill different roles in the church body, and that everything should be for the good of the whole church (not the individualistic gospel)?

  • Dean

    It has always seemed to me that an infinite God gives an infinite (variety of) gifts. Often too, with the spiritual gifts surveys I have seen people “cheat” by, for example, deciding which gift they’d like and always responding to related questions affirmatively though as Tim mentions they be bereft of spiritual vitality.
    Seems that we should just ‘live our salvation’ (1 Peter)and the rest falls into place.

  • RJS,
    Spot-on. They are concrete manifestations of God’s Spirit at work not lists of what God always does in each local church.

  • Nick

    i think they are specific spiritual gifts and various manifestations of the Spirit, discernable i suppose, but not an exhaustive list.
    i don’t believe in the idea that each of us are given only one specific gift. it would be better if we each could participate in all kinds of beneficial activities (“gifts”).
    i also think God gives us the choice of what gift to desire and develop. due to genetics or God’s influence we may gravitate towards a certain gift or set of gifts, buts its not like we are passive and have no choice.

  • I don’t think the lists are comprehensive.

  • Scot,
    I have never taken the mention of gifts in scripture, when they appear in a list format, as comprehensive in the sense that they comprise all the distinct gifts that each believer only has one of. This kind of thinking has led to numerous diagnostic tests regarding “a” gift one has that is supposed to, once discovered, bless the church.
    Funny, it usually doesn’t work out that way (at least, I’ve never been able to figure out how the gift of hospitality automatically means you’re fit for coffe-bar “ministry” and the gift of administration means you’re the one to keep track of lists and file folders…both examples of an extremely impoverished understanding of spiritual gifts).
    Any taxonomy of the gifts found in scripture is, I believe, there to help the community recognise that there are a variety of ways everyone participates in body-life, and when we “see” one of these operations of the Spirit in action, in any way and in any combination with other operations, we are to welcome, bless, encourage, mentor, and so on. I believe this cultivating activity is one of the functions of pastoral ministry, but also a responsibility of the whole community.

  • Jeremy

    Is there any indication that these lists are exhaustive? I know they are often taught as so, but like someone else metioned, they seem to be listed more as examples.

  • I’ve also been inclined to agree with Scot and the rest that these gifts are not comprehensive. I wonder, from a pragmatic standpoint, does that mean when somebody comes to me in a church and they say “I have the gift of underwater basket weaving” or something strangely obscure and maybe not particularly “giftlike” and is persistent on practicing it in the church (I wonder if the “list makers” have that concern of control in mind sometimes…)? Thoughts?

  • Chris

    I have just recently preached & taught about this in my church, & I have always been leery of a “gifts list” as well. So, if the given is that these are examples of manifestations of the Spirit, then can any individual natural talent or skill, if used in love, for others & the building up of the Body, be considered a Spiritual gift? Natural talents vs. Spiritual gifts: either/or or both/and?

  • Chris,
    We need to avoid two things: turning these lists into a rigid list and making everything we are good at — like mowing grass or producing wine — a spiritual gift. It all has to do with direct edification of the Body of Christ.

  • Gordon Fee’s work, God’s Empowering Presence, has been very helpful to me in thinking through not just gifts, but the work of the Spirit. He looks at every Pauline instance of the Spirit. However, sometimes I don’t get his delineations. For instance, on Romans 12:6 and the occurence of the word charismata: “Given this evidence [what he’s said just previous] it is fair to say that, despite the special use of this word in I Cor 12:4 to refer to Spirit manifestations, even for Paul charisma does not mean something like “Spiritual gift,” as though one could draw up a list of such Spirit endowments and anlyze them in some way. Rather, here and always it means precisely as the present qualifier indicates, a “concrete expression of grace,” which may or may not be understood as some kind of special Spirit endowment or manifestation. . . These are concrete expressions of the grace of God at work in the life of individuals for the sake of others; but for him [Paul] they would not be “Spiritual gifts,” but gifts of God which are effectively brought into the life of the community by the Spirit.” (606, 607).
    This last comment just drove me crazy, because it seems like doublespeak to me. Another NT scholar citation. Douglas Moo on Romans 12:6 and following:
    “These qualifications of each gift appear to reflect an underlying hortatory sense. . . Paul is then not just listing gifts; he is exhorting each member of the community to use his or her own gift diligently and faithfully to strengthen the body’s unity and help it to flourish” (in his commentary on Romans, 764)
    I cite these two because they appear to be saying different things. It seems to me that Paul is solving different issues, especially in the Corinthian context (unless you’re a church that thinks that tongue-speaking is the main valid gift). Here are the issues I think many modern churches face:
    How can we become a more effective church, and what does “effective” mean?
    How can we train people to be leaders?
    It seems that God is calling us to certain commitments, where are the people to fill those commitments?
    Since we’re called to witness, where are the evangelists we need, or are only some churches going to be effective in this way?
    Are we really saying that healing will only happen in some contexts as those gifts manifest themselves, or are we saying that as healing happens the Spirit manifests Himself (which seems to be the impact of I Corinthians 12:7, where when the gifts is there the Spirit shows up)? Are we saying that only some contexts have administrators? Is the church not apostolic foundationally, and what does that mean in relationship to gifts? One of the answers that churches have seen is to list gifts and to try to foster them. Fee would argue against that, and Moo might not argue for it, but it would seem to follow from what he said.
    If you don’t work through this issue then it seems to me the gifts that will manifest themnselves are pastor/teachers (at least in the context I’m in), and those aren’t the only gifts in the church, are they?
    Hope this helps the conversations

  • Tim Gombis

    I want to know why an uncanny ability to remember obscure sports trivia isn’t considered a spiritual gift.

  • Yes. I’d agree that these aren’t comprehensive. I’ve heard this before, maybe from you, Scot.
    I do think what becomes necessarily evident is that the Spirit is in what a person is doing. For the edification of the church. That becomes obvious, whether or not one can easily describe it, or fit it under a category -as I see them, of the lists in Scripture.
    Just a side note. And I’m a little leary of this one, since Greek syntax doesn’t seem to make a big issue out of some grammatical differences: In 1 Cor 12 I recall that the gifts are in plural. For example: gifts of healings. More people were said to have gotten well from Spurgeon’s prayers, than through all the doctors in London combined. It may be evident from the grammar that there are varying giftings of that particular gift(?).

  • I also share the concern for these spiritual gifts surveys or programs, to help one find their’s. We make it far too complicated. Be yourself in the Lord. Seek to follow him in the community of faith. Do what comes natural for you to do in all of that. And you’ll find your niche.
    (Though I finally did see one, given to me by someone from our church, from the Evangelical Lutheran denomination, that did as a good a job in trying to come up with something like that, than anything I’ve seen before. In fact it was the first such one I thought seemed useful.)

  • “Do we see what God has gifted persons to do and see whatever that is as the sorts of gifts God gives to the Church?”
    I know that spiritual gifts aren’t just the things we’re good at like Scot said in #15. But I also agree with Ted in #19: “Do what comes natural for you to do” to edify the Body of Christ.
    It seems to me that a person’s gift is self evident to some degree. Can I go back to the Old Testament? In Exodus 35:30-34 God tells Moses about Bezalel’s gift. And he says, “See, the LORD has chosen Bezalel . . . and filled him with the Spirit of God.” This may be reading too much into it, but I’ve always taken that “See” to mean, “Look at Bezalel. The man obviously has gifts. Use them.”
    The real question for me is this: How do we know when we are using our talents as spiritual gifts to edify the Body of Christ? Or is there a bigger distinction between talent and spiritual gift?

  • paul

    my wife grew up in the Assemblies of God, which paid more attention to certain spiritual gifts (tongues, prophecy, etc) more than my background did (and my background paid zero attention to this!)
    So i grew up believing the spiritual gifts were identical to talents…that if i seemed to be a good teacher, i had a spiritual gift of teaching. Therefore, i should be a teacher, because God has given me this gift (talent)
    But it was more difficult to apply this thinking to tongues and prophecy. Just because someone has the gift of tongues, doesn’t mean they can speak in tongues whenever they want (same goes for prophecy). So these gifts either:
    1) are not the same type of gift
    2) have to make me rethink the way i look at spiritual gifts
    I was always taught #1 (that there are different types of spiritual gifts. But my wife (and others) have forced me to rethink this.
    I know this is restating what others have said already, but i believe that spiritual gifts are better described as: As the Spirit works in this world and through us individually, the Spirit of God tends to work through me in ______________. So you could say teaching, or evangelism or speaking in tongues. This means that giftings are the spirit working in us, not just talents.
    If you combine this with the idea that spiritual gifts are for the edification of the body, then it is the Spirit working for the edification through us to the body, and that is often manifested through me as teaching or whatever. those are my thoughts right now…still something i’m working through.

  • Dana Ames

    Often we forget or do not know that the word “charis” means both “gift” and “grace”. It seems to me that whatever is a manifestation of grace through a person to the church would qualify, whether it is a natural talent or not. I like what Fee said in the quote Ken gave, especially because of Fee’s background.
    Ken, I don’t think Fee is guilty of double-speak; I think he is trying to move away from the “spiritualization” of one’s talent’s as Paul is describing above. Having been involved with a church that was very open to “grace manifestations”, I saw instances where people who simply wanted to avoid taking responsibility for things about their lives (good as well as not so good) chalk those things up to “spiritual gifting” or “God telling me”. In my church that was a minority, but it happens even in non-charismatic circles. I think that kind of thing is what Fee is addressing.

  • Robert E. Mason

    On the question of what gifts we have received, we are contra-Nick passive. In 1 Cor. 12, after the list of gifts, Paul adds this tag: “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.”
    On the question how do we determine what gifts have been imparted to us by the Spirit, we are active. Jump in and see what edifies others—builds up the Body of Christ—and brings joy to us.
    On the questions how are natural talents related to spiritual gifts, they are not one and the same. Natural talents are given to us by the creator God. Gifts may be talents that have been energized by the spirit to edify and to bring joy. Not every talent is an energized gift.
    On the question are the list, taken together, exhaustive or suggestive, they are suggestive. Enough has been written about this above.

  • Ken,
    I haven’t done much more than dip into Fee’s book over the years. But, I’m looking at the context and he wants to say — as I understand him — that “charismata” are graces/gifts from God rather than “spiritual” gifts (as we think of them today). I used the word “substance” for this view. We see them as “things” we get, somewhat like a present wrapped up under a tree, we open them and then we have them as a possession. He wants to see all of this as simple acts of God’s gracious manifestation — through the Spirit — in the Church for the benefit of others.
    Overall, I would think Fee would be saying that what we need is the Spirit — and when the Spirit is present these are the sorts of things that God’s graces accomplish for the edifying of the Body of Christ.
    Am I near your question?

  • Scot,
    I tend to see these gifts as evidence of God’s Spirit at work. I think Paul might be surprised at some of our lists and our efforts to “help people find their gifts” by looking at the combo-list from various texts.

  • Scot,
    Yes, that’s fair. He says (p. 174) “Thus the gifts, even though they are “given” to “each person,” unltimately express the Spirit’s sovereign action in the life of the believer and the community as a whole.” The gifts, when used, are the Spirit’s gifts, and the Spirit is manifest when they are used (I Cor 12:7). That is, the Spirit is present. So, these gifts can be abused in that we can focus in on the person rather than the Spirit. But, one can ignore the Spirit by not embracing,accepting the gifts given. In thise sense, I think it is good to call them Spiritual gifts.
    I’m in process on this one.

  • Scot et al: some of these comments touch on things that I have often thought “about” but not “through.” For the most part, I can only speak of my own experiences. I tend to think of those expressions of my service to God that involve skills as “talents” and those that involve no skills on my part as “gifts.” For example, I have the talent of healing when I am able to resuscitate a patient in the ER through my skills, knowledge, and use of technologies. I have the gift of healing when I am used as a vessel by God for bringing someone back from death (yes, it has happened twice with me and you know the story of my son Jonathon). Another example, sometimes I can discern evil influences in a person (a gift) whereas sometimes I need to research and think about whether something I am exposed to is Christ-like or not (a talent). For what it’s worth, I have to agree with Robert Mason but add that not every gift is related to a God-given talent.

  • Kipp Wilson

    Getting back to the “natural vs. spiritual” question raised earlier, would you say that the idea is false that a “spiritual gift” must be an ability that is either received or intensified at or post- salvation? In other words, if I’ve always been a good teacher even before salvation, and after salvation I am pretty much still just a good teacher, but now I use that talent to directly edify the body of Christ, is that the “gift of teaching”?
    I tell my students not to get so bound up in what is and is not a “spiritual gift,” but rather to focus on using whatever ability God has given you to help the body of Christ accomplish its mission. This is a far cry from the precise definition of a spiritual gift that I received as a student.

  • Doug Chaplin

    I’d just note that one charisma that is implicitly so called never features in discussions of Paul’s lists, and that’s celibacy (1 Cor 7.7), but also that Paul’s language of charisma is more fluid than “gift lists” seem to make it, so that eternal life is also a charisma (Rom 5:15-16, Rom 6:23) and that clearly is not a gift that one member of the church has while another doesn’t.

  • One thing from my comments:
    The passages do seem to be indicating that believers are each particularly gifted in some way. And that each is to excel in that way. Or that at least some are.
    My point here is that I really don’t think those passages say, here’s the list, find your niche. But simply, if such and such is your gift, then do it. Or, that each one has their special gifting or grace/charism from God for the edification of the body of Christ.
    A problem here is that we may put on texts what the texts are not really saying, or telling us to do. Like in spiritual gift inventories.

  • BeckyR

    I think the test taking thing coincides with a time in a person’s life that they’re trying to put their identity into words. The whole identity, not spiritual gifts. Then we grow up some more and realize the foolishness of the tests and that the thing to do is just to live. But the next generation will do the tests as they go through the same identity identification process, and at some point realize the foolishness of it.
    It no longer matters to me to be able to label what my gifts are. I just live what’s before me to live. Just do it, as Nike says.

  • Jon B

    Good comments, and I identify with a lot of them. I have always liked John Wimber’s (I think) comment that we should be ‘naturally supernatural’, that to me means that all talents, gifts and ministries are God given, and that they should nauturally flow into each other – as Paul’s Romans list seems to imply. We miss out when we exclude the possibity of the supernatural, but also if we undervalue the natural. What is happening when someone with the ministry of pastor visits someone who is sick, makes them a cup of coffee and does some chores for them, then lays hands on them and prays for their healing? Can we separate what is happening at each stage, or is this just someone allowing the Spirit doing what he wants to do?

  • Shawn K

    What an interesting discussion. Having grown up in a mainline denomination that never taught anything about spiritual gifts, and now being in one that acknowledges that there are spiritual gifts but has practices that preclude some of the more controversial gifts, I’m never quite sure what to make of all this.
    For my part, I would be loathe to try to limit the working of the Holy Spirit, trying to fit him into whatever small box I’ve created for him, thereby making an idol of him rather than worshiping him for who he is.
    Having said that, I want to acknowledge that he has given us the framework of Scripture as our basis of truth and the testing of the spirits, and a careful analysis of gifts must fit within that framework. This is to say that when I see something being attributed to the Holy Spirit – whether as a spiritual gift or by some other means – my anaysis begins with the Scriptures. If a particular manifestation matches up with Scripture, I’m comfortable with calling it a work of the Holy Spirit.
    If, however, a manifestation offers a clear contradiction of Scripture, I must hold to the standard that God has set before me, that of his Holy Word. As such, I sometimes question those things we may refer to as “gifts” and wonder if we are attributing to the Holy Spirit things that we ought not be attributing to him.
    With that stated, I don’t believe the list given or the others referenced are intended to be exhaustive lists by any stretch of the imagination. We are all made in the image of God, and as his image bearers we are also all created with an infinite combination of talents, gifts, abilities, personalities, etc… It holds to reason, then, that the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in each believer is going to be different than it is in other believers, even in those with similar gifts.
    By example, I am part of a group of about 25 teachers involved in discipling High School students. Each of us is very gifted in what we do, but we are all very different in how God has gifted us to teach, and in how God uses our gift for the edification of the Body (in our case, the teens) and for his glory.
    And just as God has gifted each of us differently as teachers, we are each able to reach different students with the grace and mercy of God, and disciple them according to their own God-given gifts and abilities.
    That is part of the beauty of the Body of Christ, that we are not all created the same, nor are we all reached the same way. How boring that would be.
    I will say that in order for someone to honestly have a spiritual gift(s), they must first have the Spirit who gives the gift(s), which requires that they have believed in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord unto salvation, at which time they are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Then, and only then, am I willing to consider whether someone is exhibiting a true spiritual gift.
    Without taking the time to recite chapter and verse, I believe this is a position supported by Scripture.
    Prior to salvation and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, I think it is safe to say that any exhibition of a “spiritual gift”, while it may be attributed to “a” spirit, cannot be attributed to the Holy Spirit, and in that we run the danger of walking on thin ice.
    Soli Deo Gloria!

  • Subversive Influence » Blog Archive » Spiritual Gifts: A List?

    […] Scot McKnight asked a question this week about the Pauline lists of spiritual gifts. For context, I’ll quote his whole post: I have a question for you today about the various lists of spiritual gifts in the NT. I will give here the list in Romans, but we can then look to 1 Cor 12, Eph 4 and 1 Peter, and can ask this question: Are these substances (specific, discernible gifts) or are they various manifestations of what the Spirit does when at work in the community of faith? […]

  • Rick Mc

    I’ve really enjoyed this discussion. I like Shawn was brought up in a denomination that never discussed spiritual gifts. Later in life, I became a member of a church that had a more scriptural approach to understanding the Spirit’s working in our lives.
    I now interpret “the gifts” more along the lines of God’s grace flowing through the “prism” of who we are. Thus each of us manifests God’s grace (1 Cor 12:7) in a unique way. I haven’t quite been able to mesh this with “who apportions to each one individually as he wills.” from 1 Cor 12:11 yet, though.
    I feel that God has gifted me both to teach and preach, but my style is quite different from a friend of mine who also is gifted in this way. Thus the prism idea.