Q. Are these the only spiritual gifts available today or are the lists open-ended?
A. None of Paul’s three lists of gifts is identical to the other two. In fact, only the gifts of prophecy and teaching are found in all three lists. When you add in the fact that five or six new gifts are introduced in at least four other passages, you can see why many biblical scholars indicate that there may be other gifts which the Holy Spirit gives to believers today. These could include the gifts of intercession, music and hospitality (all included in this analysis). Other possible gifts are craftsmanship, writing, voluntary poverty, martyrdom and celibacy (which are not included here).
Q. Are the “sign” gifts—healings, miracles, tongues and interpretation of tongues—still operative and valid today?
A. This question is still vigorously debated in the church at large, so no answer at this point will either please or satisfy everyone. The four “sign” gifts are not included in this spiritual gift analysis for one basic reason: their exercise has occasionally led to more division than unity within the church. So in an effort to minimize the potential risk of turning a positive and worthwhile study into a divisive and heated debate, we have omitted these gifts from this instrument. (C. Peter Wagner’s Wagner-Modified Houts Questionnaire from Fuller Evangelistic Association includes the “sign” gifts.)
Q. Are spiritual gifts similar to or different from natural talents?
A. The answer is both/and, not either/or. Spiritual gifts are different from natural talents as to their distribution and purpose. For instance, spiritual gifts are given only to believers, whereas all people possess talents. Furthermore, spiritual gifts are designed to be exercised for the building up of the church, never for selfish or personal use.
Spiritual gifts are similar to natural talents in that God is the author of both and desires both to be used for His glory. Moreover, spiritual gifts may resemble natural talents in manifestation. God may give the gift of teaching to a professional school teacher, but He is not so bound. He may give the gift of faith to someone who is optimistic by nature, but He does not have to do so.
Warning: We err on the one hand when we deny that God ever gives spiritual gifts which are closely related to a person’s natural talents. We err on the other hand when we claim that God gives to persons only those spiritual gifts which naturally match their talents. God bestows the gifts as He chooses. The rest is mystery.
Q. What is the relationship between the gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit?
A. The gifts of the Spirit refer to unique capacities which God gives to believers to build up the church and to extend His kingdom. The fruit of the Spirit refers to the qualities listed in Galatians 5:22-23 which characterize believers who follow the Spirit’s lead. An easy way to remember the distinction between these two blessings of the Spirit is: gifts refer to the tasks we perform in serving the Lord, while fruit refers to the attitudes we bring to that service.
Q. Why does the Spirit endow believers with gifts?
A. This question has two answers. One refers to the world, the other to the church.
First, God intends for His people to continue, in this world, the work which He began in the life and ministry of His Son, Jesus Christ. Now that Jesus is physically absent from the world, God continues to fulfill His purpose through the church, which is the body of Christ on earth. The Spirit endows every member of the church with one or more gifts which are to be used faithfully in God’s service. Each gift, when exercised in love by a believer, points to an aspect of Christ’s ministry. For example:
- the gift of teaching is given to continue Jesus’ remarkable ministry of revealing God’s Word;
- the gift of mercy is given to continue Jesus’ tender ministry to the broken and despised people of the world;
- the gift of exhortation is given to continue Jesus’ affirming counsel to confused people.
When all of the gifts are operative in a group of believer, Jesus’ ministry is accurately and faithfully reproduced to a world in need.
The second reason God’s Spirit endows believers with gifts is to build up the church, for example:
- the gift of wisdom is meant to help the church know the mind of Christ when divine direction seems unclear;
- the gift of faith is intended to bolster the morale of the church in trying circumstances;
- the gift of administration is given to provide order and structure for the church’s multiple ministries;
When all of the gifts are lovingly exercised in a local congregation, the church is built up and thus will function effectively and efficiently.
Q. What if I disagree with some of the concepts presented here?
A. Probably no two people have identical views on spiritual gifts, primarily because the biblical teachings are neither systematic nor fully developed. It is very likely that no individual who has seriously studied spiritual gifts will agree with everything in this study.
The difference of opinion on spiritual gifts is surprisingly diverse. For example, some believe that the “sign” gifts are the most important gifts of the Holy Spirit, while others say that they ceased at the end of the apostolic age (ca. A.D. 100). Some believe that the gifts of prophecy, apostleship and evangelism have ceased. Still others equate spiritual gifts with natural talents. Some even claim that the list of gifts in Romans 12 is the only valid one in the New Testament.
If your view on certain concepts relating to spiritual gifts differs from what is presented here, you can adapt the analysis to your personal view. For example, if you do not view music as a spiritual gift, you can regard the responses related to music merely as indicators of talents to be used in the church’s ministry.