What is my spiritual gift?
This is a question that arises anytime spiritual gifts are discussed in the church. On Sunday, we saw that Jesus has gifted every believer for the work of ministry. We find these gifts mentioned in five passages in the New Testament, with some overlap among them:
Romans 12:6-8: prophecy, serving, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, doing acts of mercy
1 Corinthians 12:8-10: utterance of wisdom, utterance of knowledge, faith, gifts of healings, working of miracles, ability to distinguish between spirits, various kinds of tongues, the interpretation of tongues
1 Corinthians 12:28: apostleship, prophecy, teaching, working of miracles, gifts of healings, helping, administration, various kinds of tongues
Ephesians 4:11: apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, shepherding/teaching
1 Peter 4:10-11: speaking, serving
Given that no two lists are identical, none of the lists can be considered exhaustive. It may seem peculiar to us, but apparently neither Peter nor Paul felt it essential to give all the gifts in one place. There are a couple of conclusions that could be drawn from this.
First, the gifts listed in the NT may or may not be all the gifts there are. It’s difficult to say with certainty. Obviously, both apostles listed some gifts, omitting others. Perhaps this indicates that there are some that are not on any list in the NT. Still, it could be that the Holy Spirit purposed to sprinkle the exhaustive list throughout the NT without any one list having all the gifts.
Second - and this conclusion is more significant, in my opinion - it must be the case that an exhaustive list was not necessary for the exercise of the gifts. If knowing all the gifts was necessary in order to practice the gifts, then we would have to deduce that Paul had no desire for the Romans to practice the gift of evangelism. This seems highly unlikely to me.
Likewise, if knowing a gift is required in order to exercise it, Peter must have had no desire for any of the gifts to be practiced, except two: speaking and serving. Even if we understand Peter's two gifts to refer to categories into which all the other gifts fit, we are still left with the same conclusion. It must not be necessary for the specific gifts to be known in order for them to be exercised.
Ephesians chapter 4 shows this clearly. As we saw on Sunday, every believer has received a gift for ministry, and yet Paul only specifically mentions the equipping gifts there. If the individual gifts had to have been known exhaustively in order for them to be practiced, then Paul made a serious oversight by not listing them in a passage where he calls for them to be exercised.
Further, if it is essential for any individual believer to know what his or her particular gift is, it seems peculiar that there is zero teaching in the NT giving instruction about how to determine one's gift. In each of the above passages, believers are exhorted to serve one another through these gifts, but they are given no direction regarding how to determine the gifts they've been given.
Additionally, the NT nowhere gives definitions of these gifts. The nature of some of the gifts may be obvious given context clues and the meaning of the names themselves. For example, teaching seems to be a no-brainer. But what is discerning of different kinds of spirits? What is the difference between an utterance of wisdom and an utterance of knowledge? What is the difference between helping and serving? How do we know if we are doing one of these and not the other? Answers to these questions do not seem to be essential for the exercise of the gifts themselves since the apostles give us no direction on these issues. (This is why I’m not a fan of spiritual gift assessements/inventories - they fill in too many details left blank by the NT.)
It seems reasonable then to conclude that a believer does not need to know his or her particular gift in order to practice it.
So how can I exercise a gift that I don’t know I have? We may find a clue to unraveling this mystery in 1 Corinthians 12:7, where Paul says of the gifts, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The gifts are manifestation of the Spirit living inside believers. In one person, He manifests Himself in one way; in another believer, He manifests Himself in another way. Perhaps this is why it is not essential for an individual to know their gift in order to exercise it - it is the work of the Spirit in them.
With that in mind, I would encourage two actions:
First, walk closely with the Lord. Since these gifts are manifestations of the Spirit, it makes sense that the more I walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16), the more the Word of Christ dwells in me richly (Col 3:16), the more I am by the Spirit putting to death the deeds of the body (Rom 8:13), the more subject to His power and use I will be.
2 Tim 2:20-22 points in this direction: Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. The more I flee sin and pursue faithfulness, the more useful I am to the Lord.
So walk closely with the Lord that the Spirit may have His way with you.
I have been a believer serving in the church long enough that I have discerned, and the people around me have affirmed, that I have been gifted to teach. I’ve noticed a pattern over the years. When I’m walking closely with the Lord, I have a deep desire to teach. When I’m not walking closely with the Lord, I could take it or leave it. Again, it is not necessary to know your gift in order to exercise it, but when you walk with the Lord, you’ll likely naturally desire to do particular things as the Spirit has His way with you.
Second, look for areas of need in the lives of the other members of the body and start to serve them, trusting the Spirit to minister through you in whatever capacity He chooses. The Spirit will manifest Himself in a particular way through you in your service.
I saw the gifts of the elders manifesting themselves in natural ways last week as we all moved to minister to the Phillips family. Biblically, as elders, we all have the same broad tasks. But in that situation, as we were all shepherding in some of the same ways, our different gifting came out in our shepherding. Those with the gift of mercy contributed something that those with the gift of administration could not, and vice-versa. There was no pow-wow on the front end where the six elders got together and said, “okay, y’all are gifted to teach, y’all are gifted to organize, y’all are gifted to show mercy…so here’s how we’ll split up everything that needs to be done to minister to this family.” No, we all just naturally started working in the area of our giftedness as the Spirit led.
That same phenomenon took place in the rest of the congregation as people moved to minister in particular ways. When we get hung up on the question, “what is my gift?” self-focus can tend to be a pitfall. When we understand these are gifts of the Spirit that will naturally manifest themselves as we submit to Him and serve the body, focus on ourselves is minimized and we’re far more likely to minister effectively. As we grow, we are likely to discern our gifting, affirmed by those around us. But this is not necessary in order to begin to minister.