Talents and Spiritual Gifts
When we examine the topic of “spiritual gifts,” the first question that many people ask is this: are there any differences between a person’s talents and potential spiritual gifts? In order to find out, let’s take a closer look at the differences.
- Talents—may be defined as ‘a person’s innate abilities or skills that enable them to do things in a particularly good way.’ These would include, for example, someone who is innately good at things like mathematics, creative writing, artistic endeavours, music, administration, sporting abilities, etc.
- Gifts—may be defined as ‘those Spirit-given gifts that gives them the ability to do things which they could not have done naturally before becoming a believer.’
But these distinctions between talents and gifts leads to a relevant follow-up question. Are there potential connections between a person’s innate talents, passions and their spiritual gifts? It is certainly the case that all people have talents, and are passionate about certain things. Do spiritual gifts complement these things?
We can think of, for example, extremely gifted and passionate teachers, but who are not Christians. What potential differences might there be between being a gifted teacher, teaching any manner of subject, and a gifted Christian who teaches people in such a way that it leads to their spiritual transformation? It is certainly the case that we have to be careful of making too hard-and-fast of a distinction at this point.
This observation leads to yet another question. Are spiritual gifts only identifiable (and usable) once a person has become a believer in Christ? Many believe that spiritual gifts are indeed present in every person, but perhaps they are just not ‘activated’ by the Holy Spirit, for example, in the case of non-believers. Either way, we don’t want to get too caught up in that debate. Perhaps a person’s innate talents, passions and abilities are somehow ‘enhanced’ or ‘activated’ by the Spirit, once they become a believer. We’ll discuss the use of spiritual gifts in more detail next, which should help to shed light on this issue a bit more.
Application of Spiritual Gifts: What’s the Point?
Moving on from that introductory discussion, let’s focus on the actual application of spiritual gifts. What are some of the aspects of the relationship between ‘body life’ of the church and spiritual gifts, according to such passages that teach on the subject, like 1 Cor. 12-14, Rom. 12., and Eph. 4?
We can make the following observations regarding spiritual gifts, and their use within the church:
- Every person within the body has an important contribution to make to the life of the church.
- The Spirit both unifies the church, and inspires believers for service, in the capacity of their unique gifts, temperaments and passions.
- The body cannot be relationally divided without damaging aspects of its holistic functions.
- People within the body cannot claim superiority over others, solely based on what might be perceived as ‘more important’ versus ‘less important’ gifts.
- Conversely, no one within the body should feel inferior to another, based upon the impression (whether stated outright or not), that their gifts are somehow ‘less important.’
- The body ideally grows in love, maturity and Christ-likeness as the members of the body work together in harmony (including those in leadership!)
- Ideally, within the body of Christ, there is unity amidst diversity; conformity is not unity.
The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts
The Apostle Paul taught (1 Cor. 12.7) that all spiritual gifts are given for the edification, or building up, of the church body. Scripture has little time for spiritual gifts being used selfishly. For example, Paul, when discussing the contentious issue of the gift of tongues being used within a church setting in 1 Cor. 14, indicates that the gift can certainly be used for one’s own private edification (‘strengthening the inner or spiritual person’). But although he admits that while that is true (and that he prays in tongues privately also), he states emphatically in the chapter this principle: within a church setting, every tongue spoken publicly should be interpreted.
Why might that be important to establish as a basic rule surrounding the use of tongues?
Paul describes how the situation should ideally work in a church setting. After hearing a tongue publicly spoken, another person or persons (with the gift of interpretation of tongues), then transmits to the hearers what the person with the gift of tongues was saying. This is done in their own language, so that all can understand it and be edified. Essentially, then, a tongue becomes a prophecy once it is interpreted for the benefit of the listeners.
This is why, says Paul, the gift of prophecy is actually more to be desired than tongues, because a prophet speaks in the same language as the people who are listening. Therefore, the body is immediately edified. In the case of the gift of tongues, while it is a great gift, the additional step of requiring an interpretation is necessary in a church setting.
The people who heard that person speaking in tongues are not at all edified, says Paul, if that tongue is not interpreted; therefore, this is an example of how different spiritual gifts should (ideally) work together for the building up of the entire church body.
Spiritual Gift Identification (Romans 12; 1 Cor. 12-14)
How can you discover your spiritual gift or gifts? First of all, think of what other people have to say about what you’re passionate about, especially in the context of serving in the church. Many people have their gifts identified, or confirmed, by a trusted friend. Oftentimes we can’t seem to see our own abilities, so make use of a good friend or minister who knows you well. This can certainly help you out.
Another simple way to identify your gifts is to go through the gifts listed below. See if you can identify your spiritual gifts based on the description given. Keep in mind that some suggest a few more gifts than what are listed below, but this will provide you a good place to start.
Also, we need to keep in mind a vitally important point when discussing spiritual gifts. The Apostle Paul states in 1 Cor. 13 this important point that should help keep this entire discussion in perspective: it does not matter what gifts you have, or the extent to which you use those gifts; if you do not love people, the exercise of those gifts is utterly meaningless.
- Interpretation of tongues—the ability to interpret, into the language of the hearers present, what a person with the gift of tongues has just spoken.
- Tongues—including both human languages and ‘heavenly languages’; the ability to speak in a previously-unknown language; could include the ability to learn quickly a foreign language; or the ability to communicate cross-culturally across cultural boundaries without a great deal of training.
- Discernment of spirits—discerning the spiritual state and intentions of people one encounters; ability to sense between good and evil spirits instinctively; ability to discern true from false teachings.
- Prophecy—speaking forth the message and will of God for a specific historical situation; includes both ‘forth-telling’ (current messages for today) and ‘fore-telling’ (predicting future events).
- Gifts of miracles—beyond physical and/or emotional healing, the ability to perform supernatural feats (perhaps as Jesus did?); witnessed and verified by others.
- Gifts of healing—potentially including medical personnel; in the name of Jesus the ability to heal sick people, emotionally, spiritually and physically.
- Faith—a special kind of faith that achieves great things in Christ’s name; the ability to encourage others to grow in the expectation that God honours their faith; unshakable conviction in God and his provision.
- Knowledge—experiential understanding of God equipping one to live more effectively in this present world; a deepening relationship with God by means of knowing his will and good intentions for the here and now; a thirst for understanding Scripture and relating it to practical life.
- Wisdom—practical knowledge; the ability to make practical and sensible decisions regarding issues one faces in daily life situations (and help others to do the same).
- Administration—the ability to organize, plan and structure effectively; helping others to achieve God-given goals in a timely manner.
- Mercy—gifts of kindness, empathy, helping others selflessly; sensitivity toward those who are suffering or in physical/emotional pain; caring with loving deeds in order to alleviate their pain and suffering.
- Serving—finding joy in serving and helping, both individuals and the church; using available resources to get the job done; often menial tasks
- Exhortation—encouraging others; comfort, counseling and consolation of others; encouraging others to grow in their faith/gifts/spiritual life etc.
- Giving—sharing material resources (not just finances) with others, without thought of return; also selfless sharing of time, effort and energy.
- Helps—supporting or assisting others within the body such that it frees them up for effective ministry; a person who simply sees a need and takes care of it, without being asked, or wanting credit for it.
- Hospitality—making people feel welcome and comfortable in one’s home (even strangers); people with this gift also love to open their homes as a means of serving those in need of food or lodging.
Church Leadership Gifts (Ephesians 4)
- Apostle—one who leads teams to break new ground and to plant new churches strategically; described as ‘visionaries’, apostles are often unsatisfied with stagnant churches.
- Prophet—challenges the church to move forward by embracing new initiatives of the Holy Spirit; questions the status quo; may offend others by being too ‘in your face’ about their convictions.
- Evangelist—one who seeks to fill new church plants with conversion growth, both by recruiting and by teaching others how to evangelize also; dissatisfied with churches that are not engaged in mission.
- Pastor—cares for people within the church, establishing and rooting them in their faith; feeding, shepherding and building them up in Christ; has a heart for people, especially hurting and vulnerable ones.
- Teacher—enhances and enriches the church by explaining and helping people to apply biblical and doctrinal concepts. Equips the believers to check prophetic visions against the Word of God, so as to weigh carefully new ideas and directions proposed for the church.
- How might identifying your spiritual gifts help you to ‘find your place’ within the church body?
- How important is love when discussing spiritual gifts?
- Can the identification of spiritual gifts enable the members of the body to support each other better?
- Does your church have people with those ‘5-Fold Leadership Gifts’ in positions of leadership? Why or why not?
by Dr Clint Heacock (Copyright 2017)