Spiritual Gifts

By David Feddes

An elderly minister, a Boy Scout, and a science professor were the only passengers on a small plane. As they were flying, the engine began making strange noises. The pilot left the controls and told the passengers, “This plane is going down. We only have three parachutes, and there are four of us. I must have a parachute, for I have a wife and small children who need me.” He grabbed a packet, strapped it to his back, and jumped.

That left three people with only two parachutes. The science professor leaped to his feet and said, “I absolutely must have a parachute. I am the smartest man in the world. My work benefits the whole human race. Humanity needs me.” The scientist grabbed a packet, strapped it to his back, and jumped.

That left the elderly preacher and the Boy Scout. The old pastor looked at the boy and said, “I’m not eager to die, but I’ve had a full life and I’m ready to meet God. You’re young, and I want you to go on living. Here, you take the last parachute, and I’ll go down with the plane.”

The boy replied, “Relax, Reverend. We still have two parachutes left. The smartest man in the world just jumped out of the plane with my backpack.”

We like that old joke because we don’t like people who think too highly of themselves. We don’t like someone to brag that he’s the smartest in the world. It’s been said, “Pride is the only disease known to man that makes everyone sick except the one who has it.” We can’t stand someone who thinks his personality and talents make him superior to others. Anyone who thinks the world can’t go on without him, that he’s absolutely indispensable, should recall Charles De Gaulle’s remark: “The graveyards are full of indispensable men.”

Know Yourself

Some of us think too highly of ourselves, but others have the opposite problem. We have a low opinion of our talents. We don’t think we have any special gift, any high purpose. We try to content ourselves with a decent income and simple pleasures. We have little sense of supernatural gifting or calling. We have little vision for making a difference in other people’s lives.

This is not what God wants for us. God doesn’t want us to feel empty and useless. God wants us to experience the power of his Spirit, to receive and recognize his special gifting, to put those gifts to work for the benefit of others, and to see other people’s gifts and benefit from them.

In order for this to happen, we must know ourselves. God doesn’t want us to have too high an opinion of ourselves or too low a view of ourselves. He wants us to have an accurate view, to see ourselves as we are. In Romans 12:3 the Bible says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

If you think too highly of yourself, you won’t see your need for God’s power; you’ll be too self-satisfied to aim higher. You won’t see your need for other people’s talents; you’ll be too self-sufficient to admit you need them.

On the other hand, if you think too lowly of yourself, you won’t see the potential God has given you, and you won’t see how you can bless others and help them to a higher level of joy and strength. To become who you were meant to be, to make the most of your life and make a difference in other people’s lives, you must know yourself as God knows you.

When God told Moses to speak to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses said he couldn’t do it. He did not think he had the necessary gifts for leadership or speaking. The Lord replied that he is the one who gives every person their abilities or disabilities and that if he was sending Moses, that meant Moses would be able to do it. Even then, Moses refused. God became downright angry at Moses for being so reluctant and for having such a low opinion of his abilities. At last the Lord got Moses to go with his brother Aaron, and Moses turned out to be a great leader and communicator.

Jeremiah was a young man with too low an opinion of himself. When God appointed him as a prophet to the nations, Jeremiah objected, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.” God answered, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you” (Jeremiah 1:5-7). Jeremiah became a mighty prophet for God.

Don’t think less of yourself than God thinks of you. If God has given you gifts, don’t say you’re not gifted enough to carry out God’s calling.

And if God has forgiven you, transformed you, and called you to work for him, don’t say you’re too bad to do God’s work. Don’t get trapped in a negative self-image based on who you used to be. Learn from the apostle Paul. At one time he hated Christ and killed Christians. But Jesus changed him, filled him with the Holy Spirit, and gave him gifts and talents to be a missionary and teacher. Paul never denied his evil past: he called himself the worst of sinners and said he did not deserve to be an apostle. But did Paul let his sinful past hold him back? No, he worked harder for Jesus than anyone and said, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Don’t get stuck in guilt about your sinful past; live in the grace and gifts of God for your present and future.

Receiving the Holy Spirit

Self-knowledge begins with sound, spiritual evaluation. That’s why Scripture says, “Think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” Do you have any faith at all? Do you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, or is Jesus just a word but not a living reality for you? Jesus says, “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Christ is the only source of life and power. Do you have living faith and a healthy relationship with him? Be honest. Are you connected to Christ?

If you answer yes and say that you do believe in God and belong to Jesus, another question is, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” The Bible tells of a group of people who heard and accepted some truths about God but were still missing a lot. When St. Paul met these people, the first question he asked to understand their condition was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

It wasn’t normal for followers of Jesus not to receive the Holy Spirit and not even to know about him, so Paul probed further. He found that these were pre-Christian disciples who followed the teachings of John the Baptist but did not know the full gospel. They had never received Christian baptism. When Paul heard this, he explained:

“[John the Baptist] told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, Jesus.”

On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. (Acts 19:1-6)

At last they were experiencing normal, healthy Christianity: the Holy Spirit’s power was evident in them, and they were making use of spiritual gifts which the Holy Spirit was giving them.

Not everyone with Holy-Spirit power will speak in tongues or prophesy, but every Spirit-filled person will experience definite empowerment and receive spiritual gifts (talents and abilities) for serving God and building up others. The Holy Spirit is not just a doctrine that informs but a person who empowers and equips. The Bible says, “The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (1 Corinthians 4:20). The Holy Spirit is alive and active. His power enters into your experience. His gifting shines through in your life.

As Paul asked those people long ago, so let me ask you: Have you received the Holy Spirit? If you’re not sure how to answer that or if you say, “I’ve never experienced or heard anything like what you’re talking about,” then let’s get back to even more basic questions: Do you believe in Jesus as God’s full and final revelation, as the one who takes away the sins of the world? Have you repented of your sins? Have you been baptized in his name and into his church? If not, do so. The Bible says, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

If you go from unbelief to belief, if you go from ignoring God to wanting to know him better, it means that the Holy Spirit is already living in you, guiding your mind and redirecting your desires. Your ability to believe in Jesus and to seek God’s face is a wonderful gift from God, but there is more, much more. The Holy Spirit also makes you part of Christ’s body and of his mission in the world. The Holy Spirit strengthens you with power from Jesus and equips you with abilities from Jesus.

Some people sense this almost from the first moment they come to faith in Christ; others discover it in an experience that comes later. It doesn’t matter whether the empowerment comes to you all at once or as a later experience or series of experiences. What matters is that you become a Spirit-filled person, strong in his energy, gifted with his abilities. Have you experienced definite empowerment from the Holy Spirit? Do you sense a presence and power working in you? Have you received abilities from the Spirit? Are you putting those gifts to work?

Using Your Gifts

As you get a true measure of yourself based on the level of your faith, you also need to see how your personality and gifts fit into the bigger picture. If you’re a Christian, you’re not on your own. You’re one part of a larger body. Romans 12 says,

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. (Romans 12:4-8)

In short, whatever gift you have, use it! When you become a Christian, you need the gifts of other Christians in the church, and they need your gifts.

You might think that the things you’re good at aren’t as important to the church as the things other people are good at. You might admire people with a gift for leadership and think that the church needs their vision and guidance a lot more than it needs you. You may have a knack for noticing when people feel down, for putting an arm around them and saying a few words to lift their spirits, but you might think, ”What does that amount to?” It amounts to a lot! You have the gift of encouragement. If the church were all leaders and visionaries without any sensitive encouragers, the people would soon burn out.

You might think that prophecy or miracles or speaking in tongues are far more supernatural and spiritual than helping someone care for a disabled child or cleaning house for an overworked mother with young children or doing chores for old people who aren’t quite strong enough to maintain their house. But if you have gifts of helping and of mercy, use those gifts, and you will be a bigger blessing than words can describe.

If you’re good at business and investing and making money, you might enjoy what you do but still wish that you could be as “spiritual” as a preacher or teacher whose full time job is studying and sharing Biblical truth. But don’t overlook your own spiritual gift. If you have the ability to produce wealth and a heart to share it, you have the spiritual gift of contributing, and you can help the needy and finance the work of missionaries and teachers. Already when Jesus and the apostles were preaching and doing miracles, they weren’t doing it all on their own. They had generous supporters who paid their bills and humble helpers who took care of daily needs.

Those are just a few examples. Whatever your gifts might be, do what you’re good at. Use the talents you have.

Don’t look down on the spiritual gifts God has given you. The Bible says, “The body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body” (1 Corinthians 12:14-15). Imagine a foot moping around and not doing anything because it’s depressed that it’s not a hand and can’t do what the hand does. The foot doesn’t put food into the mouth; the hand does. The foot doesn’t grab and lift things; the hand does. The foot doesn’t write or draw; the hand does. The sad foot feels useless and moans, “I can’t do what the hand does. I’m just a poor, good-for-nothing foot. I might as well be cut off; the body doesn’t need me anyway, and I’m not really a part of it.” Wouldn’t that be silly? Sure, a foot can’t do what a hand does, but who would want to walk or run places on our hands? Feet are mighty fine things to have.

Now, if it would be ridiculous for a foot to feel worthless because it’s not a hand, isn’t it just as ridiculous for one member of Christ’s body to feel worthless because he’s not like a different member? If you’re a Christian but you think the church can do just fine without you, think again. Every part is important. Every part of the body of Christ is there for a purpose. “God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body” (1 Corinthians 12:18-20).

Valuing Others’ Gifts

The church body needs you, and you need the church. Your gifts bless others, and their gifts bless you. It’s wrong to think your gifts are so unimportant that nobody else needs you, but it’s also wrong to think your gifts are so fabulous that you don’t need anyone else. As the Bible puts it, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Corinthians 12:21)

It would be insane for one part of the body to try to live without all the others; it is equally insane for you to claim to belong to Jesus without being part of a church. Maybe you’re one of those people who say, “I can have a relationship to God without going to church.” Well, that’s not what God says. God says in Scripture that if you’re a Christian at all, you are part of the body of Christ, and you can’t claim to be just fine on your own without staying connected to the rest of the body.

Do you know of any body part that can go on living without being connected to the other parts of the body? What if an eye decided to go independent and cut itself out of the face and tried to prosper on its own? That eye would instantly lose its ability to see, and it would soon be lifeless and rotten. What if a head said, “I have to do all the thinking and organizing around here, and I’d be better off without all those other body parts dragging all. Those feet and all those other parts are just dead weight”? If the head somehow found a way to separate itself from the body, it would be a dead head. When any body part is cut off from the body, that part cannot survive. It dies and decays.

This is just as true of each part in the church body. If you say to the rest of the body of Christ, “I don’t need you—I can do just fine on my own,” your soul will die and decay. To live and thrive, you need to stay connected to the body, and you need what every other part of the body has to offer.

To meet Christ and receive his salvation, you need someone with the gift of evangelism. To get the big picture of God’s workings in the world, you need someone with the gift of teaching. To sort out timeless truth from trashy trends, you need someone with the gift of discernment. To have a message from God applied to your situation and your future, you need someone with the gift of prophecy. To keep going when you feel burned out, you need someone with the gift of encouragement. To make it through tough times, you need someone with the gift of mercy. To praise God in song, you need someone with gifts of music. To work together with others, you need someone with gifts of leadership and administration. To get church repairs and various odds and ends taken care of, you need someone with gifts of helping and service. The Holy Spirit provides the church with these gifts and many more, and though you can’t have all the gifts yourself, you can have access to all of them by being part of a Spirit-filled church body.

The value of a spiritual gift does not depend on how much it gets noticed. Not all members of the church are up front during Sunday worship. Not all are leaders in the council room. But all are gifted by God’s Holy Spirit, including those in the background. Much of the church’s strength is found in quiet, steady, faithful people who follow the Lord and use their abilities to benefit others without much fanfare.

In a body, some of the most important parts are the ones you never see. Have you ever seen your heart or your brain, your bones or your liver? These parts are hidden from public view, but where would you be without them? Your hair is something you look at and fuss with every day; you never look at your pancreas. Does that make your hair more important than your pancreas? No, if your hair is messy, it’s no big deal, but if your pancreas fails, you die. So too, members of the church who aren’t glamorous may be vital to the life of the body and deserve special honor. “God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it” (1 Corinthians 12:24).

Working Together

The Holy Spirit gives different gifts and personalities to different people, but he connects them and coordinates them in the power of love. Whenever the New Testament talks about spiritual gifts, love is always emphasized. Right after Romans 12 talks about gifts, it says, “Love must be sincere… Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves” (v. 9-10).

Right after 1 Corinthians 12 talks about spiritual gifts comes the greatest chapter on love ever written, 1 Corinthians 13, which says that if I have amazing spiritual gifts but not love, “I am nothing… Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud” (v. 1-4). When we truly love, we won’t envy others’ gifts and feel ashamed of our own, nor will we boast about our gifts and despise others. Instead, love moves us to use our gifts to help others and to enjoy how those we love are blessing us with gifts we don’t have personally.

The presence of the Holy Spirit and the power of love unite people who would otherwise fall into bickering and division. A story is told about some tools in a carpenter’s shop who are having a meeting. Mr. Hammer presides, but some want him to leave because he’s too noisy. Mr. Hammer replies, “If I have to leave this shop, Mr. Screw has to go also. You have to turn him around again and again in order for him to accomplish something.”

Mr. Screw says, “I’ll leave if you want, but Mr. Plane must leave too. He only works on the surface; he has no depth.”

Mr. Plane speaks up: “Then Mr. Ruler has to leave too. He’s always measuring folks as though he alone is right.”

Mr. Ruler gripes, “Mr. Sandpaper can’t stay. He’s too rough. He’s always rubbing people the wrong way.”

Into the middle of this argument walks the Carpenter from Nazareth. He wants to make a pulpit from which to proclaim his gospel. He uses Hammer, Screw, Plane, Ruler, Sandpaper, and other tools. At the end of the day, he has made a splendid pulpit. Then Mr. Saw says, “I saw today that we are all workers together with the Lord.”

We are different tools in the hand of the same Lord. We are different parts of the same body. Ephesians 4:16 says, “From [Christ] the whole body… grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” So let us work together in love, using our own gifts and delighting in each other’s gifts.

So important is love in the use of spiritual gifts that God repeats it over and over. So let’s conclude with still another biblical passage where love and spiritual gifts go together. In 1 Peter 4:8-11, the Word of God says,

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Christ Jesus. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.