Rethinking Spiritual Gifts

I’ve been thinking about spiritual gifts recently. I have been through several spiritual gifts courses and listened to a lot of teachings on it, and now I’m beginning to wonder about what I’ve been taught.

I have two questions which haven’t been answered:

  1. Some “spiritual gifts” are present in those who are not Christians, ex. teaching. Are we to say that a Christian has the spiritual gift of teaching, and a non-christian has….what? also a spiritual gift? Or some other kind of gift? Or maybe the non-christian is just good at teaching. Does that mean the Christian wasn’t good at teaching, but only became good when he or she converted? How is it that this is a spiritual gift for Christians, but just a skill or talent for non-Christians?
  2. Some “spiritual gifts” are (or should be) present in all Christians, ex. faith. The teaching I’ve received is that Christians with the “spiritual gift of faith” have what amounts to a lot of faith; they can trust God for big things. So is a spiritual gift just more of what we should all have? At what point does it morph from a characteristic of a mature Christian (see Gal 5.22) and become a gift?

Ok, that’s way more than two questions.

When I looked up “gift” in the New Testament, it turns out that there is only one list of gifts which are specifically identified as coming from the Spirit, and that is the list in 1 Corinthians 12.8-11. Take a look at those gifts; it seems that if someone had such a gift, it would be clear that it was supernatural. (The gift of faith seems to be an exception, as I indicated above; I don’t currently know what to do with it.) The working of miracles or identifying spirits — neither one of these is something just anyone can do, regardless of Christian maturity. And Paul specifically identifies them as “manifestations of the Spirit” — the visible actions of the invisible Spirit. They cannot be done by just anyone.

The other lists in the New Testament aren’t called spiritual gifts. In Romans 12.6-8, Paul shares a list of gifts which “differ according to the grace given us,” something he doesn’t say about the list in 1 Cor

Then in Ephesians 4.11, he provides a list of gifts given to the church by the victorious Jesus. The confusing part is that some entries on that list also show up in a list in 1 Corinthians 12 — not the list starting in v8, but some kind of hierarchical list in v29. What’s up with that?

I think that’s why people tend to just lump them all together and call all of them spiritual gifts. The result of this is that the idea of a gift being Spirit-powered just evaporates, and we end up calling the “spiritual gift of administration” the ability to organize things! So the office manager at work has a “spiritual gift?”

So here’s my tentative set of categories. I haven’t thought it all through, and there is obviously overlap which I haven’t figured out. And I really don’t know what to do with the list in 1 Cor 12.29.

Spiritual (1 Cor 12.8-11): a word of wisdom, a word of knowledge, faith, gifts of healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues.

Grace (Rom 12.6-8): prophecy, service, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, mercy

Victory (Eph 4.11): apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers

I’m still working on this. More to come.

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