Can you recall the best gift you have ever received? Or the very best gift you gave? I remember one time, when I was growing up, that I was really excited about buying my mom a birthday present. I walked into a store and within a matter of moments laid eyes on just the perfect gift for her. It was a pad of beautiful writing paper in her two favorite colors—green and mauve. I immediately made the purchase and proudly took it home to gift wrap.
When the day of Mom’s birthday arrived, I eagerly presented her with my carefully wrapped gift; I could hardly wait for her to open it. And I remember as Mom slowly removed the paper, she gasped and then threw her head back and laughed. I was happy that she was happy, but I hadn’t expected that Mom was going to be this happy about it!
I asked her, “What’s funny?” She smiled and pointed to a big word in bold at the top of the writing paper, which I’d never noticed; I had bought her “bereavement” paper.
While I may not have found the perfect gift for my mom that year, she nevertheless understood that my gift was a demonstration of my love for her. And did you know that God, who speaks all the love languages perfectly, loves giving gifts too? And they’re always perfect, just what we need, often what we’ve asked for, and always according to His promises.
James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Our lives are full of the many and bountiful gifts God lovingly lavishes upon us daily. For example, every breath that we take is a gift from God! They say that the average person takes about 16 breaths per minute. That’s 960 breaths in an hour and 23,040 breaths in a day! How about that?
And while God gives to us many such literal gifts, the Bible tells us that He also gives “spiritual” gifts to His people for a special purpose. Here are five very important things the Bible says about God’s spiritual gifts.
1. Every Christian has been given at least one spiritual gift
The question many people have is how to know what their gift is—or what their gifts are. The starting point to answering that question is to read through the three lists of spiritual gifts in the Bible and ask yourself which ones you find most appealing. These lists are found in Romans 12:4–8, 1 Corinthians 12:7–11, and Ephesians 4:11. Among them are the gifts of teaching, leadership, giving, wisdom, and faith. Look them up and ask yourself which of these you identify with. Which ones can you get interested in? On the other hand, which ones can you say definitely do not appeal to you? And keep in mind that the Bible doesn’t mention all the spiritual gifts. You won’t find music, singing, writing, and artwork in the Bible’s list of spiritual gifts, but these talents become spiritual gifts when we use them in our service for God.
2. Spiritual gifts are given by God for the purpose of building up the body of Christ, which is the church
God gives us spiritual gifts to benefit His community of faith on earth—the church. A classic example of the powerful way God can use spiritual gifts is the gift of tongues that He gave to Peter on the day of Pentecost. Because God gave this gift, people from all over the region heard Peter preach in their own language! Notice that this was not a random babbling in an unknown language. Rather, the Holy Spirit “translated” the words Peter spoke into the languages of all the people who were present that day so they could understand the gospel. (You can read the story in Acts chapter 2.) And that’s the whole point: spiritual gifts are for the purpose of building up the church and spreading the gospel.
Notice what Ephesians 4:11–16 says: “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
I love how the writer, the apostle Paul, used the metaphor of the human body to illustrate how God gives different spiritual gifts to each Christian so that collectively we can be a community of blessing to others. It’s especially significant that Paul describes Christ as the head of the body, which is the church. Romans 12:4–8 continues this theme, highlighting how in the body each organ and body part serves its function, so, too, “we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (verses 5, 6).
3. We do not choose our spiritual gift or gifts; God chooses the gifts He gives to us.
Spiritual gifts are not distributed through a decision of a church committee, nor can they be purchased on eBay. The Holy Spirit is the One who gives spiritual gifts to each Christian.
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:7–10).
4. We dishonor God when we deny or fail to use the gifts He has given us
Failing to use our gifts dishonors God because God personally chooses who receives which gift. Over and over again throughout the Bible, God makes clear that He blesses His people so that they can be a blessing to others (Psalm 67:1, 2). Jesus said that His followers are “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). We shed our light on those around us through the spiritual gifts that God has given us.
5. Spiritual gifts are useless if they aren’t used and exercised in love
Many believe that possessing the gift of tongues is proof that they are filled with the Holy Spirit. But the Bible tells us that Jesus said that the fruit of the Spirit in one’s life was to be evidence of one being filled with the Holy Spirit.
And there are only three instances in the book of Acts where people spoke in tongues—even though many were filled with the Holy Spirit. So what are we to make of this?
First Corinthians 12:27–30 says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” God doesn’t want us all to have the same gifts.
This is why 1 Corinthians 12:31 says, “Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. And yet I will show you the most excellent way” (emphasis added). First Corinthians 13 shows us what that “most excellent way” is. The greatest of all the gifts we could desire from God is love. Paul said that all the other gifts are useless if we don’t have love. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love,” he said, “I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). We should never forget that God, who is love, gives spiritual gifts to us because He first loves us and desires us to reflect His love to those around us.
Ephesians 4:8 says, “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” This is wonderful news! God’s spiritual gifts are given to us “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:12).
I invite you to thank God for the spiritual gifts He has given you and ask Him to help you to use these gifts to share with others the good news about the greatest gift of all: Jesus Christ.