“Do you know what your Spiritual gift is?” This is a pretty normal question in Christian circles. Scripture lists a variety of ways that people can be gifted and so we have developed tests that help people understand how they are wired and inventory their gifting. It is a churchey personality test, in many ways. Some churches require would-be members to take a test to determine each person’s gift in order to help plug them into ministry quickly. Some small groups take the inventory test to help each other get to know one another and develop roles. Some people are curious and take a test just to find out.
These tests can be extremely beneficial or detrimentally harmful.
There are three predominant passages that people turn to when discussing Spiritual gifts:
“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”
– 1 Cor 12.4-11
“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
– Rom 12.3-8
“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”
– Eph 4.11-13
These are the gits derived from these passages:
Being the logical and methodical people that we are, we desire to itemize these gifts and identify them in one another so that we can plug people into ministry and service. This is a very good thing! If a person is new to the faith, or new to a church, he may not yet know what his strengths and passions are, and he may be lost as to where best he can be used. Our methodology is similar to a guidance counselor helping a student choose what to study in college, or a placement officer helping someone find a job and career that meets his skill set and strengths.
It is clear when reading through this list that there are some gifts that are not for everyone, too. Not everyone is an apostle, for example. In fact, we understand that apostles – in the fullest sense – were those twelve who were chosen and appointed by Jesus. The office of apostle is no longer filled, as there are no longer any living who walked with Jesus and were sent out by Him. The term apostle, however, literally translates as “sent out one”, and we do indeed send people out to the mission field and to plant churches. Not everyone will be sent out. Not every one will be a teacher. Not everyone will have the gift of speaking in tongues. Thus it is helpful to discern our giftings and abilities so that we can serve the body.
But the danger in the Spiritual gift inventory is threefold. Firstly, it encourages complacency. Imagine if someone had asked you what you wanted to be or given you a test to determine your personality and strengths when you were eight years old. As a third grader, they determined that you are not a leader or teacher but that you had a scientific mind and thus determined that you should pursue science, possibly medicine. You then were locked into that destiny and had no option to change. But what happens when you get halfway through med school and realize this is not what you want for your life at all? China has such a system and while some flourish, being considered valuable either in academics, athletics, or a specialized training, others are determined to be of little use and are sent to schools that will only land them a job to survive. There is no chance, for such a one, to grow or be successful.
Much in the same way, when we are at any point in our Spiritual walk or development, we might have a particular strength or gifting of the Spirit that is useful at the moment, but the Spirit gifts us for the service of the Church. Our giftings and abilities are not given for our own personal benefit but to minister to the body and believers around us. Notice in all three passages that theme:
But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
It goes without saying that the needs of the body are fluid. The needs of your local church will be different one year form now than they are right now. But if we have identified ourselves and our “gifts” rigidly, then we will be incapable of adjusting and observing the current needs of our body. One will be pigeonholed and oblivious, thinking, “I am a teacher. I teach Sunday School. That is my gift and that is what I do.” While there might be a need for prayer support, serving the widows or reaching out to the community. Situations change, people change, and God changes us accordingly.
Secondly it neglects the responsibility of every believer by allowing people to justify the lack of presence of a gift. Some of the gifts of the Spirit are gifts that we should all have. Faith, for example, is that by which we are saved. Some people will be given an extra measure of faith – and God will give all of us the amount of faith we need for each situation we encounter. Romans teaches us that God has given to every believer a measure of faith – this implies that some get more than others. But we all have some. It is by faith we are saved, and the saving faith that we have is a gift from God (Eph 2.8-9). One might be tempted to think, however, that if his Spiritual gift is service than a lack of faith is understandable and justifiable, because that simply is not his Spiritual gift. And thus, his growth is stunted. As believers, we are called to die to ourselves, to trust God fully, and to live lives of faith. But when we rest in our identity as defined by a Spiritual gift inventory, we will be tempted not to push ourselves and let God change us and use us in ways we never imagined.
Lastly, it pushes God out of the picture. All Spiritual gifts are from God. He gives them to us to serve the body, and He gives them to us according to the needs of the body. But when we inventory ourselves and consider this our Spiritual personality test, then we are left with a black and white dotted line to sign, and we get busy about using the gift we have instead of pursuing God to see where He wants to use us. There will be times when a need arises that we do not particularly desire to meet. There will be times when we have to get out of our comfort zones to help or serve. But plugging people into ministry according to their gifts fosters the exact opposite mindset: go where it is comfortable and do what you know.
God’s will for us is our sanctification: becoming more like Jesus (1 Thess 4.3). This is a continual life of change: dying to sin, abiding in Jesus, growing in Spiritual maturity, and strengthening the Church. If the very nature of our salvation is change, then we can expect that our Spiritual giftings and inclinations will change. Every believer is called to faith, is called to show mercy, is called to love, is called to give, is called to teach (either children, or making disciples one-on-one, or teaching a class or the entire church). Some will be uniquely gifted to do these things on a grander scale than others, and all of us will be given measures of grace to do these things as they are needed. The Holy Spirit is not stagnant and He will enable us and use us in a variety of ways throughout our Spiritual lives. As we grow to be more like Jesus and as we remain in Him, we will develop a dependence on the Spirit. We will learn to hear His voice and follow His leading. If we seek Him once to find out what our gifts are, and then isolate ourselves in that one ministry, we will stop growing and we will serve in our own strength. Thus, it is wise to examine ourselves and where we are with the Lord regularly and ask Him what gifts we have been given, but we must continually be in the presence of Jesus and asking what it is that He has for us to do today. Because it might not be comfortable. It might not be our norm. It might not be what we consider to be our strength. But God likes to use our weaknesses to glorify Himself, and He will push us on to maturity.
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
– 1 Cor 12.9
“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.”
– 1 Cor 12.12