I Corinthians 12:8-11 NIV
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. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.
I like a good list, don’t you? In fact, I keep mine as mementos of things I haven’t completed. While my wife dutifully creates a list on any given day, and checks off each item with delight, my lists tend have more of an optional feel to them; each list is an ever-changing piece of scribbled art scattered among others on my desk, documenting my best intentions and a few of my shining accomplishments. I don’t know what I’d do without my lists; I’ve grown quite attached to them.
For whatever reasons we make them, we are creatures of lists. But when it comes to spiritual gifts, our tendency to make lists out of the wide range of manifestations of the Spirit and gifts of grace in the Bible may get in the way of us understanding the point. In 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 there are nine spiritual gifts listed (charismata, or “gracelets”).
Is that it? Do we have our list?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, which is why we have so many different counts and perspectives on spiritual gifts today. In Romans 12:6-8, more gifts are added to our list, gifts like serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, and leading. That list feels like it’s starting to lean toward what we might call “natural gifts” in people to which the Spirit gives divine impetus at key moments. Then, in Ephesians 4:11 we note that there are gifts which some people seem to express with regularity, i.e. apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. In still other places, gifts like hospitality (1 Pet. 4:9-10), celibacy (1 Cor. 7:7-8), and martyrdom (1 Cor. 13:3) can be understood to be gifts of grace from the Holy Spirit.
In fact, going one step farther, have you ever met a non-Christian who had a profound gift you knew was something God had given them, like creativity or friendship, that seemed to be made for a higher purpose than that for which they were using it? I have; many times. Attributing someone’s profound gift of creativity or the ability to cultivate friendship to anyone other than God, regardless of how they are using that gift, feels like an ill-fit. The person bears the image of God; why wouldn’t they evidence something of his nature, distorted and broken as that expression might be?
Given all we have learned about the Holy Spirit so far, and the wide diversity of God’s displays of creativity in people and creation, we can conclude that there may be different categories of spiritual gifts that all come from the same source. Some gifts are prospered natural gifts (like a teaching or leadership gift), and some are given as God chooses (like healing, miracles, or a prayer language/tongues) when we come to faith and mature in Christ. All gifts from the Spirit are for our edification, and for “the common good” (1 Cor. 12:7).
Paul’s goal, it seems, was not to give us a textbook on spiritual gifts. If it was, he would have gone into far more detail as a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led teacher. It seems the Holy Spirit’s goal was to give us a framework for understanding that God’s grace works within us, how God’s grace works within us, and why God’s grace works within us. From service, to miracles, to speaking by the power of the Spirit (Gordon Fee), God is awakening his Church to serve the world.
Jesus, I receive the Holy Spirit. I open myself to the outpouring of your Spirit in my life. Come, Holy Spirit, as I serve others, expand my natural gifts with your divine power, and teach me how to be open to be used in special gifts that you give for a moment of encounter with your love. In Jesus’ name, amen.
In the list of gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-11, which ones would you most like to learn more about? Why?
For the awakening,