The Nature and Purpose of Spiritual Gifts


Ken Boa shares twelve principles that relate to God's design for spiritual gifts.

The Greek word most frequently used for spiritual gifts is charismata, a word that relates to the grace (charis) of God. Concerning these gifts, Paul writes, “to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift” (Ephesians 4:7). Another word, pneumatikos, means “spiritualities,” or “spiritual things.” Since the work of God can only be accomplished by the power of God, a spiritual gift is the endowment by the Holy Spirit of a special ability to every member of the body of Christ for the edification of others.

Here are twelve principles that relate to God's design for spiritual gifts:

1. Every Christian has one (or more) spiritual gifts. “But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. . . . But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:7, 11). “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift” (Ephesians 4:7). “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). Spiritual gifts are not limited to a sub-group of believers; they are distributed by the Spirit to all who are in Christ.

2. Many believers have evidently received more than one spiritual gift. Because there is such a variety of gifts, the number of possible combinations is immense. Each multi-gifted Christian has received a combination of spiritual abilities that is perfectly suited to his or her God-given ministry. There are differences of opinion as to whether these gifts are vested, i.e., resident in individual believers, or situational, i.e., Spirit-gifted for particular situations and needs. Some also regard the gifts listed in Romans 12 and Ephesians 4 as “motivational” gifts that are permanently resident, and distinguish these from the more situational gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12. While this view seems somewhat forced, there is a sense of expectancy and spontaneity in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 (see 14:26) that can allow for the dynamic empowering of believers in unforeseen ways as well as ways that are consistent with past gifting. In my view, a believer may have both resident and situational gifts.

3. Spiritual gifts may be given at the moment of regeneration, but they may lie undiscovered and dormant for a long period of time. Multi-gifted Christians often discover their combination of gifts through a gradual process.

4. Spiritual gifts can be abused and neglected, but if they are received at regeneration, it would appear that they cannot be lost. The Corinthian church illustrates the fact that believers can be highly gifted but spiritually immature.

5. Spiritual gifts are not the same as the gift of the Spirit. The gift of the Spirit has been bestowed on all believers (John 14:16; Acts 2:38), and every member of the body should walk in the power of this divine Person. The gifts of the Spirit, on the other hand, are distributed “to each one individually just as He wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11).

6. As we have seen, spiritual gifts are not the same as the fruit of the Spirit. Spiritual fruit is produced from within; spiritual gifts are imparted from without. Fruit relates to Christ-like character; gifts relate to Christian service. The fruit of the Spirit, especially love, should be the context for the operation of the gifts of the Spirit. Paul made it clear in 1 Corinthians 13 that spiritual gifts without spiritual fruit are worthless. Fruit is eternal, but gifts are temporal (1 Corinthians 13:8); the former is a true measure of spirituality, but the latter is not.

7. Spiritual gifts are not the same as natural talents. Unlike the natural abilities that everyone has from birth, spiritual gifts belong exclusively to believers in Christ. In some cases, the gifts of the Spirit coincide with natural endowments, but they transcend these natural abilities by adding a divinely infused quality. Both are given by God (James 1:17), and should be developed and used according to their purpose for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

8. All Christians are called to a ministry, but not all are called to an office. Ministry is determined by divinely given gifts and opportunities (Ephesians 3:7). Offices (evangelist, teacher, deacon, elder) are humanly recognized and appointed spheres of ministry within the body.

9. Some spiritual gifts are more useful in local churches than others because they result in greater edification of the body. Paul exhorted the Corinthian church to “earnestly desire the greater gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31; cf. 14:5).

10. Charismata literally means “grace-gifts”—they are sovereignly and undeservedly given by the Holy Spirit. There is no basis for boasting or envy. Every member of the body has a special place and purpose. Whether more or less prominent in the eyes of others, the same standard applies to all: it is required of stewards that one be found faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2). Work with what God has given to you (2 Timothy 1:6), and seek to please Him rather than people (Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4).

11. Gifts are God's spiritual equipment for effective service and edification of the body. They are not bestowed for the self-aggrandizement of the recipient, or as an evidence of a special enduing of the Spirit, but for the profit and edification of the body of Christ. The possessor is only the instrument and not the receiver of the glory. Gifts were given “so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 4:11).

12. High mobilization of spiritual gifts was the key to the rapid multiplication of the church in the New Testament (Romans 1:11).

Taken from Ken Boa's Handbook to Spiritual Growth.

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