What is a spiritual gift?

By Pastor Ron Jones, D.D., © Titus Institute, 2003

"A spiritual gift is a spiritual ability given by the Holy Spirit which acts as a channel through which the Holy Spirit ministers to the body of Christ." A spiritual gift is just that - a gift - given by God to each believer as a member of the body of Christ.

Rom.12:6 says that we have "gifts" that differ according to the grace given to us. The Greek word in this verse is "charisma" which means "gift of grace." It means a gift that comes from God's wonderful grace, His free favor. It is given to us freely. It is unearned. It is not a reward for services rendered. It comes from God's storehouse of spiritual blessings which God freely bestows on us at salvation. It is to be a spiritual blessing to us and to the body of Christ.

A spiritual gift is a gift of grace, therefore it is not a natural talent. It is an ability that we are given which is "spiritual," that is, it is operated by the power of the Holy Spirit and produces spiritual fruit in the lives of the believers. There are natural talents which are similar to spiritual gifts, but they are not the same. Natural talents are abilities all human beings have from physical birth. These talents can be used to help others grow intellectually, emotionally, physically, psychologically and socially. Spiritual gifts are given to us at our spiritual birth, when we accept Christ and are used for spiritual growth.

For example, there is the natural ability of teaching and the spiritual gift of teaching. Many unbelievers have the natural ability to teach, such as school teachers and the like, yet because they are not believers they do not have the spiritual gift of teaching. In fact a Christian might have the natural ability to teach non-Biblical subjects such as English and math, but not have the spiritual gift of teaching the Bible. He or she is able to understand and explain these non-Biblical subjects with ease, but when it comes to the Bible, he or she struggles with presenting and explaining the Bible. This could also be vice-versa. Sometimes, one who has a certain talent also has the corresponding spiritual gift, but not always. Natural talents are used but primarily in conjunction with the Christian's spiritual gift. Many talents can be used in conjunction with the gifts of service or helps. "Carpentry, landscaping, decorating, crafts" and the like. "Writing" can be used with exhortation, evangelism or teaching. The natural talent of teaching can be used in conjunction with the gifts of service or helps. Those with the gifts of service or helps who have a natural ability to teach in the church to fill the many teaching positions that exist especially with children. But those with the gifts of exhortation or teaching must be sought out as well for teaching.

As believers we possess personality traits, talents, and one or more spiritual gifts. This is what makes each saint a unique individual in serving the Lord, although he may have the same gift as another believer. We are to use all three in our service, with personality traits and talents aiding our use of spiritual gifts. But our focus should be on using our gift or gifts.

Every believer receives a spiritual gift. 1 Cor.12:11 says that spiritual gifts (some are listed in v.8-10) are the work of the Spirit who gives to each one (believer) just as he determines. This means that at the moment of salvation every believer receives at least one spiritual gift. Therefore, no Christian should ever say, "I'm useless; I can't do anything in the church." You may not be popular, you may not have a magnetic personality or great talents, but you do indeed have a spiritual gift and because of that God has given you a part to play in the body of Christ. And these gifts are given by the Holy Spirit's sovereign choice. We do not choose our gift(s). The Holy Spirit chooses it. He gives the particular gift for the role He desires that saint to play in the body of Christ.

A believer's responsibility is not to ask for another gift, but to use the one the Spirit has graciously given to him or her. Yes, God has chosen your part in His body and has given you the giftedness to accomplish it. Rom.12:4-8 indicates that generally each believer is given one gift. Paul says in v.6 that we have different gifts according to the grace given and then in v.7-8 he mentions a gift and then exhorts them to exercise that gift they were given. Also, based on the body analogy of a person being an eye, not an ear, rather than an eye/ear, that Christians generally have one or two gifts. It seems that the Pastor-teacher should have at least two gifts in line with that two-fold role, a verbal gift and a leadership gift. Probably, most believers have one gift, and those whom the Lord desires to lead (not just elders) in various capacities, both men and women have two, a verbal gift (exhortation or teaching) and a leadership gift (leadership or administration).