You have something particular to give, something that no one else can offer.
Sure, others can approximate it, but only you can give of the distinctive spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit has grown within you.
Christians often look at I Corinthians 12 as a definitive “spiritual gifts list,” as though it were a diagnostic manual or a comprehensive catalog. I’m sure we’ve all seen spiritual gifts tests that purport to definitively tell us which of the items in this passage we have. After all, if you’re a Christian, you’ve been given spiritual gifts and here’s the list in black and white. Which one fits you?
But that’s not the point of the passage.
Leading up to the “spiritual gifts list” in I Cor 12:8-11, Paul makes several important points:
- Spiritual gifts are given for the glorification of Christ (I Cor 12:1-3)
- Spiritual gifts are given “for the common good” (I Cor 12:7)
- There are “varieties” of gifts, service, and activities (I Cor 12:4-6)
The list that follows, then, is but a list of examples. Other passages of the Bible talk about spiritual gifts. Medieval Theologian Thomas Aquinas summarized a long standing teaching that Isaiah 11:2-3 offers a list of the 7 spiritual gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. This list reads quite differently from what we could discern from I Cor 12.
Or go look at Exodus 31:1-4. God appoints an artisan named Bezalel to create the Tabernacle, and God “filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship to devise artistic designs….” In this case, God took a man’s natural abilities and spiritually empowered them so that they would be used for God’s glory. Have you considered that sometimes, spiritual giftedness is simply God’s transforming renewal of our natural abilities?
Are you clever? Perhaps God, by the power of the Holy Spirit wants to transform your cleverness into wisdom. Are you ambitious? Perhaps God will shape that ambition into vision for ministry. Are you persuasive? Could God be transforming that persuasive power and making you an evangelist?
Perhaps, then, instead of searching the lists to see where we fit, the passage presses us to ask “well, what have I been given?” Maybe we should think through all of our abilities and consider the questions implied by the passage: “how do I use this gift for the glorification of Christ?” And “how do I use this gift for the common good?”
That’s how you start to figure out the distinctive contribution that you have to make.
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