if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving;
the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation;
the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal;
the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
If you are born again in Christ, you have one or more spiritual gifts. Each gift is an enablement given by the Holy Spirit for you to serve the body of Christ. “These are supernatural abilities given by God to individuals that enable them to perform a function with ease and effectiveness” (Charles Swindoll). Although your spiritual gift is not a natural talent, it may build on your natural abilities.
One way to identify your spiritual gift is to ask yourself these questions: What do I sense the Holy Spirit motivating me to do for the benefit of the church? What service can I perform “with ease and effectiveness,” to borrow Swindoll’s phrase? Can I do it with confidence (faith), even though I might have to overcome fear and put forth effort?
We’ll examine each gift Paul cites here, but we must understand this is only a partial list. Paul’s focus is not on the gifts themselves but on using them. He tells us to serve the body of Christ in whatever way and by whatever empowerment God apportions to each of us. I suppose God delights in our use of his gifts much as we like to see the recipients of our gifts enjoy them.
The Holy Spirit bestows gifts on individuals for the benefit of the whole body. Joseph Fitzmyer comments, “Each member must realize the social character of the God-given talents and make use of them for the common good without envy or jealousy of gifts given to other members.… All charisms are graces that move Christians to action on behalf of others.”
Prophecy. We should earnestly desire all spiritual gifts, says Paul in 1 Corinthians 14, and especially prophecy, defined by Everett Harrison as the “communication of revealed truth that will both convict and build up the hearers.” As Douglas Moo states, prophecy “has a revelatory basis: the prophet speaks the words that God ‘puts into his mouth’.”
That this gift entails the supernatural and spontaneous revelation of truth, not the “forth telling” of the gospel through preaching as some claim today, is evident in 1 Corinthians 14:28–32. Because of the nature of this gift, the prophet understandably needs to operate with faith.
New Testament prophets can predict the future (as in Acts 11:28 and 21:10–12), but their primary function is to deliver God’s personal word of encouragement to individuals and churches (1 Corinthians 14:3). The truth conveyed does not carry the authority of Scripture. Nor is it assumed infallible, because others should pass judgment on it (1 Corinthians 14:29, 1 Thessalonians 5:20–21).
I have benefited from the encouragement of prophetic utterances numerous times, and I have exercised this gift myself. Churches ought to prize it as Paul obviously did.
Service. This is the only place Paul mentions service—a behavior expected of all Christians—as a distinct spiritual gift. He probably has in mind functions typically performed by deacons, who care for the material needs of the church and its members, especially those who are needy. Jesus set the standard: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43–45).
The one who teaches. For this gift and the ones below, Paul shifts his wording from the abstract noun to the person using the gift. In contrast to the revelatory nature of prophecy, teaching “involves the passing on of the truth of the gospel as it has been preserved in the church” (Moo).
Charles Swindoll, truly a gifted teacher, says, “Teachers have the ability to communicate revealed truth with knowledge, ease, and clarity. They are gifted in bringing the printed Word into flesh-and-bone life. They help others learn accurate facts, discover principles, see the practical relevance, and apply them.”
Teaching is a life-giving charism that enables the rational presentation of truth to move mind, heart, and spirit of the hearer. As one scholar notes, “the teacher must depend (equally as the prophet) on the Spirit for insight.”
The one who exhorts. This Greek word could also be translated the one who encourages. Charles Cranfield says of this gift, “While the immediate purpose of teaching was to instruct, to impart information, to explain, the immediate purpose of exhortation was to help Christians to live out their obedience to the gospel. It was the pastoral application of the gospel to a particular congregation.” Exhortation and encouragement are essential gifts for pastors (see 1 Timothy 4:13).
The one who contributes. The Greek word translated generosity means singleness of heart. “Paul is encouraging the one who gives to others to do so straightforwardly and without ulterior motives” (Moo). The person is empowered by the Spirit to give generously without expectation of reward.
The one who leads. The word lead means to stand before others, and those who do so must lead and govern with zeal and diligence.
The one who does acts of mercy. Swindoll describes this gift as “an extraordinary ability to sense the need of those who are hurting—to know what to say and how to say it, and when to remain silent.” The person with this gift is authentically cheerful, not phony or condescending. Harrison quotes Arthur S. Way: “If you come with sympathy to sorrow, bring God’s sunlight in your face.”