"What's a Spiritual Gift FOR?"

October 23, 2005 1Cor.12:1-11 (Eph.4:7-16)

Hungry Hurricanes

Hurricanes can be fearsome, powerfully destructive things. Earlier this week a US Air Force plane flew into the system of Hurricane Wilma and measured the lowest air pressure in millibars ever. In recent weeks from hurricanes Katrina and Rita we've become accustomed to seeing pictures of transport trucks overturned, houses flattened, streets turned into lakes due to torrential rains. Thousands of people have had to cope with enormous loss.

Yet there is an invisible hurricane right around us that is ongoing and equally destructive, but in other ways. Our fallen order hurls messages at us from the pit that threaten to suck life from us, silence us, and shut us down. Without protection, we get sucked in by all kinds of harmful desires that yield short-term pleasure but long-term pain. There is the wife whose heart aches because her husband would rather tinker with the engine on his car or be out with his buddies. There's the teen girl who's so starved for her father's affection that she lowers her limits on a date with a guy she hardly knows, risking negative lasting consequences. There's the businessman who ploughs long hours into his career, chasing corporate rewards, only to see his family dissolve long before he retires. Or there's the senior so intent on correcting her grown children that she alienates herself and finds the loneliness engulfing; the phone just never rings.

People find themselves blown about by deceitful messages that never deliver what they promise. The apostle Paul in the first century spoke of those who are "tossed back and forth by the waves, blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming." (Eph 4:14) A hurtful hurricane from hell. Back then, the Gnostics offered supposed meaning through secret rituals and teaching; today, many messiahs, from the bottle to the bingo hall, draw people in to traps with siren-like seductive calls. Paul reminds the Corinthians that when they were pagans, "somehow or other you were influenced and led astray to mute idols." Demons drew them in through worship of voiceless statues (1Cor 10:19). Not far from the city of Corinth there was a well-known oracle at Delphos which people went to hear; in other cases, pagan priests became entranced to speak for the idol. People were impressed by such spiritual power, but it was more muzzling than life-giving; a demonic "dumbing" and entrapment.

To that age and ours, the Bible suggests there is a better breeze: God's own 'breath', the Holy Spirit, who enters the lives of those who believe in Jesus and makes them truly alive - helped, not hurting.

The Holy Helper

Any understanding of the Holy Spirit needs to take into account what Jesus taught about the Counsellor who would come after Him. The night before He died, Jesus promised, "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever..." (Joh 14:16) NRSV translates the Greek 'paraclete' as 'Advocate'; the Good News Bible says simply, "Helper"; a paraclete is someone called alongside to help. Repeatedly Jesus emphasized that although He was going away, the Spirit of Truth was coming to stay and lead each one. The initial phenomenal outpouring was at Pentecost (Acts 2); Paul states matter-of-factly in v7, "To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given..." Paul taught that anyone who belongs to Christ has the Spirit of Christ; it's the Holy Spirit that enables us to be set free from sin's rule and call God "Father" (Rom 8:2,9,15). The Holy Spirit is not for a select or charismatic few, but for every person who trusts in Jesus as Saviour.

What's the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives? What are spiritual gifts for? Some might get the impression that they're for our own personal pleasure, kind of a secret never-seen companion. But the Holy Spirit is meant to play a much larger role than that in our lives and as a church. He has at least 3 major purposes.

First is to honour Jesus Christ. Paul says in v3, "...I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, "Jesus be cursed," and no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit." The Spirit's inevitable direction or nudge in our lives is to prompt us to honour Jesus more, to treasure His significance as our Saviour. The martyrs of the time refused to say "Caesar is Lord" - and paid dearly for their profession of faith. They chose to honour the One who had died for them, rather than pronounce him accursed, "anathema", as the dictators demanded. The Holy Spirit doesn't draw attention to Himself but exalts Jesus, who predicted, "He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you." (Joh 16:14) So, any genuine spiritual gift will honour Jesus when it's used.

A second purpose of spiritual gifts is to display God's rich creative diversity - as opposed to the enemy's deadening conformity. Vv 4-6 speak of different kinds of gifts, different kinds of service, different kinds of working - but one God who works them all. Our inventory mentioned 20 different kinds of gifts based on Paul's letters and is by no means exhaustive. God's not limited by our categories, but delights in blessing people very differently with many unique spiritual gifts. We're each so different, and so are our faith-based abilities. Variety is beautiful! Complementarity, by which differing gifts work together through different people to achieve a joint effect, is mysterious and wonderful! So the Spirit displays the diversity of God's plentiful grace.

Third, the Paraclete helps the church become a fully functional agent of Jesus' grace and love. Honours Jesus; magnifies the Triune God for His diversity; but also, helps the church - after all, that's His name, Helper. Paul uses several terms to express this helping aspect.

V7, "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." That means to help, "be profitable / expedient"; literally, "carry together", bear the load together. Even a simple load like our LWCF kitchen container is so much easier to carry by two people rather than one! The Holy Spirit draws us to work together as a church.

Over in chapter 14(4) Paul introduces us to a key term he uses over and over to describe the Spirit's contribution to our corporate life. He says, "He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church." "Edifies" translates a word meaning "to build a house", to build up. Paul uses this term several times (14:5, 12,17,26, Eph 4:16): it's also translated as "build up", "all must be done for the strengthening of the church." The whole body "builds itself up" in love. So, any genuine spiritual gift will never be used to tear someone else down, or make them feel inferior, but edify and build up other Christians.

Other ways the Spirit helps the church: 14:31 says everyone will be instructed and encouraged ('paracleted'). Ephesians 4:12 says the gifts will "prepare God's people for works of service" - 'prepare' as in furnishing a house, getting an empty dwelling 'outfitted', kitted-up. This is "so that the body of Christ may be built up [there's that word again!] until we all reach unity in the faith..." Spiritual gifts ought to bring oneness, harmony, a sense of unity in each person being used by God together. Not ranking or comparing or making others feel less blessed because their gift doesn't have such a high profile. It's all as Christ apportions and the Spirit determines, not as we deserve.

Paul goes on to say this will make us become "mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." Note the sense of completeness - it's all there, many gifts are represented to some degree. The variety or range of gifts develops this 'whole measure' of maturity. Many different parts together make the body fully functional. Paul asks rhetorically in 1Cor 12:17, "If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?" If everybody just had the 'teaching' gift, who'd there be to do the serving or administrating?

Another verb related to the Spirit's work in us is found in Eph 4:15, "We will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ." The Holy Spirit helps us to be "grown up" personally and collectively, like a full-grown plant, ready to blossom and bear fruit. The next verse sums up well the alive, spiritually-gifted, mature church: "From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." (Eph 4:16) Note that last phrase - "AS each part" makes its contribution. Jesus has given grace to each one of us (Eph 4:7); as we apply that particular gifting, grace flows from Him through us to build up the church, and touch the world with Christ's love.

Let's turn now to look at each of our congregation's top five gifts, based on the survey results I'd received by the middle of this past week.


Faith as a gift is an extraordinary confidence in God that is unshakable by situations, pain, apparent failure, or ridicule. This gift strengthens the individual and other believers (by example) to endure persecution and wait upon the Lord.

Isn't it great that quite a few individuals have this as one of their gifts? Those who scored high in this category agreed with the following statements:

17. I have an extraordinary confidence in God and an ability to embolden others.

37. I am not moved from my personal belief in the truth by ridicule, apparent failure, or pain.

57. I am totally convinced God will fulfill his word even if He is not doing so yet.

77. I seem to be less "shakable" than most Christians.

97. My hope in God, against all odds, is inspiring to others.

Other ways of expressing this gift, and scripture references:

the Spirit-given ability to daily see God's will, coupled with the confidence to do it

Hebrews 11 (whole chapter); Matthew 17:20 mustard seed / move mountain; Acts 27:21-25 Paul storm-swept; Rom 4:18-21 Abraham despite weakened body

Barb Hodgins seems to me to be a local Christian who, before she died from cancer, showed great faith in trusting Christ and testifying to His grace despite her medical suffering.

Patricia Brown in her book Spirit Gifts tells of Ada, a woman who "prays that God will find her worthy when the trumpet sounds for her to return home. In her 80+ years, Ada has raised 7 children and buried a coal mining husband who died of black lung. Through the lean times, she has cared for herself and her family. In faith to Christ, she has given generous aid to her home congregation, helped to establish the local fire department, and cared for other community needs. When her home and small country store serving a backwoods community burned down, she picked through the rubble and began again. Her community respects her, and her children and grandchildren call her blessed." Through thick & thin, she has demonstrated faith.


Serving is a gift which expresses the love of Christ by taking care of lowly or time-consuming tasks to allow others to be more effective ministers. Similar to the gift of Helps, but here the work performed is menial rather than skilled. Those with this gift are the bedrock essential workers in the church, and ought to be recognized as such. Those who scored high in this category resonated with the following statements:

6. I enjoy serving others so that they, in turn, may perform their ministries.

26. I believe my ministry in life is to be humbled before other people by being obedient in service.

46. I often recognize ways that I can minister to others indirectly without speaking or teaching.

66. I don't mind helping others even if they are not deserving or if they take advantage of me.

86. I would rather work in secret than have my work recognized publicly.

Other ways of expressing this gift, and scripture references:

render practical help in both physical & spiritual matters

assist & lend a helping hand in time of need; do the leg work for a group project

Gal 6:2,10; 2Tim 1.16-18 Onesiphorus / Paul; Mk 15:40f behind-scenes Marys; Ac 9:36 Tabitha; Rom 16:1f Phoebe

Patricia Brown tells of Sally & Simon, also in their eighties, who are examples of serving. They "have lived a lifetime helping others. Sally is always ready to cut out the hand work for a busy Sunday School teacher, prepare a church mailing, deliver flowers, or prepare the Lord's Supper. Simon, also a ready aid, has served as a trustee for many years. Always close at hand, he helps neighbours in need, delivers meals to the elderly, ushers at the Sunday service, paints the fellowship hall, hangs a window, or stops a leaky faucet. Simon's and Sally's work frees others to serve more effectively."


Teaching is the ability to understand and communicate the Christian faith so as to make the truth clear to others. The result of this gift is the equipping and maturing of others in the body of Christ so that they will grow in grace and be more effective disciples. Those who scored high in this category said:

5. I love to meditate on the patterns of God and His ways, and speak to others of such things.

25. I think it is very important to use words accurately and in context.

45. I get troubled by "testimonies" which contain false teaching or unsound advice.

65. I love to learn Biblical principles from my studies and then share them with others.

85. I reflect on my own life so that I can learn to help others to grow and know what to expect.

Other ways of expressing this gift, and scripture references:

able to clearly explain and effectively apply the truth of Jesus Christ

Acts 18:24-28 Apollos; 20:20f Paul; Eph 4:11ff teaching to prepare others for service; James 3:1 judged more strictly

I like what Northrop Frye said about a good teacher: they actually seem to disappear or become transparent, leaving the student engaged by the subject. I'd say Francis Shaeffer was an example of someone with the gift of teaching; we're still quoting him many years later. Ravi Zacharias is a current example, or others with his ministry such as Joe Boot: I recently heard a presentation by him; Joe Boot is a pleasure to listen to, even starting with his excellent diction and use of the English language.


Giving empowers one in a sensitive way to detect material or financial needs and meet those needs with Spirit inspired generosity. Recipients of help from Christians with this gift have a clear sense that God has provided, not man. Those who scored high in this category indicated, more or less:

8. When I give to others, they do not feel as if they owe me anything.

28. I believe God has given me the ability to make and share money.

48. I have strongly sensed the Spirit leading me to give money to a specific person or cause.

68. I strive to seek ways to give to others without calling attention to myself.

88. Everything I own is Christ's, and this is no secret among my church family.

Other ways of expressing this gift, and scripture references:

give of their material resources, far beyond the tithe, to further the work of God

give freely, with a special measure & delight to further God's work in the world

Mk 12:41-44 poor widow's penny; Acts 4:34-37 Barnabas / field; 2Cor 8:1-5 Macedonians generous despite severe trial; 2Cor 9:8-11 God supplies, we sow

Glenn and Bette are models of giving, according to Brown. "Whether it's handing out food, collecting blankets for the homeless, or buying ice cream for the neighbourhood children, they give such care and cheer that the recipients are fortified. It is not that they have many possessions. Rather, they share what they do have with any who are in need...They...derive genuine joy from seeing God work through their gift. They delight in using temporal possessions for God's glory and their neighbours' good."


Pastoring is the ministry of the elder/overseer to "shepherd" an individual or community of Christian believers. This gift is a special passion and empowering to lead people into green pastures, steer others away from danger, fight off predators, and bind up wounds. Those who scored high in this category felt:

4. God has shown me sources of sound teaching and rich fellowship, and I guide people to these sources.

24. I tend to be patient with Christians who are making slow spiritual progress.

44. I want to be in unity with other mature believers to earnestly seek God's will for the body.

64. God has shown fruit in my life in the effective discipling of other believers.

84. I feel that I am responsible to help protect weak Christians from dangerous influences.

Other ways of expressing this gift, and scripture references:

oversee, train, & care for the needs of a group of Christians

the coach of the 'team'

able to be a spiritual guide, to sustain people on their journeys, and to work with those who are at different places on the discipleship road

John 10:1-18 Jesus the Good Shepherd, lays down His life for the sheep; 1Tim 3:1-7 noble overseer "must-be's"; 1Pet 5:1-3 Peter leads willingly, eager to serve, by example

Just because you have the gift of pastoring doesn't mean God's expecting you to train to become a professional clergyperson! Any leader of a group, or class, or small group is to some degree a "pastor" in that you have a "flock" under your care, a group of people for whom you're responsible. If this is your main gift and you don't currently have someone or a group you're discipling, be praying about this; see who God lays on your heart, talk to your elder or pastor about the possibilities. We can always use more leaders and apprentices!

An example of someone with the pastoring gift who's touched my life is Don Pletsch. Don was raised EUB and was the senior pastor when I was a young staff associate in Mitchell. Don showed untiring care in hospital visits, doing funerals, taking communion to the seniors' homes. He loved to preach; and there was no question when you looked in his eyes that he loved his congregation dearly.

The movie Hotel Rwanda tells of a man named Paul (with a difficult surname) who saved the lives of over 1200 Tutsi citizens during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. (Parents might want to preview this before deciding whether to show it to the whole family.) Paul was educated at a private school run by the Seventh Day Adventist church. Although the film doesn't say whether he's an active believer or not, his values were certainly Christian in saving lives from the militia Hutu butchers and their machetes (even though he too was Hutu).

There's one scene that captures the essence of a pastor. Paul has been managing the hotel where hundreds of Tutsis have found refuge for several days. Arrangements come through for him and his family to leave the country. They get in the UN truck to go meet the airplane, but at the last minute he looks over the tailgate at the faces of the hotel staff and refugees who face grave danger. As the truck starts to pull away, he hops out, unable to leave his 'flock' behind alone. That's just like Jesus, the Master Pastor, of whom Matthew (9:36) records: "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."

What a privilege to minister in harness with our Lord! How special it is to fight hell's hurricane by being gentle breezes of the Holy Spirit's grace to build up the church and help those we meet with Christ's love. Whatever our gift may be, the Lord can use us in reaching lost lives and spreading the Good News. Let's pray.