What are Spiritual Gifts? How can I Find Mine?

William Borden was heir to the Borden dairy fortune, but he abandoned immeasurable wealth to serve God as a foreign missionary. Tragically, he contracted meningitis before reaching his destination and died. Among his possessions was found this scribbled note, summarizing his life's passion: No reserve, no retreat, no regrets. His story and motto captured the heart of a generation, and galvanized thousands for mission service.

How can our faith be as bold and joyous as his? How can we serve Jesus with such passion today? "Spiritual gifts" are a crucial, often neglected part of the answer.

God's supreme gift to his people is himself. He gave his Son for us, sending him to die in our place so our sins could be forgiven (Jn 3:16). He has made us his children by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9), giving us new life in his Spirit (Ro 8:9). 

Now his Spirit lives in us (1 Cor 3:16), and wants to use us to lead others to follow Jesus. He has given us "spiritual gifts" as a means to this end. Spiritual gifts are to the church what organs and limbs are to the human body. When we learn about spiritual gifts, we discover the anatomy of the church, the body of Christ.

Our gifts are God's equipment, provided to help us grow in our faith. When we identify our God-given gifts and abilities, we know better how to serve our Father. We are empowered by God's Spirit to accomplish God's will for our lives. We live and share the Christian faith with joy. And at the end of our work on earth we can say, No reserve, no retreat, no regrets.

Who has spiritual gifts?

Every believer has at least one spiritual gift (1 Cor 12:7, 11; Eph 4:7), given at his or her salvation. No believer has every spiritual gift (1 Cor 12:12, 27, 29-30). Our gifts differ from each other (Ro 12:3-6a). We receive our gifts according to God's will, not our own desire or experience (1 Cor 12:11; Eph 4:7-8).

What are the "spiritual gifts"?

The New Testament includes three lists of spiritual gifts. In Romans 12:3-8 we encounter seven gifts: "prophecy," serving, teaching, encouraging, "contributing to the needs of others," leadership, and mercy.

In 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 we find nine gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, "distinguishing between spirits," "speaking in different kinds of tongues," and "the interpretation of tongues."

And in Ephesians 4:11 we discover four gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers (some interpreters see pastor and teacher as two separate gifts, though the Greek syntax seems to indicate that they are one function).

Combining the various lists, we discover these gifts:

  • administration: organizing people and ministries effectively
  • apostleship: adapting to a different culture to share the gospel or do ministry
  • discernment: distinguishing spiritual truth from error or heresy
  • evangelism: sharing the gospel effectively and passionately
  • exhortation: encouraging others as they follow Jesus
  • faith: seeing God's plan and following it with passion
  • giving: investing with unusual sacrifice and joy in God's Kingdom
  • healing: being used by God to bring physical health in supernatural ways
  • intercession: praying with unusual passion and effectiveness
  • interpretation of "tongues": being used by God to explain to others the message given by the Spirit through "tongues" (see below)
  • knowledge: discerning and sharing the deep truths of God's word and will
  • leadership: motivating and inspiring others to serve Jesus fully
  • mercy: showing God's grace to hurting people with unusual passion
  • miracles: being used by God in ministry which transcends natural explanation
  • prophecy: preaching the word of God with personal passion and effectiveness
  • serving: meeting practical needs with unusual sacrifice and joy
  • shepherding: helping others grow spiritually
  • speaking in "tongues": using a God-given spiritual language in prayer and worship
  • teaching: explaining God's word and truth with unusual effectiveness
  • wisdom: relating biblical truth to practical life with great effectiveness.

How can you know your spiritual gifts?

Some believe that God reveals our spiritual gifts to us directly, as his Spirit speaks to us. Others depend on the insight and opinions of godly believers. Most theologians would add a third approach: give attention to your God-given opportunities for service, and to your interests, passions, and abilities. The Lord typically uses us in ways consistent with our gifting. For instance, if you are often asked into a leadership position, you may well be gifted for that role. The Lord usually gives us a desire to become involved in those ministries for which we are gifted. And he blesses the uses of our gifts, so that we can identify their existence by their effectiveness.

Several "spiritual gifts analysis" tools are available today. Our ministry has developed one which our leaders and members use; it is available to you on our website. As you utilize it or other approaches, know that the Father wants you to discover and use your gifts even more than you do. And remember: the Lord gives his greatest joy to those who help fulfill his Great Commission. When you find and use your spiritual gifts, you will find the passion, purpose, and peace of God.