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The Holy Spirit, gifts, and you

There are plenty of great essays and books on the Holy Spirit. I particularly like this one that the Christian & Missionary Alliance wrote. As our Adventures participants go out on missions trips, they often have little understanding about what the Bible says concerning spiritual gifts and ha…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

There are plenty of great essays and books on the Holy Spirit. I particularly like this one that the Christian & Missionary Alliance wrote. As our Adventures participants go out on missions trips, they often have little understanding about what the Bible says concerning spiritual gifts and have a lot of questions.

Recently I shared some thoughts with a group of World Racers in Guatemala beginning with this story:

I remember when I was about eight years old. I wanted a helmet for Christmas. I’d seen it advertised somewhere. It had a flashlight on top and it did everything but give a kid superhero powers. It was called a “Super Helmet 7” and I was desperate to get one.

Then, when all the presents were gone from under the tree, and my heart had sunk with disappointment, much to my everlasting surprise, my parents brought it out from some hiding place.

I was elated! It was the one gift I wanted more than anything.

Remember the boy in the movie A Christmas Story who gets a Red Rider bee-bee gun for Christmas? He had visions of all he would do with it to save people from danger. Well, that was me with my Super Helmet 7.

The importance of gifts
What is the greatest Christmas present you ever received? Why was it special? If you think about how you felt, you know the power that gifts can have. They can appear magical in the imagination.

As a father, I love to give my children gifts. Nothing is too good for them. Yet, I realize that gift-giving can be tricky. Give too many gifts and the gift recipient can begin to think that he deserves them. He can begin to develop an expectation about those gifts. He can take them for granted.

You can’t make a person give you a gift. It must be in their heart to do. Gifts are spiritual that way — whatever practical value they may have, in giving gifts, you impart something of yourself. You are saying that you care about the recipient; you are saying something about your relationship to them.

Covenants are usually marked by gift-giving. You give yourself and you give your word, and as a sign, you give something of value.

When we’re married, we give a diamond ring. In many societies, the bride’s family gives a dowry. In Swaziland, eight cows is a good price.

Of course in redeeming us, his lost children, God paid the ultimate price, giving us his son. It was a very expensive gift indeed.

Spiritual gift giving
God loves to give his children gifts too. He delights in equipping us for a life of setting others free by giving us gifts that you can’t see — gifts that are spiritual in nature.

We are born with an in-built awareness and drive to meet our own needs, but the needs of others tend to show up in our consciousness slowly over time.

As our own needs are met, we become free to look around and see who else needs help. God gives us gifts because he wants to see his people functioning as a unit. Since we don’t do this naturally, we need supernatural help.

Why God gives gifts
Scripture gives us multiple reasons for spiritual gifts. If you look at each of the scriptural lists, you see that most of the gifts involve relationship. The gifts are intended to help us relate to one another better. Specifically Scripture tells us God gives us gifts:
•    To unify us (1 Cor. 12:12-13)
•    For our common good (1 Cor. 12:7)
•    Weakness is supplemented (1 Cor. 12:22-23)

Four gift lists in Scripture
Four passages in Scripture describe the spiritual gifts that God gives. All are different and some overlap. None are exhaustive. Many gifts are not contained in these gifts and none of the gifts listed are defined or explained in detail.

1. Motive gifts list      Romans 12:5-8
These are gifts that may seem embedded in us from birth. For example, we may feel motivated to serve or encourage

•    Prophecy
•    Service
•    Teaching
•    Encouragement
•    Giving
•    Leadership
•    Mercy

2. Charisma gifts list     1 Corinthians 12:8-10
Some gifts seem more obviously spiritual insofar as they require faith to cultivate.

•    Word of wisdom
•    Word of knowledge
•    Faith
•    Healing, Miracles
•    Discerning spirits
•    Prophecy

•    Tongues
•    Interpretation of tongues

3. Office gifts list     Ephesians 4:11-12
The Ephesians 4 list of five roles is often referred to as the “five-fold ministry.”

•    Apostles
•    Prophets
•    Evangelists
•    Pastors
•    Teachers

4. Roles & gift list      1 Corinthians 12:28
We see yet another list in 1 Corinthians 12. By this time, theologians who want to create a theological taxonomy around the scriptural gift lists have a lot to reconcile. And this fourth list only further jumbles their efforts.

•    Apostles
•    Prophets
•    Teachers
•    Miracle workers
•    Healing
•    Helps
•    Administration
•    Tongues

There is at least one gift here from each of the other three lists. Perhaps the point is to scramble our efforts to systematize the gifts of God. He’s God – he can give any gifts he wants in whatever order he wants and for whatever purpose he wants.

How to use the gifts
God knows that we have the tendency to compare gifts and use them in ways that they were never intended. He knows that we’ll often use them to augment our ego needs. Instead of building up others for works of service, we’ll diminish them because we don’t have the gift that they have.

To help us understand how to use the gifts that God gives us, he attaches some operating instructions in 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14. Chapter 14 is especially specific about the gifts that some denominations tell us have ceased. Where cessationists tell us that prophecy and tongues have ceased, the Bible tells us “be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.”

In general, we can evaluate the presence of the Spirit by the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22): love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If you see this fruit in a person’s life and ministry, then it’s safe to say that the gifts of the Spirit are operating in them.

Comments (4)

  • Just had a young girl email me from Scotland asking me about what I thought about the supernatural gifts, and then I read this today. I agree that this is one of the best, simple and clear descriptions on spiritual gifts. Good timing Seth!

  • Hi Seth,

    I went on a short term mission trip with AIM and really loved it.

    I’m interested in something called Holy Laughter. Is it a good thing? Can I have Holy laughter too? Have you ever seen it?

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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