Discovering Spiritual Gifts
Tim Temple


The portion of Scripture in which we find ourselves today is one of the most practical and yet overlooked passages in all the Word of God. This whole section, chapters 12-14, deals with the local church and the way it ought to be structured and the part that each of us has to play in that church.

One of the biggest problems in Corinth, and I think in most churches, is that the Corinthians didn't really understand each other. That is true not only in Corinth, but in many other places as well. So Paul is using the analogy of the human body to illustrate what that relationship ought to be between Christians and how as a body of Christians we can function not only within our church, but also reaching out to others outside of our church.

We have divided this chapter into four parts. First, we talked about the importance of spiritual gifts. That is the specific subject of chapter 12, verses 1-3. Verses 4-11 talk about the impartiality of spiritual gifts. Verses 12-26 give us that illustration of the body, the illustration of spiritual gifts. Verses 27-31 talk about the individuality of spiritual gifts–that is, the unique aspects of the various gifts.

Individuality of Spiritual Gifts

Today we come to that fourth section of the chapter. We have looked at the first three sections, and today we want to think about individuality of spiritual gifts in verses 27-31. Let me say in the beginning that even though that is a very short passage of Scripture, we need today to set the stage for that consideration of spiritual gifts. We have seen that everyone has spiritual gifts. According to verse 11, God has given each believer, as God wills, various gifts. We have seen, though, that those spiritual gifts are easily misunderstood because there are differences within the gifts. There are differences of gifts in the first place, and the person who has this gift over here is probably going to operate differently than the person who has this gift over here. Not only are there differences in gifts, there are differences of ways of using the gifts. One person who has the gift of evangelism, for instance, might use it differently than another person who has the gift of evangelism.

Not only that, but there are differences of operation according to verse 6, so that two people who have the gift of evangelism may both use it in a full-time ministry, but there are differences of operation so that one may be a full-time evangelist but focus his attention on evangelistic crusades. Another may be a full-time evangelist but focus his attention on preaching in churches. The focus of this part of the Scripture is so that we understand that we are different. Let's understand that various ones of us, because we have different spiritual gifts and because they may be exercised in a different way, can't expect everyone to do exactly what we do; and we should not expect everyone to be just like we are. It is extremely important that we understand that we have a part to play in the work of the Body of Christ and stop insisting that there is something wrong because everyone else doesn't do things the same way we do.

One of the big issues in the Body of Christ today is this issue that we are not all alike even though we are all equally important in God's sight and that we are all equally important in carrying out God's plan of operation. We need to stop insisting that everyone be just like us and stop looking down on people who aren't just like us because, keeping the analogy of the human body in mind, we all need each other. To accomplish God's purpose, we all need to do our different thing and do it to God's glory so that the Body as a whole can function as God wants it to.

With an understanding of those things, the question is very often asked, how can I know what my spiritual gift is? Someone might say, “I understand the theory; I understand the analogy, but what is my part in the spiritual Body?” Someone said to me after one of our studies about the Body of Christ, “I think that my place in the spiritual body must be the spleen. I just can't think of any practical use for me in the Body of Christ.” Someone else said, “I think maybe I am the appendix. It wouldn't really hurt anything if I was removed.” How can we know what our place is in the Body of Christ? Sometimes this question is used as an excuse for not doing anything. Sometimes people say, “I don't know what my spiritual gift is, so I am just going to stay on the sidelines and let everyone else take care of things.” Sometimes, even if a person doesn't say that, he thinks that subconsciously. “I don't know what my spiritual gift is, so I am just not going to do anything.” Oftentimes when people say that, it is a genuine plea for help, so hopefully as we look at these spiritual gifts, it will help you to an understanding of what your spiritual gift is.

Seeking Spiritual Gifts Through Prayer

There are several factors involved in finding our spiritual gift. One that is almost always overlooked is prayer. If you don't know what your spiritual gift is, pray about it. Ask God to show you what your spiritual gift is. It is so easy to just overlook that. Having prayed about it, or as you pray about it, follow the same steps that you followed in discovering what your natural human abilities are.

Many people say, “I don't have any human abilities either.”, but we all know, if we will be honest with ourselves, that there are some things that we can do well. It may not seem as important as what other people can do well, but all of us know that we are more accomplished at some things than we are at others. For example, you know whether you are good at athletics or not. You know whether you are good at musical things or not. You know whether or not you are a good reader or a good speller or a good writer. We all have strong points. How did you discover what those are? Did someone just pronounce it to you? Of course not, and why should it be any different with spiritual gifts? We discover what our human strengths are by being exposed to the various opportunities. You don't know you are a good reader until you learn to read. You don't know you are a good speller until you learn to spell. You don't know whether you have any musical abilities or not until you have an opportunity to sing or to play the piano.

Exposure to Spiritual Gifts

One of the basic ways to find out what your spiritual gift is is to be exposed to the spiritual gifts. Sometimes just knowing what the spiritual gifts are will ring a bell with you, but sometimes it is also a matter of not just knowing what they are, but of trying them out. There is nothing wrong with experimenting with the spiritual gifts because another of the things that we are going to notice as we move on through chapters 13 and 14 is that every one of the spiritual gifts involve things that God has told all Christians to do. For example, there is the gift of evangelism, as I have already mentioned. God has told all of us to be witnesses, to go out and tell others about Jesus Christ, but there is a special gift of that. I do not believe that I have the gift of evangelism, yet I have the responsibility to tell others about Jesus Christ. I know of several individuals who do have the gift of evangelism, and it seems like it is easier for them to do it and the response they get is usually more immediate and the opportunities that they have are usually greater. Yet there is nothing wrong with experimenting with evangelism because God told us all to be witnesses.

Another of the spiritual gifts is giving. God gives some people the ability to give to His work. Often that also involves the ability to make a lot of money, but not always. There are some people who have the gift of giving who really don't have a lot of money, but they have the ability to discern a true need when they hear about it, and they can distinguish between a true need and some kind of illegitimate need. They have the self discipline to stick to the budget. They have things like that that enable them to be a giver. It is part of the gift. But all of us are told to give. All of us as believers are supposed to contribute to God's work.

One of the big failures in the Body of Christ today is that very often people fail to respond to a need because they say, “Well, that's not my need. I don't know what my gift is, but I know it's not that.” The next time you hear about a need of some kind, why don't you try to respond to that need? God will use that to help show you whether that particular kind of need fits in with your spiritual gift. But it won't be a failure because God has told all of us to be active in all these things anyway. Some do just have a special ability in this area or that area.

Importance of Spiritual Gifts

A prerequisite to this exposure to the gifts is a matter of being informed what the various gifts are; but before we get into that, we need to look into a couple of other things that are mentioned here in I Corinthians, chapter 12. The section that we are looking at, the fourth section, I call “The Individuality of Spiritual Gifts”, verses 27-31. Let's notice those verses:

I Corinthians 12

27Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
28And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
29Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles?
30Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?
31But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.

Let me just point out a couple of things about these verses. First, we are all members of the Body of Christ, but we are individual members. We are not all alike. We all have an important part to play. Verse 27 reviews that for us, reminds us of that. Then in verse 28, we have a list of spiritual gifts which were evident there in the first century: prophets, apostles, teachers, miracles, gifts of healing. As we read through that list, we realize that there are a lot of different kinds of gifts, but look at verse 29:

I Corinthians 12

29Are all apostles?…

Let's stop there for a moment. Think back to the first century when Paul was writing this. If you don't know already, let me tell you that there were twelve apostles. Eleven of those were the original twelve disciples. The Apostle Paul was that twelfth apostle. At some other point in time we will prove that statement, if it needs proving, but there were only twelve apostles. Look at verse 29 and answer for yourself, “Are all apostles?” What is the answer to that question? Speaking in the first century context, the answer is, “No.” Only twelve men in the whole Body of Christ were apostles, and none of those men are living today, so it is even easier to answer that question today. There are no apostles living today. “…are all prophets?” Well, the gift of prophecy was one of the gifts that was extant in that first century, but they weren't all prophets or all teachers. No, not everyone has the gift of teaching, etc. So there are differences in the gifts.

Distinction In Spiritual Gifts

That is the thing that I want us to spend the rest of our time thinking about, the distinction in spiritual gifts. There are distinctions in spiritual gifts from two standpoints. First, turn to I Peter, chapter 4, verse 11, which points out that there are distinctions to be made in spiritual gifts from the standpoint of audibility:

I Peter 4

11If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Think carefully about this verse. This verse tells us that there is a distinction in the kinds of spiritual gifts. Notice that he says, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God…” The verses above this make it clear that he is talking about spiritual gifts. There are some spiritual gifts that involve speaking–the gift of teaching, the gift of evangelism, the gift of prophecy. Those kinds of gifts involve speaking. Usually they involve speaking before a group. There are some who have the gift of evangelism who use it primarily in a one-on-one setting, but most of the time those gifts include public speaking. That is one of the distinctions, the distinction as to audibility. But notice in the middle of the verse:

I Peter 4

11…if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth:…

That is a reference to those kinds of gifts which may not involve speaking. Obviously all of the gifts will involve saying something at some point. The point is that there are spiritual gifts that do not involve standing in front of the group. This may seem like a simple matter, but I think it is one of the biggest misunderstandings within the Body of Christ. The common idea is, “If my son can't be a preacher, then he can't serve the Lord.” “If I can't be a preacher, then I can't serve the Lord.” Baloney! You don't have to stand up in front of people to serve the Lord. There are a whole range of gifts that involve what Peter calls “ministry”. They involve the gift of giving, the gift of showing mercy, the gift of helps, the gift of administration–a number of gifts that are done primarily behind the scenes, gifts that the exercise of which is not seen, but the results of which are very clearly seen, and the lack of the exercise of those gifts is very clearly seen. Notice the last part of the verse:

I Peter 4

11…that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom be praise and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

There are distinctions in gifts. There are different kinds of gifts in terms of audibility, but the purpose of both kinds of gifts is to glorify Jesus Christ. Listen, if you have a gift that doesn't involve standing in front of people, do not ever think that you are a second-class Christian. Your gift is just as important. In fact, in some cases, in a particular situation, it might be much more important than the gift that involves standing in front of the group. Across the board we tend to think that those non-audible gifts are sort of second-class gifts, and that is absolutely unscriptural. It is just totally unscriptural to say that someone who has the gift of giving or showing mercy or the gift of helps is not as important as the guy who has the gift of teaching or the gift of evangelism. All of them are to be for the glory of Jesus Christ, and to Him belongs the glory and honor.

Don't give the glory and honor to the public speaker that belongs only to Jesus Christ. By the same token, don't give the same glory and honor to the giver that belongs to Jesus Christ. All the glory and honor belongs to Jesus Christ. All the gifts have that as their purpose. That is the first important distinction that needs to be made. We all need to keep that in mind.

Continuity of Spiritual Gifts

There is a second distinction that needs to be made about spiritual gifts if we are going to understand them correctly and that is from the standpoint of continuity. This distinction is probably not as obvious as the distinction of audibility, but it has a very definite scriptural basis. This distinction involves the fact that some of the gifts are foundational. That is, some of the spiritual gifts were gifts that God gave for the establishment of the Church, having to do with the foundation of the Church. They were temporary gifts that were given for the establishment of the Church and for the writing of the canon of Scripture, and when those needs were fulfilled, those gifts were no longer necessary.

Others are what I call “functional gifts”. They are not any more important than the foundational gifts. In fact, they would not be usable if it were not for the foundational gifts, but they are gifts that are usable in any age or in any situation. Sometimes we refer to these as permanent spiritual gifts. I personally don't like that distinction of temporary and permanent as much as the distinction of foundational and functional because temporary and permanent makes one seem more important than the other, and they are all a part of the plan of God.

What I am talking about here, as you may already be aware, is that this distinction of the continuity of the gifts is probably the central issue of disagreement within certain segments of Christianity today. There is a whole segment of Christianity today, and they are fine believers in Jesus Christ and as far as I know, they are entirely sincere, who say that all of the gifts are still being given, and some of them will even say that it is heretical to talk about some gifts not being given any more. On the other hand, there is a group, of which obviously I am a part, who says, “No, some of the gifts are not being given.” That doesn't mean that God can't give them. That doesn't mean that God is unfair to not be giving them. That doesn't mean that people are not spiritual enough to have those, but it is the case that there are some gifts that God is no longer giving.

Testimony of the Apostle Paul

What I want us to do today is look at some passages on which I base that view, that there is a distinction from the standpoint of continuity. We are going to have to use some reasoning and thinking in this, so please stay with me. Why do we say that some of the gifts are no longer being given? How can we say that? First, there is the testimony of the Apostle Paul. Go back to I Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 8:

I Corinthians 13

8Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

He is referring in verse 8 to specific gifts. There is the gift of prophecy; there is the gift of knowledge; there is the gift of tongues. He is not just talking about knowledge in general or the ability to speak in general; he is talking about specific spiritual gifts. He says that at some point those gifts are going to cease, some point future to Paul's day.

When we look at chapter 13, I believe that I can show you that “that which is perfect” is the Word of God. What Paul is saying in the end of chapter 13 is that when the Word of God has been completed, then those particular gifts are no longer necessary. It doesn't mean that people aren't spiritual to not have that gift any more. It doesn't mean that God is being unfair to not give those gifts any more. It is just that they are not necessary any more. Regardless of when those things will cease, the Scripture clearly says that there are some gifts which will cease at some point.

Another line of reasoning is the testimony of the author of the Hebrew letter. Turn to Hebrews, chapter 2, where we have a reference to three generations of receiving God's Word. Notice verse 3:

Hebrews 2

3How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;
4God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?

Here are three generations of gifts. First of all, he says in verse 3 that Jesus was the first teacher–this Gospel “which at the first began to be spoken of by the Lord…” Then the second generation “was confirmed to us by them that heard him.” The third generation was the writer himself. Even though he doesn't say it, now the writer is telling it to us, the fourth generation of hearers. So there is a generational passing along of the truth.

Notice in verse 4 that second generation, “God also bearing them witness…” God bore witness with signs and wonders and miracles. That at least implies that the confirmation with miracles, etc., has not continued even though the gift of evangelism has continued; but we know from our own experience that those who have the gift of evangelism do not have the gift of miracles along with it. We don't see those kinds of things happening even among the most godly of Christians. We don't see God giving the gift of miracles for the confirmation of the Gospel preaching like we saw in the New Testament.

Miracles In the Present Age

Let me digress for a minute. I always want to make clear that I am not saying in any sense of the word that God no longer performs miracles. Please don't misunderstand that. Please don't go away from here and say that Abilene Bible Church doesn't believe that God does miracles any more. What I am saying is that God does not give the gift of miracles in the way that He did in the first century of the Church. He gave that gift of miracles as a confirmation of the message which they preached. God still works miracles in this day even in which we live. God still heals people miraculously sometimes in this day in which we live, but He does not give those things as a confirmation of the message which is being preached. So in this matter of the distinction between the temporary and the permanent or the foundational and the functional gifts, there is the testimony of Paul, there is the testimony of the writer to the Hebrew letter, and there is a third testimony and that is the testimony of the nature of some of these gifts.

We won't take the time to turn there, but Acts, chapter 1, verse 22, and I Corinthians, chapter 9, verse 1, tell us that a qualification for an apostle, which he refers to as a gift, was that one had to have seen the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Is there anyone today who has seen the Lord Jesus Christ after His Resurrection in His bodily form? Of course not! There was only one generation of men who could meet that qualification, those men who were physically alive on the earth during those few days when Christ was on the earth after His Resurrection. That was a qualification for apostleship. The point is that at least that gift was temporary. It sets a precedent for the fact that some of the other gifts are temporary also.

Miracles In Recorded History

The fourth argument for this distinction between foundational and functional gifts is the testimony of Old Testament history. It actually extends into the New Testament, too. But out of two thousand years of recorded Old Testament history there are only two periods of miracles. We get the idea on our own, and there are some who would try to emphasize the idea to us, that godly people have always been able to do the supernatural, that if we were more godly, we would have some of these more miraculous gifts. But if you go back through the whole Old Testament, you will see that there are only two periods of time in which miracles were performed, and yet there were many, many godly people who lived during that two thousand years.

The first of those was during the time of Moses and Joshua. There were isolated miracles here and there just as there are today, but in terms of miracles being a regular course of events, God gave the gift of miracles to Moses and to Joshua as they were getting out of Egypt and going into the promised land. A second time in the Old Testament was during the time of the prophets, Elijah and Elisha. Those prophets had the ability apparently to perform miracles at will. When they decided to, they could do a miracle. Again, in all those other times, there were miracles done here and there, but during these two isolated eras–each of these eras lasted a long time–the prophet or the man of God could do a miracle just about any time he chose to in answer to prayer. I am saying that miracles were a much more regular thing during those two periods of time. A third period of miracles in the history of mankind was during the days of Jesus and the apostles, the first Christians. So out of all of the six thousand years or so of recorded history, there have only been three periods of miracles, two in the Old Testament and one at the very beginning of the New Testament.

Let's think about it this way: No one thinks that David is less of a saint of God than Moses just because Moses did miracles and David didn't. There are no miracles recorded of David, and yet the hand of God was obviously upon him. He did tremendous things very much like Joshua did, but Joshua dealt with miracles all the time and David never did. We don't think any less of David because he didn't do miracles. We don't think any less of Daniel or Ezekiel because they didn't do miracles than we do of Elijah and Elisha and Moses and Joshua. So you see, let's be careful that we don't insist on these things being a sign of godliness or closeness to the Lord, and that if we were just more godly, we too could do those things. Those things are given by God for specific purposes for specific periods of time in the history of the world, and they are at His choosing. So the fact is that there are some of the gifts which we are going to look at that are no longer being given today, and there are some that are being given today.

Practical Suggestions for Finding Our Spiritual Gift

In our next lesson, as we come back to this chapter and we look at some other passages of Scripture, we are going to see what those gifts are. Let me close by reminding you again that every believer has at least one spiritual gift and maybe more than one. The proper function of the Church depends upon the exercise of those gifts, and some of those gifts are exercised outside the Church. It is amazing to me the number of people who say to me, “Well, there is nothing for me to do at that church. I am out of place there, so I am going to have to go somewhere else.” That is another statement of the doctrine of baloney! Many times the gifts are exercised outside the church. You don't have to worry about finding some little niche in your particular local church to exercise your gift. I know people in this church from my vantage point as pastor who don't do anything as far as I know within the walls of the church, but who have a tremendous ministry for God. They are a vital part of the Body of Christ even though none of that is done within the context of these walls.

The same thing is true of any church anywhere, so don't think that unless you can find a Sunday School class to teach or you can get involved in this project or that project at this particular church that you are not exercising your spiritual gift. We need you in these various projects, but God may be using you somewhere outside these walls. That doesn't mean that you need to go somewhere else to church. If God is leading you to go somewhere else to church, that is between you and Him; but don't ever leave a church just because you think they already have all the Sunday School teachers and choir members they need, so there is nothing for you to do. God may want you at that church even though your ministry may be completely outside the walls of that church.

The other thing to keep in mind is don't be in a big rush. Don't think that by dark tonight, you have to know what your spiritual gift is. Just get busy and take opportunities to serve the Lord, and don't worry about whether it is your gift or not. Just do whatever you find the opportunity to do, and God will show you as you actively try to serve Him. As we go through the list of gifts, you will hear about one and you might say, “Now, that is what I would like to do.” Or you will try one out and have a good response to it.

There are three points to keep in mind, and I am just going to mention them. First, there is exposure to the gifts. Know what the gifts are that God might have available to you. Second, evaluation by others. What do others think your spiritual gift might be? Have you ever asked anyone that? Ask some of your close friends what they think your spiritual gift might be. They might think it is something other than what you think it is or they may agree with you; but it is an important thing to find out the evaluation of others. The third point is the extent of response–trying them out. Just get involved, and see what kind of response you have because that is a key element in determining what your gift is. If God has given you a particular spiritual gift, you may find that you have a much quicker response to that than someone else who is doing that same thing.

Ask God for opportunities to minister for Him. Claim His strength to do that ministry whatever it might be. Walk in fellowship with the Lord. Evaluate a year from now. See what God is blessing in your life, but above all, just stay busy for Him.

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