What Are Spiritual Gifts?

There are eighteen “gifts of the Spirit” listed in Romans 12, I Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4.

“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:4).

Dr. H. L. Willmington outlines these eighteen spiritual gifts in WILLMINGTON’S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE.

The 7 “Sign” Spiritual Gifts

Apostleship (Ephesians 4:11)

This is a reference to certain men called by Christ Himself and endued with special power to function as official “charter members” of the newly organized New Testament church. One special requirement of apostleship was that one must have actually seen the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:22).

Prophecy (I Corinthians 12:10; Romans 12:6)

This was the supernatural ability to receive and transmit a revelation from God. This was the manner in which the Bible was written (II Peter 1:20,21).

Miracles (I Corinthians 12:28)

The gift of miracles was a supernatural ability to perform those events outside and beyond the realm of nature– the ability to set aside for a time the regular laws of nature.

The purpose of miracles was to prove the God-sent authority of the one doing the miracle (John 3:2; John 20:30,31).

During the three periods of miracles there was a real need for the miracles, to awaken Israel from her indifference and immorality.

Healing (I Corinthians 12:9,28,30)

This was a supernatural ability to cure human ills, whether of physical, mental, or demonic origin.

This gift was given apparently, as in the case of miracles, to attest the authority and power of the one doing the healing.

At this point you may have a question in your mind concerning the gifts of miracles and healing. You may ask, if the gifts of miracles and healing were temporary, does this mean that God does not heal today? No, it certainly does not. It simply means that the gift of healing through an individual is no longer in existence.

Tongues (I Corinthians 12:10)

God used the gift of tongues to act as a sign to the unbeliever (both Jew and Gentile) and as a means to edify the believer. The conclusion concerning tongues is that while one cannot dogmatically point to one particular verse which proves the gift of tongues was temporary, there are, nevertheless, strong indications that this gift of tongues has indeed ceased.

Knowledge (I Corinthians 12:8)

This gift is most likely connected with prophecy and may involve the ability to receive and record God’s Word.

The Permanent Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Wisdom (I Corinthians 12:8)

The gift of wisdom would refer to that supernatural ability to rightfully apply and spiritually employ both human and divine knowledge.

Discerning of Spirits (I Corinthians 12:10; 1 John 4:1)

This gift is the supernatural ability to distinguish between demonic, human and divine spirits in another person. (Both Peter and Paul possessed this gift. Many pastors possess this gift.)

Giving (Romans 12:8)

The gift of giving is the supernatural ability to accumulate and give large amounts of one’s finances to the glory of God.

Exhortation (Romans 12:8; Proverbs 25:11)

This is the supernatural ability to deliver challenging words. Ministers certainly should possess this gift.

Ministering (Romans 12:7; 1 Corinthians 12:28)

This is the supernatural ability to render practical help in both physical and spiritual matters. Many people (both professionally and individually) possess this gift. Some seem to be led by the Holy Spirit in knowing just when to offer comfort, material help, advice, guidance, etc., and when to refrain.

Showing Mercy (Romans 12:8)

This is the supernatural ability with which some are endowed to minister to those sick and afflicted.

Ruling (or Administration) (Romans 12:8)

This is the supernatural ability to organize, administer and promote the various affairs in a local church.

Faith (I Corinthians 12:9; Romans 12:3)

The Bible describes three kinds of faith: (1) saving faith, given to all repenting sinners; (2) sanctifying faith, available to all believers, and (3)stewardship faith, given to some believers. Stewardship faith is the gift kind of faith, and is a supernatural ability to believe and expect great things from God.

Teaching (Romans 12:7; I Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11)

The gift of teaching is the supernatural ability to communicate and clarify the details of the Word of God. Anyone who teaches the Word of God should possess this gift.

Evangelism (Ephesians 4:11; II Timothy 4:5)

This is the supernatural ability to point sinners to Christ and to burden Christians about soul-winning. All believers, of course, are to witness for Christ, whether they have this special gift or not!

Pastor-Teacher (Ephesians 4:11)

This is the supernatural ability to preach and teach the Word of God and to feed and lead the flock of God. This is the only “double-portion” gift of the 18 gifts. Thus, all teachers are not called to be pastors, but all pastors are called to be teachers.

Assignment of Spiritual Gifts (1 Corinthians 12)

A. The Assignment of the Gifts (12:1-6).

Verse 1

“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.”

Spiritual gifts (Gr pneumatikos, spiritual). This term may be either masculine or neuter, referring to either “men” or “gifts.” The context is determinative. Here it is best understood as neuter, denoting “spiritual gifts” (cf. vss. 4, 5, 31; 14:1 where the neuter is used). “I would not have you to be ignorant.” This is a common Pauline expression to denote a subject of importance (cf. 10:1; 14:38; II Corinthians 1:8; 2:11; Romans 1:13; 11:25; I Thessalonians 4:13).

Verse 2

“Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led.”

“Ye were Gentiles, carried away.” Herein lie both a statement of fact and an insinuation. They need to face the fact that before they were saved they were led about into all forms of superstition and blind impulse. The pagan worship at Corinth not only involved the worship of dumb idols and temple prostitution, but it also involved a pagan exercise of “tongues.” The practice of “ecstatic utterances” was very common in the cults and in the worship of various Greek gods and goddesses (Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, I, p. 722). The insinuation is that they are still being carried away. This expression has the force of being controlled by an influence they could not resist (cf. Galatians 2:13; II Peter 3:17).

Verse 3

“Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.”

While Paul is about to deal with the entire subject of spiritual gifts, it is clear from the start that emphasis will be on only one of them, tongues. Wherefore ties with verse 2 and indicates they are in need of instruction. In evaluating spiritual gifts there are two criteria to be employed. The first is negative. No man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed. The second is positive. No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. How a person speaks determines the nature of the spirit that is within him. His very recognition and reception of Christ is by the Holy Spirit.

Verses 4-6

“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.”

In the first three verses Pau1’s burden is to show that the Spirit is in control. This says something of the quality of what is done in the exercise of them. In verses 4-6 he shows that the Spirit is central and this says something about the consistency of what is done in the exercise of them. Diversities of gifts…differences of administration…diversities of operations. Paul is not necessarily classifying the gifts into three categories, but their relationship to Spirit…Lord…God. They are the gifts given by the Spirit, used in ministry by the Son, and energized by the Father.

B. The Allotment of the Gifts (12:7-10).

Verse 7

“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.”

Manifestation of the Spirit. It is improper to equate this expression with “diversities of gifts” in verse 4. Neither is Paul about to tabulate the gifts per se, but the manner in which they are demonstrated. Give to every man, may refer to every man in the body of Christ or every man with a spiritual gift. If the stress is on given, the former is preferred. If the stress is on profit, the latter is preferred.

Verses 8-10

“For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:”

“Given by the Spirit.” This is the Holy Spirit not just the spirit of unity (cf. vss. 3, 11, 13). The word of wisdom. This has to do with the exposition of wisdom. It is speech that has wisdom as its content (Grosheide, Commentary on I Corinthians, p. 285). The word of knowledge. This relates to the previous gift in that both are gifts of the Spirit. They are distinguished in that the former has in mind the exposition of truths dealing with the being and nature of God and the latter, the experiential and personal knowledge of God. Where the one promotes sound theology, the other promotes sound living. Faith. This is not saving faith but the wonder-working faith to “move mountains.” Gifts of healing.

This has in mind gifts hereby the healing of the sick was effected (cf. Acts 4:30). Two important facts should be noted here. First, the use of the plural (“gifts,” “healings”). This indicates that a special gift is necessary every time a healing occurs. Second, the stress is on the results, not on the process. The gift does not produce divine “healers” but divine “healing” (cf. James 5:14-15). The working of miracles.

This gift is more comprehensive than the gift of healings. It has in mind such manifestations as are recorded in Acts 5:1-12; 9:32-43; and 13:8-12. Prophecy. This is the communication of special revelation from God. It could have been in the sense of “foretelling” (Acts 11:28) or simply “forthtelling.” Most of the New Testament epistles fall into this category. The gift was temporary, no longer needed after the canon of the New Testament was completed. “Discerning of spirits.”

During the period of time when Scripture was still being formulated, a class of individuals gifted with discerning true prophets from false prophets was necessary. This seems to be what John has in mind in I John 4:1 (cf. 14:29; I Thessalonians 5:20-21). Tongues … interpretation. The gift of speaking in tongues in the book of Acts appears to have been limited to speaking in “known languages” (cf. Acts 2:4; 10:46; and 19:6).

In the Acts 2 passage it does not appear that the gift of interpretation was necessary, since “every man heard in his own dialect” (Acts 10 and 19 are not as clear). However at Corinth it seems that the exercise of tongues involved more than just speaking with “known” languages. This being the case, the gift of interpretation was vital in every instance. For a fuller discussion of the nature and exercise of these gifts see the exposition of 13:1 and 14:1-40.

C. The Administration of the Gifts (12:11).

Verse 11

“But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.”

But all these. All the above mentioned gifts. Worketh…one … Spirit. While the gifts are diverse, the source is a common one. Dividing to every man severally as he will. The Holy Spirit not only produces these gifts but distributes them, and that according to His own will, not according to the wishes or merits of men. Notice here that the Apostle Paul attributes to the Third Person of the Trinity one of the qualities of personality (viz., will). The Holy Spirit is not a force but a Person.

The Proportion of the Body (12:12-31)

Paul uses the illustration of the human body in order to explain and illustrate the unity of Christ’s body (vss. 12-19); the interdependence of each of its members (vss. 20-26); and the importance of each integral part (vss. 27-31)

 The Indivisibility of the Members of the body (12:12-19)

Verse 12

“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.”

The body is one, and hath any members. The church is viewed as an organism. Like the human body it reflects both unity and diversity. One body. While there are many members, there is only one body. This truth is further emphasized in Romans 12:4-5; Ephesians 1:23; and 4:4, 16. So also is Christ. That is, the body of Christ, which is the church. This expression is appropriate since Christ is the Head of that body.

Verse 13

“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”

“One Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” This is not the baptism of water but the baptism of the Spirit. This has the same force as the expression and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. This fulfills Matthew 3:11; John 1:33; and Acts 1:5. That this baptism is common to all believers at Corinth is implied by the fact that Paul does not further exhort them to be baptized by the Spirit. Rather he assumes that they have all been baptized. The believer does not tarry or pray for this baptism. It occurs at the moment of regeneration. While speaking in tongues occurred in conjunction with the baptism of the Spirit at Pentecost, this outward manifestation was not always repeated as the only proof of such baptism.

Verse 14-19

“For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body?”

Here the illustration of the body is further developed with the emphasis on the diversity and placement of each member. One cannot escape the force of Paul’s argument: for a body to be a body it must have diverse members. It is absurd to expect everyone to have the same gift. God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. Paul stresses the sovereignty of God in this process. It is not only foolish but disobedient to covet another man’s gift. The place and gifts of each member are determined by the Lord.

B. The Interdependence of the Members of the Body (12:20-26)

verse 20

“But now are they many members, yet but one body.”

And now are they many members, yet but one body. Based upon the theological fact of organic unity, Paul is now going to show that each member is interdependent upon the others.

verse 21

“And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.”

“I have no need of thee.” There is no such thing as a freelance Christian. No part of the body can take leave of the other members as though they were not necessary.

Verses 22-23

“Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.”

Those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary. Like the human body some members are weaker than others. Likewise, there are some we think to be less honorable. Some parts of the body seemingly receive more attention and exposure than others, while there are other parts of the body that are never noticed at all.

Verse 24

“For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honor to that part which lacked:”

But God hath tempered the body together. As God views the body He does not see it in part but in the whole. Tempered was used to speak of mingling two elements to form a compound.

Verse 25-26

“That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honored, all the members rejoice with it.”

“That there should be no schism in the body.” Divisions and alienation of feelings should find no place in the body of Christ. Rather, the members should have the same care one for another. The body is one and it has a common life and consciousness, therefore, whether one member suffer, all the members suffer. Likewise, if one be honored, all the members rejoice with it.

C. The Induction of the Members into the Body (12:27-31).

Verse 27

“Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. “

“Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” In one succinct statement the apostle expresses both the unity and the diversity of the body of Christ. In the original the definite article does not appear before body. The thought is not that this particular local assembly constituted the body of Christ. The stress is on quality. Since they are of the body of Christ their actions and their attitudes toward one another should reflect His character.

Verse 28

“And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.”

Paul gives a further listing of the gifts with some additions to those included in verses 4-11. Here the stress is twofold. First on the source, God hath set. And secondly on priority. The list is so arranged as to put the most important first and the least important last. In this arrangement apostles are first, tongues are last. It is doubtful that the apostle ever intended that this list be exhaustive.

Verses 29-30

“Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?”

“Are all apostles?” Just as a body possesses many different members, even so the members of the church possess a variety of gifts. It is both absurd and sinful to expect otherwise. Compare the assumption that all believers have the baptism of the Spirit (vs. 13) with the rhetorical question: Do all speak with tongues? The implied answer is no. If all these had the baptism of the Spirit and not all had spoken in tongues, then tongues cannot be the confirming factor of Spirit baptism.

Verse 31

“But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”

“But covet earnestly the best gifts.” This expression explains why the apostle has arranged the list in verse 28 in order of priority. He wants his readers to be clear in their own minds as to which gifts are the best. Obviously, his intent is to steer them away from the more spectacular gifts, such as tongues. Covet here is not to be construed negatively but has the idea of “earnestly desire.” Yet I show unto you a more excellent way. The import of this statement is to be seen in chapter 13. Paul will show that a better way is not through striving but through loving.

The following two tabs change content below.
Dr. Elmer Towns is a college and seminary professor, an author of popular and scholarly works (the editor of two encyclopedias), a popular seminar lecturer, and dedicated worker in Sunday school, and has developed over 20 resource packets for leadership education.His personal education includes a B.S. from Northwestern College in Minneapolis, Minnesota, a M.A. from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary also in Dallas, a MRE from Garrett Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and a D.Min. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.He is co-founder of Liberty University, with Jerry Falwell, in 1971, and was the only full-time teacher in the first year of Liberty’s existence. Today, the University has over 11,400 students on campus with 39,000 in the Distance Learning Program (now Liberty University Online), and he is the Dean of the School of Religion.Dr. Towns has given theological lectures and taught intensive seminars at over 50 theological seminaries in America and abroad. He holds visiting professorship rank in five seminaries. He has written over 2,000 reference and/or popular articles and received six honorary doctoral degrees. Four doctoral dissertations have analyzed his contribution to religious education and evangelism.

Latest posts by Dr. Elmer Towns (see all)