What Is a Spiritual Gift? Characteristics of the Spirit’s Gifts of Grace - An Excerpt from Unfettered Spirit
With the first reading from Scripture as stipulated by the Revised Common Lectionary being 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 (a passage I apparently have preached from on several occasions, and will do so again on Sunday), I thought I might share a brief excerpt from my book Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening, (Energion, 2013). There is of course much more to be found in the book, but this gives a glimpse!
If spiritual gifts are signs of divine grace, then what forms does this grace take? If we look at the gift lists in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Ephesians, it becomes clear that there is a wide diversity of gifts, and these lists are only suggestive and not definitive. We could say that the possibilities are limited only by the imagination.
One could even say that as people embrace their giftedness, they become – as individuals – gifts of God to the world. To say that a person is a divine gift, doesn’t mean they’re better than anyone else, it simply means that they have become expressions of divine love in the community. It also means that whatever the gifts of God, they’re expressed in and through our personalities, temperaments, abilities and talents. The gifts that we bring into our communities may or may not involve what we would deem natural talents, that is, innate abilities. The ultimate test of a gifts value is its usefulness in contributing to the welfare of the faith community and the world itself. As a result, since the church is a community of persons gifted and called by the Spirit, the church that is gifted and empowered by the Spirit becomes an instrument of grace in what is clearly a broken world.
The church is the gathered people of God, called together in Christ and gifted by the Spirit. These gifts share certain characteristics, even if one of these characteristics is diversity of expression.
If God is the source of “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift” (Jas. 1:17), and God’s acts of giving occur in the manner and timing of God choosing (I Cor. 12:11), then we, as recipients, are called to live in gratefulness and trust, knowing that God will not leave us bereft of what we need to join in this ministry of service to the world. Although the ways and manners of creation are a mystery, we can affirm a divine interest in our potentialities. Who we are as persons, including our abilities and our personalities, influences our choices and our success in life. As people of faith, we affirm the premise that in God’s infinite wisdom, God is involved informing us as persons.
The gift lists we find in the New Testament suggest that God uses natural abilities and occasional additional endowments of the Spirit to touch the world with divine love. Whether they are part of our constitution as a person (the gift of teaching perhaps) or an occasional sign of the Spirit’s empowerment (an act of healing), gifts of the Spirit do not belong to the individual as a possession to be taken for granted. Gifts come to us by the sovereign choice of the Creator who calls on us to use these gifts wisely and appropriately to create a common good for humanity. We do not choose the gifts; the giver chooses the appropriate gift for each recipient.
Although these gifts are sovereignly given, we have the freedom to choose how, when, and where we use them. We can use them appropriately or inappropriately. Therefore, we each serve as “stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet. 4:10).