1 Peter 4:10 As every man hath received the gift, even so, minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
SPIRITUAL GIFTS notes from John Piper, and others
The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed” (1 Corinthians 12:1). I assume that applies to us also: we ought not to be uninformed about the nature and purpose of spiritual gifts. So this final message in our series on the Holy Spirit will deal with this subject. Instead of spreading myself too thin across 1 Corinthians 12,13 and 14 (the major section on spiritual gifts) I have chosen to focus on several smaller texts so that we can examine their teaching more closely.
If you were reading through the New Testament, the first place you would run into the term “spiritual gift” is Romans 1:11,12. Let’s look at this text together. Writing to the church at Rome, Paul says, “I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” The translation “impart to you some spiritual gift” is misleading because it sounds like Paul wants to help them have a gift, but the text actually means that he wants to give them the benefit of his gifts. “I long to see you that I may use my gifts to strengthen you.”
The first and most obvious thing we learn from this text is that spiritual gifts are for strengthening others. This, of course, does not mean that the person who has a spiritual gift gets no joy or benefit from it. (We will see differently in a moment.) But it does suggest that gifts are given to be given. They are not given to be hoarded. “I desire to share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you.” What does strengthen mean? He’s not referring to bodily strength but strength of faith. The same word is used in 1 Thessalonians 3:2 where Paul says, e sent Timothy, our brother and servant in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen you in your faith and to exhort you that no one be moved by these afflictions. To strengthen someone by a spiritual gift means to help their faith not give way as easily when trouble enters their life. We have spiritual gifts in order to help other people keep the faith and maintain an even keel in life’s storms. If there is anybody around you whose faith is being threatened in any way at all take stock whether you may have a spiritual gift peculiarly suited to strengthen that person.
I think it would be fair to say also from this text that you shouldn’t bend your mind too much trying to label your spiritual gift before you use it. That is, don’t worry about whether you can point to prophecy or teaching or wisdom or knowledge or healing or miracles or mercy or administration, etc., and say, “That’s mine.” The way to think is this: The reason we have spiritual gifts is so that we can strengthen other people’s faith; here is someone whose faith is in jeopardy; how can I help him? Then do or say what seems most helpful and if the person is helped then you may have discovered one of your gifts. If you warned him of the folly of his way and he repented, then perhaps you have the gift of “warning.” If you took a walk with her and said you knew what she was going through and lifted her hope, then perhaps you have the gift of “empathy.” If you had them over to your home when they were new and lonely, then perhaps you have the gift of “hospitality.” We must not get hung up on naming our gifts. The thing to get hung up on is, “Are we doing what we can do to strengthen the faith of the people around us?
I really believe that the problem of not knowing our spiritual gifts is not a basic problem. More basic is the problem of not desiring very much to strengthen other people’s faith. Human nature is more prone to tear down than it is to build up. The path of least resistance leads to grumbling and criticism and gossip, and many there be that follow it. But the gate is narrow and the way is strewn with obstacles which leads to edification and the strengthening of faith. So the basic problem is becoming the kind of person who wakes up in the morning, thanks God for our great salvation and then says, “Lord, O how I want to strengthen people’s faith today. Grant that at the end of this day somebody will be more confident of Your
You remember my sermon on Christian Hedonism and humility? I argued that when we say, It’s my pleasure,” after doing someone a favor, it is an expression of humility. It is like saying, “Don’t get too excited about my self-sacrifice; I’m just doing what I like to do.” When Paul rereads Romans 1:11 he probably says, “Hmmm, that may sound a bit presumptuous, as if I’m the great martyr doing all for their sake, when in fact I look forward to a great encouragement from them for myself.” So as he restates verse 11 in verse 12 he adds that he, too, and not just they, is going to be helped when they meet. That is the first thing he does.
The second thing he does is show that the way he will strengthen their faith by his spiritual gift (verse 11) is by encouraging them with his faith. In verse 11 he aims to strengthen them;promises and more joyful in Your grace because I crossed his path.” The reason I say becoming this kind of person is more basic than finding out your spiritual gift, is that when
you become this kind of person the Holy Spirit will not let your longings go to waste. He will help you find ways to strengthen the faith of others and that will be the discovery of your gifts. So let’s apply ourselves to becoming the kind of people more and more who long to strengthen each other’s faith.
Now, in Romans 1:12 Paul restates verse 11 in different words: I want to strengthen you with my spiritual gift, “that is, I want us to be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” Paul does two things here. First, he uses the old “It’s my pleasure” tactic.
in verse 12 he aim to encourage them. In verse 11 he strengthens faith by his spiritual gift; in verse 12 he encourages by his faith. The conclusion I draw from these parallels is this: a piritual gift is an expression of faith which aims to strengthen faith. It is activated from faith in us and aims for faith in another. Another way to put it would be this: A spiritual gift is an bility given by the Holy Spirit to express our faith effectively (in word or deed) for the strengthening of someone else’s faith.
It is helpful to me to think about spiritual gifts in this way because it keeps me from simply quating them with natural abilities. Many unbelievers have great abilities in teaching and in dministration, for example. And these abilities are God-given whether the people recognize his or not. But these would not be called “spiritual gifts” of teaching or administration because hey are not expressions of faith and they are not aiming to strengthen faith. Our faith in the promises of God is the channel through which the Spirit flows on His way to strengthening the faith of others (Galatians 3:5). Therefore, no matter what abilities we have, if we are not relying on God and not aiming to help others rely on Him, then our ability is not a “spiritual gift.” It is not “spiritual” because the Holy Spirit is not flowing through it from faith to faith.
This has tremendous implications for how we choose church staff and church officers and board members. It means that we will never simply ask, “who has the skill to be efficient?” We will always go beyond that and ask, “Do they use their skill in such a way that you can tell it is an expression of their hearty reliance on the Lord? And do they exercise their skill with a view to strengthening the faith and joy of others?” A church where the Holy Spirit is alive and powerful will be a church very sensitive to the difference between natural abilities and spiritual gifts.