The Holy Spirit and Service Gifts

Service gifts are those that are required for the proper functioning of the body of Christ.

The Holy Spirit and Service Gifts

Whether you consider its expression in a local setting (1 Cor 12), or in its universal context (Eph 4), the enabling of believers to serve one another is a tribute to the gifting of the Holy Spirit. Every believer enjoys these gifts which are communicated at salvation when the Holy Spirit indwelled us (cf. Eph 1.13-14, 3.7, Rom 12, 1 Cor 12). The Holy Spirit’s purpose in these gifts is spiritual growth in individual believers with the ultimate purpose of the body of Christ reaching maturity (Eph 4.12-14). This imagery of a body functioning is germane to the discussion of spiritual gifts. The illustration is clear and apt - just as there are a variety of members in a body that work together under the direction of the head for the good of the whole, so believers function in a church or the Church under the direction of the Head (Christ) in heaven. Thus there is no room for pride or self-importance (Eg. hand having an advantage over the foot) but interdependence and reliance on one another in an atmosphere of love (1 Cor 13). Regrettably, self (the flesh) gets in the way of this ideal, but the Spirit’s constant effort is to bring us back to our Head (Christ) so that we treat one another in this ideal of mutual care and respect.

The passages listing the various gifts are not exhaustive. They are descriptive of the various types of activities and ministries we can be involved in for edification of the body of Christ. Some are evangelical, leading to an increase in its numerical size, others are teaching and pastoral in character having an interest in its growth in maturity. Some are practical and social, meeting daily physical, emotional and mental needs of believers. All are services provided and superintended by the risen Head for the edification of the body. All are necessary and the elevation of some over others is not warranted scripturally, whether they be public or private. The key here is service to others for the common good of the whole.

Here are some questions that often surround the topic of these “service” gifts.

  • What is my spiritual gift?
  • Do I need to know what my gift is so that I can serve the body effectively?
  • I have heard people talk about developing a gift? 
  • What is a gift?

The first difficulty with these questions is a definition of the term gift. What is meant by that? If I asked Paul what his spiritual gift was, he would have answered quite clearly, that it is GRACE! That is what the word gift means in Greek (charisma), and Paul often uses the formula, “according to the grace that has been given...” (Eg Eph 3.2,7,8; 4.7; Rom 12.3,6; 1 Cor 3.10 etc). He clearly teaches in 1 Corinthians 15.10 that all that he did was according to the grace that he had been given. Paul described his ministry in various ways, as an apostle, as a teacher, evangelist and helper but these weren’t his gifts - they were descriptions of the ways that the grace he had been given were dispensed. Therefore, it is clear that our gift is grace - so there is no need to determine what it is, but merely to take the attitude of Paul on the Damascus road, “What shall I do, Lord?”(Acts 22.10)

The second difficulty stems from a debate over whether or not this gift is a natural ability that is sanctified or a spiritual ability supernaturally received at salvation from the Spirit. I believe it is the former option. God gives all of His creatures abilities that should be used for His glory. The gracing of the the Spirit of God enables believers to care for one another as they should and naturally as these abilities are used they will be developed into greater and greater usefulness. Thus a desire to serve as an overseer in God’s assembly (1 Tim 3.1) is developed over years under the Holy Spirit’s superintendence and gracing such that when the need arises the man is available to meet the need. This is not a supernatural spiritual ability the man received on salvation 30 years prior since there were many spiritual qualities and life experiences that were necessary prior to this occurring. Further, it is unlikely that an unsaved caring woman is any less caring afterward. She is likely to develop even further in a ministry of hospitality with the grace given to the glory of God.  I have heard people try to argue for the second option by describing some quiet person they knew who upon salvation became a mighty voice for God as evidence that a supernatural spiritual ability had been given at salvation. My problem with this argument is that it is arguing from the rare experience. More commonly, a good public speaker before salvation is still a good one after, and second it doesn’t square with the experience of Paul. His pre-conversion natural abilities were obviously sanctified in the service of the body post-conversion. Further, we would consider him to have been a great preacher, however, he didn’t consider it as such, nor did he find it easy (2 Cor 2.3-4).  This means that just because you find something easy to do, doesn’t mean it is your “gift”.  In fact that can be a problem as you may rely more on self to accomplish it than on the enabling grace of the Spirit. We need the grace of the Spirit to do the difficult, daily, mundane needs of life. 

Therefore, there is no need for you to fill out online questionnaires in order to determine your strengths and weaknesses so that you can determine your spiritual gift. Your gift is the grace needed to fulfil whatever God has in front of you today. Thus the missionary is graced just as much the day he is preaching the gospel as he is the day he is building the school. What is incumbent on us is to be “strengthened by the grace (2 Tim 2.1) and to labour in whatever sphere we see to do. It is self-important to describe yourself as a teacher and thus not be an evangelist. Paul calls us to be active in every service even though proficiency in one area may lead to us being described in one way. We are all gifted with the same thing - GRACE, because we all need it and none of us deserve it. This attitude will go a long way in our usefulness in service and is characteristic of the excellent way of love (1 Cor 12.31).

Recommended Reading on this topic

  • “What are Spiritual Gifts” by Kenneth Berding.