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Pneumatology Series: Spiritual Gifts

Updated: May 2

Spiritual Gifts

Another one of the Spirit’s ministries is giving spiritual gifts. What is a spiritual gift? Tony Evans succinctly described spiritual gifts this way: “A spiritual gift is a divinely bestowed ability given to every true believer in Jesus Christ in order to serve the church.”[1] Charles Ryrie defined it as a “God-given ability for service.”[2] The apostle Peter said spiritual gifts are channels by which God’s “grace” comes to the church.[3] In 1 Peter 4:10, he said: “Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of the varied grace of God.” The “one another” refers to believers in the church. When a person is using their spiritual gift, God’s grace comes through them to bless his people. In fact, the Greek word used for spiritual gifts is “charisma,” which comes from a “family of words related to grace and therefore means something like ‘grace gift’ or ‘free gift.’”[4] It’s not that spiritual gifts don’t bless unbelievers—they do, especially the gift of evangelism. However, they seem to be primarily given by God to build up the church. Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 4:12, and 12:4-7, Paul called gifts “manifestations of the Spirit” given for “building up the church” and for the “common good.”

So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.”

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Later, in 1 Corinthians 12:11-16 (ESV), Paul says the Holy Spirit distributes gifts to believers, and because of this, the church is like a body—one person is the eye, another the hands, and another the feet. It says:

It is one and the same Spirit, distributing as he decides to each person, who produces all these things. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

In considering the Spirit’s distribution of gifts to each believer, Daryl Aaron said this:

This means God has given each and every Christian a role and responsibility in the body of Christ and the supernatural ability, in the form of a spiritual gift or gifts, to fulfill it. He knows best how to orchestrate this, and we should be content with the gifts he chooses for us.[5]

Tony Evans’ comment about spiritual gifts are also helpful:

The reason the Spirit bestows His gifts on the church is that we are the ones charged with carrying out God's program in this age. When Jesus arose and ascended to heaven, He gave to His management team, the church, those tools necessary to pull off His kingdom work.[6]

Receiving Gifts

When do we receive spiritual gifts? It is clear from 1 Corinthians 12:13 that each person receives at least one gift at the baptism in the Spirit. Though a controversial doctrine, this refers to the moment when believers are made part of the body of Christ, which happens at salvation. At salvation, each person is made a part of Christ’s body, the church, and given a spiritual gift or gifts to serve Christ and his church.

With that said, there is evidence that God may also give spiritual gifts later on in life. For example, in 1 Timothy 4:14, Paul talks about his disciple Timothy receiving a gift through the elders laying hands on him: “Do not neglect the spiritual gift you have, given to you and confirmed by prophetic words when the elders laid hands on you.” This maybe referring to when Timothy was ordained by elders into pastoral ministry. Apparently, he received some type of gift during that prophetic ministry. In addition, we have various Old Testament examples of people receiving gifts later in life, which they apparently didn’t have previously. Moses received the gift of miracles at his calling to lead Israel. Elisha received a double portion of Elijah’s gifts when he replaced Elijah as the chief prophet to Israel. Also, the language used in 1 Corinthians about spiritual gifts implies that believers can still receive them after salvation. In 1 Corinthians 12:31, the church was called to “be eager for the greater gifts.” And, in 1 Corinthians 14:1, they are also called to “be eager for the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” The fact, that believers are called to desire them (and probably pray for them) implies God may still impart them at strategic times after one’s salvation to meet the needs of a church, community, or nation. Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 14:13, the person with the gift of tongues is told to pray for the ability to interpret—asking the Lord for a gift which, at that time, he did not have. It says, “So then, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret.” We should also desire greater gifts and seek them through prayer, not to honor ourselves but so that we can more effectively help others and build God’s church.

Lists of Gifts

What are the spiritual gifts? There are four major lists in the New Testament: 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28-30, Romans 12:6-8, and Ephesians 4:11. They are:







Discernment of Spirits




Interpretation of Tongues








However, it should be noted that these lists are not meant to be exhaustive. For instance, Paul mentions celibacy, the ability to stay single, and by implication marriage as gifts in 1 Corinthians 7:7. He says, “I wish that everyone was as I am. But each has his own gift from God, one this way, another that.” Also, Daniel and Joseph had the ability to interpret dreams (Dan 2, Gen 41). Bazael had ability, by the Holy Spirit, to be an expert craftsmen and work on the articles in the tabernacle (Ex 35). Therefore, it is clear that Paul and Peter weren’t trying to be exhaustive in the four major lists. It is probable that there are many other gifts such as: intercession (the ability to be burdened and pray for long periods until God answers), casting out demons, leading worship, and many more.

Descriptions of Major Gifts

What exactly are the major giftings? Though most are clear, with a few of these, there is considerable debate over what exactly the gift is and how it manifests.

  • Administration/ruling is the ability to oversee and administrate in the church including event planning, overseeing budget and people, developing strategic ministries, etc.

  • Apostleship probably refers to the ability to build and oversee effective ministries for the kingdom. People with this gift typically serve as missionaries, church planters, and leaders of large ministries or denominations. They are often entrepreneurial by nature, multi-gifted, and shepherds of leaders. With that said, the gift of apostleship is different from the office of apostle, which was held by a limited number of people in the early church (Mk 3:13-19, 1 Cor 15:7-9). The original apostles established the foundation of the church through their teaching, mission work, leadership, and writing of Scripture (Eph 2:20). Now that the foundation of the church has been set, it seems that the office of apostle has passed away—though the gift of apostleship continues. The word “apostle” in the Greek simply means “sent one.” Therefore, those who are called, commissioned, and sent by a church or ministry organization to reach people in local or foreign lands may have the gift of apostleship. In addition, though a pastor is gifted to care for a local church, a person with the gift of apostleship may be especially gifted to care for and minister to churches in a region or even the universal church. Certainly, there are many gifted leaders, since the original apostles, who have especially blessed, corrected, and protected the broader church through their teachings, writings, mission work, and leadership—people like Augustine, John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wesley, William Carey, and Hudson Taylor, among others.

  • Discernment probably refers to the ability to discern spirits that are not of God by weighing their fruit against Scripture. Those with this gift have often been called the “watch dogs” of the church. When many members would probably accept hazardous teachings or activities in the church, the “watch dogs” identify the false spirits/doctrine and sound the alarm.

  • Giving refers to the ability to live sacrificially and therefore give generously to those in need and to help make disciples.

  • Knowledge probably refers to the ability to discern previously unknown information about a person (or situation) in order to speak God’s word to him or her. An example of this can be seen in how Peter prophetically rebukes Simon in Acts. He said to him, “For I see that you are bitterly envious and in bondage to sin” (8:23). This may be a picture of the “word of knowledge.” Others believe “knowledge” may refer to the original ability of the prophets and apostles to write Scripture. If this is true, this gift would no longer be in operation since the Canon is complete.

  • Wisdom simply refers to the ability to give wise counsel. In Scripture, people like Joseph, Solomon, and Daniel clearly had this gift, as they wisely counseled and guided people and organizations.

  • Mercy refers to the ability to feel and show compassion to those who are suffering or in lack. In Acts, Dorcas is an example of someone with this gift, as she was known for doing good and helping the poor (9:36).

  • Exhortation refers to the ability to encourage and challenge people in their relationship with God. Some people will not grow without being pushed by others. When Paul called the Corinthians spiritual “infants,” he was using his gift of exhortation, as he challenged and rebuked them for being worldly (1 Cor 3:1-4).

  • Prophecy refers to the ability to give a relevant and direct word from God. In the Old Testament prophetic books, most prophecy is “forthtelling” instead of “foretelling.” Forthtelling is properly diagnosing a person or situation and proclaiming an authoritative word from God, based on Scripture. Foretelling refers to foretelling a future event. In Acts 11:28, a prophet named Agabus prophesied about a severe famine in the land.

  • Teaching refers to the ability to understand and explain Scripture.

  • Helps/service refers to the ability to discern needs and the willingness to help in various situations. People with this gift are great servants.

  • Pastor refers to the ability to spiritually care for and shepherd God’s people. These people often have some measure of the gift of teaching, which is one of the primary ways they care for people.

  • Evangelism refers to the ability to share the gospel and win people to Christ. These people often feel very comfortable around the lost. Christ was called a “friend of sinners,” as he commonly ate and drank with them (Matt 9:11, 11:19).

  • Singleness refers to the desire and ability to remain single in order to give a greater devotion to serving God and others. People with this gift typically feel very content being single and also have a greater control of their sexual desires (cf. 1 Cor 7:8-9).

  • Marriage refers to the desire and ability to commit to someone of the opposite sex in an exclusive union to honor God (cf. 1 Cor 7:7). Those with the gift of marriage will be more effective in building God’s kingdom in the marriage union than in singleness. It provides protection from sexual temptation and a partner to serve God with.

  • Tongues refers to the ability to speak a previously unknown language, as a form of worship and prayer to God. First Corinthians 14:2 says, “For the one speaking in a tongue does not speak to people but to God, for no one understands; he is speaking mysteries by the Spirit.” There is much debate over how this gift manifests. Some only believe it is demonstrated in human languages as seen in Acts 2:6-11 when the apostles spoke in unknown regular languages as they praised God before unbelievers. Others believe tongues is a heavenly or angelic language, which can only be understood by one with the gift of interpretation (1 Cor 14:5, 13, 27). Others see both of these as true manifestations of tongues. In 1 Corinthians 13:1, when Paul talked about the tongues of men and angels, he was probably referring to these two manifestations of tongues.[7]

  • Interpretation refers to the ability to interpret the gift of tongues (1 Cor 14:13, 27).

  • Miracles refers to the ability to do supernatural works. When Moses parted the Red Sea, brought water out of a rock, etc., these acts were manifestations of the gift of miracles. Likewise, when Paul blinded Elymas the sorcerer to stop him from hindering God’s message, that was a miracle (Acts 13:8-11).

  • Healing refers to a special ability to be used by God to heal those who are sick. When Peter and Paul healed people in Acts, these were manifestations of the gift of healing (3:6, 28:8). And though they had this gift, they could not always heal people (2 Tim 4:20). Healing is always based on the will of God.

  • Faith refers to the ability to believe God for his promises. Sometimes people with this gift become pioneers—starting churches, schools, mission organizations, and other ventures to reach people for God’s kingdom.

Gifts and Commands

It should be noted that many of these gifts are ministries every believer is called to do. All believers are called to evangelize, be merciful, serve, and teach others. However, people with those specific gifts help other believers do what they are called to do. By being around evangelists, it challenges us to grow in evangelism. By listening to a teacher, it helps us understand and teach Scripture as well. When being around those who are merciful, it helps us care for those who are hurting and in need. Therefore, when we use our spiritual gifts, we build up the body in many ways, including helping others obey God in those areas. And when we don’t use our gifts or serve, by default, we weaken the church.

Finding Our Gifts

How do we find our spiritual gifts? We find our spiritual gifts, in part, by understanding why God gives them. They are given to edify and serve others. First Corinthians 12:7 says, “To each person the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the benefit of all.” They are also given for our benefit, as seen with the gift of tongues. In 1 Corinthians 14:4, Paul says, “The one who speaks in a tongue builds himself up, but the one who prophesies builds up the church.” Likewise, when people use their gifts of teaching to study God’s Word, they are edified first before others. Also, people with gifts of mercy, when they serve others, they are often edified as well. The fact that we are edified by serving in a specific capacity is one of the indicators that it might be our gift. Therefore, our spiritual gifts will typically edify both others and ourselves. It seems that tongues is the only gift, which only edifies the person using it instead of edifying others. Tongues has to be interpreted to edify other people, which is why Paul cautions against using it in a corporate gathering without interpretation (1 Cor 14:23, 27-28). Because tongues only edifies the person using it, is also probably why Paul places it last on his list of gifts (1 Cor 12:27-30). In Corinthians 14, his primary argument is that the church should seek prophecy over tongues because it edifies others and not just oneself. That seems to also be true when comparing tongues with every other gift.

Therefore, to discern giftings, people should try serving in various ways—youth ministry, children’s ministry, administration, evangelism, and leading. (1) While serving, people will find out what edifies others. If we teach and everybody falls asleep, then that may not be our gift. (2) Also, while serving, people will find out what edifies them—what they enjoy and don’t enjoy.

And it’s good to remember as we are faithful with using our gifts, often times God will expand our ministry, including giving us more gifts to use for his glory. In the Parable of the Talents, the man who took his five talents and made ten with them, God gave him one more talent because of his faithfulness (Matt 25:28-29). Possibly, a great example of this is with Philip the evangelist. In Acts 6, because of his character, Philip was enlisted to provide food for hungry widows. However, in Acts 8, it is clear that Philip became a miracle worker and an evangelist. Most likely as he was faithful with the little God gave him—feeding widows—God expanded his ministry. God will often do the same with us.

Time Frame of Gifts

There is some argument amongst believers about whether some gifts have ceased. Cessationism is the belief that the sign gifts such as tongues, prophecy, miracles, and healing are no longer valid for today. They are called sign gifts because they were often used to authenticate the ministry of a prophet or apostle. Moses did miracles to authenticate his ministry, so did other prophets, Jesus, and the apostles. (1) Cessationist would argue that these gifts ceased when the apostolic age ended (when the last apostle died in the first century) and the Bible was complete. Now there is no need for these gifts. (2) Also, they point to how prophecy, tongues, and miracles seemed to disappear soon after the first century. (3) In addition, they commonly point to how these “gifts” are often counterfeited and abused today, including how they commonly appear in pagan religions.[8]

Continuationism is the belief that all spiritual gifts will continue, in some form or other, until Christ returns or the eternal state comes. It is estimated that about eighty percent of Protestant Christians are continuationist.[9] (1) One of their primary arguments is that there is no clear biblical text that says the sign gifts were temporary and not meant for the church throughout history.[10] (2) Further support for continuationism is found in verses that seem to demonstrate the continuation of spiritual gifts throughout the church age and beyond (cf. 1 Thess 5:19-20, 1 Cor 14, Rev 11:1-14). For example, 1 Corinthians 1:7 and 13:8-12 say:

so that you do not lack any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Love never ends. But if there are prophecies, they will be set aside; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be set aside. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part, but when what is perfect comes, the partial will be set aside. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways. For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known.

First Corinthians 1:7 implies that spiritual gifts will continue at least until Christ comes. Certainly, this is pictured in the Parable of the Talents where the Lord returns and rewards or judges believers based on what they did with his gifts, including spiritual gifts (Matt 25:14-30, cf. Lk 19:11-27). With that said, 1 Corinthians 1:7 does not directly say that gifts will end when Christ comes. In fact, in the Parable of the Talents, Christ took the talent away from the unfaithful servant and gave it to the faithful one, to use in the master’s service (Matt 25:28). This implies that our gifts will still be used, at least initially, as we rule with Christ in the millennial kingdom (Is 11:9, 29:18, Jer 23:4, Rev 20).

First Corinthians 13:10 directly declares when spiritual gifts, and specifically sign gifts, will cease. They will end “when what is perfect comes, the partial [such as knowledge, prophecy, and tongues] will be set aside” or “come to an end” (HCSB). Since the word “perfect” is “neutral” instead of “masculine,” most likely instead of referring to the second coming of Christ, it refers to the eternal state[11], when God brings the new heaven and earth (Rev 21-22). There will we will see God “face to face,” have full knowledge of him and his will, and gifts will no longer be needed (1 Cor 13:12; cf. Rev 21:4, Matt 5:8, Ps 17:15). Spiritual gifts are currently just a foretaste of the coming perfect kingdom where we’ll experience perfect knowledge, health, faith, and mercy, among other blessings, as we worship and serve our King.

Unfortunately, the way believers have often handled their differences on the issue of the continuity or discontinuity of sign gifts has been unhelpful and divisive. Daryl Aaron gives some prudent advice for believers who hold different views on the subject, as well as other secondary doctrines:

Ironically, the manner in which this controversy about the miraculous spiritual gifts has been handled—by both sides—has often been divisive, contrary to the Spirit’s own work to bring unity to the church (Ephesians 4:3). Everyone needs to (and most do) acknowledge that this issue is of secondary importance. For the sake of unity, we are to be gracious in holding our convictions while accepting and loving anyone with whom we may disagree.[12]


  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?

  2. What are spiritual gifts? How are they received? And, why are they given?

  3. How many spiritual gifts are there?

  4. How do we discern our spiritual gifts?

  5. Have some of the spiritual gifts ceased? Why or why not?

  6. What are your spiritual gifts and how has God called you to use them?

  7. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?


[1] Evans, Tony. Theology You Can Count On: Experiencing What the Bible Says About... God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Angels, Salvation... . Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ryrie, C. C. (1999). Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (p. 423). Chicago, IL: Moody Press.

[3] Grudem, W. A. (2004). Systematic theology: an introduction to biblical doctrine (p. 957). Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House.

[4] Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God? Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[5] Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God? Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[6] Evans, Tony. Theology You Can Count On: Experiencing What the Bible Says About... God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Angels, Salvation... . Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[7] Fee, G. D. (2014). The First Epistle to the Corinthians. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (Revised Edition, p. 699). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[8] Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God? Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[9] Clark, Randy. The Spiritual Gifts Handbook: Using Your Gifts to Build the Kingdom (p. 34). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[10] Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God? Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[11] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (p. 365). Chicago: Moody Press.

[12] Aaron, Daryl. Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day: How can I know God? Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

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