For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.Romans 12:3 (NASB)
The topic of spiritual gifts has always been surrounded by controversy and confusion among believers. It is not my desire to offer any sort of definitive or authoritative guidance on what is / is not a spiritual gift; rather, I intend to look at what spiritual gifts mean both to the individual believer and to the Body as a whole.
There are four basic ideas that need to be grasped when dealing with spiritual gifts from the individual perspective. Romans 12:3 introduces us to the first:
1. The individual believer posesses a specific amount of a spiritual gift (a "measure of faith")
Paul echoes this idea in Ephesians 4:7 where the word "measure" is used again, this time in reference to the spiritual gifts that God gives believers. The word "measure" in the Greek is "metros" from which we derive "meter" or more aptly, "mete". It communicates the idea of a very specific, exact amount, as opposed to it's antonym, "an abundance". In other words, God has given us an exact amount of faith and the spiritual gifts He gives us is in proportion to that faith. It is not an abundance of faith. It is exactly what we need to serve Him.
2. Natural talent does not make a spiritual gift.
Many people seem to think that just because they enjoy doing a particular thing (or show some proficiency at it), then that must be a spiritual gift. I don't think that's a reasonable way to look at the issue. Note what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:11:
But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
The Holy Spirit determines who gets what gifts and just how much of each gift they get. As a result, I tend to question the spiritual gift assessments that many churches use to help believers discover where they fit in the Body of Christ. In fact, some of the spiritual gift tests are based on the Meyers-Briggs Personality test, which, in turn, is based on the work of Carl Jung, a humanist. You'll pardon me if I question the ability of such tests to help us understand our spiritual gifts.
So how do we know what gifts we have? That's something I'll get into later, but if the Holy Spirit gives you a gift, He shouldn't need a man-made test to make it apparent to you that you posess a gift.
3. God expects us to return His gifts in better shape than He's given them.
Examine part of the parable that Jesus relates in Matthew 25:14-20:
"Again, it [the kingdom of God] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey.
The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more. But the man who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money.
"After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.'
Parables are not strict allegories - not every element in them corresponds to one thing, but the story as a whole is intended to relay a spiritual truth.
In this case, we have three significant elements, the master, the slaves, and the talents. The master represents Christ. The slaves are Christians. The talents, then, are the gifts that God has given us.
It's important to note that the master gave each slave talents "according to his ability". "Ability" literally means, "strength of spirit".
On a side note, the definition of "talent" in contemporary English comes to us by way of this allegory. It's an allusion to the ability of the slaves to do what they could to increase the master's profits in this parable.
Though the gifts are material in this parable, that does not necessarily mean that Jesus is talking about the material blessings God gives us. It may be reasonably applied to the gifts that come by the Holy Spirit as well. In either case, part of the moral of the parable is that God rewards us for doing what we can to multiply the gifts he has given us. See Matthew 25:14-30 for the entire story.
4. In order to increase God's gifts, we have to practice them.
Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:14:
Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
He echoes the idea in 2 Timothy 1:6:
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.
Paul incidentally records a siginificant aspect of Timothy's ministry in these two letters. It seems Timothy was given a spiritual gift by the "laying on of hands" of Paul and other elders. Judging by the context of 1 Timothy 4:13-16 that the spiritual gift was one of teaching and pastoring. In these verses, Paul exhorts Timothy to "take pains", "be absorbed" "pay close attention ... to your teaching" and "persevere" so that others may see his "progress" or increasng skill in teaching.
In review, it's important for a believer to understand four things about their spiritual gifts:
- The gifts are given in a specific amount, according to their faith, not in an abundance.
- The gifts are given according to the will of the Holy Spirit - natural talent carries no weight.
- God gives us His gifts with the intention that we improve them.
- In order to improve these gifts, we must devote ourselves to practicing them.
Stay tuned next week for the rest of the story...