Gifts of the Holy Spirit (4) Discovering and seeking spiritual gifts

by Wayne Grudem – Paul seems to assume that believers will know what their spiritual gifts are. He simply tells those in the church at Rome to use their gifts in various ways: “if prophecy, in proportion to our faith…he who contributes, in liberality; he who gives aid, with zeal; he who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom. 12:6-8). Similarly, Peter simply tells his readers how to use their gifts, but does not say anything about discovering what they are: “As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10).

But what if many members in a church do not know what spiritual gift or gifts God has given to them? In such a case, the leaders of the church need to ask whether they are providing sufficient opportunities for varieties of gifts to be used. Though the lists of gifts given in the New Testament are not exhaustive, they certainly provide a good starting point for churches to ask whether at least there is opportunity for those gifts to be used. If God has placed people with certain gifts in a church, when these gifts are not encouraged or perhaps not allowed to be used , they will feel frustrated and unfulfilled in their Christian ministries, and will perhaps move to another church where their gifts can function for the benefit of the church.

Beyond the question of discovering what gifts one has is the question of seeking additional spiritual gifts. Paul commands Christians, “Earnestly desire the higher gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31), and says later, “Make love your aim, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy (1 Cor. 14:1). In this context, Paul defines what he means by “higher gifts” or “greater gifts” because 1 Corinthians 14:5 he repeats the word he used in 12:31 for “higher” (Gr. Meizon) when he says, “He who prophesies is greater than he who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be edified” (1 Cor. 14:5). Here the “greater” gifts are those that most edify the church. This is consistent with Paul’s statement a few verses later when he says, “Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up of the church” (1 Cor. 14:12). The higher gifts are those that build up the church more and bring more benefit to others.
But how do we seek more spiritual gifts? First we should ask God for them. Paul says directly that “he who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret” (1 Cor. 14:13; cf James 1:5, where James tells people that they should ask God for wisdom).

Next, people who seek additional spiritual gifts should have right motives. If spiritual gifts are sought only so that the person may be more prominent or have more influence or power, this certainly is wrong in God’s eyes. This was the motivation of Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8:19, when he said, “Give me also this power, that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit” (see Peter’s rebuke in vv. 21-22). It is a fearful thing to want spiritual gifts or prominence in the church only for our own glory, not for the glory of God and for the help of others. Therefore those who seek spiritual gifts but “have not love” are “nothing” in God’s sight (cf. 1 Cor. 13:1-3).

After that, it is appropriate to seek opportunities to try the gift, just as in the case of a person trying to discover his or her gift, as explained above. Finally, those who are seeking additional spiritual gifts should continue to use the gifts they now have, and should be content if God chooses not to give them more. The master approved of the servant whose pound had “made ten pounds more,” but condemned the one who hid his pound in a napkin and did nothing with it (Luke 19:16-17, 20-23)—certainly showing us that we have responsibility to use and attempt to increase whatever talents or abilities God has given to us as his stewards. We should balance this by remembering that spiritual gifts are apportioned to each person individually by the Holy Spirit “as he wills” (1 Cor. 12:11), and that “God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose” (1 Cor. 12:18). In this way Paul reminds the Corinthians that ultimately the distribution of gifts is a matter of God’s sovereign will, and it is for the good of the church and for our good that none of us have all of the gifts, and that we will need to continually depend on others who have gifts differing from ours. These considerations should make us content if God chooses not to give us the other gifts that we seek.

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