This question, in various forms, can be asked of children too young to be at school, and of students preparing to graduate from university. For some people, there is a strong answer that remains firm through all those years; “I’m going to be a vet”, “a footballer!”, “I want to paint pictures”. Some people don’t have that unwavering objective and instead journey around different kinds of work, finding satisfaction along the way.
There are a few lists in the Bible of things we call ‘spiritual gifts’. They contain the ‘job roles’ that people might have in a church such as teacher, pastor, administrator, but also include broader roles that benefit the church such as encouragers, givers and helpers. So if they’re neither jobs nor character descriptors, what are they?
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.1 Cor. 12:7
he gave [gifts]… to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…Eph. 4:11-12, ref. also v. 8
each has received a gift… of God’s varied grace… in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ1 Pet. 4:10-11
It is clear that gifts have the purpose in benefitting the other people in our local churches of God, the wider Christian community, and in bringing glory to God. The introduction to Romans 12, which also has commentary on gifts, opens with the command: ‘present yourselves as living sacrifices’.
Therefore we can say that spiritual gifts are recognised ways in which God uses people as the means of his grace for building up the body of Christ, to the glory of God. These recognised ways require self-denying action to meet the present needs of a local church, and through this series we will refer to these needs as ‘opportunities for blessing’.
Just like someone who grows up knowing exactly what they want to do when they’re older, a Christian can feel called to carry out any one of the named spiritual gift functions within a church, and that’s a wonderful thing. But they should not ignore a present need in their local church to keep themselves ‘ready’ for the time they can do the work associated with that identified gift: such behaviour goes against the very nature of spiritual gifts.
Spiritual gifts are recognised ways in which God uses people as the means of his grace for building up the body of Christ, to the glory of God.
Like holding multiple jobs through our career, our role in a church can change with the church’s needs. It may also be made up of multiple spiritual gift functions at the same time, and not just be one thing that we chase after. If a person who held a key role in the church moves to another city, someone else will need to take on those responsibilities, and this will become one of the opportunities God is using that person to bless the church with.
When we use the term ‘opportunity for blessing’, we keep the emphasis on God’s work: it is God who blesses. When we’re mucking in wherever the church needs an extra pair of hands, we’re probably not doing things we’re naturally skilled at. This is where the grace of God fills all our shortcomings, looking after his people well even when the practical skills they have wouldn’t meet those needs by themselves.