SPIRITUAL GIFTS: The Holy Spirit Equips the Church
But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.... He ... gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. EPHESIANS 4:7, 11-12
The New Testament depicts local churches in which some Christians hold formal and officialministerial offices (elder-overseers and deacons, Phil. 1:1), while all fulfill informal serving roles. Every-member ministry in the body of Christ is the New Testament ideal. It is clear that officers who oversee should not restrict the informal ministries but rather should facilitate them (Eph. 4:11-13), just as it is clear that those who minister informally should not be defiant or disruptive but should allow the overseers to direct their ministries in ways that are orderly and edifying (i.e., strengthening and upbuilding, 1 Cor. 14:3-5, 12, 26, 40; Heb. 13:17). The body of Christ grows to maturity in faith and love “as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:16) and fulfills its grace-given form of service (Eph. 4:7, 12).
The word gift (literally “donation”) appears in connection with spiritual service only in Ephesians 4:7-8. Paul explains the phrase he ... gave gifts to men as referring to the ascended Christ giving his church persons called to and equipped for the ministries of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher. Also, through the enabling ministry of these functionaries, Christ is bestowing a ministry role of one sort or another on every Christian. Elsewhere (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12-14) Paul calls these divinely given powers to serve charismata (gifts which are specific manifestations of charis or grace, God’s active and creative love, 1 Cor. 12:4), and also pneumatika (spiritual gifts as specific demonstrations of the energy of the Holy Spirit, God’s pneuma, 1 Cor. 12:1).
Amid many obscurities and debated questions regarding New Testament charismata, three certainties stand out. First, a spiritual gift is an ability in some way to express, celebrate, display, and so communicate Christ. We are told that gifts, rightly used, build up Christians and churches. But only knowledge of God in Christ builds up, so each charisma must be an ability from Christ to show and share Christ in an upbuilding way.
Second, gifts are of two types. There are gifts of speech and of loving, practical helpfulness. In Romans 12:6-8, Paul’s list of gifts alternates between the categories: items one, three, and four (prophecy, teaching, and exhorting) are gifts of speech; items two, five, six, and seven (serving, giving, leading, and showing mercy) are gifts of helpfulness. The alternation implies that no thought of superiority of one gift over another may enter in. However much gifts differ as forms of human activity, all are of equal dignity, and the only question is whether one properly uses the gift one has (1 Pet. 4:10-11).
Third, no Christian is giftless (1 Cor. 12:7; Eph. 4:7), and it is everyone’s responsibility to find, develop, and fully use whatever capacities for service God has given.