Spiritual Gifts

By James M. Rochford

How do I know if I have any gifts? God has blessed each individual Christian with at least one spiritual gift. Paul writes, “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other” (1 Cor. 12:7 NLT).

How do we discover our spiritual gifts? While some Christians take “spiritual gift tests,” we feel that this is misguided. McCallum notes that the New Testament “contains no call to discover our spiritual gifts.”[1] Instead of taking tests, we should simply make ourselves useful in the Body of Christ. As we do so, we (and others) will discover naturally what we are gifted in. The pattern is “gifts… ministry… and effects” (1 Cor. 12:4-6). Our gifts could lay dormant until we try to serve others and see God use us.

What if I’m not gifted in a certain area? Should I serve anyway? Yes! Whether or not we are gifted is irrelevant. God calls on each one of us to serve in each of these areas, regardless of our giftedness. Often, believers use this as an excuse for not even trying, when really we should try all the more. Note that some have the gift of “faith,” and yet (obviously!) we are all called to exert faith.

At the same time, once we identify areas of gifting, we should strive to develop and harness that particular gift. Paul told Timothy, “Do not neglect the spiritual gift within you” (1 Tim. 4:14).

Isn’t it prideful to talk about our spiritual gifts? It could be. However, we need to remember that these are “gifts.” We didn’t earn them, nor do we deserve them. If we deny our gifts, this could also be a form of pride. Imagine if someone received a brand new Honda Civic from their parents for their 18th birthday, but they complained, “It’s not that great of a car… I mean, it’s not a Porsche or a Corvette.” This wouldn’t be humble; it would be incredibly ungrateful and even prideful!

What if we’re jealous of other people’s gifts? The Holy Spirit gives out the spiritual gifts according to his will (1 Cor. 12:11). We can’t be bitter with which gifts we receive. They’re gifts after all. If we’re jealous over someone’s gifts, what might this imply? Surely this means that we’re angry with the Gift-Giver… We’re angry with God!

Instead of being jealous toward people who are more gifted, we should be thankful that God has given us such gifted people in our Christian community.

Spiritual gifts are referred to six times in the NT. Each time they are listed, we find different lists of gifts. This must mean that these lists are not exhaustive:

Spiritual Gifts

1 Corinthians 12:28

Ephesians 4:11

1 Peter 4:11

1 Corinthians 12:8-10

Romans 12:6-8

1 Corinthians 7:7

























Interpreting Tongues











While more gifts exist, this study will focus on the gifts explicitly mentioned in the NT. As you read through these descriptions, ask yourself:

(1) Which gifts have other people seen in you?

(2) Which gifts have you seen in others?

Administration (1 Cor. 12:28)

DEFINITION: Administration (kubernēsis) refers to “varieties of… leading positions in the… body of Christ” (BDAG). Both biblical and extrabiblical literature uses the term to refer to a “shipmaster” or “steersman” (Acts 27:11; Rev. 18:17; Josephus, The Life of Flavius Josephus, 163; Antiquities, 9.209). It is “a term for a mediating function of keeping order within the whole life of the church.”[2] We might define this as the special ability to organize and efficiently orchestrate people in the Christian community for a given task.

DESCRIPTION: Gifted administrators have a way of bringing efficiency and effectiveness to an organization. They are gifted in keeping track of the details that add up to the big picture of making events successful. Gifted administrators are like the offensive line of a football team: You don’t notice them when they are doing a good job, but you complain about them when they do a poor job! This is one way of saying that they work behind the scenes, and often don’t receive the acknowledgement and thanks that they rightly deserve.

DANGERS: Often gifted leaders and gifted administrators clash, because administrators sometimes focus on the efficiency of resources, while leaders might focus on ministry goals. The classic example is when many hippies were coming to Christ in Calvary Chapel, and the administrators were complaining that the new carpets were becoming dirty. Chuck Smith famously said, “If the hippies are coming to Christ and making our carpets dirty, then we should tear the carpets out!” This was a “waste” of resources on one level, but the right leadership decision on the other. Be careful to remain flexible. Remember that organization is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.

Apostleship (1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11)

DEFINITION: Apostleship (apostolos) comes from the root words apo (“away” “send”) and stellō (“put up, make ready”).[3] The term literally means to be “sent out” (Lk. 1:53; 20:10ff; Josephus, Antiquities, 17.300). Jesus himself is referred to as an “apostle” (Heb. 3:1), because he was “sent” by the Father. It can refer to mere “messengers” (Jn. 13:16; Phil. 2:25; 2 Cor. 8:23). It can also refer to the (“big A”) Apostles of Jesus (e.g. the Twelve, Paul, James), or to the (“little a”) generic apostles who start churches—such as Barnabas (Acts 14:14; 15:2), Andronicus and Junias (Rom. 16:7). We can define this gift as the spiritual ability to start and oversee new churches.

DESCRIPTION: People with this gift are entrepreneurial, and enjoy starting new churches in new places. Paul not only had this office, but he also had this gift. He could walk into a new city, and God would use him to lead people to Christ and form it into a movement.

DANGERS: Be careful not to adopt the “grass is always greener” mentality. People with this gift can be so entrepreneurial that they can’t stay put. Remember that we need to take care of the ministry God has already given to us before moving on to new fields of service. Remember Jesus’ warning about the “hired hand” who abandoned his flock (Jn. 10:12).

Celibacy (1 Cor. 7:7)

DEFINITION: Because a single person doesn’t need to provide for a family, they have more freedoms for serving Christ in other areas. We might define this gift as the ability to desire ministry more than marriage. While marriage is also a good gift of God, people with the gift of celibacy don’t have this desire as much as others.

DESCRIPTION: This person is able to go without the desire for marriage and family for the purpose of doing ministry. Paul had this gift. John Stott never married, and he used his time to write, speak, and lead churches for over 60 years.

DANGERS: Realize that marriage and family is also a good gift of God. Be flexible in where God leads you in the area of dating, marriage, and family. For example, C.S. Lewis seemed to have this gift, but he eventually married as an older man. Be patient and understanding with others who are juggling the responsibilities of family life—responsibilities that you yourself do not have.

Discernment (1 Cor. 12:10)

DEFINITION: Discernment (diakriseis) means “the ability to distinguish and evaluate” (BDAG). This term is used for discerning moral issues (Heb. 5:14), outside spiritual influences (1 Cor. 12:10; cf. 1 Jn. 4:1), or theological content (1 Cor. 14:29, 32). Paul shows this ability in Acts 16:16-18, when he accurately identifies a demon-possessed girl. We can define discernment as the ability to evaluate confusing situations wisely.

DESCRIPTION: This gift has a broad range of meaning. It can refer to accurately identifying theological errors or misplaced emphases. It can also refer to judgment calls in ministry. For instance, how can we learn to believe in people without being naïve or cynical? When someone falls into a serious sin, how long should we wait before trusting them with serious ministry? What are signs that someone might be in secret sin? What are signs that we can trust up-and-coming workers? How do we correctly weigh priorities in a group and keep our emphasis on the most important priorities? Those with the gift of discernment evaluate these questions deeply and make sound judgment calls.

DANGERS: Be careful to trust objective facts over intuition. While intuition can lead you into the truth, be ready for your intuitions to be overruled by objective facts. Also, be careful to use your gift in God’s timing. If God uses you to expose falsehood or deceit, work in cooperation with others on how to address these issues.

For further reading, see “Discernment.”

Evangelism (Eph. 4:11)

DEFINITION: An evangelist (euangelistas) is a “proclaimer of the gospel” (BDAG). In the early church, Philip was known as an evangelist (Acts 21:8), and Timothy was exhorted to do the “work of an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). We can define this gift as a supernatural spiritual ability to lead others to Christ.

DESCRIPTION: People with this gift enjoy sharing their faith, and have a remarkable ability to make the gospel appealing to non-Christians.

DANGERS: Make sure that you are spending time grounding new Christians into the means of growth. Don’t settle for seeing many people come to Christ, but leave adequate time and resources to nurture, encourage, and mentor those you lead to Christ.

Exhortation (Rom. 12:8)

DEFINITION: Exhortation (parakaleo) comes from the root words para (“alongside”) and kaleo (to call”). It has a broad range of meaning. According to BDAG, it can mean:

(1) “to come and be present where the speaker is, call to one’s side”

(2) “to urge strongly, appeal to, urge, exhort, encourage”

(3) “to make a strong request for something, request, implore, entreat”

(4) “to instill someone with courage or cheer, comfort, encourage, cheer up”

(5) “treat someone in an inviting or congenial manner”

Thus we can define encouragement as speaking in such a way that motivates, inspires, and excites others toward spiritual growth and service.

DESCRIPTION: We sometimes think of encouragement as mere flattery or saying nice things to others. However, this is not the biblical definition. Someone with the gift of encouragement knows how to identify what people need to hear in order for them to move forward spiritually. This can include bringing people back to God’s promises, making a call for change, painting a vision of what they could become, or simply speaking inspiring words to a downtrodden believer. You often know if you’ve been built up by a person with this gift, because it lifts your spirit and makes you more invigorated to follow Christ.

DANGERS: Rather than being a “one-trick pony” learn to embrace all the different forms of encouragement (e.g. appreciating effort, comforting, making strong calls for change, etc.). Since this is such a broad term, learn to use the multiple facets of this gift to stimulate others to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24).

Faith (1 Cor. 12:9)

DEFINITION: This gift is mentioned in the context of “miracles.” We can define this gift as a supernatural conviction that God will be faithful with his role in ministry.

DESCRIPTION: Cynicism, negativity, and pessimism plague most believers. Those with the gift of faith lead others to depend on the promises of God and the future, unseen provisions of God (see Hebrews 11). They are exceptionally steadfast through times of spiritual drought or trial. This gift has a ripple effect on others that reminds them to trust in God’s goodness and power. It is often expressed in a rich prayer life.

DANGERS: Realize that faith is not “mind power,” where you think something into existence. Make sure to ground your gift in biblical promises, which will cause others to see the reality of what you’re believing. Also, remember to be patient to others who do not have such a supernatural faith, but to have “mercy on those who are doubting” (Jude 22).

Giving (Rom. 12:8)

DEFINITION: Paul writes that this gift should be exercised with “liberality” (haploteti), which can be rendered “generosity” or “sincerity” (BDAG). Therefore, this refers to generous givers or sincere givers (or both). We can define this gift as the spiritual ability to liberally give our material resources to the cause of Christ.

DESCRIPTION: While others might give a bare minimum, those with the gift of giving find themselves energized and excited about giving to the cause of Christ. They enjoy using their gift to provide for the needs of the church, which helps further the ministry God is doing. They also enjoy leading others in this important ministry through their excitement, teaching, and example in this area.

DANGERS: Remember the lesson of Ananias and Sapphira who gave in a hypocritical way (Acts 5). This is the lesson of giving with “sincerity” mentioned above. Make sure to keep your focus on what God has given you as your reason for giving your resources away (2 Cor. 8:9). Also make sure not to make your giving a spectacle to others (Mt. 6:3-4).

Healing (1 Cor. 12:9, 28)

DEFINITION: Since “healing” is plural in the Greek (i.e. “healings”), it likely refers to “different gifts for different kinds of sickness.”[4] While physical healing is in view, believers suffer from all sorts of illnesses (e.g. spiritual, psychological, emotional, etc.). We still see miraculous physical healings occur today. However, in the West, we are often physically healthy, but psychologically, emotionally, and relationally sick. Thus those with the gift of healing may use this gift to serve people in multiple different ways (Lk. 6:18; Acts 10:38).

DESCRIPTION: God uses people with this gift to offer healing in areas of their lives that they didn’t ever anticipate. Often, people carrying around physical, emotional, or psychological damage that they think is simply incurable. While God sometimes choose not to heal people for a greater purpose (Jn. 11:4; 2 Cor. 12:8-10), other times God will heal people to show his supernatural presence and kindness.

DANGERS: Be careful not to presume that you can heal someone simply because you are gifted. A gifted evangelist may lead many to Christ, but not all people. Similarly, D.A. Carson writes, “If a Christian has been granted the charisma [gift] to heal one particular individual of one particular disease at one time, that Christian should not presume to think that the gift of healing has been bestowed on him or her, prompting the founding of a healing ministry.’”[5]

For further reading, see our earlier article “The Charismatic Gifts.”

Helps (1 Cor. 12:28)

DEFINITION: This term (antilepsis) is used of the Holy Spirit who “helps our weaknesses” (Rom. 8:26). We can define this gift as the ability to meet practical or spiritual needs in the lives of those around us.

DESCRIPTION: People with this gift fulfill key service roles in the Christian community that often go unnoticed by the group, but are incredibly moving to individuals affected. Those who have been served by a person with the gift of “helps” are often baffled by the intense and enduring sacrificial love shown to them—a love that they do not find in our world today.

DANGERS: While practical service adorns the gospel (Titus 2:10), it does not replace the gospel. Learn to balance serving with speaking. Realize that your sacrificial love gives you a hearing with others that you likely underestimate. Furthermore, use your gift strategically to advance the goals and mission of your church. Set aside time and resources to help build up the Body of Christ to fulfill its strategic mission.

Knowledge (1 Cor. 12:8)

DEFINITION: Paul writes of “the word of knowledge” (1 Cor. 12:8). Therefore, this isn’t merely being a knowledgeable person, but specifically speaking our knowledge to others. Knowledge is primarily based in God’s word, but this gift also applies to being knowledgeable in various areas for the purpose of building up others (1 Cor. 8:1).

DESCRIPTION: People with the gift of knowledge have a supernatural gift to learn and retain information for the purpose of serving others. They enjoy reading, studying, and learning. People trust those who have worked hard in studying deep questions, and often gravitate to their input.

DANGERS: Beware that you do not become a lonely and loveless hermit, who loves books more than people. While you should spend time developing your gift through your study, make sure to balance this with time-spent with people.

Leadership (Rom. 12:8)

DEFINITION: We can define this gift as the ability to give others direction, vision, and a sense of excitement for following God’s purposes.

DESCRIPTION: Gifted leaders have a supernatural ability to draw others toward God—not themselves. They have the ability to think about the big picture and vision of a group, while also being able to break down that vision into practical steps. Paul writes that whoever has the gift of leadership should lead “with diligence (spoude),” which can be rendered “swiftness, haste” or “eagerness, earnestness, diligence, willingness, zeal” (BDAG). Those with a gift of leadership are not supposed to be boring, apathetic, lackadaisical, or half-hearted. Leaders are supposed to bring zeal to those around them.

DANGERS: Remember to lead others to God—not to self. Also remember that biblical leadership is servant leadership. We not only need to lead groups, but we also need to wash feet. As you serve your people, this will only encourage your credibility and their willingness to follow your guidance and direction.

Mercy (Rom. 12:8)

DEFINITION: The term “mercy” (eleaō) means to show compassion and tenderness to those who are hurting.

DESCRIPTION: People with this gift are tenderhearted toward those who have been beaten or bruised by the world-system. However, they do more than merely feel for them. They also meet practical needs and empower the person to grow spiritually.

DANGERS: Make sure to balance tenderness with truth, as Paul did (1 Thess. 2:7, 11). People with a mercy gift can often shelter or protect people from tough truths that they need to hear or face. Beware of this.

Furthermore, those with a mercy gift can often develop a “martyr complex.” Paul doesn’t want the mercy-gifted to walk around feeling sorry for themselves. He wants them to serve with a happy heart. Paul writes that those with this gift should serve “with cheerfulness (hilaroteti),” which refers to the “opposite of an attitude suggesting being under duress, cheerfulness, gladness, wholeheartedness, graciousness” (BDAG).

For further reading, see our paper, “Hard Cases: Balancing Compassion and Mission.”

Miracles (1 Cor. 12:10, 28)

DEFINITION: This gift is mentioned alongside “healings,” but it must mean more. The term (dunamis) means “a deed that exhibits ability to function powerfully, deed of power, miracle, wonder” (BDAG). It can be defined as a miraculous ability to pray for miracles.

DESCRIPTION: Like the gift of faith, people with this gift pray big prayers. They aren’t deterred that God might not answer in a miraculous way. They pray for miracles anyhow, knowing that it’s better to ask (Jas. 4:2). They see God answer prayers that others do not.

DANGERS: We should pray big, but also understand that God is the one who delivers miracles. We are just his vessels and instruments. Don’t put God to the test by demanding him to provide a miracle. Instead, pray boldly and in faith for God to “move mountains,” and leave the rest to him.

Pastor (Eph. 4:11)

DEFINITION: The term “pastor” (poimenas) can be translated as “one who herds sheep, shepherd, sheep-herder” or “one who serves as guardian or leader” (BDAG).

DESCRIPTION: People with this gift care about the well-being of fellow Christians, and are emotionally invested in taking care of them. They enjoy time-spent with other believers, building friendships, and investing to the point of feeling love for their people.

DANGERS: Make sure to allow God to be the ultimate Shepherd in the lives of your people. Don’t shepherd others to the point where you are protecting them from natural consequences or their own free will decisions. Allow people to make mistakes so that they can learn from these.

Prophecy (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:10, 28; Eph. 4:11)

DEFINITION: Prophecy (prophēteia) is defined as an “act of interpreting [the] divine will or purpose” or “the utterance of one who interprets [the] divine will or purpose” (BDAG). This can include foretelling the future (Acts 11:27-28; 21:10-11), but it usually refers to forthtelling God’s current will.[6] Prophecy is “the declaration of God’s will to the people.”[7] Christian prophets are “those who have grasped the meaning of Scripture, perceived its powerful relevance to the life of the individual, the Church and society, and declare that message fearlessly.”[8]

DESCRIPTION: Believers with the gift of prophecy have an ability to connect God’s timeless truths with their contemporary situation. Like the biblical prophets, they have a way of bringing needed conviction on God’s people. They can express these truths with such authority and conviction that this can pierce people’s hearts, revealing issues that they didn’t see before.

DANGERS: Make sure to balance truth with love (Eph. 4:15). Raise tension to an appropriate level: Enough to bring conviction, but so much that it brings discouragement.

For further reading, see our earlier article “The Charismatic Gifts.”

Service (Rom. 12:7; 1 Pet. 4:11)

DEFINITION: “Service” (diakonian) means “ministry.” This could refer to practical serving or maybe having a higher ability of energy and output than others. This gift is contrasted with the gift of speaking (1 Pet. 4:11). Therefore, it must refer to meeting practical needs, but not necessarily with words. Jesus is the ultimate example of a servant like this (Mk. 10:45).

DESCRIPTION: Peter writes that people with this gift should serve “by the strength which God supplies” (1 Pet. 4:11). This implies that our serving shouldn’t be out of obligation or grudgingly. Those with the gift of serving do this out of God’s power, and are invigorated by doing so.

DANGERS: Make sure to serve out of God’s power—not your own. When we serve out of our own power, we become prideful or exhausted. But serving out of God’s power is exhilarating.

Speaking (1 Pet. 4:11)

DEFINITION: A speaking gift is likely associated with teaching, but this could refer to formal or informal settings. Peter refers to this gift in the context of “speaking the utterances of God” (1 Pet. 4:11).

This gift implies that they are not simply speaking based on “human speculation” but according to “the revelation that God has given.”[9]

DESCRIPTION: Gifted speakers are not necessarily polished and erudite (though they could be). They often make mistakes like anyone else. What makes them unique is that they have an ability to capture the attention of an audience and explain God’s truth in a cogent, creative, and compelling way.

DANGERS: Remember to combine your speaking gift with service. If you have loved your people, they will be far more willing to take your words seriously.

Teaching (Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 4:11)

DEFINITION: This gift is the ability to communicate biblical truths persuasively and effectively.

DESCRIPTION: Gifted teachers squeeze every last ounce of meaning and application out of a given passage, and know how to communicate this information in a concise and compelling way. They do the hard work of study in order to make God’s word accessible to all people—from the most mature Christian to the non-Christian. They not only enjoy learning, but also sharing the new insights that they learn.

DANGERS: All good teachers should be good learners. All good public teaching is based on sound private study. Make sure that you do not become obsessed with teaching big groups. Be content and happy to teach individual believers what you’re learning.

Tongues (1 Cor. 12:10, 28)

DEFINITION: This is the gift of being able to speak in unknown languages that are given from God to edify one’s prayer life or the Christian community. For this gift to be exercised publicly, an interpreter needs to be present (1 Cor. 12:10).

DESCRIPTION: If exercised properly, the gift of tongues can be edifying to a person’s prayer life or to a small group of people. It is a special way for God to communicate his comfort and love to the person through prayer.

DANGERS: Paul considers this gift to be less important than others. If exercised inappropriately, it can alienate both Christians and non-Christians alike.

For further reading, see our earlier article “The Charismatic Gifts.”

Wisdom (1 Cor. 12:8)

DEFINITION: The word “wisdom” (sophias) means “the capacity to understand and function accordingly” (BDAG). Therefore, wisdom is not merely the accumulation of knowledge, but it is the thoughtful application of knowledge in a godly way.

DESCRIPTION: Someone with the gift of wisdom knows that God’s wisdom is contrary to the world’s wisdom (1 Cor. 1:19). Thus they get their wisdom from a biblical worldview—not from their own speculations. Wisdom is associated with our behavior (Jas. 3:13), suffering (Jas. 1:5), evangelism (Col. 4:5), teaching (Col. 1:28), admonishment (Col. 1:28), and various forms of practical ministry (Acts 6:3). Jesus is called the very “wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).

DANGERS: Paul says that this gift is “the word of wisdom” (1 Cor. 12:8). Thus a truly wise person doesn’t sit back and observe a group. Rather, they take their observations and speak into the lives of others.

[1] Dennis McCallum, Members of One Another (Columbus, OH: New Paradigm Publishing, 2013), Kindle Locations 861-864.

[2] Coenen, L. (1986). πρεσβύτερος. L. Coenen, E. Beyreuther, & H. Bietenhard (Eds.), New international dictionary of New Testament theology (Vol. 1, p. 198). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[3] Von Eicken, E., Lindner, H., & Müller, D. (1986). Apostle. L. Coenen, E. Beyreuther, & H. Bietenhard (Eds.), New international dictionary of New Testament theology (Vol. 1, p. 126). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

[4] Morris, L. (1985). 1 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 7, p. 166). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[5] D.A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), 39.

[6] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 212.

[7] David Garland, 1 Corinthians: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 582.

[8] David Hill, New Testament Prophecy (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1979), 213. Cited in 1 Corinthians: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 213.

[9] Jobes, K. H. (2005). 1 Peter (p. 282). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.