5-21-15 - Gifts That Keep Giving

Among the Spirit's blessings promised us as saints of God are spiritual gifts. These are Spirit-given abilities that help the church carry out the mission of God. As such they are distinct from talents and abilities we are born with or train for. Sometimes our spiritual gifts overlap with our natural talents, as with musicians who also help lead worship music, or talented speakers who also preach, or naturally gregarious people who also have a gift of evangelism. But sometimes spiritual gifts are abilities we discover we have, or others notice in us. We discover them because they bear fruit.

The New Testament includes are several lists of spiritual gifts, in letters by Paul and Peter (though I believe Peter’s list is cribbed from Paul…). The more obvious are ones like teaching, preaching, evangelism, healing. There are others, listed and not: prophecy, discernment of spirits, speaking in tongues, administration, compassion, generosity. Where spiritual gifts overlap with talents or traits we have, we identify them as spiritual gifts if they help the church proclaim the Good News of life in Jesus Christ, and sometimes by the intensity with which we manifest that gift. For instance, many people are generous; but someone with the spiritual gift of "giving" gives abundantly and with such joy and often in situations where their gift makes all the difference. Many people are well organized, but someone with the spiritual gift of administration is able to facilitate the ministries of the whole group for mission.

What are some spiritual gifts that you’re aware of having received? What ministries do they empower you to live out? When did they surface? Sometimes when our circumstances change, new gifts emerge for ministries we are now able to do. What gifts have others identified in you, that you may not have thought you had?

It’s also good to look at our “gift mixes.” Taking an inventory of our spiritual gifts and seeing how they combine can point us to ministries. Someone with a gift of healing and compassion (beyond the average) might be called to minister to people on the streets, or someone with a gift for teaching and music to lead choirs.

St. Paul wrote a lot about gifts, because he wanted his churches to know that God equips us for every ministry to which God calls us. He wanted them to crave the gifts – and to recognize that they are all Spirit-given and equally important. To the Corinthians, who were very keen on certain “flashier” gifts, he wrote, “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” He enumerates some of the diverse gifts for ministry, concluding, “All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” (I Corinthians 12:4-11)

Paul also reminded his readers that there’s no point having all the gifts in the world, if we’re lacking in love. That’s what that famous hymn to love read at weddings is really about – how to exercise the gifts of the Spirit in community, a community that is to be marked by love.

The gifts of the Spirit are gifts, not assets or rewards. We cannot buy or earn them, but we can pray for the ones we believe we want or need. We can trust the Spirit to give us what we need to live fully into God's purposes for us.

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