The Believer’s Promise of Spiritual Gifts

This morning we are going to continue in our series, “One Body in Christ: A Romans 12 Church,” and I am going to pick up where Bilal ended, but before I do, I wanted to start with just a quick recap from last week.

The Apostle Paul has a familiar pattern to a number of his epistles where, following his initial greeting to his readers, he informs us of who we are positionally in Christ by eloquently stating what Christ has done for us, then he transitions into how we as believers are to respond to this loving work the Lord has done in our lives. One example of this is the letter to the believers in Ephesus, where in chapters 1-3 Paul emphasizes doctrine and what Christ has done for us. An example of this is found in Ephesians.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us in all wisdom and insight (Ephesians 1:7-8)

Then beginning in chapter 4, Paul transitions with the word “therefore.”

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. (Ephesians 4:1)

Just like in Romans 12:1, which says…

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)

In both cases Paul transitions from doctrine to duty, principle to practice, and position to behavior. 

So with that as a backdrop, we are going to continue today in the twelfth chapter of Romans. Our text for this week is going to be Romans 12:6-8, so if you would turn there with me, I am going to start reading in Romans 12:1. The apostle Paul writes…

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not the think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation, the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:1-8)

If this is not a clear and concise call to action for a believer, I don’t know what is.

I recently read an account of a man who collected vintage pianos. The man was of considerable wealth, and he had over fifty grand pianos in his home, pianos played by famous pianists like Beethoven, Liberace, and others. This man frequently entertained guests in his extravagant home and would always show his quests these beautiful pianos. When one of his visitors asked him to play one of the pianos, the man replied, “Oh I can’t play the piano, I just collect them.” The similarities of this account to our text today are evident. What a waste of these masterful pieces of art that were built with the intent of making beautiful melodies, only to sit and gather dust in this man’s home. Similarly, we as believers are uniquely crafted and molded by the Master Craftsman of all time. We were created to use the gifts that He endowed to us for the common good of the body and ultimately for His glory.

You may be sitting here this morning and saying to yourself, “But you don’t know me, I don’t have any special gifts.” I’m here to tell you that if the Lord has called you into a relationship with Him and you have placed your faith in Christ and Christ alone for your salvation, then I can confidently say that you do have a spiritual gift, or gifts as it may be. How can I be so sure in making a statement like that? Because it’s not me that is saying it, but the Word of God tells us.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7)

Dr. MacArthur says this about this verse: “No matter what the gift, ministry or effect, all spiritual gifts are from the Holy Spirit. They make him known, understood, and evident in the church and in the world, by spiritually profiting all who receive their ministry.”

Because we know from 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture is God-breathed, we can rest assured that 1 Corinthians 12:7, and every other verse we discuss today for that matter, is true, accurate, and perfect. In light of that truth, the question that remains is not whether we have a spiritual gift, but are we putting it to use? Like the man in the story, or dare I say even worse than the man in the story, are we going to waste this precious God-given gift of ours, or are we going to put God on display by exercising this gift that He lovingly lavished upon us, and use our gifts to edify the body of Christ?

I think it’s important to point out here before we get too far into the specific gifts that are mentioned in our text this morning, that the gifts mentioned in the New Testament, primarily in the chapter we’re currently in, and in 1 Corinthians 12, fall into three main categories: sign, speaking, and serving gifts. We firmly believe that the Scriptures are clear and therefore we teach that the sign gifts, which are the gift of healing and tongues, were administered to authenticate the teaching of the apostles, and ceased after the apostles died, and possibly even earlier. There are a number of verses and passages that support this, and we don’t have time to delve deeply into this topic this morning, but I do want to point out a couple of them as there is sometimes confusion and controversy on this particular subject. 

The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works (2 Corinthians 12:12)

This indicates that the purpose of these miraculous signs was to authenticate the apostles as God’s messengers. We also see this same principle in the book of Hebrews when the writer states…

3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:3-4)

Here stating that the authentication of the Gospel message was the purpose of these miraculous deeds. Yet another passage on this topic is found in the Gospel of Mark…

And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs. (Mark 16:20)

Another important point on this matter is that 1 Corinthians was written about 54 A.D. and Romans some 3-4 years later, and we will see in our text this morning from Romans 12 that none of the sign gifts, such as the gifts of healing, miracles, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues listed in 1 Corinthians 12 are mentioned in Romans, indicating that Paul did not mention the sign gifts in Romans because their place in the church was already coming to an end.

The other two New Testament passages that mention spiritual gifts, which are Ephesians 4:7 and 1 Peter 4:10-11, were written several years after Romans and also make no mention of the sign gifts. It is significant then that the seven gifts mentioned in our text today in Romans 12 are all within the categories of speaking and serving.

One last point on this before we dive into our text for this morning. I want to make it clear that what I am saying is not misunderstood to say that we here at GBFC do not believe that God does not continue to heal today. Our doctrinal statement clearly states, “We teach that no one possesses the gift of healing today but that God does hear and answer the prayer of faith and will answer in accordance with His own perfect will for the sick, suffering, and afflicted.”

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; (Romans 12:6)

First we need to recognize the source of our gift or gifts. We see that these gifts are “according to the grace given to us,” meaning they are undeserved and unmerited, which is the definition of grace, and sovereignly chosen by the Spirit completely apart from any merit on our part. In other words, God alone chooses what gift or gifts His children receive. Another thing to note is that whatever gifts God chooses to bestow upon us are for a common good. Our gifts are not for ourselves, they are not meant to be used to edify ourselves; they are for one thing, and one thing only: the body of Christ. We see this not only in the 1 Corinthians 12:7, the verse we looked at earlier, but also in 1 Corinthians 14:12 that says, “So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.”

The following is from a commentary from John Gill, an 18th English Century pastor and Theologian that pastored a Baptist Church in England that would later become the New Park Street Chapel, and then the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which was pastored by Charles Spurgeon. Gill writes, “for all these gifts are not the effects of nature, the fruits of human power, diligence, and industry, but flow from the grace of God, who dispenses them when, where, and to whom he pleases in a free and sovereign manner; and therefore to be acknowledged as such, and used to his glory, and for the good of his church and people.”

Another point made in this verse is that the gifts differ, meaning although they may fall into a specific category like speaking, they differ and are unique to each believer. To draw on an analogy of a snowflake: each one is unique in its own right. Separately they are extremely fragile, and if you’ve ever tried to catch one and examine it, you’d know that is impossible because it quickly melts in your hand. Yet combined together in mass, these little fragile particles can and often do become a force to be reckoned with, sometimes bringing whole cities and geographic areas to a standstill. So it is with us as believers, as each of us has been uniquely gifted with the capacity to serve the body of Christ. But this only happens when we are obedient to use the gifts we’ve been graciously given, and we come together in unity as a body and serve and minister to one another, as well as to those around us that are in need. Paul reminds us of this.

4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12:4-5)

So let’s look at the gifts mentioned in our text. The first gift mentioned is the gift of prophecy – “if prophecy, in proportion to our faith.” The Greek used here is προφητείαν, which literally means “speaking forth.” While it certainly had a revelatory aspect during Old Testament and apostolic times, it was not limited to revelation. It was exercised when there was public proclamation of divine truth, be it old or new. The gift of prophecy does not pertain to the content, but rather to the means of proclamation. The gift of prophecy is simply the gift of preaching, of proclaiming the Word of God. Paul gives perhaps the best definition of the prophetic gift in 1 Corinthians 14:3 when he says, “But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.” John Calvin said that by prophesying, he understood not the gift of foretelling the future, but of interpreting Scripture, so that a prophet is an interpreter of God’s will. This gift entails being a public spokesman for God, primarily to God’s own people, and includes instructing, admonishing, warning, rebuking, correcting, challenging, comforting, and encouraging. But it also includes proclaiming God’s Word to reach unbelievers as well.

24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Corinthians 14:24-25)

The second portion of this verse says, “in proportion to our faith,” which speaks to the dedication of the one prophesying and his commitment to preach in accordance with the Gospel revealed through the apostles. The one and only Gospel that is spoken of in Jude 3.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)

The faith referred to here is the Gospel, which we still contend for today! Paul’s specific charge to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2 applies to all proclaimers of God’s Word.

Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. (2 Timothy 4:2)

The second spiritual gift mentioned is that of service – “if service, in our serving.” This can be viewed as a general term for ministry. Service translates διακονίᾳ, from which we get deacon, those who serve. We see is Acts 6:3-4 that the first deacons in the early church were men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, who were placed in charge of providing food for the widows in order to free the apostles to devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. Service is a simple, straightforward gift that is broad in its application. It is sometimes referred to as the gift of helps. Acts 20:35 is an excellent definition of it.

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

So as you can see, the gift of service encompasses every sort of practical help and assistance that Christians can give one another in Jesus’ name. I must say here, that if there is one gift that I see displayed over and over again in this local body, it is this gift of service. Praise God that this body comes to the aid of one another time and time again. It is such a blessing and encouragement to me to see this gift administered so freely with love and cheerfulness.

The third spiritual gift is that of teaching – “the one who teaches, in his teaching.” The Christian who teaches is divinely gifted with the ability to interpret and present God’s truth understandably. The main difference between teaching and prophesying is that the believer gifted in teaching is not only able to proclaim God’s Word, but also adept in giving systematic and regular instruction in God’s Word. Teachers have the ability to take the Word of God, explain it clearly, and apply it to the lives of the hearers. This gift may be exercised in many venues – on Sunday morning, in a small group, or in one-on-one discussion. Regular, systematic teaching of the Word of God is the primary function of the pastor-teacher. Above all, Paul implored Timothy, “pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching,” in 1 Timothy 4:16.

The fourth gift is exhortation – “the one who exhorts, in his exhortation.” The literal meaning of the Greek παρακαλῶν is the calling of someone to one’s side. The gift of exhortation therefore encompasses the ideas of advising, pleading, encouraging, warning, strengthening, and comforting. It can be used in a variety of ways, such as…

Comforting a brother or sister in the Lord that is experiencing trouble or is suffering physically or emotionally
Encouraging a believer who is facing a difficult trial or temptation
Helping persuade a believer to turn from a persistent sin or bad habit
Coming alongside a believer and helping them carry a burden that is too heavy to bear alone

The counseling ministry here at GBFC is a good example of this gift of exhortation, as the counselors here come alongside the counselees and strengthen them and encourage them with instruction from God’s Word. We see a clear example of this gift modeled by Paul and Barnabas.

21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:21-22)

Another example of the gift of exhortation found in the Scriptures is in the book of Hebrews.

24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

So whereas prophecy proclaims the truth, teaching explains the truth, and exhortation calls believers to obey and follow the truth.

The next gift mentioned in our text is giving – “the one who contributes, in generosity,” or as some translations say, “with liberality.” The Greek word used here is μεταδιδοὺς, which carries the additional meanings of sharing and imparting that which is one’s own. So the one who exercises this gift gives sacrificially of himself. A Scriptural example of this type of giving is found in Luke 3:8,11. When asked by the multitudes what they should do to “bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance,” John the Baptist replied, “Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise.” One’s giving should be done for the benefit of the recipient, not the gain of the donor. The emphasis of “giving in order to get” appears to be in contradiction to Paul’s teaching here. Giving, as with the exercise of all other spiritual gifts, is to be a self-sacrificing act of worship and service. C. Cranfield, a New Testament scholar at the University of Durham in England, said the following about giving in his renowned commentary on Romans: “Giving requires the simplicity which, without ulterior motives or secondary purposes, is wholly directed toward the other person’s need and has no other consideration than that of relieving the need.” Perhaps the most prolific example of sacrificial giving in the New Testament though is found in the account of the churches of Macedonia.

2 for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3 For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4 begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints – 5 and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. (2 Corinthians 8:2-5)

So the picture here is one of a person seeing a need and sacrificially and freely giving of their resources cheerfully without any expectation of either being noticed or commended in any way. 

The next gift mentioned is that of leadership – “the one who leads, with zeal.” The meaning of leads here is that of standing before others, and therefore the idea of leadership. In the New Testament it is only used in terms of leadership of the family and of the church, never of governmental rulers. Paul refers to this same gift by a different name in 1 Corinthians 12:28 where he uses the word “administrating,” which means “to guide.” This same word is used in Acts 27:11 and Revelation 18:17 to refer to a pilot or helmsman of a ship, the person who steers or leads the ship. Although the gift of leadership is not limited to those offices, the gift of church leadership clearly belongs to elders and deacons. Effective leadership must be carried out with diligence, earnestness, and zeal. Zeal can also carry the idea of haste, which is the opposite of procrastination and idleness. So whether it is carried out by church officers or by members who lead and direct things such as Sunday school, small groups, or building renovation, the gift of leadership should be exercised with carefulness, consistency, and with a servant’s heart.

The last gift mentioned in the text is the gift of mercy – “the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” The word used here literally means “shows mercy,” and carries the joint idea of actively demonstrating sympathy for someone else, and of having the necessary resources to successfully comfort and strengthen that person. The believer with this gift has a special, divinely appointed sensitivity to suffering and sorrow, with the ability to notice misery and distress that may go undetected by others. In addition to detecting it, they also have the desire and means to help alleviate such afflictions. This gift involves much more than sympathetic feelings; it is feelings put into action. The person gifted with mercy will oftentimes find ways to express his or her feelings of concern in practical help. There are many ways the believer may exercise their gift of mercy, including hospital visitations, prison ministry, or service to the homeless, the poor, the handicapped, and suffering. This gift is closely related to that of exhortation, and it is not uncommon for believers to have a measure of both.

It is important to note the second half of this passage – “with cheerfulness.” This gift is not effective if ministered grudgingly or merely out of a sense of duty, but must be carried out with cheerfulness. As everyone knows who has had a time of suffering or special need, the attitude of a fellow believer can make the difference between his being a help or a hindrance. Who could forget Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar? While perhaps well-intentioned, their counsel drove Job into deeper despair.

He who despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor (Proverbs 14:21)

Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him. (Proverbs 14:31)

The key word in those verses is “generous.” The genuine helper always serves generously and with cheerfulness, and is never condescending or patronizing. Our Lord himself modeled this very gift of mercy with generosity and cheerfulness.

18 The Spirit if the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

If all Christians with this gift were to minister it generously and cheerfully, there would be far less needy that would have to rely on a godless government or social agency. 

So what does all this mean to us and for us as believers? How are we to move forward from here in regard to these gifts we’ve looked at this morning? Well, let’s take note of what Paul is saying here from a big picture standpoint. Notice what Paul tells us. First, not everyone is called or equipped to do the same thing.  There are different gifts as we’ve discussed this morning, and many different ways of serving, but the source of the gifts is always the same: the Holy Spirit. You may not be able to do what another Christian is able to do, but that is by design! Too many people feel inferior because they can’t teach, sing, or speak in public.  God never intended for everyone to be good at the same things. He has divinely appointed us different gifts.  Different does not mean better than or worse than, it simply means different.  

All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines (1 Corinthians 12:11)

Our gifts are a manifestation of the Spirit, not a manifestation of our goodness or spirituality! I think we would all agree that the church is most effective when it functions as a healthy body. When it comes together in unison and works like one single body made up of different parts. Paul’s teaching here is pretty simple, is it not? “If you are able to teach, teach; if you can serve, serve; if you are a preacher, preach; if you are an encourager, encourage.” In other words, our job is to do what we can do. Why? For the common good, for the glory of God.

So you might be thinking to yourself, “Aren’t some of these spiritual gifts things that God expects in some measure from all believers? Like service, mercy, giving, exhorting – after all, aren’t they are all ordinary Christian virtues?” To that question I would say yes. But I think where the difference comes is that some of these virtues come more joyfully and are more fruitful for some than for others. It’s when that happens that I think we can call them a spiritual gift. In other words, it seems to me that some take unusual spiritual delight in serving, giving, teaching, leading, or exhorting. It’s as though the Holy Spirit has shaped their hearts so that they find themselves unusually drawn to these things. One of the measures of our spiritual gifts is that others are spiritually helped.  A spiritual gift is a fruitful form of love. What do I mean by “fruitful”? For example, let’s say you think you have the gift of service, but in your attempts to serve and help others, you notice that they feel insulted. Perhaps you should reconsider whether or not you are gifted in this area. If this happens, don’t despair. It just means you’re gifted in another area. So to conclude this thought, mercy and service and giving and exhorting, as well as others, are ordinary Christian virtues that we should all have. But they become spiritual gifts when we find the virtues pouring out with unusual joy and with unusual fruitfulness for others.

Back to practical application of how this relates directly to each person. Perhaps many of you are thinking, “I don’t know what I can do.”  I suspect many of you do know what you can do, you just don’t realize that it is a ministry given by God.

How do we discern our gift or gifts? I’ve seen a number of gift inventory tests to help people identify their place of service. But after looking at those, I wonder if we aren’t often guilty of making things harder than they need to be. Instead, I thought it might be beneficial to talk about some ideas on how we might go about finding out what God wants us to do, and areas that He’s specifically gifted us in. This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it the only way to go about this task, but hopefully you will find it helpful.

First, ask yourself, “What am I good at?”  Much of the time we take for granted what we are good at and assume that everyone can do what comes easy to us. But that’s not always true.  If you aren’t sure what you are good at, ask someone close to you like your spouse or a close friend. Sometimes those closest to us see our gifts more clearly than we do. It will also provide them with an opportunity to exercise the gift of exhortation by encouraging you.

Let’s look at a couple of examples. Maybe you find it easy relating to teenagers. They like to be around you, they open up to you, and seem to not be embarrassed when you are around. This could be an indication that you have the gift of teaching, should you choose to step out of your comfort zone and teach these teens in a Sunday school class. Maybe you love to cook for others, maybe you like to clean, perhaps you enjoy organizing events, maybe you have a real heart of compassion for the elderly or the hurting. Perhaps you have the resources to give generously.  These things may very well be gifts from God. 
Second, prayerfully ask the Lord to help you to discern how He has gifted you. “Lord, how could I use the gifts and abilities that you have given to me to glorify you and serve the body of Christ?”  He is faithful to answer the prayers of the righteous. There are lots of things a person can do, if they are willing to do what they can to serve the Lord.
Third, take a step of faith. Dare to use what you have been given.  Dare to try something new.  Faith is like a muscle, so exercise it. Again, Paul’s counsel is simple, “Whatever it is that God has equipped you to do, do it!” Step out of your comfort zone.

I understand that every one of us is busy.  We all have a myriad of things vying for our time and attention. It is up to us to choose how we will spend our time and our resources. Like Bilal said last week, we will find the time for the things that matter most to us. So something for each of us to contemplate today is, what matters most to us?

6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation, the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6-8)