Key Text: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Study Focus: 1 Corinthians 12:12-22, Romans 12:3-8, Ephesians 4:7-16.
Part I: Overview
This week’s lesson surveys the topic of spiritual gifts in the Bible. Many Christians have practical questions about the gifts of the Spirit: What are spiritual gifts? Are they reserved for just a few super-Christians? Are they for every believer? How do I discover my spiritual gifts? What is the purpose of these spiritual gifts?
Spiritual gifts are intimately linked to the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The reason Scripture calls them “spiritual” gifts is because they are gifts, abilities, or talents imparted by the Holy Spirit to each believer for the glory of God. Spiritual gifts are given by the Spirit not to glorify ourselves. They are not to be used in selfish exhibitionism to show how talented we are or to draw attention to ourselves. Rightly understood all the gifts imparted by the Holy Spirit are given for two essential purposes: to nurture or strengthen the body of Christ and to fulfill the mission of Christ in reaching the world with the gospel.
Spiritual gifts are imparted to each believer. These gifts have different functions. In Christ everyone has equal value, but we do not have the same roles or the same gifts. This diversity of gifts strengthens the church and empowers its witness to the world. These differences are a strength and not a weakness. It is the Holy Spirit who chooses which gifts to impart to each believer, based on his or her background, culture, and personality in light of felt needs in the church community. The Holy Spirit knows best which gifts to give that will bring satisfaction in Christ’s service and the greatest blessing to the church and the world.
Part II: Commentary
The apostle Paul begins 1 Corinthians 12 with these words, “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant” (1 Cor. 12:1, NKJV). The reason the apostle Paul spends the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 12, most of Romans 12, and a large portion of Ephesians 4 on the topic of spiritual gifts is because a proper understanding of spiritual gifts is vital for both the nurture and growth of the church.
Let’s first answer some basic questions regarding spiritual gifts. What are spiritual gifts? How do they differ from natural talents? Who receives spiritual gifts? What is their purpose, and why are they given? Spiritual gifts are divinely bestowed qualities given by the Holy Spirit specifically to build the body of Christ and enable believers to be effective witnesses in the world. Spiritual gifts are the channel through which our ministry for Christ flows. Unbelievers may have many natural talents.
Of course, all our abilities, whether we are believers or unbelievers, come from God. Every talent we have is God-given. Spiritual gifts, however, are different from natural talents in two distinct ways. First, they differ from natural talents in the way they are used and, second, where they are used. The motivation for natural talents may be self-glory. The motivation in using spiritual gifts is always God’s glory. Natural talents are often used to advance one’s standing in the world. Spiritual gifts are unselfishly used to bless and expand God’s church.
Spiritual gifts are promised to each one who commits his or her life to Christ. Discussing spiritual gifts, the apostle Paul states: “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (1 Cor. 12:11, NKJV).
When we commit our lives to Jesus, the Holy Spirit imparts the gifts for witness and service. Unconverted individuals may have natural talents in some specific area of their lives. When they are converted, the Holy Spirit often redirects or re-purposes those natural talents for the glory of God and the advancement of the cause of Christ. There are also times that the Holy Spirit imparts gifts to individuals that they never had before or imagined that they ever could have. They now find fulfillment in using their newly discovered gifts for the service of Christ. As part of the body of Christ, they find joy in making their contribution to upbuilding Christ’s church and participating in His mission.
According to our passage in 1 Corinthians 12:11, the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts to “each one individually as He wills” (NKJV). The Holy Spirit does not impart the same gift to everyone, but He does impart gifts to each believer. He does not overlook one individual. Each believer shares in the gifts of the Spirit. Ellen G. White underscores this vital truth. “To every person is committed some peculiar gift or talent which is to be used to advance the Redeemer’s kingdom.”—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 618.
Emphasize that each member of your class has been given a spiritual gift or gifts through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. If we believe God’s Word, we can thank God for the gifts He has given us, pray that He will reveal them, and when He does, use them for His glory. The Holy Spirit does not give gifts to a select few and neglect or bypass others who may seem less talented. The Holy Spirit imparts God’s gifts to each one individually as He wills.
Illustration: The Holy Spirit Chooses the Gifts
Let’s suppose it’s a friend’s birthday. Who chooses the birthday gift you will give? You will, of course. I remember as a boy I would make my birthday list, but my parents would ultimately be the ones that chose my gift. The choice that they made most of the time was far better than the choice I would have made. They knew what I would be happy with better than what I thought might please me.
The Holy Spirit knows what gifts to impart to each believer to best glorify Jesus in his or her life. As The SDA Bible Commentary says, “The Holy Spirit distributes His gifts to believers in accordance with His knowledge of their capacities and the needs existing in the experience of each individual. It is not an arbitrary decision, but one based on supreme knowledge and understanding.”—Vol. 6, p. 772. This should be a great source of encouragement to each one of us. We have the absolute assurance that not only has the Holy Spirit imparted gifts to us but that they are exactly the ones we need in order to be most effective witnesses for Christ. The gifts you have are the ones that the Holy Spirit has seen most needful for your spiritual growth and the cause of Christ.
Varied Gifts Best Contribute to Christ’s Body
Although the church is one body, it is composed of a variety of members all contributing to the one goal of revealing Christ to the world through its witness. Writing to the members of the church at Rome, the apostle Paul states, “so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them” (Rom. 12:5, 6, NKJV). The apostle amplifies this thought in 1 Corinthians 12:12, “For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ” (NKJV).
There are a few things that will be important to underline for your class as you discuss the body of Christ analogy with them. In the human body, each of the members has a function. There are no inactive members. Each member has been placed in the human body to play a certain role. Each one has its own unique function. Each member of the human body contributes to the overall well-being of the entire body. The church needs active members who are committed to contributing to the overall health of the church, the body of Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4, the Bible gives us examples of some of the gifts that God places in His church. Some of those gifts are leadership gifts like apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, and pastors that have guided God’s church through the centuries. The purpose of these leadership gifts is to facilitate unity, foster spiritual growth, and equip church members for mission. These same passages also speak of gifts that are ministry gifts given to each believer. A few examples might be hospitality, liberality, helps, mercy, faith, and healing.
Many of these gifts are qualities of a converted heart. We are all to exhibit hospitality to others in our daily walk with Christ. Each believer is called to be liberal in his or her giving patterns. Helps or support to others and mercy are part of the life of each Christian. We all are to seek ways to bless and minister God’s healing grace to others. If these qualities are the natural response of the converted heart to be revealed in the lives of all believers, why are they considered spiritual gifts selected by the Holy Spirit for some and not others?
The answer is simply this: while all believers are called to reveal a gracious hospitable spirit in their lives, every believer is not called to the special ministry of hospitality. While we are all called to be liberal, we are not all called to a ministry where liberality becomes our means of service for Christ. Conversion brings changes in our lives. We long to reveal the qualities of a Christlike life daily. The Holy Spirit amplifies and expands those qualities, and as He does, some of these qualities become our channel of service in Christ’s church. At times, He imparts totally new qualities as spiritual gifts in order for us to discover our most satisfying and productive role in the body of Christ. As the apostle Paul states, this creates an “effective working by which every part does its share” and “causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:16, NKJV).
Part III: Life Application
If the Holy Spirit imparts spiritual gifts to all believers for the upbuilding of God’s Church and its witness in the world, how can we discover our spiritual gifts? Here are some simple steps that you will want to share with your class. Invite class members to:
- Tell God they believe He has given them spiritual gifts, and ask Him to reveal the gifts He has imparted. Scripture reveals, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17, NKJV). The God that imparts His precious gifts to each one of us will reveal them through His Holy Spirit as we ask Him. (See Luke 11:13.)
- Counsel with respected spiritual leaders about how God is leading them and the areas of service that might be available and open for participation.
- Begin using their gifts God reveals. The purpose of the gifts God gives is for service. As we begin using the gifts that He has given us, our gifts will expand, and our abilities will increase. Our spiritual gifts do not come fully developed. We become more effective in our service and our gifts enlarge as we use them. As Ellen G. White so powerfully states, “He who will give himself fully to God will be guided by the divine hand. He may be lowly and apparently ungifted; yet if with a loving, trusting heart he obeys every intimation of God’s will, his powers will be purified, ennobled, energized, and his capabilities will be increased.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 283.
As we use the gifts God has given us, we will find joy, satisfaction, and effectiveness in our service for Christ. Others will confirm our giftedness in a particular area, and the church will be blessed.
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