In his first letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul describes what he calls “spiritual gifts.” These charisms are special abilities given in grace to the believer by the Holy Spirit. The gifts that Paul describes enable spiritual growth and help Christians to live out God’s purpose for them in love.
The spiritual gifts are important to spiritual formation, because identifying how we are gifted (or perhaps not gifted) can help Christians know where to concentrate our disciplines. If your spiritual gift is teaching, for example, you may recognize this and emphasize the importance of the discipline of study. Or, you may find that edification or encouragement is an area where you have room to grow, so you may consider spending time in meditation on passages about God’s promises and faithfulness.
If you sense a faltering in your faith, you might fast as a reminder of God’s provision and faithfulness. Developing our spiritual gifts helps us to conform to God’s will for our life—the very definition of spiritual formation.
Acts of spiritual formation and discipline like prayer, fasting, meditation, and study can also help you figure out what your spiritual gifts should be. Submission to the will of God opens the door for blessings in the form of gifts that, in our natural state, we were resisting.
Since spiritual formation is key to both discerning and developing spiritual gifts, and since spiritual gifts are clearly a God-ordained part of how we minister to the entire Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:5), it becomes clear that spiritual formation itself is an absolutely indispensable part of the Christian journey.
Although it is easy to confuse differentiation with division, this is not the purpose of the spiritual gifts!
It certainly wasn’t what St. Paul had in mind as he laid out his letter to the Corinthian church. Instead of dividing the Body of Christ, the spiritual gifts unify believers by allowing each individual to fulfill their unique purpose in the community of faith.
When the gifts are practiced correctly, they always function to edify the Church and spread the Gospel (Palma, 1979, p. 19). The focus that brings these diverse abilities in sync is the person of Jesus, who functions as the Head of the Church and through the Holy Spirit is ultimately directing each and every gift given.1
St. Paul describes it this way,:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. (1 Cor. 12:12 ESV)
The gifts, although distributed in different kinds and quantities among the entire Body, are still part of the unified whole as result of the person of Jesus. In this way these distinctions are quite different from the worldly divisions that were plaguing the church at Corinth when St. Paul wrote this letter.2
Many thinkers have linked the spiritual gifts with various offices in the institutional church, but taking this too far misses the point.3
Paul isn’t so much highlighting how the gifts are different, but rather their unifying threads: the common source of the Holy Spirit’s power, Jesus’ service, and God’s direction.4
That said, there’s no doubt the spiritual gifts are necessary for you to carry out your mission and purpose because they all directly correspond to real actions:
The list, of course, goes on. As gifts from God (not necessarily natural abilities) these deposits of grace also confirm you’re doing the will the God when you’re exercising your gift faithfully.[^5]
When you are faithfully and obediently exercising your God-given gift by the power of the Holy Spirit, you are functioning correctly in your capacity as an “organ” in the Body of Jesus.5 The spiritual gifts confirm that all good things come from God, and that as believers we can only truly and completely fulfill our purpose when we are conformed to his will, living in obedience, and practicing his commandments to us in love.
What are your spiritual gifts, and how has God worked through them? Let me know in the comments.