Chapter OneThe Definition
of a Gift
After hearing a superb performance on the organ one
Sunday morning, a church member remarked, "My John has
a great gift." While discussing the subject of gifts at a recent
seminar, a lady asserted, "My gift is baking cherry pies." To
say the least, such statements indicate a total ignorance of our
subject. Therefore, it will be helpful to discuss what a
spiritual gift is not.
A. What It Is Not
An all too common error today is to speak of an aptitude
for working with a special age group as a gift. Often we are
told that a promising young man has "a real gift with college
students," or an "unusual gift to reach children." Not for a
moment would we doubt that his ability is to be traced to his
gift, but his gift is not simply the aptitude for working with a
distinct age group.
Then there are those who are said to have "a great gift
with the people of the inner-city." Once again there is no
doubt that their effectiveness flows from their gifts. But it is
surely erroneous to think of a gift as a call to preach in a
particular geographic area.
A sharp distinction must be made between the gifts, the
graces of the Holy Spirit, and the offices of a local church.
The "graces" refer to the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23).
These are the qualities of Christian character which the Holy
Spirit desires to produce in each of our lives. However, they
are not spiritual gifts. Nor should one confuse the offices with
the gifts. According to the New Testament, there are four
offices in a local church. Christ is the head (Eph. 1:22; Col.
1:18). There are elders (1 Tim. 3:1-7) and deacons (1 Tim.
3:8-13) who rule, guide, feed, guard, and administer. Last of
all, there are the priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9). Every believer in the
local body occupies such an office. Obviously, an office is
distinct from a spiritual gift.
B. What It Is
What, then, is a spiritual gift? Simply stated: It is a
divine endowment of a special ability for service upon a
member of the body of Christ.
This is based upon two words translated "gifts" in our
English Bible. The first is pneumatikos.
Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want
you to be unaware (1 Cor. 12:1).
Literally our text reads, "Now concerning spirituals"
The translators have supplied the word gifts. As to its source,
a spiritual gift is divine. This is the emphasis of our text. They
are "spirituals," that is, divine in their source.
The second word translated "gifts" is charisma.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit (1 Cor.
As to its essence, a spiritual gift is an ability. It is an
ability to function effectively and significantly in a particular
service as a member of Christ's body, the church.
Don't pass over the definition of a spiritual gift too
quickly. Look at it a second time. What is its source? What
is its essence? What is its purpose? Who are the recipients?
All these are essential elements in the definition. Memorize it
carefully and you will begin to sharpen the focus on a subject
that is vague to most of us.
C. What It Embodies
Every spiritual gift embodies four features:
Most apparent of all, a spiritual gift involves ability.
One has the ability to pastor because he is gifted. Billy
Graham is a great evangelist because evangelism is his gift.
Ability in any sphere of the Lord's service, ability that
enables one to do an effective piece of work that glorifies God
and advances the cause of Christ, is to be traced to a spiritual
The qualification to engage in this service is also embodied
in the possession of a gift. One is qualified to preach
not because he is a seminary graduate nor because he has the
"gift of gab." How I remember the nightmare of listening to
a dear brother speak who had been asked because it was his
turn! Success in the business world, stardom on the athletic
field, or influence on the church budget is not a qualification
for speaking or serving in any other capacity. To be qualified
in the work of God is initially and essentially a matter of gift.
This is as true of teaching a Sunday school class as it is of
running the nursery. It ought to be a major consideration in
asking anyone to function in a particular way in the local
body. It surely ought to be a primary factor in accepting
responsibility in the work of the Lord. One is qualified by
virtue of the gift God has given to him or her.
A third feature of any and every gift is strength. The
Christian lady with the gift of mercy will have a divine supply
of strength to minister to those in need of unmerited aid. The
young man with the gift of helps will manifest a supernatural
supply of strength to serve diligently and faithfully behind the
scenes. The rest of us may look on bewildered. Their
strength, in part at least, can be traced to their gift.
But there is a fourth. It naturally follows that if a gift is a
divine endowment, then it surely involves responsibility. It is
part of our stewardship. What a solemn fact. We stand
responsible today for our use of the time, money, bodies, and
opportunities that have been entrusted to us. But that is not
all. We are also accountable for how we have invested the gift
entrusted to us. Have you ever seen this as part of Paul's
statement concerning the Day of Review?
For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the
body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad
(2 Cor. 5:10).
D. What About Talents?
In the light of our definition of a gift and what it embodies,
it seems imperative to distinguish between a spiritual
gift and a natural talent.