8. Gifts Empowered by the Holy Spirit (part 1)

Audio (38:58)

Ford Madox Brown, British Pre-Raphaelite painter, (1821-93), Jesus Washing Peterís Feet' (1865), oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London.
Spiritual gifts are about serving others, not oneself. Ford Madox Brown, British Pre-Raphaelite painter (1821-93), 'Jesus Washing Peter's Feet' (1865), oil on canvas, Tate Gallery, London.

Jesus told his disciples after his resurrection:

"'As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.'" And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" (John 20:21b-22)

We haven't been saved just to go to church and be nice people. As the Father sent Jesus, so he sends us to fulfill his mission of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. His mission is our mission.

But to do his mission takes his power, and that's where the Holy Spirit comes in. When we minister with the spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit bestows, we minister with the same power that energized Jesus' own ministry.

Specialized, Focused Power

All Christians have the Holy Spirit.  But each one of us is given one or more spiritual gifts, particular, specialized abilities given by God, energized by the Holy Spirit, that are used to build up the Kingdom and carry out God's purposes.

Let me try to illustrate this from the world of computers.

Computer God
Operating System Holy Spirit
Program or Application ("App") Spiritual Gift

In Lesson 5 we considered this verse: "The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God...." (1 Corinthians 2:10) and reveals them to us. The Spirit mediates God to us day by day. He is like a "user-friendly" operating system that makes the deep things of God intelligible to us at a level we can relate to.

Spiritual gifts are like programs or applications ("apps") that are specially designed for certain tasks like word processing or spreadsheets or desktop publishing. They are built on top of the operating system and preprogrammed to provide tremendous specialized power to the user. In this way, a gift of the Holy Spirit enables a person to access all of God's mighty power in a focused ministry in the Spirit.

Furthering the Kingdom? We have an app for that! (If you don't understand what I'm talking about, that's okay. Only computer nerds are likely to get it.)

Five Key Passages on Spiritual Gifts

In this two-part lesson we're going to survey the various spiritual gifts mentioned in five different New Testament passages containing lists of spiritual gifts: (1) Ephesians 4:11 (which we'll consider in this lesson); (2) 1 Corinthians 12:8-10; (3) 1 Corinthians 12:28; (4) Romans 12:6-8; and (5) 1 Peter 4:11 (which we'll consider in Lesson 9). Four of these passages are from Paul; the fifth is from Peter.

Please forgive the brevity of my comments on each gift. This lesson is designed as a survey, rather than a handbook on how to exercise individual spiritual gifts. My goal is to encourage you to see if you might fit one or more of the gifts mentioned below.

I've listed the gifts in a table so you can get an idea of the scope and the overlap.


Ephesians 4:11 1 Corinthians 12:8--10 1 Corinthians 12:28 Romans 12:6--8 1 Peter 4:11
Word of wisdom
Word of knowledge
Gifts of healings
Distinguishing between spirits
Interpretation of tongues
Kinds of healings
Whoever speaks
Whoever renders service

The problem of putting a list of gifts in a table is that maybe you'll think that that's all there are. In point of fact, the gifts, like the people who are given them, are wonderfully diverse. The way a particular gift reveals itself in a particular person will be related to many factors: a person's physical strength, temperament, family environment, birth order, artistic ability, intellectual depth, language facility, emotional sensitivity, spiritual aptitude, affluence, stage of development, culture, etc. And, of course, a person's talents.

Talents vs. Spiritual Gifts

Are spiritual gifts identical to "natural talents"? Well, yes and no. All "natural talents" come from God. That's why we talk about a "gifted violinist." With any talent, the more you practice, the better you get. Even a violin child prodigy will amount to nothing if she neglects practice. In these ways natural talents are similar to spiritual gifts. The more you yield to the Spirit to exercise your spiritual gift, the more skilled you become in this specialized ministry. If you neglect to exercise a spiritual gift, you get "rusty."

Some talents may not be spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are specifically given to advance the Kingdom of God, and are specifically operated "in the Spirit." Spiritual gifts range from what we might call "natural" -- teaching comes to mind -- to "supernatural," such as healing and words of knowledge. If you're a gifted baseball pitcher or soccer player, your talent might not be a spiritual gift. But you could bring glory to God as you excel and give God credit for your performance as you testify to others.

However, some talents may be very closely tied to spiritual gifts. My chief spiritual gift, I believe, is teaching. I have a number of God-given talents -- writing, speaking, and artistic ability. I'm a curious person and have a wide variety of interests. Writing and speaking talents may or may not be spiritual gifts in themselves, but they certainly contribute to my teaching. I've even used writing to create an income during a "tent-making" phase of my ministry. I don't think it's useful to draw sharp distinctions between spiritual gifts and talents.

However God has gifted you, acknowledge your gift with thanks to God, and then give yourself to it, so his gift can bless his body and the world over many years.

The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)

'The Parable of the Talents,' copyright 1906 by Providence Lithograph Co.
'The Parable of the Talents,' copyright 1906 by Providence Lithograph Co.

You're probably familiar with Jesus' Parable of the Talents. What you may not know is that the word "talent" in that parable is actually a transliteration of the Greek noun talanton, originally a measure of weight, then later a unit of coinage. The Tyrian talent in Jesus' day amounted to about 6,000 denarii, or the value of about 6,000 days' labor.

In the parable, the master goes on a long trip, entrusting various slaves of his household with varying amounts of money, five talents to the most capable, two to another, and one to another. They are expected to do business with this money so that when he returns each will have generated a profit. When the master returns he is pleased with two servants who have doubled their original principal. But the third, who has buried it -- and has a bad attitude towards his master -- only returns the original amount along with lame excuses. To say that the master was angry would be an understatement.

Historically, this parable in the King James Version essentially defined our English word "talent" to mean some God-given gift that we've been entrusted with. The point of the parable is that God's servants are expected to use what God has given them to produce a profit for the Kingdom of God. Not using what God has given is an act of both laziness and rebellion.

The parable surely applies to both our natural talents as well as spiritual gifts. We are all to use whatever God has given us to further God's Kingdom.

If this is true, then the lesson this week and next will have special application to you, my friend. It means that you should be diligently trying to discern or understand what spiritual gift or gifts God has given to you, and then find ways to put them to work to advance God's Kingdom. God expects this of you.

Introduction to Spiritual Gifts (1 Corinthians 12)

1 Corinthians 12 is all about spiritual gifts[144] and how they should each be valued and contribute to building up the body. Paul affirms that all gifts, no matter how diverse, are inspired by the same Spirit. It is through the working of the various spiritual gifts that God "shows up" and reveals himself at work in our midst.

"Now to each one the manifestation[145] of the Spirit is given for the common good." (1 Corinthians 12:7)

Paul says that purpose of the gifts is "for the common good" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "to profit withal" (KJV).[146] The Corinthians seem to be using the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues for their own individual benefit, without regard to the needs of the assembled congregation, sometimes hurting the body. Gifts are given to build up the body and strengthen God's people. The "gift" is not to us personally. Rather, the gifts, that is, the gifted persons, are gifts to the body of Christ.

Gifts Based on Grace, not Merit (Ephesians 4:7-8)

Paul makes a similar point in teaching the Ephesians.

"7  But each of us was given grace[147] according to the measure[148] of Christ's gift.[149] 8  Therefore it is said, 'When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts[150] to his people.[151]'" (Ephesians 4:7-8, NRSV)

God gives gifts, not because we deserve them, but because he wants to, and because he cares that his Church is built up. If he waited until we were perfect to give us spiritual gifts, he would have to wait a long time! Gifts are not rewards for superior spirituality. Grace, not merit.

The Purpose of Ministry Gifts (Ephesians 4:12-13)

Verse 11 outlines five spiritual gifts -- apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers -- which we'll look at shortly. Before we do, however, see the purpose of these gifts in verses 12 and 13.

"12  ... to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13  until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:12-13)

The purposes build on one another:

Level 1. Equipping for ministry (verse 12a) "... to equip[152] the saints for the work of ministry..." (ESV).

Level 2. Building up the Church (verse 12b)  "... for building up the body of Christ...." (ESV).

Level 3. Maturity and Unity -- Christ's Fullness (verse 13) " until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (ESV)

You put the church in order by training God's people to minister. As they minister effectively, the Church is built up. And eventually you get to the place where Christ can be seen in the Church and in its people in all his fullness.

Notice the implications of this. If a church is structured so the paid pastoral staff does the bulk of the ministry -- and the people sit and listen -- that's backwards and results in a weak church. In a healthy congregation, the leaders train and equip people for ministry according to their own spiritual gifts. This creates an extremely rich community that can minister to the many needs of the world, as Christ did.

Q1. (1 Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:11) What is the purpose of spiritual gifts according to 1 Corinthians 12:7? According to Ephesians 4:11? What happens when people don't employ spiritual gifts for their intended purpose?

Numbering the Spiritual Gifts

We're almost ready to examine the individual gifts, but first we need to talk about numbering. In certain circles you hear about the "Five-Fold Ministry Offices," even though the idea of "office" is absent from Ephesians 4:11. These five gifts, however, are important, since three of them show up first on another list (1 Corinthians 12:28).

1 Corinthians 12 especially emphasizes the great variety of gifts inspired by the one Spirit, not a limited number. Peter Wagner lists 27 gifts of the Spirit.[153] Others find a few less. But when you consider several factors with the gifts, you can easily reach a huge variety -- literally billions. Here's the formula:

Gifts x Personality x Context x Passion = infinite variety

You, my friend, have a unique "gift mix," particular gifts, administered in a certain way, that characterize your unique ministry.

How can you know you have a gift? All Christians can access the God of wonders by prayer. You will sometimes see some spectacular answers to prayer. But if God uses you  often in a particular way, then you probably have a particular spiritual gift.

Over the years of my ministry, I've seen God work through me in a wide variety of ways -- occasionally miraculous -- but my core gift probably boils down to teaching. Perhaps an apostle might have several core gifts, but in my experience most people seem to use one primary gift, with perhaps a few secondary gifts. That's the way God designed it (1 Corinthians 12:27-31). Finding out what your core gift or gifts are is important to your growth and maturity as a productive disciple.

Cessationism vs. Continuationism

We need to consider one final distinction before we examine the gifts individually. There are some brothers and sisters who claim that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit were solely to establish the church and that once the New Testament canon was written by the apostles, these supernatural gifts became obsolete and ceased. This position is called "cessationism."  Others, including myself, believe that these supernatural gifts continue up to our day. This position is known as "continuationism."

Cessationists are particularly concerned that any revelatory gift might threaten the exclusive authority of the Old and New Testaments and seek to surpass or replace their authority with new revelation. Indeed, this actually happened several times in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.[154] On the other hand, there is absolutely no Scriptural basis for the assertion that the supernatural gifts of healings, miracles, tongues, interpretation, etc. have passed away.[155] Indeed, a careful reading of church history finds miraculous gifts throughout the ages up to the present.

Of course, since I am a continuationist, this will affect how I view some spiritual gifts. I want you to know my bias up front.

I find myself wishing that I could provide a friendly users-guide to each of the spiritual gifts, but two things stop me. First, this would be well beyond the scope of this book. And second, though I've had some experience with several of these gifts, I don't know enough about the rest to be very helpful. I'm sorry about that.

Ephesians 4:11

Okay, without further ado, let's look at the individual gifts, starting with those in Ephesians 4:11. In Lesson 9, we'll consider the gifts mentioned in other gift lists.

Apostle (Ephesians 4:11a; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Romans 12:6)

The first gift mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 is "apostle."  The Greek word apostolos is compounded from two words, apo, "off, away" + stellō, "to send." It designates one who has been sent with a commission and can mean a "delegate, envoy, messenger."[156] In the NT it is used as a technical term to refer to Christ-designated messengers given authority to speak for him and to establish his church.

The first apostles were the Twelve (Luke 6:13). They were originally sent to the Jews only, to "preach the Kingdom is at hand, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse the lepers, and to exorcise demons" (Matthew 10:5-8).

The apostles were the first teachers (Acts 2:42) and administrators (Acts 6:1-6) of the Church, but these responsibilities were soon spread among others. The apostles performed miraculous signs (Acts 2:43; 2 Corinthians 12:12), conveyed the Holy Spirit by the laying on of hands (Acts 8:17-18), and generally established the church both in Jerusalem and as well as Corinth, Macedonia, Rome, and elsewhere. Thomas, for example, is said to have gone to Parthia and as far as India establishing churches. Besides the Twelve -- and of course the Apostle Paul  -- other apostles are mentioned in the New Testament -- Barnabas (Acts 14:14; 15:14), Andronicus and Junia (Romans 15:7, apparently a feminine name), James, the Lord's brother (Galatians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 15:7), and perhaps Silas (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:2, 6). The Didache seems to recognize the ministry of itinerant teachers, apostles, and prophets in the late first century.[157]

Do apostles exist today? Many continuationists think they do; cessationists don't. It partly depends on how you define apostles. An apostle in New Testament times was one who was commissioned to that role by Christ himself (Matthew 10:1-7; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Acts 1:24; 26:16-17).  Qualifications for a person to replace Judas among the original twelve apostles were a person who has been with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, and was an eyewitness to the resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). Paul defends his own apostleship as one who has "seen Jesus our Lord" (1 Corinthians 9:1) and as one who founded the Church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 9:2). Later Paul mentions, "the things that mark an apostle -- signs, wonders and miracles" (2 Corinthians 12:12).

If there are apostles today -- and I think there are -- they may have similar ministries to apostles in the first century, but not the same qualifications (in that they haven't personally witnessed the resurrection and are no longer writing Scripture to establish the Church).[158] I find C. Peter Wagner's 1976 working definition helpful:

"The gift of apostle is the special ability ... which enables them to assume and exercise general leadership over a number of churches with an extraordinary authority in spiritual matters that is spontaneously recognized and appreciated by those churches."[159]

Examples of apostles might be John Wesley, founder of Methodism, St. Patrick in Ireland, and St. Columba in Scotland, etc.

If there aren't apostles today, there certainly are some people to whom God has given ministries that look like those of the first-century apostles. [160] Of course, there's sometimes the counterfeit, the confused, and the manipulator. When I was in Africa I met a man who angrily insisted that people address him by his title: "Apostle." But abuse of a gift is no indicator that it does not exist.

When I was in college I met an American missionary who worked in the highlands of Mexico. His main role was visiting and teaching a circuit of about fifty congregations over which he had responsibility. I have a friend in Kenya who is bishop over about 80 churches that he cares for, 60 of which he helped found. Those seem to me to be apostolic ministries, akin to the function of St. Paul in Philippi, Galatia, Corinth, and Ephesus and, later, St. John in the Seven Churches of Asia Minor.

Whether or not there are actual apostles today, we do have people whom God is using in the power of the Spirit to establish his church in our day. Praise God!

Q2. (Ephesians 4:11a) Do you think there are modern-day apostles? If so, who might they be? If you don't believe there are modern-day apostles, identify some people who are doing some of the same things that the early apostles did.

Prophet, Prophecy (Ephesians 4:11b; 1 Corinthians 12:10, 29; Romans 12:6)

Prophets in the Old Testament were spokesmen for God. In Samuel's time, some functioned with a group of other prophets (1 Samuel 19:18-24; 2 Kings 2; 4:38-41; 1 Kings 19:18).  Most of the memorable prophets served as lone spokesmen, such as Elijah, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Malachi, and were often very unpopular for speaking God's word. There were also women prophets, such as, Deborah and Huldah.

Jesus and John the Baptist both functioned as prophets. In the early church, however, the prophets seemed be spread among some of the other leadership roles. We read about prophets who came from Jerusalem to Antioch, among them Agabus who prophesied of future events (Acts 11:27-28; 21:10-11). Prophets and teachers gathered in Antioch to worship and fast and seek God's guidance, and out of that gathering came the prophecy: "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them" -- i.e. their missionary journeys (Acts 13:1-3). Judas (called Barabbas) and Silas, members of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:22, 27), who "were themselves prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers" in Antioch (Act 15:32). Soon, Silas becomes part of Paul's missionary team (Acts 15:40) that evangelizes and starts churches all over Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Greece. We're told that Philip the Evangelist had four unmarried daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8-9). An early Christian document, The Didache, instructs congregations how to relate to itinerant and resident prophets in the final years of the first century.[161]

Paul encouraged all to prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:5), that is, to speak immediate and upbuilding words from God under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. These words are a kind of revelation (1 Corinthians 14:24, 26). It is one thing to win someone to Christ, it is another to be an Evangelist. It is one thing to teach a lesson, it is another to be a Teacher. In the same way, while many Christians may prophesy occasionally, few of these will have the regular ministry of being a Prophet.

Some contend that prophecy is what we call "anointed" or inspired preaching. I don't think so. Though I have heard prophecy within a sermon. Prophecy is something other than inspired preaching. It is a form of revelation (1 Corinthians 14:6, 24-25, 29-32). For more on this see an article I've written.[162]

Prophecy warned Christian Armenians to flee massacre by the Turks in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Prophets minister in some Pentecostal circles. Recently, the youth director of the Evangelical Covenant church I attend found himself compelled to tell one of the young men in his group that God had called him to be a pastor. I am certain that God speaks through prophecy today "to encourage and strengthen" the church.

Paul encourages the church not to accept prophetic words without careful discernment.

"Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said." (1 Corinthians 14:29)

The "others," I think, are not prophets, but the other people at the meeting. The word "weigh carefully" (NIV), "weigh" (NRSV, ESV), "judge" (KJV) is diakrinō, "separate, differentiate," here, "to evaluate by paying careful attention to, evaluate, judge."[163]

When we've seen abuses of spiritual gifts -- and abuses exist! -- we may rush to another extreme: despising those spiritual gifts. Paul writes:

"19 Do not put out the Spirit's fire; [164] 20  do not treat prophecies with contempt.
21 Test[165] everything. Hold on to[166] the good. 22  Avoid[167] every kind of evil." (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22)

When we begin to despise that true working of God through the Spirit because of our prejudices and doctrines, we're in the same danger as the Pharisees who wanted to destroy Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. We shouldn't reject out of hand what purports to be prophecy.

Paul gives careful guidelines for use of prophecy in church meetings in 1 Corinthians 14 to a church that undervalued prophecy. For a careful study of this, see my book 1 Corinthians: Discipleship Lessons from a Troubled Church (JesusWalk Publications, 2014), chapter 13. I believe we can expect prophets today "to encourage and strengthen the brothers" (Acts 15:32).

 Q3. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22; 1 Corinthians 14) How would you define the gift of prophecy? Why do churches sometimes despise or prohibit prophecy? What guidelines does Paul give here and in 1 Corinthians 14 to keep prophecy in a congregation healthy?

Evangelist (Ephesians 4:11c)

Next, Paul speaks of evangelists. This role isn't spelled out very specifically in the New Testament, though clearly it has to do with proclaiming the Good News and comes from the Greek word euangelizō, "to proclaim good news." The noun is used twice in the New Testament, once in a technical ministry sense referring to Philip (Acts 21:8) and then in a functional sense referring to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5).

Philip's ministry involved preaching to the Samaritans and winning them to Christ (mass evangelism, Acts 8:4-13) as well as witnessing to and winning the treasurer of Ethiopia, whom he saw riding in a chariot (personal evangelism, Acts 8:26-40).

In the early church, evangelists were probably itinerant preachers of the Gospel, perhaps similar to tent-evangelists of the twentieth century.

All of us Christians have an obligation to share Christ where we are, but some will have evangelism as a core ministry. Oh, that the gift of evangelism would be stirred up in our churches (2 Timothy 1:6; 4:5). In some congregations, evangelism is shamefully denigrated as "proselytism."

Pastor (Ephesians 4:11d)

Because of the Greek syntax of vs. 11, some scholars see pastors and teachers as being combined into one ministry of pastor-teacher.[168] More likely, they are overlapping roles.[169]

Our word "pastor" (with the related word "pasture") means, literally, "shepherd." In fact, in Spanish, El Pastor can refer to either a herder of sheep or a religious leader. A pastor/shepherd (poimēn) led the flock, protected it, guided it to places where there was grass to eat and water to drink. He healed the sheep that were hurt, assisted in birth, and with tenderness cared for the flock.

This describes pretty well what a resident spiritual leader does for a group or congregation, which is sometimes referred to as a "flock" (Acts 20:28-29; 1 Peter 5:2-3). The larger the church is, the more pastors are needed. In fact, in the largest churches, the so-called "senior pastor" may well not have the actual gift of pastor so much as of faith, leadership, teaching, or administration.

Often the functional pastors in a Christian community are not the official leaders, but adult Sunday school teachers, small group leaders, house church leaders, etc. You can have a pastoral gift of caring for the spiritual needs of a group of people without having been given any official title. Recognition is nice, but not necessary to carrying out this important role. God knows and it is to him that you serve in this gift.

In the New Testament, the words "elder" (presbyteros), pastor (poimēn), and bishop or overseer (episcopos) are sometimes used synonymously, though each word has its own distinct flavor. You can observe this by comparing 1 Peter 5:1-4; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; and Titus 1:5-9.

Teacher (Ephesians 4:11e; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Romans 12:7)

The teacher (didaskalos) has a role closely related to the pastoral function, but somewhat specialized. While pastor is a leader of and carer for people, or perhaps one who inspires God's people, the teacher grounds them in truth and helps them to understand the implications of truth as it pertains to their everyday lives. The gift of teaching relates to the part of the Great Commission that says, "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20a). Teachers are also mentioned in gift list in 1 Corinthians 12:27-30 and Romans 12:7.

Of course, none of these definitions are absolute; they often fade into one another. Timothy, for example, a pastor and teacher, is told to "do the work of an evangelist."

Paul was an apostle, but clearly he functioned as a pastor during part of his ministry. As a teacher he taught not only locally, but by his letters. He was an evangelist, and you might argue that he was also a prophet. Jesus, too, took on all these roles in his ministry. Let's recognize people's ministries from God, but let's not prevent them from combining roles if that is how God has gifted them. God's giftings often don't follow our rules and position descriptions. Moreover, I've observed that people sometimes transition from one core ministry gift to another over their decades of ministry.

Q4. (Ephesians 4:11) How could a person have the spiritual gift of pastor or teacher without having an official position in a church? What must a church do if its "senior pastor" doesn't have the spiritual gift of pastor? Who gives these gifts?

Lessons for Disciples

To keep this lesson from being too long, we need to stop here and take up the remaining gift lists in Lesson 9. But first, let's review what we've learned so far.

  1. In short, a spiritual gift is a particular ability given by God, energized by the Holy Spirit, that is used to build up the Kingdom and carry out God's purposes.
  2. All our gifts and abilities are given by God, so it should not surprise us that there isn't a hard line between "talents" and "spiritual gifts" in many people.
  3. Like God-given talents, spiritual gifts must be practiced so that we can get better at ministry with them.
  4. The Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) teaches that God holds us responsible to use for his Kingdom everything he has entrusted to us -- especially spiritual gifts.
  5. Spiritual gifts are not given to benefit the gifted person, rather they are for the "common good," to help the whole congregation (1 Corinthians 12:7). They are gifts to the body (Ephesians 4:7-8).
  6. Spiritual gifts, especially the core gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher, are designed to (1) equip people for ministry, (2) build up the church, and ultimately (3) to bring God's people to maturity and unity (Ephesians 4:11-12).
  7. While the Scripture lists a couple dozen gifts, since people are created with unique personalities, placed in unique contexts, and have particular passions, there could be an infinite variety of gifts. The Scripture only lists some of the common ones.
  8. People who believe that the supernatural gifts ceased with the apostles are called "cessationists." Those that believe the supernatural gifts continue to today are called "continuationists." What you believe about spiritual gifts for today will depend upon your presuppositions.
  9. In the New Testament, Jesus chose twelve apostles who spent much time with him and were witnesses to his resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). God used them to lay the foundations of the early church and to write the New Testament canon.
  10. Modern-day apostles might be considered those specially gifted people who exercise general leadership over and ministry to a number of churches.
  11. Prophets are those gifted with a special word of God for the church or for individuals, for the purpose of building up the church (1 Corinthians 14:3-4, 26) This goes beyond "anointed preaching," to a form of revelation (1 Corinthians 14:6, 24-25, 29-32).
  12. Prophecies don't have precedence over Scripture. Prophecy must not be despised or rejected without considering it carefully according to the teaching of Scripture (1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).
  13. Evangelists are proclaimers of the good news, especially those who lead others to Christ, either individually or in large groups (Ephesians 4:11c; Acts 21:4-13; 26-40).
  14. As with many of the gifts, all Christians have an obligation to be witnesses, to show mercy, to encourage, etc. -- and have the Holy Spirit to help them. However, some people are specially gifted, so that they regularly exercise their gift with tangible results.
  15. A pastor is one who is gifted to shepherd or care for a group of people under his or her care. A pastor might take an official role in the church, such as an elder, pastor, bishop, or overseer (1 Peter 5:1-4; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; and Titus 1:5-9). However, a title is not necessary for successfully employing the gift of pastor as a small group leader, house church leader, etc. (Ephesians 4:11d; Acts 20:28-29; 1 Peter 5:2-3).
  16. A teacher is one who grounds God's people in the truth of the Scriptures (Ephesians 4:11e; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Romans 12:7), fulfilling Jesus' command that we should be "teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28:20a).

Growth Assignment (Week 8) -- Encourage Gifted Members

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This week think about the people you know in your congregation. Go through a church directory, if you need to. For each person you know, can you identify a possible spiritual gift that they have that benefits the congregation? If so, go to each and thank them for using their spiritual gift to help the congregation be healthy or restore its health. Feel free to consult the gifts described in Lesson 9 in this exercise.

If it seems appropriate, ask your pastor or pastors what spiritual gifts they recognize in themselves. Then thank them for exercising those gifts to strengthen the whole body. Pray that God will strengthen those in your congregation who are exercising their gifts. And pray for those who aren't. In next week's exercise, we'll consider what gifts you might have yourself.


Thank you, Father, for the rich gifts you have given in the church, the body. I pray that you would help me -- and each of us -- to identify how you've gifted us in particular. And then help us be productive using that gift or gifts. You're the Giver. We're the recipients of gifts for your glory. Help us to be faithful. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for your gifts. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

Key Verses

"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." (1 Corinthians 12:7, NIV)

"But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it is said, 'When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.'" (Ephesians 4:7-8, NRSV)

"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." (Ephesians 4:11-13, NIV)


[144] In 1 Corinthians 12:1 "spiritual gifts" the plural of pneumatikos, here, "spiritual things or matters," or, perhaps, "spiritual persons," since he begins by explaining the difference between the evil spirits that motivated pagan prophecy and the Holy Spirit of God (BDAG 837, 2bα). In verse 4, "gifts" is charisma, plural, charismata (from which we get our word "charismatic," gifted). Charisma means, "that which is freely and graciously given, favor bestowed, gift," from charis, "grace, unmerited favor" (BDAG 1081, b).

[145] "Manifestation" is phanerōsis, "disclosure, announcement, revelation, appearance," from phainō, "to show, become visible" (BDAG 1049; Rudolf Bultmann and D. Lührmann, phanerōsis, TDNT 9:1-10).

[146] The prepositional phrase pros to sympheron uses the participle of sympherō, with the sense, "to be advantageous, help, confer a benefit, be profitable/useful" (BDAG 960, 2bγ). The verb means literally, "to bear or bring together." Paul has used this verb and related noun several times (1 Corinthians 6:12; 7:35; 10:23, 33).

[147] "Grace" is charis. Christians are familiar with "grace" as a theological word. But this very common Greek word means, at its root, "a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care/help, goodwill." It is used of a person of wealth and power who gives, not because the recipient is worthy, but because he or she wants to. It speaks of unilateral giving, not giving because you've received something of value (BDAG 1079, 2).

[148] "Apportioned" (NIV) or "given ... according to the measure" (KJV, NRSV, ESV) is comprised of three words, didōmi, "give," kata, "according to," and metron, "measure," here "the result of measuring, quantity, number" (BDAG 644).

[149] "Gift," in the phrase, "Christ's gift," is dōrea, "that which is given or transferred freely by one person to another, gift, bounty" (BDAG 226).

[150] "Gift," in the phrase, "gave gifts to his people" is doma, "gift" (BDAG 155). Doma is formed from the common verb used here, didōmi.

[151] The noun is the plural of anthrōpos, referring to human beings, not males in particular.

[152] The word translated "perfecting" (KJV), "prepare" (NIV), "equip" (ESV), "equipment" (RSV), and "equipping" (NASB) is Greek katartismos, from kata, "towards" + artios, "fit, sound, complete." In classical Greek the verb meant "to put in order, restore, furnish, prepare, equip" (BDAG 526; Reinier Schippers, 'Right, artios,' New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Colin Brown (editor; Zondervan, 1975-1978; translated with additions and revisions from Theologisches Begriffslexikon zum Neuen Testament, Coenen, Beyreuther, and Bitenhard, editors), 3:349-351).

[153] C. Peter Wagner, Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow (Regal, 1976, revised 1997). (Wagner was one of my seminary professors, so it's probably not surprising that I agree with most -- but not all -- of his conclusions.)

[154] Examples are Ellen G. White's writings for Seventh Day Adventists, Mary Baker Eddy's writings for Christian Science, the Book of Mormon and Doctrines and Covenants for the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, and notebooks of recent prophecies for Pentecostals.

[155] Some once used 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 to support a "cessationist" position. But most now realize that the "perfect" that is to come is not the New Testament canon (which was once asserted), but Christ at his Second Coming.

[156] Apostolos, BDAG 122.

[157] Didache 11.4-9.

[158] J.B. Lightfoot notes a considerable elasticity in the use of the term "apostle" among the early Church Fathers. He notes, for example, that Clement I of Rome is named as an apostle by Clement of Alexandria (125-215 AD; Stromata 4:17). Lightfoot also observes that the existence of false apostles in Scripture presupposes an open-ended time period for the office (Revelation 2:2; 2 Corinthians 11:13) (J.B. Lightfoot, "The Name and Office of an Apostle," in The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians (1865; Zondervan, 1957), pp. 92-101). Later in his career, C. Peter Wagner (1930-2016) wrote widely on modern-day apostles, and considered himself an apostle. He taught: "An apostle is a Christian leader gifted, taught, commissioned, and sent by God with the authority to establish the foundational government of the church within a defined sphere of ministry by hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches and setting things in order accordingly for the expansion of the kingdom of God" (C. Peter Wagner, Wrestling with Alligators, Prophets and Theologians (Regal, 2010), p. 210). His final book on modern-day apostles is Apostles Today: Biblical Government for Biblical Power (Regal, 2006). I'm not ready to adopt Wagner's definition for myself. My own position is more a functional definition of an apostle.

[159] C. Peter Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow (G/L Regal Books, 1976), p. 208.

[160] Wayne Grudem (who believes in present-day prophecy) notes that none of the great leaders of the Christian church was ever designated as "apostle," and cites Paul's statement, "last of all, as to one untimely born...." (1 Corinthians 15:58) as an indication that we shouldn't expect further apostles (Systematic Theology, pp. 905-911).

[161] Didache 11:10-21; 13:1-8.

[162] Understanding the Gift of Prophecy. I. Is Prophecy Preaching?  https://www.joyfulheart.com/scholar/preach.htm

[163] Diakrinō, BDAG 232, 3b. This is the same word is used later in 1 Corinthians in "discern the body" (1 Corinthians 11:29) and to "judge ourselves" (1 Corinthians 11:31).

[164] "Put out fire" (NIV), "quench" (NRSV, KJV) is sbennymi, "to cause an action, state, or faculty to cease to function or exist, quench, put out." It can be used literally of fire, "extinguish." Here it is used figuratively, "quench, stifle, suppress" (BDAG 917, b).

[165] This word "test" (NIV), "prove" (KJV) is dokimazō, "to make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine" (BDAG 256, 1).

[166] "Hold on" (NIV), "hold fast" (NRSV, KJV) is katechō, "to adhere firmly to traditions, convictions, or beliefs, hold to, hold fast" (BDAG 533, 2b).

[167] "Avoid" (NIV), "abstain from" (NRSV, KJV) is apechomai, "to avoid contact with or use of something, keep away, abstain, refrain from" (BDAG 103, 5). "Form" (NIV, NRSV), "appearance" (KJV) is eidos. It has the basic meaning of "form, outward appearance." Here it means, "a variety of something, kind" (BDAG 280, 2).

[168] Marcus Barth, Ephesians 1-3 and Ephesians 4-6 (Anchor Bible 34 and 34A; Doubleday, 1974), pp. 438-439.

[169] Peter T. O'Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians (The Pillar New Testament Commentary; Eerdmans, 1999), p. 300.

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