Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 ESV
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul provides us with some indispensable teaching regarding the Holy Spirit and His role in distributing spiritual gifts to the people of God. This is a hot-button topic in the church over the years, and has often been a much-debated one. But it is interesting to note that when Paul refers to spiritual gifts in verse one of this chapter, he uses the Greek word, pneumatikos. Typically, this word gets translated as “spiritual gifts”, but it literally means “spirituals”. It is a rather difficult Greek word that doesn’t translate well into English. It is the same word that Paul uses in Romans 1:11 when he writes, “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” Obviously, Paul was not able to give anyone a spiritual gift. That is the sole prerogative of the Holy Spirit. The New Living Translation gives what is probably a more precise take on the word Paul is using by translating it as “special abilities the Spirit gives us.” These special “anointings” are given by the Spirit to each and every believer. In The Message, Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Scriptures, he describes these Spirit-given abilities as “the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives.”
As believers in Jesus Christ, we have been given the Spirit of God to live within us. His presence produces within us and through us these “spirituals,” these special manifestations that reveal His power and influence over us. They take the form of “gifts”, which we derive from the Greek word, “charisma.” They are outward, visible expressions of the Holy Spirit who is within us. These “spirituals” come in a variety of forms, Paul tells us. But they all come from the same source: The Spirit of God. They are Spirit-produced and other-focused. They are designed “for the common good” of the body of Christ. As we allow the Holy Spirit to control us, He flows through us, influencing our behavior and impacting all those around us. In his letter to the Ephesian churches, Paul wrote, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:18-19 ESV). Everyone knows what someone operating “under the influence” of alcohol looks like. It’s not a pretty picture. They say and do things they wouldn’t normally do. Their behavior changes. We even say things like, “that’s the alcohol talking.” So a person who is operating “under the influence” of the Spirit also has their behavior changed. The Holy Spirit produces “the spirituals” in his or her life.
Paul says, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV). The Greek word Paul used is phanerōsis and it means “expression.” It is a visible expression of the invisible Holy Spirit who lives within each and every believer. His presence in our lives is proven as these “spirituals” are shared within the body of Christ. Paul lists a few of these “gifts” or graces given to us by the Spirit. Sometimes we focus all our attention on the particular gifts he lists and neglect to recognize their source or their purpose. They are Spirit-given. They are other-oriented. They are gifts we receive, not talents we acquire. They are for the common good of the body of Christ, not to make us feel good about ourselves. Paul tells us that, whatever the nature of the “spiritual” the Holy Spirit gives a particular believer, they are “all empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each on individually as he wills” (1 Corinthians 12:11 ESV). In other words, He gives what He gives to whomever He chooses to give it based solely on grace, not merit. It has nothing to do with talent or ability. It doesn’t factor in intellect or influence. But the Spirit alone decides what is needed, how that need will be met, and who He will use to meet it.
Rather than worrying about what “gift” you have, why not trust the Spirit to produce “the spirituals” through you as He sees fit. These divine giftings are desperately needed by the body of Christ. But we must remember that they are spiritual and not physical. They are eternal and not temporal. They are Spirit-produced, not man-made. They are manifestations of the Spirit’s presence in us and influence over us. Just as alcohol or drugs can take over a person’s body and dramatically alter their personality, the Holy Spirit can radically influence the behavior of each and every believer. He can fill us and overflow out of us, for the common good.
Over in his letter to the Romans, Paul gives us some wise counsel concerning our Spirit-given gifts. “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly” (Romans 12:6-8 NLT). Our Spirit-given gifts do not belong to us. They are for others. And what our gift is matters less than how we use it. When we allow the Spirit to work in us and through us, He will use us to build up the body of Christ. And He will use others to build us up at the same time. The “spirituals” are non-negotiable essentials to a healthy church.