In the last several posts, we’ve been considering what Paul teaches about spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. Paul’s not done with the issue, of course, so neither are we. But it’s time to wrap this section up so we can move on to his understanding of the church as the body of Christ.
In the previous post, I suggested that if you want to know what your gift is, we need to begin with this: your gift, first and foremost, is the Holy Spirit, who will then work in and through you to accomplish God’s will.
Now to be clear: I am not denying that certain people seem to have noticeable God-given abilities that go beyond matters of mere personality and skill. Consider, for example, what happened on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-41): people miraculously began to speak in languages that were not their own. But they didn’t start saying, “Hey, look at me—I have the gift of languages!” It was obvious that this was the work of the Spirit, and its effect was to set the stage for an evangelistic sermon by Peter through which thousands were saved.
You can probably think of people you know that seem gifted in some way that benefits the church. Our congregation recently held a memorial service for a much beloved woman who was recognized to have the gift of prayer. Or you may know a particularly gifted preacher, or someone who is remarkably wise. There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit works in noticeable ways through believers, and sometimes with such consistency that we identify individuals as having specific, nameable gifts: prayer, preaching, and wisdom, but also evangelism, prophecy, and the like.
But what about the people who show up every week to set up the chairs and hug the babies? It’s possible to say that they have “the gift of helps” or “the gift of service.” And that’s not necessarily wrong. But why do we need to say that? Why do we sometimes feel compelled to locate each person’s potential contribution somewhere on an authorized list?
Is it not the work of the Holy Spirit when someone simply sees something that needs to be done and gladly does it? Is it not the work of the Holy Spirit to hear someone’s story of suffering and to pray for them on the spot, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone to do so? Is it not the work of the Holy Spirit to begin telling someone about Jesus, even if done hesitantly, nervously, falteringly? And is there not the opposing danger that we would be tempted to not do these things because we don’t believe we have the right gifts?
We don’t have to wonder if these actions are evidence of the “gifts” of service, prayer, or evangelism. We need only be grateful that God has given us not just the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but the gift of the Holy Spirit, who works in and through us to accomplish his purposes.
If that work takes the form of an identifiable ability, so be it, and praise God. But if it doesn’t, we can praise God anyway—for the point is that he graciously empowers his people to do what needs to be done, whether anyone notices or not.