What Makes a Spiritual Gift a “gift”?

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8 minutes

Before we get too deep into our look at Spiritual Gifts we need to address the issue of what makes a spiritual gift a “gift” rather than a talent, calling, or position. How do we differentiate between them?

First Corinthians 12:28 says, “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.”

Notice the word “appointed.” In Greek, it is tithēmi and means “to put in place.” Jesus used it in John 15:16 when referring to his disciples: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed (tithēmi) you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.”

Apostles, Prophets & Teachers

According to Paul, the first three gifts he discusses here—apostles, prophets, and teachers—are by appointment. These first three appointments were instrumental in building up the church and establishing it in the early years. Jesus himself appointed those we know as apostles. He blessed them and sent them out to establish his church. But were these appointments spiritual gifts as well?

“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.” 

1 Corinthians 12:4-6

Paul makes it clear right from the start—every gift, ministry, or activity comes from God, who works His will through them all. So why did Paul make a distinction between apostles, prophets, and teachers? Are these three “positions” or spiritual gifts? If they are positions, how did we come to recognize them as gifts? Can they be both?

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.” 

Ephesians 4:11

Here, Paul add evangelists and pastors to the list. Teachers can interpret God’s Word and speak forth on it. This is something both evangelists and pastors do as well. So Paul is not necessarily adding another group to the list. He is just broadening the scope of what teaching can look like and from whom.

Pastors & Evangelists

The word “pastor” comes from the Greek word poimen, meaning “to shepherd or manage.” It is a position, not a spiritual gift. While pastors preach from the Word, they require other spiritual gifts to interpret it.

The word “evangelist” means anyone who brings a message of “good news.” For the Christian, that message is forgiveness of sins and salvation in Jesus Christ. So the “position” of an evangelist is something all Christians are to be actively engaged in. An evangelist is not just a celebrity preacher you see on TV who draws huge crowds to hear them speak. An evangelist is anyone who shares the “good news” about Jesus with someone else. Something all Christians are called to do (Matthew 28:18–20). But it is one thing to “share” what you know and quite another to interpret the Scriptures.

“Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

James 3:1

In other words, those who teach from the Word of God must know it and not take it out of context, keeping the whole counsel of God close to their hearts as they seek to rightly interpret it. Why? Because those who teach from the Word of God are responsible for the growth and edification of the church body and for ensuring no false doctrine is taught. Ultimately, God will hold teachers accountable for what they teach others from His Word.

Teachers & Prophets

Those who teach from God’s Word have a “gift” for making things clear to others. To put this in context, the gift of teaching makes up several spiritual gifts. But being a teacher is not a spiritual gift. It is a position. Instead, the gifts a teacher possesses in order to teach—prophecy, exhortation, wisdom, discernment, and knowledge (to name a few)—make up the “gift of teaching,” enabling teachers to carry out their role. I hope that makes sense.

Previously, we talked about the gift of prophecy. There is a difference between the gift of prophecy and being a prophet. One encourages, edifies, and comforts (1 Cor. 14:3). At the same time, the other (a prophet) receives direct revelation from the Lord regarding the spiritual condition of God’s people or future events. Usually, these prophets herald warnings from God of coming judgment, with promises of blessings if people repent and turn back to Him. So a “prophet” is not a spiritual gift, but the gift of prophecy is.

Apostles vs. Apostleship

As for the role of apostle, this is not a spiritual gift. An apostle was someone who had seen Jesus and was an eyewitness to his resurrection (Acts 1:21-22). Some believe that anyone who plants a church is an apostle. This would be unbiblical, as an apostle (by Peter’s own definition) is someone who has seen the Lord, talked to Him, or witnessed his resurrection.

Since those who go out to establish new churches have never seen the Lord and were not eyewitnesses to his resurrection, they cannot be his apostles. They may say they have a “gift” of apostleship to be able to establish a church, but the gifts necessary to establish a church would be the gifts of administration, faith, discernment, and wisdom. 

Are There Apostles Today?

As I stated, an apostle is not a spiritual gift. Only those who had seen and spoken with Jesus held that position in the early church. Those who call themselves apostles today are using the word falsely, for there is no such position in the church today.

Paul stresses the importance of edification in the church and the purpose behind spiritual gifts. For example, the gift of prophecy is used to edify the church, as all gifts should be used to edify the church. Paul even says concerning the gift of tongues, “If I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?” (1 Cor. 14:6) In other words, if the gift you have is not being used to edify the church, what is the point of having it?

The Differences Between a Talent, A Calling and a Gift

A talent is something you are naturally born with. You have a passion for a calling, and a spiritual gift is how you fulfill that calling.

For example, I had a talent for singing when I was growing up. I was professionally trained, and my career as a singer was an open road before me. And right in the middle of it all, I accepted Christ as my Saviour. I had a choice: sing for God or continue as planned and go for a music career.

I chose to sing for God, much to my instructor’s dismay, who had dreams of sending me on to Julliard’s (her alma mater) in New York to study opera. She was quite furious with me, actually. But God had grabbed me, and I wanted to honour Him with the voice He gave me by using it to tell others about Him. In fact, I was compelled to use my voice that way as a “teaching” tool. I didn’t realize then about the spiritual gifts God had given me, but He knew and uniquely prepared me to use them.

Your Passion is Your Calling

At one point, I might have said singing was my passion or calling. But now, when I look back on my life and see where God directed my focus, I know that my “passion” is studying His Word and sharing it with others. He has called me to teach and has given me the spiritual gifts to carry that out.

When I sang, I often tried to use my songs to teach a lesson about God. In fact, I was so focused on getting that message across that one gentleman said to me once that I talked too much during the concert and needed to stop. He said, “People come to hear you sing, not preach.” Clearly, my passion—or “calling”—(my gift) was teaching, not singing, and I was trying to use it without realizing it at the time.

Talents Are Not Spiritual Gifts

My talent was something I could use to honour God, but it was not a spiritual gift. This is probably why God orchestrated events where I would permanently lose my singing voice (a botched emergency operation damaged my vocal chords), as I was taking way too long (30 years) to put the gift He gave me (teaching) to good use.

As we journey through the Gifts of the Spirit, you might begin to notice that your passions reflect the spiritual gifts you have been given. Yes, our talents may dictate our career options or positions in the church. And they may even point the way to our underlying gifts. But “talents” are not gifts any more than a position in the church, such as pastor, prophet, or teacher, is a spiritual gift. Keep that in mind as we journey through the Gifts of the Spirit, as it will help you to understand your role in the church body and what gifts you have been given to fulfill that role. 

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One response to “What Makes a Spiritual Gift a “gift”?”

  1. […] can you tell if you have the gift of teaching? Previously, we established that a teacher is not a gift and that the “gift of teaching” is a combination […]

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