If you want to be an effective leader, it is important for you to know and understand anything you can about how God has gifted you for the responsibility. If you know your strengths and weaknesses, and the strengths and weaknesses of others on your team, you can all work together to complement each others’ giftedness to create a synergy in leadership that is greater that what each of you could do individually.
Having said that, I want to ask two prior questions that I want to address. First, who benefits from the gifts God has give you? Second, what is the foundational motivation for exercising your gifts? The answers to these two questions will shape our understanding of the gift passages in Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 28-30, and Ephesians 4:11.
When we start talking about God’s gifting of leaders, we can easily focus on ourselves and what God is doing in and through us. We may not readily admit it, but we are often thinking, “Look at me! See what I can do or see what gifts God has given me!” This is a dangerous trap that leads to pride and self-confidence. In all three of our passages, the gifts clearly belong to the Lord and are given by God for the benefit of others not the leader.
Look at Romans 12. The passage about gifts is in the context of presenting our lives as a living sacrifice so that we can be changed and transformed, a witness to God’s perfect will (v. 2). In addition the gifts are described in terms of what they do for others. Each gift contributes to the building up of the body—none is complete in itself. When we exercise any of the gifts, we do so for the benefit of the others in the body. Our teaching benefits others, our prophecy is for the benefit of others, our service serves others, and so on. We may benefit from the exercise of the gift also, but the primary beneficiary is others in the body.
We can see a similar pattern in 1 Corinthians 12:7: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” Clearly the beneficiaries are others in the body, not the one to whom a gift is given. The previous verses (4-6) are very clear that all the gifts come from the Holy Spirit, from the same God, and are distributed by the Spirit of God. They are not our possession in the sense that we own and control them. Paul is confronting issues of pride in the church at Corinth where some are saying, “My gift is better than yours.” Again, Paul uses the body image to illustrate how the gifts must work together, each doing their own part. If any gift is not functioning in the body, it is like being a crippled person missing an arm or a leg. “But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (12:24-26).
Finally, in Ephesians 4, Paul again establishes the beneficiaries of the gifts given to leaders. In this passage he is talking about leaders who are apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (sometimes referred to as offices). These leaders are gifts to the body of Christ, for the purpose of equipping God’s “people for the works of service, so that the body of Christ may be build 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 (4:12-13). Clearly, the leaders are important, but their importance is measured by the results in the body, by the people being built up, by the people becoming linked together, by the people becoming mature in their relationship to Christ. There is a clear sense that either we all get there together or none get there! There are no lone leaders at the top—they must have a body they have built up by exercising their gifts.
Motivation for Exercising Our Gifts
My second question about motivation is equally important. If the gifts are given to individuals in the body for the benefit of others in the body, what is the motivation that is behind the exercise of the gifts. To answer this question I will start with 1 Corinthians.
We are all familiar with 1 Corinthians 13, the famous and familiar passage on love. It is often read at weddings to encourage the husband and wife on how to love each other, but its primary context is in the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit for the benefit of the whole body of Christ. This chapter is strategically placed between the introduction of the gifts of the Spirit in chapter 12, and a more detailed description on the exercise of the gift of prophesy in Chapter 14. Furthermore, the introduction of chapter 13 (v. 1-3) describes the use of gifts without love as being worthless. A person can prophesy, can be eloquent and powerful in the process, clearly speaking forth truth from God, but if this is done without a motivation of love, then the person is just making noise—unpleasant noise at that. If the beneficiary of the gift is another, then we need to love that other member of the body of Christ. Our motive is never to be self-serving, or self-promoting, but an expression of God’s love working through us for the blessing and benefit of the recipient.
For example how do we feel when we pray for a person who is sick, injured, or crippled, and they are healed, when at the same time we may be sick, injured, or crippled and God has seemingly not answered our prayers for ourselves. Do we get mad at God? Or jealous of the healing the other person received? Can we continue to pray for others and allow the Spirit to work through us to touch others, even when we are still seeking God for answers to similar prayers for ourselves? This can be a big challenge, but we must remember the gifts are not ours, but they are ours to give away to others as a love-gift from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What an opportunity to witness to God’s love and goodness.
While the 1 Corinthian passages are the most direct in addressing the relationship of the gifts of the Spirit to the motivation of love, the passages in both Romans and Ephesians also discuss the gifts in the context of loving those in the body of Christ. Romans 12:9, for example, begins to address the importance of love in the relationships between believers. Likewise, the Ephesians 4 passage is sandwiched between the prayer that the believers would grow in their knowledge of the all surpassing love of Christ (Eph 3:14-21) and the instructions for relationships in the body that exemplify love (Eph 4:14ff). In this passage itself, Paul states that believers are to be “speaking the truth in love” so that we will grow, together, into the body of Christ, which corresponds to the purpose of the gifts of the leaders to the church to build up the body (3:12-13).
In conclusion, if we are to study the gifts of the Spirit, it is foundational to understand them in the proper perspective. First, the beneficiaries of the gifts are not those who exercise the gifts, but those who are the receivers of the ministry of the gifts. As we exercise any gift of God, we cannot take credit or pride in what we do because it is God who is working through us (1 Cor 12:6), to build up the body together and minister to one another. Likewise, our motivation must be one of love, expressing God’s love to those being ministered to. Or as Peterson says in the Message Bible, “If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate” (1 Cor 13:1). We want to be transmitters of love, not creaking gates, clanging cymbal or clanging gong (NIV).
In Part 2, I will share some thoughts on how our natural abilities and acquired skills are meant to work together with the spiritual gifts from God.