As believers, we are interrelated in a spiritual unity. Christ has designed us to work uniquely but harmoniously as His Body on earth - to be His own hands, His own feet, His own voice. We share a common life, a common ministry, a common power, and, above all, a common Head. We are endowed in countless combinations of the specific gifts mentioned here and elsewhere in the New Testament. But it is our Lord’s design and desire that our diversity in spiritual gifts be manifested in unity of spiritual service.
Romans 12:6-8 is one of those places in Scripture where the issue of spiritual giftedness is directly addressed. Here we read, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
This listing of gifts is not exhaustive, but is rather an instruction on how any giftedness from God is to be used. Clearly in this passage we see words that indicate that any special spiritual ability which we might have is not something that we mustered up by our own effort, but is rather a gift given to us according to the grace of God. Our gifts are determined by God. By His grace they are bestowed upon us and upon the body as a whole. Grace is God’s unmerited kindness on His part, which is the only source of all spiritual enablement. They are not earned or deserved, or they would not be by grace. Furthermore, God is totally sovereign in their allocation. God alone makes the choice as to what gifts each of His children receives.
Our responsibility is to exercise those gifts (plural on purpose) which He has given to us according to their nature. And in clarifying this we are given specific examples, which are:
Prophecy is the supernatural spiritual ability to publicly proclaim the Word of God causing it to turn on the light in people in an impactful way. This gift is put in action in the ways in which God has enabled you, whether as a gifted preacher or a strong encourager who timely presents key passages of Scripture which speak to the heart of an individual or group of people.
Service (or helps) is the supernatural spiritual ability to come alongside others and help them and in so doing lift or lighten their burden causing the other to be strengthened or encouraged. We are all called to serve, but for some they are supernaturally wired to go above and beyond.
Those who are gifted in teaching are to do so by accurately teaching, by doing the studying and then the explaining so that others can understand and apply spiritual truths effectively to their daily lives. This can be done face to face, in groups, and even through the writing of a book or today even a blog. There are many natural teachers who can give understanding to any number of subjects, but the one with the spiritual gift of teaching is specifically enabled by God’s Spirit to teach in such a way that it leads to spiritual change and produces eternal consequences.
The one who is gifted in exhortation is able “to comfort, help, advise, or strengthen.” This person has the supernatural spiritual ability to challenge and encourage individuals from the word of God. It is the unnatural ability to come alongside a person who may be hurting spiritually or emotionally and offer them a word of comfort concerning the past and a word of encouragement, admonishment (truth in love), and challenge so that they will be able to walk in the steps of the Spirit in the future. This gift, unlike teaching which is directed at one’s head or thinking, is directed at one’s heart or emotions or conscience. It is the gift of strengthening. It is the ability to get alongside someone who has a problem and build him, encourage him, strengthen him, and bear his load.
The spiritual gift of “giving” is the supernatural spiritual ability to give financially or materially to the needs of others within the body of Christ or the community in which they live. They express this spiritual gift in simplicity to the glory of God without drawing attention to themselves. All Christians are exhorted to give, but the person with the gift of giving gives beyond normal. He or she has the superlative quality of committing earthly possessions to the Lord for His use with no thought of return or gain for self in any way.
Leadership is the supernatural spiritual ability to stand before a group of people and lead them in a deep walk with the Lord, or mission project, the building of a new community of Christians, or an elders meeting, etc. This person is instructed to lead with diligence or zeal, or to do so with great enthusiasm, dedication, and heart, being fully committed to the direction which he is asking others to follow.
And the last one mentioned in this passage is mercy. The gift of mercy is the enablement to sympathize with a suffering person—to come alongside the poor, the sick, the destitute, the orphan, the widowed, and those in prison, and minister to them. And maybe you won’t give them anything, except your heart.
W. A. Criswell tells a beautiful story of a little girl who came home from school and said, “Mommy, my best friend came to school today and said that her mother died.” The mother said to her little child, “Well, what did you say to her, dear?” The child replied, “Oh, I didn’t say anything, mother. I just went over to her desk, sat beside her, and cried with her.” The gift of mercy includes sympathy.
Each of these gifts and those mentioned elsewhere are specifically selected by God and distributed by the Holy Spirit so that we might effectively serve our Lord. And as it states elsewhere in Scripture, these gifts are specifically given to build up the body of Christ so that we might all reach maturity and be effective for God’s intended ends. These gifts are given purposefully and they are intended that we be purposeful in exercising them, just as we are to use everything that God has given us. Not being gifted in a certain area does not excuse us from participating in a certain function, but it may mean that we don’t do it quite as well as another. We are not judged by how well we do something, but we are rewarded by God for how faithful we are in what we do with what He has given us.
God has placed us in the body of Christ so that we might together be used powerfully by Him to shine a light to the rest of the world who so desperately needs to know Him. And he has not left us on our own to figure this out. He has given us His Word to direct our steps and His Spirit to illumine our path and to enable us for the journey. As we are saved by faith, so are we called to live. As His Spirit moved in our hearts to turn on the light switch so that we see, and know, and trust, so are we called to walk according to that same Spirit.
“For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6, NASB95)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:8–10, NASB95)
“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25, NASB95)