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A Thought about Spiritual Gifts

Faith Church has been studying the 4 Gs (Gather, Grow, Give, and Go), four characteristics of those who follow Jesus. This past weekend we focused on “Give.” In keeping with that theme, I decided to write this week’s blog on spiritual gifts, as it is part of what we give (our time, talents, and treasures). Of course there are many different elements that could be discussed regarding spiritual gifts, but I would like to focus on a question that has recently come up on a few different occasions -- what is the difference between spiritual gifts and natural talents? Is a spiritual gift simply a “sanctified” natural talent -- a talent that one uses for the glory of God rather than for his or her own benefit? Or do spiritual gifts only “appear” after someone becomes a Christian? Interestingly enough, I pulled a book off the shelf that I read in seminary (one that I have had for almost 15 years now and was written almost 25 years ago) and happened to turn to a page that seemed to discuss this very question.

 

The Quote

In The Church, Edmond Clowney wrote this: “In advancing the work of the Spirit, we cannot sharply separate natural gifts from spiritual gifts. Both come from the Creator Spirit. Both come from the Creator Spirit. There is a difference between those abilities that have been ours from childhood and new gifts that surprise us in service. Yet even our spiritual gifts are often renewed and heightened forms of natural gifts” (pg. 66).

The Implications

This quote is a reminder that the question of whether elements of spiritual gifts are natural abilities or entirely new things may be a false dichotomy -- it need not be an either/or, but potentially a both/and. One person might discover gifts that are reflective of who they were before they were in Christ, while others might find gifts that surprise them because they have become a changed person in Christ. In some ways, I find both to be true of me. People usually view knowledge and teaching as two of my gifts. Knowledge is something that seems to have been a natural aptitude in me, while the ability to teach -- in particular, communicate in front of other people -- is something that really developed in me once I started following Jesus. Speaking in front of others was about the last thing I ever thought I would do when I was in middle school or high school, yet is something that has been affirmed and has been used to bless others during my ministry. Similarly, by nature I am a quiet and reserved person, but something seems to come over me in conversations when they are directed towards spiritual topics that allow me to openly express my thoughts.

The quote also is a good reminder that both spiritual gifts and natural abilities are gifts that are given to us by God and that we are called to use to honor and serve Him. A verse that came to mind as I thought about this topic was 1 Corinthians 4:7: ‘What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” All things in our lives are gifts we have received from God; we need to remember that.

While we often think of gifts we receive to use however we want, we need to remember the metaphor of a steward that Jesus and Paul used to describe Christians. We are not to hide our gifts or use them for ourselves -- stewards are called to be faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2), to do what the Master desires. The design of the gifts God has given us (naturally or supernaturally) is to bring Him glory and build up His church. As Clowney also notes, “We use our gives in order to serve God, not in order to advance ourselves, attract that admiration of others, or even find satisfaction or fulfillment” (pg. 65).

 

The Question to Ask

A danger with this discussion of spiritual gifts and natural talents can be that it remains a theoretical discussion. Rather than talking about gifts in the abstract sense, we need to make sure that we are searching for the gifts we have been given and how we should use these gifts to honor God and build others up. Do you know what gifts God has given you to bless others and build His kingdom? Are you using them?

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