Does Every Believer Have a Spiritual Gift?
The phrase “spiritual gift” is only employed five times in the NASB New Testament. In Romans 1:11 (χάρισμα ὑμῖν πνευματικὸν—charisma humin pneumatikon) it is in reference to something Paul wanted to impart to the entire church at Rome. In 1 Corinthians 12:1, Paul prefaces the entire discussion of manifestations of the Spirit with the expressed desire that the Corinthians be aware of spiritual gifts. But while the Greek includes spiritual (πνευματικῶν—pneumatikon), it does not include any term for gifts.Thus, while the NASB reading implies that the context following 12:1 is a discussion of spiritual gifts, the Greek does not necessarily support that implication. In 1 Corinthians 14:1 and 12 likewise, the NASB includes the phrase “spiritual gifts,” but the Greek only includes the term “spiritual” (πνευματικά/πνευμάτων—pneumatika/pneumatōn) and no term from which the NASB translates “gifts.”
Finally, in 1 Timothy 4:14 Paul warns Timothy not to neglect the spiritual gift within him. In light of the limited number of references in the NASB (five), and the even smaller number of actual references in the Greek (two), there is no biblical data to support the idea that every believer has, specifically, a spiritual gift. On the other hand, there is data that supporting every believer’s having a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7).
1 Corinthians 12:4-7 describes the manifestation (φανέρωσις, phanerōsis) of the Holy Spirit given to each believer, in three different forms: gifts (χαρισμάτων—charismatōn, 12:4), ministries (διακονιῶν—diakoniōn, 12:5), and effects (ἐνεργημάτων—energematōn, 12:6). There is a diversity of forms given within and to the body, and not every member of the body is necessarily given all three forms. In this context, there is no explicit statement that every believer is given a spiritual gift, but rather simply the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (12:7).
How that manifestation is dispersed is determined by the will of the Spirit. Some are given gifts, while others are given ministries or services, while still others are given effects or activities. Paul makes no effort to comprehensively categorize the specific examples mentioned in verses 8-10, though he does categorize two: gifts of healing (12:9, 28, 30) and effecting of miracles (12:10). The remainder of the list remains uncategorized: prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, tongues, and interpretation of tongues. It is evident that Paul’s intent is not a precise catalogue of the Spirit’s manifestations and their categories. Instead, his emphasis is the common Source (the Holy Spirit) and purpose (the common good) of these manifestations.
Romans 12:6-8 describes us as having (ἔχοντες—exontes) gifts according to the grace given us. While again Paul doesn’t reference each example specifically as a gift, the implication is that they are each gifts: prophecy, service (διακονίαν—diakonian, the same word translated by the NASB as “ministries” in 1 Cor 12:5), teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, and mercy. Two things should be noted here. First, Paul does not refer to these as spiritual gifts at all. The term charismata (χαρίσματα) simply references a gift of grace. To categorize these all as spiritual gifts isn’t warranted in this context from Paul’s verbiage. Second, at least some aspects of teaching (Col 3:16), exhorting (1 Thes 5:11), and giving (2 Cor 9:6-8) are the common expectation of all believers, not just those who have particular gifts.
1 Peter 4:10 notes that “each one has received a gift [χάρισμα—charisma],” and provides only two examples: speaking and serving (4:11). Either he is identifying two categories of gifts (those that involve speaking and those that involve serving), or he is citing two specific gifts as examples, both of which functions seem to be common expectations of all believers (see Eph 5:19 and Gal 5:13, though δουλεύετε—douleuete is used here rather than διακονέω—diakoneō, as is used in 1 Pet 4:10-11).
Though there is no explicit claim that every believer has a spiritual gift, there is clear evidence that every believer has a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and that manifestation can take a number of forms. Certainly, believers have gifts from God, and if one wanted to call those gifts “spiritual gifts,” since they are all connected to the Holy Spirit, that doesn’t seem too problematic—as long as we handle the biblical terminology with precision. But practically speaking, there is much data given regarding the source of the manifestations and gifts, and regarding the purpose. So rather than focus, to the point of paralysis, on identifying exactly how the Spirit is manifesting in our lives, we should simply be submitted to Him and eager to meet whatever opportunity He provides us to be of benefit to the body.
Do I have any “spiritual gifts”? I have absolutely no idea, and am not even a bit concerned about that uncertainty. I am, on the other hand certain of the Spirit’s manifesting Himself in our lives for the good of those in Christ. If we are allowing His word to dwell richly in us, we can be confident that He will grant us whatever enablement is needed to meet the opportunity of the moment, for His glory. He tells us that much, even if He doesn’t tell us every detail of how He accomplishes that in us.
Christopher Cone Bio
Christopher Cone (ThD, PhD) is the President of Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, pastor of Tyndale Bible Church and author and editor of several books.
Thanks for this article!
When someone asks me what my spiritual gift is, I am insulted that they assume I only have one. I am of the persuasion that all Christians have at least one, but many (in my opinion, most) have more than one. I agree, though, that the term “gifts” is not always stated as such, although I think that this is understood from the greater context of Scripture — or possibly that we may be trying to be extremely precise. And that has its place, too.
"The Midrash Detective"
I appreciate Chris’ analysis. I don’t think I’ve seen the relevant passages all brought together in a piece this short and clear before. In the end, we know that we have abilities and opportunities given to us graciously by God to use for His glory. To me, that adds up to “gift,” though not necessarily specifically gifts of the Spirit in every case.
The emphasis in the passages involved is on being humbly thankful and striving to use what we have as good stewards of grace, not, as Chris pointed out, on classifying and cataloging “what gift” it is.
Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.