There are four major biblical contexts that discuss what we commonly refer to as ”spiritual gifts.” In chronological order, they are 1 Corinthians 12-14, Romans 12:1-8, Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, and 1 Peter 4:10-11.
It is notable that the explanations of spiritual gifts become increasingly simple as the New Testament progresses. 1 Corinthians 12-14 provides a very detailed discussion, especially of revelatory and sign gifts. Romans 12:1-8 builds on the grounding of the previous eleven chapters, and considers how gifts contribute to the overall functioning together of the body. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians focuses in the first three chapters on how the believer comes to have every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, and what are the implications of those blessings. In the remaining three chapters, Paul challenges believers to walk in those blessings. Throughout the letter, Paul emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Finally, in 1 Peter 4:10-11, Peter offers a very simple formula for the use of gifts and their purpose.
By way of introduction, consider the intricacies of the combustion engine. How many of us have the knowledge to explain simply the interworking of the engine? Certainly a much smaller percentage of people understand those concepts than actually get behind the wheel and drive the car. Thankfully, our knowledge of how a car works does not have to extend to the details of engineering principles in order for us to have sufficient knowledge to drive.
Regarding spiritual gifts we discover a similar principle: there is actually not very much Biblical discussion of the nuts and bolts of spiritual gifts, yet believers are taught and exhorted to utilize these gifts properly. We aren’t given the details of the combustion engine, yet we are given enough detail regarding how to operate the car that we can safely and efficiently operate the car and travel from one point to another. Of course, the more information we have the better, but not all information about the vehicle’s anatomy is relevant to its end user operation.
In short, the topic of spiritual gifts is far less complicated than we might think. Let’s not complicate what God hasn’t made complex.
Peter’s commentary on gifts is brief and to the point. He begins, “as each has received a gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10). The NASB translates the Greek charisma as a special gift. The KJV renders it the gift. Both translations take interpretive license. The NASB rendering assumes Peter is talking about individually distributed spiritual gifts, while the KJV assumes the gift is salvation. While the two translations attempt to qualify Peter’s statement, there is no way to dogmatically identify from the (Greek) text which one of these ideas Peter intended. It is best that we simply recognize that each one has received a gift. That gift—whether salvation in general, or a more individual gift—is sufficient for the believer to be empowered to function as God designed.
Peter doesn’t give details of the combustion engine, but he does expect believers to drive the car properly. Believers are to use the gift in serving one another, and this serving is good stewardship of God’s diverse and manifold grace. Incidentally, that last phrase of 4:10 includes the Greek poikiles, meaning diverse or manifold. The inclusion of the term seems to imply that Peter is considering individually distributed and various aspects of grace, rather than the grace of salvation. But again, we cannot be dogmatic on this point. Either way, we are told how to employ the gift: serving one another, and thereby being good stewards of what He has given. In the next verse, Peter describes two kinds of activities based on the gift: speaking and serving.
“Whoever speaks, as one who is speaking the words of God; whoever serves, as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies.” (4:11a). This exhortation does not specify what to do when speaking and serving, but rather how to do it. Our words should be consistent with the words of God, and our serving should be with diligence as empowered by Him. Simple.
Peter presents the purpose of the gift and the employment of the gift in 4:11b: “so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” Again, this is very simple. The purpose is theocentric and doxological—centered on Him and for His glory. Peter’s principles, then, for gifts are as follows:
- Each has a gift to be used for serving others.
- Proper use of the gift(s) is necessary for good stewardship of the grace we have been given.
- Speaking is proper if it is consistent with the words of God.
- Serving is to be with diligence as empowered by God
- The purpose for all this is His glory.
Dr. Christopher Cone serves as Chief Academic Officer and Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Southern California Seminary. He formerly served as President of Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, Professor of Bible and Theology, and as a Pastor of Tyndale Bible Church. He has also held several teaching positions and is the author and general editor of several books. He blogs regularly at drcone.com.