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An Introduction to Spiritual Gifts

June 25, 2023

Teacher: John McLeod
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11


  1. The Importance of Spiritual Gifts
  2. The Source of Spiritual Gifts
  3. The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts
  4. The Lists of Spiritual Gifts

Reading — 1 Cor 12:1-11

  • (1) Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.
  • (2) You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led.
  • (3) Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
  • (4) Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
  • (5) and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;
  • (6) and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
  • (7) To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
  • (8) For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit,
  • (9) to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit,
  • (10) to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
  • (11) All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.


I’m a sucker for spy action films. Mission Impossible, Jason Bourne, an occasional James Bond. Anything to do with the CIA. One of my favorite moments in these movies is when the hero or the team is preparing for the mission, and they go into the top secret vault of top secret spy gear and weapons that will help make their mission achievable.

  • 007 visits the Q Division to get his latest R&D tech and weapons.
  • Ethan Hunt is given futuristic gear by Luther that makes the impossible mission possible.
  • Even in The Incredibles, Edna creates new supersuits for Bob and his family.

In all of these cases you think to yourself, now they have what they need to accomplish the mission.

There is a non-Hollywood version of that mentality for everyday life. It was summarized in the Boy Scout Motto: Be Prepared, and is manifested commercially in EDC—Every Day Carry. It’s basically an industry built around figuring out how to convince middle-aged men to carry more in their pockets and backpacks than they could ever use in any realistic situation.

I like having all kinds of gadgets with me that I might need. I carry many things with me everyday that I use, and many things that I’ve never had to use. All of this is in the pursuit of having what I need to do what I need to do in any situation.

We are beginning a new section today in our study through 1 Corinthians titled “Being God’s People.” For the next three chapters and about the next six sermons, we will be learning about and seeking to put into practice some of the R&D Gear and EDC tools that the Lord has for the building of his church. They are tailor-made for our unique situation and personnel. They are given at the right time and empowered supernaturally to accomplish their purpose.

We’re going to talk about Spiritual Gifts.

  1. The Importance of Spiritual Gifts
  2. The Source of Spiritual Gifts
  3. The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts
  4. The Lists of Spiritual Gifts

Pastoral Prayer

I. The Importance of Spiritual Gifts

1 Corinthians 12:1–3 (ESV)

  • (1) Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed.
  • (2) You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led.
  • (3) Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

Paul gives us a clue in verse 1 that he is addressing something that the Corinthians had asked him about—“now concerning…” As in the earlier parts of the Letter, we do not know exactly what the Corinthians asked him. It seems likely that they were dealing with some tension in the church regarding elevating certain spiritual gifts above other.

We also know that Paul has already been addressing what it actually means to be spiritual.

1 Corinthians 3:1 (ESV) — But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.

He has been clear with them that the presence of some gifts of the Spirit does not indicate that they are mature.

In our text today, Paul will use three different words to refer to spiritual gifts. We see the first here in verse 1. Paul initially is a little ambiguous. The beginning of vs. one could be translated as “now concerning spiritual things” or “spiritual people.” The word is πνευματικός, and Paul will use this word over 20 times throughout this letter. It is always translated as “spiritual.” I do believe that the ESV got it right in indicating this is referring to spiritual gifts. We should notice, though, that he uses the word to indicate spiritual people at the end of this section in 14:37.

1 Corinthians 14:37 (ESV) — If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.

Don’t be ignorant

The point here in verse 1, and the introduction to these three chapters is that Paul does not want them to be ignorant, uninformed, or agnostic about spiritual gifts. This was true for the Corinthian church, but also true for us today. In Chapter 15, Paul will remind them what is of first importance, and that is the Gospel itself. Spiritual gifts don’t make it to that level of importance, but Paul clearly thinks this is a significant issue for the health of the church.

There are disagreements among churches and Christians today about the understanding of spiritual gifts. We should always be humble and teachable, seeking to learn from one another in the body of Christ. But, what we must not do is say that this is an issue that is unimportant. Paul devotes three chapters to this topic, and here we have the longest, most detailed section of scripture in the entire New Testament about how the church relates to itself, and how the public worship in the assembly is to be carried out.

If you are from a different theological tradition that minimizes or limits the importance or use of spiritual gifts, I would simply give you this encouragement. Let the text of scripture speak. Many of the modern objections to the use of spiritual gifts are raised in the name of preserving the integrity of the inspired, complete, inerrant word of God. But, we need not protect the Word of God from itself. Let these passages speak for themselves. Let them shape your own understanding of spiritual gifts.

This is part of my own story. I was raised and theologically trained in a church and denomination that would consider itself a cessationist church, denying the continuation of certain gifts. We were very suspicious of any mention of speaking in tongues or prophesying. But, eventually, I simply listened to what the word of God actually says about these things, and had to change my mind.

We are commanded to pursue them

I’m cheating a bit here, and borrowing from Mike’s text in a few weeks. Paul commands us in Chapter 14 to “earnestly desire spiritual gifts.” In other words, this topic must not merely be academic or theological to us. It should affect us at the level of desire and pursuit.

Spiritual gifts are one of the blessings of the New Covenant

At Pentecost, Peter goes out of his way to explain that the presence of spiritual gifts among the people of God is one of the signs that we’re in the last days. In quoting the prophet Joel, Peter claims.

Acts 2:17 (ESV) — “ ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;

Confusion or conflict regarding gifts are not a reason to avoid them

Paul is obviously correcting some wrong understandings and wrong practices regarding spiritual gifts in these chapters. There are certainly misunderstandings and wrong uses of spiritual gifts in churches today.

We should acknowledge, however that his solution is not to avoid them, but to understand and use them properly. We’ll deal with this more in Chapter 14.

The work of the Holy Spirit is what brought them out of the worship of pagan idols

Paul reminds them of the importance of the work of the Spirit by reminding them what they were, and where they were headed without the Holy Spirit.

  • 1 Corinthians 12:2–3 (ESV) — You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

Without the Holy Spirit, they were being led astray toward mute idols that cannot save, cannot rule, and cannot even speak.

Now, they are able by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit to say, “Jesus is Lord.”

II. The Source of Spiritual Gifts

1 Corinthians 12:4–6 (ESV)

  • (4) Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;
  • (5) and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord;
  • (6) and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.


Here, we finally get to the 2nd word used for spiritual gifts in our passage. We’ve already discussed πνευματικός. Now we come across a new word, χαρισμάτων from χάρισμα. The root of the word emphasizes “grace” from charis. We could translate it as “grace-gift.” My main greek lexicon defines it this way:

  • “special gifts of a non-material sort, bestowed through God’s generosity on individual Christians” (BDAG)

This is the word from whence we derive “charismatic” a in the “Charismatic Movement.” This is meant to highlight the grace-gifts that God grants to his church.

The grace aspect of these gifts is very important. They are not earned or deserved, but given freely to us totally out of God’s gracious generosity to his children.


If I had stopped you in the lobby before church and asked you where spiritual gifts came from, I’m guessing you would say, “from the Holy Spirit.” This would be true, but it would be an incomplete answer. A better answer would be, “from our gracious, Trinitarian God—from the Father, Son, and Spirit.” We see this in vv. 4-6.

  • gifts…Spirit
  • service…Lord
  • activities…God

There is a trinitarian unity to the giving and empowering of spiritual gifts in the believer.

Variety / division / distribution

Paul is also highlighting the variety of spiritual gifts. Perhaps the Corinthians were thinking too narrowly about gifts and only promoting some of the more visible or seemingly-supernatural ones like speaking in tongues. He repeats this use of the word, “varieties.” This gets at the wide array of differences. But this Greek word also gets at the assignment or distribution of those gifts. We see this in vs. 11.

  • 1 Corinthians 12:11 (ESV) — All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

There is more going on here than the mere variety. It is the purposeful distribution of the gifts among believers by the Trinity.

Paul further expands the breadth of what we understand as gifts by adding two more words. We’ve already talked about charismata. Now we get “service” or “ministries’ from the word διακονία, and well as “activities.”

Gundry summarizes these verses like this.

“Gracious” describes the gifts as ill-deserved but given anyway, and these gifts refer to authorized abilities. “Services” connotes the uses to which the abilities are put and implies an obligation to use the gifts in service to others. “Activities” connotes the effort required to use the abilities in such service and implies an assurance of God’s working in and through the use of gifts in serving others.

  • Robert H. Gundry, Commentary on the New Testament, 669.

We’ve looked at the importance of spiritual gifts, as well as their source. Now, let’s briefly consider their purpose.

III. The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts

1 Corinthians 12:7 (ESV)

  • (7) To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Paul gives us yet another word to refer to spiritual gifts—manifestations the Spirit. Another way of saying this would be that spiritual gifts show the Spirit’s work in the church; they reveal the work of the Spirit. Perhaps the Corinthians only thought the ecstatic gifts like tongues showed the Spirit’s power, but Paul reminds them that all the gifts manifest the Spirit.

Those who argue for the cessation of certain gifts make one of their arguments from the question of the purpose of certain gifts. They claim that some of the more miraculous-looking gifts were primarily given to validate the message of the Apostles.

The common good and building of the church

We should notice that in each of the passages discussing spiritual gifts, the author tells us their purpose. Here are some samples. The first example is right here in verse 7. They are given for the common good. Spiritual gifts bless the people of God. They are not just for the person exercising the gift, but for the service of others. Paul expounds on this a bit more in Chapter 14.

  • 1 Corinthians 14:3 (ESV) — On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.

He goes on to say this is for the building up of the church, which is similar to his purpose statement in Ephesians 4.

Ephesians 4:12–13 (ESV) — to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,

Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 14 some of the effects of Spiritual gifts being exercised in the public worship of the church.

1 Corinthians 14:25 (ESV) — the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.

Finally, the Apostle Peter zooms out even more to show the more ultimate aim of the gifts of the Spirit.

1 Peter 4:11 (ESV) — …in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

To each

Before we consider the actual lists of gifts, we should answer a question which you may be asking.

Which Christians possess spiritual gifts?

Simple answer: All Christians.

Look back to the end of vs. 6 and the beginning of vs. 7.

  • 1 Corinthians 12:6–7 (ESV) — …the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given…

This means that all who confess Jesus as Lord, meaning they have the Spirit, also are gifted by the Spirit.

  • do young believers have a spiritual gift? Yes.
  • do immature believers have a spiritual gift? Yes.
  • do cessationist Christians have spiritual gifts? Yes.

Trinity Confession of Faith, 10.6, 10.7

The gifts of the Spirit are given freely by God for the good of his people. He gives gifts according to his good purposes and calls his disciples to earnestly desire these gifts. Both the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit are granted to each Christian, testifying to the love, goodness, and almighty power of our God in transforming his people into his likeness. These gifts are to be earnestly desired in order that the church might be edified. They were granted unto the church until the Lord shall return.

All the gifts of the Spirit listed in the New Testament are available for the church today and should be earnestly desired and exercised for the edification of the church and the advance of the gospel.

IV. The Lists of Spiritual Gifts

There are at least five passages that list spiritual Gifts in the New Testament.

We have our current passage in 1 Cor 12:8-10.

Paul gives a similar list at the end of the chapter.

1 Corinthians 12:28 (ESV) — And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.

A similar list in Romans 12

Romans 12:6–8 (ESV) — Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

A list of people given to the church in Ephesians 4

Ephesians 4:11–12 (ESV) — And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

And finally, we have another list from the Apostle Peter.

1 Peter 4:10–11 (ESV) — As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

There are several things we should notice from these lists. They are not the same. They even list different types of gifts. They are in varying orders and lengths. We should not gather from these combined lists that we have an exhaustive catalog of what could be considered spiritual gifts. They are representative of the kinds of gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to the church.

We could categorize them in different ways. The division that I find the most helpful is taken from 1 Peter 4 itself—to consider them as either speaking gifts or serving gifts.

Another potential kind of gift would be the giving of certain individuals to the church—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers. These are listed as persons, and not merely as certain abilities or characteristics.

One of the theological distinctive of this church is that we are Continuationists, which is just a fancy way of saying we believe all of these gifts still continue in the church today.

Exploring the specific gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10

Don’t forget that we held a Spiritual Gifts Seminar just over a year ago called “Know Your Part: Walking in your Spiritual Gift”, with four separate teachings. That seminar is available on our website, with all of the videos and teaching notes. I borrowed some of the notes for these nine specific gifts from Daniel’s teaching in his seminar.

1. Utterance of Wisdom

  • “Utterance” comes from λόγος — message or word
  • We don’t have an abundance of information from the text about what specifically this gift is, or how it compares with the Utterance of Knowledge.
  • We do know that the Corinthians were very concerned with “wisdom” and “knowledge.” In the first few chapters of this letter, Paul dealt with their wrong ideas about wisdom and knowledge extensively.

1 Corinthians 2:4 (ESV) — and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,

1 Corinthians 2:13 (ESV) — And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

  • Yet, now, Paul begins his list of gifts with a gift of the Word of Wisdom that comes directly from the Holy Spirit.
  • This could simply mean a Spirit-enabled ability to speak godly wisdom and perspective into a situation.
  • As a counselor, I do often pray for supernatural wisdom from God to speak into a situation.

2. Utterance of Knowledge

  • “Utterance” comes from λόγος — message or word
  • Some theologians understand this “knowledge” to be information that the person could not have known by any natural means.
  • Unfortunately, Paul doesn’t give us many details.
  • D.A. Carson thinks Paul wasn’t making a significant distinction between wisdom and knowledge in this letter and was not trying to get at any specific distinctions here.

3. Faith

  • This is obviously not saving faith, since all believers possess saving faith.
  • Rather, it is a particular, God-given confidence in God in a particular situation.
  • Paul gives an example of this in the next chapter.

1 Corinthians 13:2 (ESV) — And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

Carson describes this special gift of faith like this:

This special faith, however, enables a believer to trust God to bring about certain things for which he or she cannot claim some divine promise recorded in Scripture, or some state of affairs grounded in the very structure of the gospel.

  • D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 39.

4. Gifts of Healings

  • I’d like to adjust the ESV translation here slightly. Both words are plural. It’s not “the Gift of Healing” as if there is only one kind and once you have it you always have it. There are multiple gifts of healings.
  • This also indicates that their are multiple types of gifts and multiple types of healings.

Paul is not talking about ‘the gift of healing’ or ‘the healing ministry’. He is encouraging the Corinthians to expect many different ways in which God in his sheer grace gives healing of all kinds to different people, relationships, even situations.

  • Prior, David. The Bible Speaks Today.

5. Workings of Miracles

  • Again, let’s adjust the ESV because both words are plural. It doesn’t make good English, but will help us grasp what Paul is saying. There are multiple “workings of powers” by the Holy Spirit.

Presumably all healings are demonstrations of miraculous powers, but not all miraculous powers are healings: they may include exorcisms, nature miracles, and other displays of divine energy. The close relationship among the gifts of faith, healings, and miracles again suggests that the entries on the list are not quantum packages, each discrete from the others. Rather, there is considerable overlap.

  • D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), 40.

6. Prophecy

  • Prophecy is one of the gifts which we will spend much more time discussing in Chapter 14.
  • But, we generally adopt Wayne Grudem’s definition.

Although several definitions have been given for the gift of prophecy, a fresh examination of the New Testament teaching on this gift will show that it should be defined not as “predicting the future,” nor as “proclaiming a word from the Lord,” nor as “powerful preaching”—but rather as “telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind.”

  • Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Second Edition. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2020), 1293.
  • This is what we pray happens at the Prophecy microphone during our worship service, and also within our times of fellowship together with one another.
  • Paul gives us a specific warning about prophecy in 1 Thessalonians 5.

1 Thessalonians 5:19–21 (ESV) — Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.

7. Ability to Distinguish Between Spirits

In Thessalonians we quoted above, and in 1 Corinthians 14 which we’ll get to in a few weeks, the church is commanded to test and examine what is said—to judge prophecies.

It seems that this next gift is similar to that, but is more specific and incisive. It is the distinguishing between spirits. One way to think of this would be that this person has a Holy Spirit-enabled ability to judge things in the spiritual realm. In a particular person or particular situation, this person would be able to distinguish between…

  • Is this from the Holy Spirit?
  • Is this from demonic spirits?
  • Is this from man’s spirit?

The Apostle John speaks to something similar in 1 John 4:1

1 John 4:1 (ESV) — Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

8. Various Kinds of Tongues

Mike will be preaching on prophecy and tongues from Chapter 14 in a few weeks, but here are some very basic definitions.

Various kinds of tongues refers to speaking prayer or praise in a language that you do not know by the power of the Holy Spirit. There are examples in scripture (Pentecost) when these languages are known languages that the speakers did not know. But these tongues could also be a heavenly language (1 Cor 13:1 - the tongues of men and of angels) or of a prayer language that is unknown.

This gift occurred many times throughout the book of Acts, and it is something which was very prominent in the Church at Corinth. It’s possible that Paul put this and the interpretation of tongues last in this list because the Corinthians had elevated it too much.

9. Interpretation of Tongues

As Paul will explain in Chapter 14, it’s imperative in the public worship gathering that tongues be interpreted so that the hearers understand what is being said. Intelligibility is very important in the worship gathering.

Therefore, there is a separate gift of the interpretation of tongues that is separate from speaking in tongues. At Cornerstone, we do not think of this gift as necessarily a “translation” of what is said in a tongue, but a Holy Spirit enabled articulation of what is being said in a tongue.

The Power and Purposefulness of the Gifts

There are obviously other gifts we could attempt to define, but for today, this is enough. The key for us to remember right now, however, is that these gives are given and empowered by the Spirit. Look back in vs. 11.

1 Corinthians 12:11 (ESV) — All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

Paul is highlighting that no one can claim superiority because he or she has a particular gift. He will spend the remainder of this chapter debunking that thought. Each of these gifts is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Amazingly, the power of God is working through these spiritual gifts in individual believers in order to manifest the Spirit for the common good. God is doing this to show that he is among them—that he is among us.

Like the Corinthian church, we long to experience the powerful working of God and demonstration of his mighty works among us.

I also don’t want us to miss the intentionality of the Holy Spirit in apportioning these gifts. It’s not random or haphazard. It’s not based on Spiritual maturity or position. They are given by his grace and by his will to specific individuals within specific churches.

One of the reassuring aspects of this verse, and of being a Continuationist, is that God is not limited to giving these gifts to those who are Continuationists. He gives his gifts to his children for the common good and the building up of the church until the Lord’s return.

Our prayer as elders and as a church is that we would welcome, pursue, and walk in the good gifts that God has for us for his Glory and the building up of the church.

Conclusion / Application

Everyday Carry doesn’t work for Spiritual Gifts

There are at least two problems with adopting EDC as your spiritual model.

  1. The first problem is that you end up carrying many things with you that you may never need or don’t really have the skill to use.
  2. The other problem is that it assumes that the solution depends on you alone. You must plan as if you’re the only supplier of all the things you might need.
  3. It is a model of independence and self-sufficiency.

Christianity is a model of dependence and partnership together with other believers.

What to do next

Remember that this is the first of six sermons dealing with the gifts of the Spirit in the church.

  • Read Chapters 12-14 multiple times.
  • Write down any questions you have. Consider sending any questions to the elders so that we can work hard to answer them.
  • Let the Bible speak for itself on this topic. We don’t have to protect the Bible from itself.
  • Review the Spiritual Gifts seminar we did last year.
  • Review the sermon from Pentecost Sunday a few weeks ago.
  • Pray that God would help us practice spiritual gifts and receive the benefit from them.

Recent Messages

Here are some other recent messages.

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