God has given us spiritual gifts for many purposes. Ultimately, all of these gifts have been provided to equip us to glorify God.
The gifts of the Spirit were given “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect [complete, mature] man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ . . . speaking the truth in love, [that we] may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:12–13, 15).
To Manifest God’s Presence in the Body of Christ on Earth
Jesus is our perfect example; He exemplified all the spiritual gifts through the words He spoke and the actions He carried out. Since Jesus is now at the right hand of God the Father, the Holy Spirit is the primary manifestation of the presence of God on the earth. Thus our heavenly Father distributes the gifts of the Spirit among the members of His Body, so believers now glorify God through those gifts.
“Since the Holy Spirit is the one who shows or manifests God’s presence in the world, it is not surprising that Paul can call spiritual gifts ‘manifestations’ of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12:7). When spiritual gifts are active, it is another indication of the presence of God the Holy Spirit in the Church” (Grudem, page 639).
One of the Spirit’s “primary purposes in the new covenant age is to manifest the presence of God, to give indications that make the presence of God known. And when the Holy Spirit works in various ways that can be perceived by believers and unbelievers, this encourages people’s faith that God is near and that he is working to fulfill his purposes in the church and to bring blessing to his people” (Grudem, page 641).
Remind Us of Our Dependence Upon One Another
Rather than giving each believer all of the gifts, the Lord chose to give each of His children one motivational gift and an unlimited number of ministry and manifestation gifts. He did this so that no one would “think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.
“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry [serving], let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth [organizing], with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness”(Romans 12:3–8).
As our understanding of the spiritual gifts matures, our appreciation for all the members of the Body is magnified. For example, if you have the motivational gift of mercy, God has given you a heightened sensitivity to the hurts of others (so that He might express His compassion to them through you). Until you understand that everyone else is not supposed to be as sensitive to others’ hurts (to the degree that you discern them and want to respond to them), you will probably be tempted to condemn others as callous and heartless.
Our human nature, which naturally operates pridefully, assumes that “my perspective” is always the right perspective—and usually the “only” perspective. If you think that way, you are deceiving yourself. Yes, your perspective is valid—and essential—but it is not the only right perspective.
If others seem insensitive to someone’s hurts, it’s probably because God has not given them a spiritual gift that includes the “mercy-giver’s” heightened sensitivity to others’ suffering. Others are not being callous; they simply do not “see” as you see. In fact, others will be sensitive to needs to which you are totally oblivious, such as (1) the suffering person’s financial needs or (2) the need to be shown the truth about the situation that is causing the suffering or (3) the need to mow the sufferer’s overgrown lawn, which is frustrating his wife and his neighbors!
In this scenario, the giver would be quick to discern the financial needs, because God has given the giver a heightened sensitivity to them. The prophet, exhorter, and teacher would be especially sensitive to the need to point out God’s commands, promises, and precepts to the suffering person, so that he might obey God, be encouraged, and know the truth (which can set him free from bondage, i.e. types of suffering to which the mercy-giver is not as sensitive). The server would be quick to notice and address practical needs around the hospitalized person’s house, like an overgrown lawn. As different members of the Body of Christ discern each of these areas of need, all of the suffering person’s needs can be addressed and God will be glorified.
We need each other desperately. God has not given “the whole picture” to any individual, but He has given each of us a “window” through which we are to perceive one another’s needs—by using our spiritual gifts. All the needs cannot be met unless the Body of Christ is thriving, practicing our gifts in love.
To Build Unity in the Church
Spiritual gifts are given to the Church to unite it, not to divide it. (See John 17:21–22.) In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul exhorts believers to endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), and he explains that God gave the ministry gifts (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) “for the perfecting of the saints . . . till we all come in the unity of the faith” (Ephesians 4:12–13).
Wayne Grudem, in his book titled Systematic Theology, offers these insights about the Holy Spirit’s role in building that “unity of the faith”:
Paul’s discussion of spiritual gifts also repeats this theme of the unifying work of the Holy Spirit. Whereas we might think that people who have differing gifts would not readily get along well with each other, Paul’s conclusion is just the opposite: differing gifts draw us together, because we are forced to depend on each other. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’ ” (I Cor. 12:11).
These differing gifts, Paul tells us, are empowered by “one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (I Cor. 12:11), so that in the church, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (I Cor. 12:7). In fact, “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (I Cor. 12:13, author’s translation).
The idea that the Holy Spirit unifies the church is also evident in the fact that “strife . . . disputes, dissensions, factions” (Gal. 5:20 NASB) are desires of the flesh that are opposed to being “led by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:18, cf. v. 25). The Holy Spirit is the one who produces love in our hearts (Rom. 5:5; Gal. 5:22; Col. 1:8), and this love “binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14). Therefore when the Holy Spirit is working strongly in a church to manifest God’s presence, one evidence will be a beautiful harmony in the church community and overflowing love for one another (Grudem, pages 646–647, emphasis added).
To Edify the Church—Individually and Corporately
God gives us spiritual gifts for the edification of the Church (I Corinthians 14:12), to build up the Body of Christ in love and unity, “that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 4:11). As God distributes His gifts among His people, His power, love, and wisdom are displayed gloriously and the Body of Christ is edified. “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (I Corinthians 12:7).
The Apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthian believers, clearly identifying edification of the Church as the main purpose for the manifestation of the gifts: “Forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church” (I Corinthians 14:12; see also I Corinthians 14:3, 26, and Ephesians 4:10–16).
The spiritual gifts (motivational, ministry, and manifestation gifts) are God’s provision to equip His children to minister to others “in ways beyond mere human capability and ingenuity. It is a manifestation of the Divine Presence when an ordinary human suddenly is given illumination of unknown facts and wisdom how to meet a difficult problem, or can discern what is an evil spirit, or can believe for a miracle, or can administer healing to an incurable, or can speak forth a message from the Lord in his own language or in one he has never learned, or interpret an utterance given in an unknown language” (Rea, pages 133–134). (See I Corinthians 12:7–11.)
The gifts of the Spirit are never an end in themselves. They are tools with which we can articulate the love of God to all men. They are not mysterious powers that can be bought or sold (see Acts 8:9–24); the gifts are bestowed upon God’s children by their Father, at His discretion and for His glory. “All these [gifts] are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (I Corinthians 12:11, ESV).
To Reveal the Living God to Unbelievers
The Spirit of God works through the spiritual gifts in ways that can be perceived by both believers and unbelievers. Believers are encouraged through the manifestation of the spiritual gifts because they are reminded that God truly is near and is actively, diligently, carefully, and thoroughly carrying out His will in the earth. Unbelievers come face to face with the reality of the living God as He displays His power, His love, and His wisdom through His people. (See I Corinthians 14:1–40.)
In his letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul explained one way that the spiritual gifts of tongues, interpretation of tongues, and prophecy can be manifested as tools of evangelism: “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth” (I Corinthians 14:22–25).
To Bring Glory to God
God has given gifts to the Body of Christ to manifest His presence among us, to remind us of our dependence upon one another and thus build unity in the Church, to edify the Church individually and corporately, and to reach the lost. Through the spiritual gifts (motivational gifts, manifestation gifts, and ministry gifts), the believer is humbled, fulfilled, encouraged, and made useful in the hands of our Master, to whom all glory is due.