What Are “Spiritual Gifts”, and What Is UCG Up To?


Some train wrecks are epic fails

Like other forms of evangelical Protestantism, Pentecostalism adheres to the inerrancy of scripture and the necessity of accepting Christ as personal Lord and Savior. It is distinguished by belief in the baptism with the Holy Spirit as an experience separate from conversion that enables a Christian to live a Holy Spirit-filled and empowered life. This empowerment includes the use of spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues and divine healing–two other defining characteristics of Pentecostalism. Because of their commitment to biblical authority, spiritual gifts, and the miraculous, Pentecostals tend to see their movement as reflecting the same kind of spiritual power and teachings that were found in the Apostolic Age of the early church. For this reason, some Pentecostals also use the term Apostolic or full gospel to describe their movement.

~ Wikipedia, “Pentecostalism” (bolding mine)

As I said before about this, the above sort of describes the “holy roller” experience my mom had when growing up.  The kids weren’t allowed to dance, play cards or wear makeup, but they could whoop it up and roll in the aisles at church.  I often stated that they weren’t allowed to have any fun except at church.

Seriously, though, this is the roots of the “spiritual gifts” movement permeating much of evangelicalism.  This is why it concerns me.  Evangelicals tone it down a lot, but that’s a lot like saying Christmas is OK because we’re celebrating Jesus’ birth, is it not?

I was sent an authentic looking scan of a portion of the United News Australia, November 2013, and it contains information on a women’s retreat conducted the weekend of 26 July.

All in all, it was a more or less bland article as in regards to exactly what spiritual gifts are.  It starts off with some weird stuff about each lady choosing a picture of a teddy bear and then describing their “inner lady bear”.  I’m sort of wondering if this is the sort of thing that goes on in most women’s retreat.  This reminds me so much of the ridiculous team building and other exercises managers in some companies have to go through.  With a beginning like that, who knows what was really discussed and learned at such a conference?

There are only four places in the KJV that “spiritual gifts” is even a phrase, and I remind you that three of them have “gifts” in italics, which means that the KJV translators added the word to make the sentence “clearer”!

The one passage where it is a legitimate phrase?  Romans 1:

8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;

10 Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.

11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;

12 That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.

~ Ro 1:8-12

Charisma Is Not Charismatic

What is the topic here?  Obviously, he wants to go to Rome, as he’s never been there before.  It is why a lot of NT scholars like the Book of Romans so much.  Paul had never been there!  So, he cannot assume the things he can take for granted in the churches he founded, and he covers a wide range of topics in the book.

He wants to share with their faith (notice that is the secondary topic at hand), and he welcomes the opportunity to finally meet and teach them.  This is why the letter was written!  It is obvious that they had an entire range of questions, and he is imparting spiritual instruction through his epistle!  This is the only place that is legitimately translated “spiritual gift”!

In fact, notice what Strong’s says of charismaG5486:

I. a favour with which one receives without any merit of his own

II. the gift of divine grace

III. the gift of faith, knowledge, holiness, virtue

IV. the economy of divine grace, by which the pardon of sin and eternal salvation is appointed to sinners in consideration of the merits of Christ laid hold of by faith

So, we see here in the definition the very two items Paul is interested in with his interactions with the church at Rome!

If the word charisma sound familiar, and I’m not talking about personal charisma or, worse, “charismatic” here, then perhaps you’ve done a study on the word “grace”.  Grace comes from charis, Strong’s G5485.  It can be translated as grace, good will, or, perhaps best of all, favor.  The very first definition Strong’s lists is “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness”, and it gives “grace of speech” as an example.

Think about what a gift under proper circumstances does, and you can easily see the connection.  A gift should show favor towards someone, and, hopefully, it will delight the one receiving it.  One is favor and good will, and the other is showing that favor and good will through a selfless act.

One such act should be obvious, and the gift should be obvious.  Jesus Christ showed us great favor by His death.  The gift of eternal life is possible only through His action and the Father’s directive.  Can any “spiritual gift” exceed that?

However, is “gift” even the right word?  Charisma is not something tangible.  Even a resurrected spirit being is spirit and not physical.  It doesn’t come with a ribbon and a bow.  No, I would say that this is something people used to call either abilities, talents or, my favorite, blessings.  None of these are deserved, after all.

This distinction is important.  None of the blessings listed as charisma are for the receiver in all honesty!  Every time you look at one of them, it is an ability or talent that is used to build up others in the Body of Christ!

Only two writers in the NT use charisma.  One is Paul and the other is Peter.  Paul redundantly ties charisma and charis together directly in Romans 5.

14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.

15 But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

16 And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offences unto justification.

17 For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.)

~ Ro 5:14-17

Paul purposely calls it “the gift by grace”, a literary repetition typical of Hebrew (even though he wrote in Greek, he was a Jew, after all) that emphasizes its importance.

We should understand that Christ’s sacrifice was the ultimate in grace.  The gift of the forgiveness of sins, justification, conversion and eternal life are the ultimate in any gift that we can receive and call our own, but the word charisma goes far beyond what we can grasp and hang onto, even metaphorically speaking.  Paul makes it quite clear that these are the ultimate gifts (Ro 11:25-30; 6:23; 1Co 1:4-8).

I want to stop here and say that we have often treated “grace” like a dirty word because those in the world tend to misuse it.  However, it is in the Bible, unlike some other troubling notions that get floated around from time to time.  We need to acknowledge it for what it is and leave the baggage behind!

We see a lot of grace in the above passage, but who exactly is being favored?  Obviously, the one being justified is receiving favor, but is that really the end of it?  Even in this case, the spirit beings brought up in the first resurrection have a particular and special role to play in God’s plan.  They are to impart the grace and charisma they received a hundredfold to others who will be struggling in the aftermath of a world that has been devastated!

A gift is something you keep and hang onto and do with as you please.  A charisma is something that you receive without merit and dispense without merit.

Do you truly see the main difference yet?  And yet, there are further distinctions, for there are “gifts” that you may not even think of as necessarily favorable things!

Sacrifices and Practical Abilities

There is another word for “gift” in the Greek, interestingly enough, and it more similar to the English notion of giving someone something physical.  It is doron, Strong’s G1435, and it means a gift or present.  It is given to someone to honor them.  In particular, it is used as an expression of something given to God, whether it be money or animal sacrifice.  The magi came to the Christ child’s home and presented “gifts”, doron, of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;

24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

~ Mt 5:23-24

At first, you may believe I’m losing it.  After all, what in the world does this have to do with charisma?  Well, Paul is actually the one that ties the idea of a sacrifice to blessings that can be bestowed upon others.  You can always receive a “gift”, after all, but charisma comes to those who show they are willing to use them as God intended rather than using them for personal recognition or advantage.  They cannot be earned, but first we must acknowledge they are not earned.

12 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.

2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to 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.

~ Ro 12:1-3

Paul starts off this section stating that being a living sacrifice is reasonable.  Service is reasonable.  Then, he talks about being transformed rather than being conformed.  Why?  Because the way of the world is self, self and self.  The world believes that is “reasonable” is to be centered on your three favorite things: me, myself and I.  However, just in case you missed that part, he further says to not think of yourself “more highly” than you ought to!  Put it all together: be humble and be self-sacrificial.

This is hard to do when you consider the consequences.  It might take time.  It might take money.  It might mean getting out of your warm and cozy house to see someone.  It might mean a little less sleep.  It just plain will not be convenient!

OK, so once you are in the right frame of mind, then what?

4 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.

~ Ro 12:4-5 (NKJV)

Yes, I switched up the version intentionally.  All of the modern translations say “function” instead of “office”.  In our vernacular, they are similar but not quite the same.  One holding an office is expected to do a certain function, after all, but one outside of that office often can do the same thing.  Governmental control freaks will disagree, obviously, but the real fact is that we must be willing to do whatever we can to edify the body and not wait for some central authority to tell us what to do in every case.

You know what this means?  You might have to volunteer to teach a Sabbath school class.  You might just go and put up chairs without being asked to.  You might just have to volunteer for special music from time to time.

And, you know what?  It might not be appreciated except by a few, but so what?  That isn’t the point.  You don’t do it in order to feel more highly about yourself than you ought to!

6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;

~ Ro 12:6-10 (NKJV)

A few notes are in order:


  1. Gifts is charisma, which you probably expected.
  2. Notice the italics, which means the same in the NKJV as it does in the KJV.  It is implied that we use them, for example, but the original Greek doesn’t state it quite so blatantly.
  3. “Minister” simply means to serve.  Now, how talented must a servant or slave be?

The second item is important, I believe, for it alters somewhat the meaning in a subtle way.  Notice without the italicized words and translating “gifts” as “blessings” and “grace” as “favor”:

6 Having then [blessings] differing according to the [favor] that is given to us: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 or ministry, ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; 8 he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

9 love without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;

If Paul were in the 21st century, I believe he would have written it something like this: “Give blessings to others as you have been blessed: Interpret prophecy according to your faith, serve as you are able, teach as you are able, exhort as you are able, give liberally if you are able, lead with diligence if you are able and be cheerful in mercy, but always love without hypocrisy.  Hate with passion what is evil, and stick like glue to what you know is good.  Be kind and affectionate to each other with brotherly love, giving respectful preference for others over yourself.”

Now, how many of these things can the average Christian not do?  Hopefully, we all have a basic grasp on prophecy.  In fact, it is what first grabbed the attention of more than a few, wasn’t it?  As I asked before, who cannot serve?  Even if you are simply helping out with setting up for a potluck, how much training do you need for that?  Teaching sounds difficult, but how many of you have kids?  You have to teach them, right?  People usually have to train another team member at work sooner or later.  At very least, most have pets they need to train.

Do you see what I’m getting at?  What kinds of blessings are we talking about?  Having an opened mind to understand the Bible?  Isn’t that what is required to be called in the first place?  Having a humble and serving spirit?  Isn’t that what being a true Christian is all about?  Do we need inventory sheets for these things?

At any rate, how do you know if you can teach?  You do it!  How do you know if you can serve?  You do it!  This isn’t rocket science!

Peter is the only other writer that uses charisma in the NT, but he supplies an interesting angle upon it.

8 And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” 9 Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. 10 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

1Pe 4:8-11 (NKJV)

This list looks very similar to Paul’s, which should indicate that they were definitely on the same page.  One should be able to look at it and see that these “gifts” are not all that exciting in one sense.  Simply use what you have, given the time, money and ability, to serve others in the Church.

There is something a little different, though.  The word for “gift” is charisma, but there is a different word for ability, ischys, Strong’s G2479.  It literally means power or might.  It means as you are able in the sense of as long as you have strength.

You ever just have a whole lot to do and not seem to have the juice to do it?  Well, Peter is saying that God grants that juice as well as the physical and mental abilities.

And yet, there is something interesting about strength in the aggregate.  The more you use your strength, the stronger you, get all else being equal.  As long as an athlete gets the proper nutrition and air quality, he or she should get stronger by working those muscles.

Would these really be “spiritual gifts” if this were so?  Or, are they something more mundane?  Later on, we will look at some real gifts where this cannot be the case.

Is Celibacy a Gift?

We all know from Paul’s writings that he was unmarried.  You could say he was the original workaholic, I suppose, married to his work.  OK, maybe not, but that’s sort of the impression he leaves.

Paul would have been quite unusual in his day.  Remember Jesus’ disciples’ reaction to His teachings on marriage?  They said it would have been better to not marry, but Jesus countered that some are eunuchs for the Kingdom’s sake.  This shocking statement was twice shocking, for it implied that it was OK to not have children (which, of course, eunuchs cannot have).  Even today, there are many Jews who teach that the commandment God gave Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply extend to all who are physically and mentally capable of marrying and having children.

However, Paul comes right out and calls his unmarried state as a “gift” or blessing “from God”!

7 Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me:

It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. 7 For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.

~ 1Co 7:1-7 (NKJV)

The Holy Spirit as a Gift

Something that trinitarians cannot really explain away without smoke and mirrors is how the Holy Spirit can be a gift if it were a person.  If that were true, then that would be a form of slavery.

14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.

1Ti 4:14 (NKJV)

Of course, by “prophecy”, he is here referring to an utterance by Paul himself, a prophet in his own right, appointing Timothy to his position and commanding hands to be laid upon him for his ministry in the Church.

6 Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

2Ti 1:6 (NKJV)

It should make sense that if forgiveness of sins, justification and eternal life are gifts, then so is the giving of the Holly Spirit that not only makes it all possible but also causes conversion and sanctification to occur in the active believer.

If there is such a thing as a “spiritual gift”, then certainly this would be it, correct?  I mean, how much more spiritual can you get than the Holy Spirit?  Where is that on your spiritual gifts assessment sheet?

A List of Spiritual “Gifts”?

There just isn’t any room for the notion that we should be seeking out, inventorying or assessing our “spiritual gifts” in the Bible!  Invariably, whether Pentecostal or evangelical, they must fall back on 1 Corinthians 12 to bolster their notion of “spiritual gifts”.  But, you wanna know something?  That is a misreading of the Scripture!

12 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant: 2 You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

~ 1Co 12:1-3 (NKJV)

Think!  Why is Paul writing about “spiritual gifts” and then about idol worship?  He is not!  Remember, italicized words in the KJV and NKJV have been added for “clarity”.

Some other translations:

  • HCSB: “Now concerning what comes from the Spirit”
  • CJB: “But, brothers, I do not want you to go on being ignorant about the things of the Spirit.”
  • JB Phillips: “Now I want to give you some further information in some spiritual matters.”
  • Orthodox Jewish Bible: “Now I do not want you to lack da’as concerning the things of the Ruach Hakodesh”

It should be evident that “things” or “matters” is warranted, but “gifts” is not.  The word in Greek is “spiritual”, and “things” or “matters” is implied.  It doesn’t even make sense in context to say “gifts”.

In v 4, however, we do finally, but not called “spiritual gifts”, see the word “gifts” as in charisma:

4 There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.

vv 4-6

It’s just not politically correct, but we are not truly all equal in every way.  We are not yellow pencils.  Instead, we are individuals, adding to the variety of physical, mental, emotional and, yes even, spiritual persons on this globe.  We each have been blessed with different abilities, different areas and levels we can serve in as well as different responsibilities to carry out.  However, there is one Christ and one Father.

7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.

vv 7-11

Sorry, evangelicals, but if this is your proof-text, you might as well go all the way and be Pentecostal, because speaking in tongues is a “spiritual gift” according to your argument.  Of course, I doubt many evangelicals are reading this blog these days … unless, of course, that is where UCG is really heading.

Now, I have no doubt that speaking in tongues and being able to interpret them is a blessing when it is needed, but with a globalized economy and cross-cultural exchanges of all sorts, are they really needed today?  Prophecy certainly is a blessing, but so are miracles and healings.  The healing itself might be considered a gift by the one being healed, but how are healings a “spiritual gift” to be placed on an assessment of so-called gifts?

It just doesn’t make sense, does it?  These are things we have little, if any, control over!  You have them, or you don’t, and you would know if you did.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

vv 27-31

Like I said last time, the last verse tells you there is a “more excellent way”; IOW, there is something better to seek than “spiritual gifts”!  Of course, chapter 13 is the Love Chapter.  We are to seek love rather than charisma!

I have no doubt that the endtime Church needs to hear more than ever about love.  I don’t mean the squishy type of love, love, love, all you need is love jazz, either.  No, I mean something much, much more.  The problem isn’t even that we aren’t searching for love in all the wrong places, but rather we in the Church of God are searching for all the wrong things in all the wrong places.

I say this to the shame of all, myself included!

Back to the list, though.  Did you notice it?  This list of “gifts” or blessings includes God appointing apostles, prophets and teachers!  Remember what Paul wrote to the Romans at the beginning of this article?  He wrote them that he wanted to “impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established”.  Paul was an apostle.  Paul was a prophet.  Ergo, Paul was also a teacher!

We have come full circle now.  Paul wanted to bless the Romans personally by sharing their faith and to educate them in whatever manner he could.

God has given roles within the Church for various people at various times to teach, to preach, to evangelize (which is what an apostle really is), and also to perform miracles, to heal, to speak in tongues or to interpret tongues as required for the building up of the Church.  Also, administrations.  The Church is to have a structure, and that is a blessing!  Is godly governance a blessing?  It is always a blessing when godly people are in charge, but when that’s not the case, everyone suffers (cf. Pr 29:2).

Now, I don’t know of anyone personally that actually has spoken in a foreign language that they never learned before and yet someone understood them.  Do we need that today?  I personally don’t know of meeting any prophets.  Do we need that today?  These were special blessings given at special times given by God to His people.  However, it should be obvious that God does not provide these for us when they are not needed.

So, looking for prophecy on a spiritual inventory list probably isn’t going to do a lot of good.  Seeing if you have the spiritual gift of tongues is probably going down a rabbit hole.  And yet, if you are truly honest, if you are going to base some spiritual assessment on this chapter of Romans, then they will be on the list.

However, I would hope that we all have varying degrees of faith in certain areas of our spiritual walk.  I would hope we all have something to share and impart a true blessing of teaching others when we speak.  These are the things Paul earnestly desired to do in Rome, and I’m sure he also wanted to build up, encourage and strengthen them as well.  These are all things we should be able to do in some capacity.

Likewise, we should all have a servant’s heart.  We should be able and ready to “minister”, which is just a word for “serve”, in some capacity in our local congregation.  We need to do it because we ourselves are called to be a blessing to others.  We are called to be living sacrifices, a living gift to God.

I think that perhaps that is the worst part of this whole searching for spiritual gifts jazz.  We actually lose sight of the fact that we should be the gift and blessing to others rather than receive some gift from above.

Give vs get.


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