The DISTRIBUTION or From Whom & To Whom are the Gifts Given?
In the opening verses of I Corinthians 12, Paul raises and answers another important question. That question concerns the matter of the distribution of the spiritual gifts. Who gives them? And who receives them? This dimension of the subject makes it particularly exciting.
The Holy Spirit
When we speak of the source of "spiritual gifts," it is immediately evident that it is the Holy Spirit Who gives them. Verse 1 speaks of this when Paul describes the gifts as "things characterized or controlled by the Spirit." Verse 4 speaks of varieties of gifts all coming from "the same Spirit." Verse 7 describes them as "manifestations of the Spirit." Qualifying phrases such as "by the Spirit" and "by the same Spirit" are found through verse 11. The gifts are given by the Holy Spirit.
But that by itself does not complete the answer. A closer look at verses 4-6 reveals that spiritual gifts are a work of all three Persons of the Godhead. Verse 4 speaks of them as from "the same Spirit," as already noted. But verse 5 speaks of them as from "the same Lord" (Jesus Christ) and verse 6 as from "the same God" (the Father). Verse 18 speaks of God giving the gifts: "But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it pleased Him." Gifting believers is a cooperative work of the Triune Godhead.
The Work of Christ
Ephesians 4:7 and following add a new warmth to this when speaking of the gifts as coming from God the Son Paul says, "But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men." He is referring to a military custom of the day in which the conquering general would come parading back through his home city, displaying all his captives and spoils of war to the cheering crowd and sharing those spoils with the people, giving them out freely and generously. This passage pictures Christ returning victoriously from his warfare with sin at the cross and so giving gifts to us, his redeemed people. "And he gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers" (verse 11). Our spiritual gifts then are to be viewed as prizes from Christ's victory. They are a part of our share in the blessings of the salvation He secured in His war with sin. This truth makes our spiritual gifts something to be treasured and greatly appreciated! They are gifts from the Triune Godhead, provided by the triumphant Christ who died, rose from the dead, and ascended into glory sharing with us, His people, the benefits of His victory.
Next arises the question of extent: Who receives these gifts? All the passages which come to bear on this subject unite in teaching that all who belong to Jesus Christ are given spiritual gifts. Ephesians 4:7 says, "unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ." Peter writes, "Every man hath received a gift" (I Peter 4:10).
Paul emphasized this over and again in I Corinthians 12:7 -- "the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man"; verse 11, "But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit dividing to every man severally as he will"; verse 18, "But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him" (italics added). It seems that God has set out to impress us with the fact that each of us has a gift! Spiritual gifts are not reserved for pastors or evangelists or any spiritual elite. All of God's people enjoy this blessing! If you are a Christian, your spiritual gift has arrived! Now you may not have unwrapped it yet (you may not be using it or enjoying it), but God has given you an ability to minister to the church. You, Christian friend, have the privilege of being the channel of Divine blessing to others.
One basic truth essential to the function of the church is emphasized here. That is the principle of body ministry, body function. The church is not a spectator sport, the pastor playing and everyone else watching. The church's ministry is not intended to be carried out by the pastor or a few people only. Every member of the body is expected to function in his or her own place of service; for this, every member has been equipped. That church suffers which depends upon the "professional" ministers only. It is depriving itself of ministry and blessing. A body can only function well when all of its members fulfill their responsibilities to one another. This is Paul's point in verses 12-31 of I Corinthians 12 with his detailed analogy of the body -- the ear is to be content being an ear and the foot a foot, and so on.
Christian friend, if you are not serving the church, you are failing as a member of the body! God has equipped you to serve, and so to ignore that gift is ingratitude, and it deprives the church of blessing. God has placed you as a member in a body; you must function as such.
No Universal Gift
Another principle which emerges here is that while all have a gift, all do not have the same gift, nor is any one gift universal. This was a great part of the problem at Corinth, and it is the burden of Paul's argument in I Corinthians 12:12-31. The Corinthians lacked no spiritual gift (I Corinthians 1:7); they had them all. Yet so many of them felt that the gift of tongues should be enjoyed by all, which, according to the apostle would lead only to confusion. Paul asks, "What would the body be like if it were just one huge eye?" (verse 17). His sarcastic humor is pungent: if that were the case there would be no body at all! To use a modern illustration, how would you like to be on a football team in which everyone wanted to be the quarterback? I suppose you could call that unity, and it might make the front page of the sports section, but it would hardly be a team worth betting on! Every man must fill his own position faithfully or there will be no victory. The same is true for the church: if all tried to speak in tongues or if all tried to be teachers, there would be confusion. All the gifts must be in operation for the church to function. So Paul asks "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?" (verse 29). The Greek construction in this verse demands a negative answer -- "no, all are not apostles" etc. All do not have the same gift.
God has distributed gifts as it has pleased Him. He has provided a variety of gifts and a variety of gifted people for the proper functioning of the church. So do not feel that you are left out simply because you cannot preach or teach or counsel. It is God's choice that you have your particular gift. He sees that it is best to have diversity, and for that reason, no gift can be universal, and all cannot have the same gift.
Another question arises here concerning the number of gifts a person may have. Each Christian has a spiritual gift, but one only? Although each believer may have one primary area of giftedness, probably none has only one gift. The apostles, we know, were multi-gifted men. They had the gifts of teaching, preaching, exhortation, prophecy, tongues, discerning of spirits, evangelism, apostleship, healings, etc. Pastors also must have more than one gift: the qualifications for their office include the gifts of teaching and leadership and ruling (I Timothy 3:1-5). I Corinthians 12:11 tells us that the Spirit of God "divides to every man severally as He will." This verb ("divide") in the Greek, appears in its noun form in verse 4, translated "diversities," verse 5 as "differences," and verse 6 as "diversities" again. It seems that the apostle is telling us that not only is there a variety of gifts and gifted people, but there is also a variety of combinations of gifts. Examples of this are seen in the apostles and elders, as already noted. Another is Timothy: II Timothy 4:1-5 mentions his gifts of preaching, teaching and evangelism. Another person may have the gifts of mercy, giving, and faith, or the like. So when Peter speaks of our gift in the singular (I Peter 4:10-11) it may simply be viewed as one gift with several facets.
The point, then, is this: don't feel that you are locked in to any one area of service. God equips various people in various ways. You may be, and probably are, one whom God has enabled to minister in many ways.
There is also a varied degree of giftedness which God has wisely bestowed. Even among whose with the same gifts there is a varied effectiveness. It is most obvious that some are gifted to a greater degree than others. For example, some teachers are more effective than some others. The same is true of preachers and every other spiritual gift. God has established this too. Often the greater effectiveness of a certain preacher, for example, is due simply to his greater diligence in study and preparation. And although it can be argued that those most diligent and proficient in study are those so gifted, it is nonetheless true that some are more effective because God has enabled (gifted) them in a more effective way.
Paul affirms this in his epistles several times. For instance, I Corinthians 12:6 says that there are "differences of energizings." In gifting us sovereignly, God has energized us sovereignly as well, so that some have more divine "energy," as it were, for the functioning of their gifts. Romans 12:3 and 6 teach the same: Paul speaks of exercising our gifts "according to the proportion of faith." So, as verse 6 says, the prophet is to exercise his gift to the best of his ability, according to the proportion of faith given him. Beyond that he is required to do no more. This is no excuse for laziness -- it is still necessary to sharpen your gifts as much as possible. We still must "stir up" your gifts (II Timothy 1:6). But this is a revelation of the graciousness of God in enabling His people in varying degrees and then requiring precisely that but no more.
What God requires from us, He provides for us. But what He provides, He does require.
Serving Apart From Giftedness
But can you minister outside your area of giftedness? Should you? Could you do so effectively? This question is sometimes asked, but the answer is as simple as it is obvious. For instance, suppose your home were just burned out, and you were left with nothing, and so you came to me asking for help. What would you think if I replied, "I'm sorry, but my area of giftedness is teaching, not helps or giving." The question answers itself -- absence of giftedness does not excuse or relieve Christian responsibility. You men are responsible to lead your family whether or not you have the gift of leadership. You are responsible to teach your children whether or not you have the gift of teaching. All Christians are responsible to witness for Christ whether or not you have the gift of evangelism. You are responsible to give to support the ministry of your church (assuming it is a church true to the Scriptures) whether or not you have the gift of giving. You are responsible to promote Christian fellowship, whether or not you have the gift of hospitality. You are responsible to exhort your fellow believers whether or not you have the gift of exhortation, and so on.
Your gift may be your starting point, your primary area of effectiveness, but do not ever let it detract from serving or fulfilling responsibilities in other areas as well.
To sum up this chapter, then, spiritual gifts are gifts given by the Triune God secured by the conquering Lord Jesus for every one of His people. God has sovereignly and variously equipped each member to function in his or her unique place in the body. This function is not optional but expected and essential to the body as a whole. And while no one gift is universal, all within the body are to care for the others in every way possible. This is God's way of ministering to His church -- not through a gifted pastor only or through only a few in leadership, but through all the members gifted to serve one another. This is the only way a body can function.