Chapter 16: SPIRITUAL GIFTS AND MINISTRIES
Seventh-day Adventists Believe...
God bestows upon all members of His church in every age
spiritual gifts which each member is to employ in loving
ministry for the common good of the church and of humanity.
Given by the agency of the Holy Spirit, who apportions to
each member as He wills, the gifts provide all abilities and
ministries needed by the church to fulfill its divinely
ordained functions. According to the Scriptures, these gifts
include such ministries as faith, healing, prophecy,
proclamation, teaching, administration, reconciliation,
compassion, and self-sacrificing service and charity for the
help and encouragement of people. Some members are called of
God and endowed by the Spirit for functions recognized by
the church in pastoral, evangelistic, apostolic, and
teaching ministries particularly needed to equip the members
for service, to build up the church to spiritual maturity,
and to foster unity of the faith and knowledge of God. When
members employ these spiritual gifts as faithful stewards of
God's varied grace, the church is protected from the
destructive influence of false doctrine, grows with a growth
that is from God, and is built up in faith and love.
SPIRITUAL GIFTS AND MINISTRIES
The words Jesus spoke just before He ascended to heaven
were to change history. "`Go into all the world,'" He
ordered the disciples, "`and preach the gospel to every
creature'" (Mark 16:15).
To all the world? To every creature? The disciples must
have thought it an impossible task. Christ, sensing their
helplessness, instructed them not to leave Jerusalem but "to
wait for the Promise of the Father." Then He assured them,
"`You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon
you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in
all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth'"
Following Jesus' ascension to heaven the disciples spent
much time in prayer. Harmony and humility replaced the
discord and jealousy that had marred much of their time with
Jesus. The disciples were converted. Their close communion
with Christ and the resulting unity were the necessary
preparation for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
As Jesus received a special anointing with the Spirit to
fit Him for His ministry (Acts 10:38), so the disciples
received the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5) to enable
them to witness. The results were electrifying. On the day
they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, they baptized
three thousand persons (see Acts 2:41).
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Christ illustrated the gifts of the Holy Spirit with a
parable: "`The kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to
a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his
goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another
two, and to another one, to each according to his own
ability; and immediately he went on a journey'"
The man traveling to a far country represents Christ
leaving for heaven. The man's "own servants" are His
followers, who "were bought at a price" (1 Cor. 6:20)--"the
precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:19). Christ redeemed
them for service, and they live "no longer for themselves,
but for Him who died for them and rose again" (2 Cor. 5:15).
Christ gave goods to each servant according to his
ability, and "`to each his work'" (Mark 13:34). Along with
other gifts and abilities (see Chapter 20 of this book),
these goods represent the special gifts imparted by the
In a special sense, Christ gave these spiritual gifts to
His church at Pentecost. "When He ascended on high," Paul
said, He "gave gifts to men." Thus "to each one of us grace
was given according to the measure of Christ's gift" (Eph.
4:8,7). The Holy Spirit is the agent who distributes "to
each one individually as He wills" (1 Cor. 12:11) these
gifts that enable the church to do its assigned work.
The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts
The Holy Spirit gives a special ability to a member,
enabling him to help the church fulfill its divine mission.
Harmony Within the Church
The Corinthian church did not lack any spiritual gift
(1 Cor. 1:4,7). Unfortunately, they bickered like children
over which gifts were the most important.
Concerned about the divisions in their church, Paul wrote
to the Corinthians about the true nature of these gifts and
how they were meant to function. Spiritual gifts, he
explained, are gifts of grace. From the same Spirit come
"diversities of gifts," which lead to "differences of
ministries" and "diversities of activities." But Paul
emphasized that it is "the same God who works all in all"
(1 Cor. 12:4-6).
The Spirit distributes gifts to every believer--for the
edification, or building up, of the church. The needs of the
Lord's work determine what the Spirit distributes and to
whom. All do not receive the same gifts. Paul said the
Spirit gives to one wisdom, to another knowledge, to another
faith, to another miracles, to another prophecy, to another
discerning of spirits, to another tongues, and to another
the interpretation of tongues. "But one and the same Spirit
works all these things, distributing to each one
individually as He wills" (verse 11). Thankfulness for the
working of a gift in the church should be directed to the
Giver, not to the person who exercises the gift. And because
the gifts are given for the church, not the individual,
recipients should not consider the gifts their private
Since the Spirit distributes the gifts according as He
sees fit, no gift is to be despised or belittled. No member
of the church has a right to arrogance because of a
particular appointment or function, nor should anyone feel
inferior because of an assignment to a humble position.
1. The model of operation.
Paul used the human body to illustrate harmony in the
diversity of gifts. The body has many parts that each
contribute in a unique way. "In fact God has arranged the
parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them
to be" (verse 18, NIV).
No part of the body should say to another "I don't need
you!" They all are dependent on one another and "those parts
of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and
the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with
special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are
treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts
need no special treatment. But God has combined the members
of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that
lacked it" (verses 21-24, NIV).
The failure of any organ would affect the entire body. If
the body had no brain the stomach would not function; and if
it had no stomach the brain would be useless. So the church
would suffer if any member, no matter how insignificant, was
Certain parts of the body that are structurally weaker
need special protection. One may function without a hand or
leg, but not without liver, heart, or lungs. We normally
expose our faces and hands, but we cover other parts of the
body with clothes for purposes of modesty or decency. Far
from esteeming the lesser gifts lightly, we must treat them
with greater care because the health of the church depends
God intended the distribution of spiritual gifts in the
church to prevent "division in the body" and to produce a
spirit of harmony and dependency, so "its parts should have
equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every
part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part
rejoices with it" (verses 25,26, NIV). So when one believer
suffers, the entire church should be made aware of it and
should help alleviate the suffering. Only when this person
is restored is the health of the church secure.
After discussing the value of each of the gifts, Paul
listed a number of them: "God has appointed in the church
first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then
workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators,
speakers in various kinds of tongues" (verse 28, RSV; cf.
Eph. 4:11). Since no member has all the gifts, he encouraged
all to "eagerly desire the greater gifts" (verse 31, NIV),
referring to those most useful to the church.(*2)
2. The indispensable dimension.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit, however, are not sufficient
by themselves. There is "a more excellent way" (verse 31).
While the gifts of the Spirit will pass away at Christ's
return, the fruit of the Spirit is eternal. It consists of
the eternal virtue of love and the peace, goodness, and
righteousness that love brings with it (see Gal. 5:22,23;
Eph. 5:9). While prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will
disappear, faith, hope, and love will remain. And "the
greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13).(*3)
This love God gives (agape in Greek) is a
self-sacrificing and giving love (1 Cor. 13:4-8). It is "the
higher type of love, which recognizes something of value in
the person or object that is loved; love that is based on
principle, not on emotion; love that grows out of respect
for the admirable qualities of its object."(*4) Gifts devoid
of love cause confusion and divisiveness in the church. The
more excellent way, therefore, is for each one with
spiritual gifts to possess also this totally unselfish love.
"Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts"
(1 Cor. 14:1, NIV).
Living to God's Glory
Paul also spoke about spiritual gifts in his Epistle to
the Romans. Calling on every believer to live for God's
glory (Rom. 11:36-12:2), Paul again used the parts of the
body to illustrate the diversity and yet unity that
characterize the believers who are joined together in the
church (verses 3-6).
Recognizing that both faith and spiritual gifts have
their source in God's grace, believers remain humble. The
more gifts given a believer, the greater his spiritual
influence, the greater should be his dependence upon God.
In this chapter Paul listed the following gifts: prophecy
(inspired utterance, proclamation), ministry (service),
teaching, exhortation (encouragement), giving (sharing),
leadership, and mercy (compassion).As in 1 Corinthians 12 he
ended his discussion with the greatest principle of
Christianity--love (verse 9).
Peter presented the topic of spiritual gifts against the
backdrop of the end of all things being "at hand" (1 Peter
4:7). The urgency of the hour dictates that believers must
use the gifts. "As each one has received a gift," he said,
"minister it to one another, as good stewards of the
manifold grace of God" (verse 10). Like Paul, Peter taught
that these gifts are not for self-glorification, but that
"in all things God may be glorified" (verse 11). He also
associated love with the gifts (verse 8).
The Growth of the Church
In Paul's third and final discussion of spiritual gifts,
he urged believers "to live a life worthy of the calling you
have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient,
bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep
the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace"
(Eph. 4:1-3, NIV).
Spiritual gifts contribute to fostering of a unity that
causes the church to grow. Each believer has received
"grace...according to the measure of Christ's gift"
Christ Himself "gave some to be apostles, some prophets,
some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers." These
gifts are service-oriented ministries given "for the
equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the
edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the
unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a
perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness
of Christ" (verse 11-13). Those who receive spiritual gifts
are especially to serve believers, training them for the
types of ministry according to their gifts. This builds up
the church to a maturity that reaches the full stature of
These ministries increase spiritual stability and
strengthen the church's defense against false doctrines, so
that believers will "no longer be children, tossed to and
fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the
trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie
in wait to deceive, but, speaking the truth in love, may
grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ"
Finally, in Christ, spiritual gifts bring about both the
unity and the prosperity of the church. "From Him the whole
body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament,
grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its
work" (verse 16, NIV). In order for the church to experience
the growth God intends, each member must use the gifts of
grace He supplies.
As a result, the church experiences a twofold growth--a
growth in the number of members and an increase in
individual spiritual gifts. Again, love is a part of this
calling, for the church can realize this edification and
growth only as it uses these gifts in love.
Implications of Spiritual Gifts
A Common Ministry
Scripture does not support the view that the clergy
should minister while the laity merely warm the pews and
wait to be fed. Both pastors and laity make up the church,
"God's own people" (1 Peter 2:9, RSV). Together they are
responsible for the well-being of the church and its
prosperity. They are called to work together, everyone
according to his or her special Christ-given gifts. The
difference in gifts results in a variety of ministries or
services, all united in their witness to extend the kingdom
of God and prepare the world to meet their Saviour
(Matt. 28:18-20; Rev. 14:6-12).
The Role of the Clergy
The doctrine of spiritual gifts places the responsibility
for the training of the congregation on the shoulders of the
minister. God has appointed apostles, prophets, evangelists,
pastors, and teachers to equip His people for ministry.
"Ministers should not do the work which belongs to the
church, thus wearying themselves, and preventing others from
performing their duty. They should teach the members how to
labor in the church and in the community."(*5)
The minister who does not have the gift of training, does
not belong to the pastoral ministry, but to another part of
God's work.(*6) The success of God's plan for the church
depends on the willingness and ability of its pastors to
train the members to use their God-given gifts.
Gifts and Mission
God gives spiritual gifts to benefit the whole body, not
simply the individuals who receive them. And, just as the
recipient does not receive the gift for himself, so the
church does not receive the totality of gifts for itself.
God endows the church community with gifts to prepare it to
fulfill the mission to the world He has assigned it.
Spiritual gifts are not rewards for a job well done, they
are the tools to do the job well. The Spirit usually gives
gifts compatible with a person's natural gifts, though
natural gifts alone are not spiritual gifts. It takes the
new birth to energize a person with the Spirit. We must be
born again to be endued with spiritual gifts.
Unity in Diversity, Not Uniformity
Some Christians try to make every other believer like
themselves. This is a human plan, not God's. That the church
remains united in spite of the diversity of spiritual gifts
points to the complementary nature of the gifts. It
indicates that the progress of God's church depends upon
every believer. God intends that all the gifts, ministries,
and operations within the church blend together in the work
of building on the foundation laid by the church of history.
In Jesus Christ, the chief cornerstone, "the whole building,
being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord"
Witnessing--the Purpose for Gifts
Believers receive a diversity of gifts, an indication
that each has an individualized ministry. Yet every believer
should be able to witness about his faith, sharing beliefs
and telling others what God has done in his life. The
purpose for which God gives each gift, no matter what it may
be, is to enable its possessor to witness.
The Failure to Use Spiritual Gifts
Believers who refuse to employ their spiritual gifts will
not only find that their gifts atrophy but also that they
are jeopardizing their eternal life. In loving concern Jesus
solemnly warned that the servant who did not use his talent
was nothing less than a "`wicked and lazy servant'" who
forfeited the eternal reward (Matt. 25:26-30).(*7) The
unfaithful servant freely admitted that his failure was
deliberate and premeditated. Thus he had to bear the
responsibility for his failure. "In the great final day of
judgment those who have drifted along, dodging opportunities
and shirking responsibilities, will be classed by the great
Judge with evildoers."(*8)
Discovering Spiritual Gifts
For members to be successfully involved in the church's
mission they must understand their gifts. The gifts function
as a compass, directing the possessor toward service and the
enjoyment of the abundant life (John 10:10). To the extent
that we "choose not to (or simply neglect to) recognize,
develop, and exercise our gifts, the church is less than it
could be. Less than God intended it to be."(*9)
The process of discovering our spiritual gifts (*10)
should be characterized by the following:
The apostles prayed earnestly for a fitness to speak
words that would lead sinners to Christ. They put away the
differences and desires for supremacy that had stood between
them. Confession of sin and repentance brought them into
close fellowship with Christ. Those who accept Christ today
need a similar experience in preparation for the baptism of
the Holy Spirit.
The baptism of the Spirit is not a onetime event; we can
experience it daily.(*11) We need to plead with the Lord for
that baptism because it gives the church power to witness
and to proclaim the gospel. To do this we must continually
surrender our lives to God, abide fully in Christ, and ask
Him for wisdom to discover our gifts (James 1:5).
Study the Scriptures
Our prayerful study of what the New Testament teaches
about spiritual gifts allows the Holy Spirit to impress our
minds with the specific ministry that He has for us. It is
important that we believe that God has given us at least one
gift to be used in His service.
Openness to Providential Guidance
We are not to use the Spirit, but He is to use us, for it
is God who works in His people "to will and to work for his
good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13, RSV). It is a privilege to be
willing to work in any line of service that God's providence
presents. We must give God the opportunity to work through
others to solicit our help. So we ought to be ready to
respond to the needs of the church whenever they present
themselves. We should not be afraid to try new things, but
we should also feel free to inform those requesting our help
about our talents and experience.
Confirmation From the Body
Since God gives these gifts to build up His church, we
may expect the final confirmation of our gifts to arise from
the judgment of the body of Christ and not from our own
feelings. Often it is more difficult to recognize one's own
gifts than those of others. Not only must we be willing to
listen to what others have to tell us about our gifts but it
is important that we recognize and confirm God's gifts in
Nothing is more exciting and fulfilling than to know that
we are occupying the position or ministry or service that
Providence has ordained for us. What a blessing is ours to
employ in His service the special gift Christ has given to
us through the Holy Spirit. Christ longs to share His gifts
of grace. Today we can accept His invitation and discover
what His gifts can do in a Spirit-filled life!
1. See e.g., White, Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 327,328.
We cannot always easily distinguish between the
supernatural, the inherited, and the acquired abilities. In
those who are under the control of the Spirit these
abilities frequently seem to blend together.
2. See Richard Hammill, "Spiritual Gifts in the Church
Today," Ministry, July, 1982, pp. 15,16.
3. In the broadest sense love is a gift from God, for all
good things come from Him (John 1:17). It is the fruit of
the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), but not a spiritual gift in the
sense that the Holy Spirit has distributed it to some
believers and not to all. Everyone is to "pursue love"
(1 Cor. 14:1).
4. SDA Bible Commentary, rev. ed., vol. 6, p. 778.
5. White, "Appeals for Our Missions" in Historical Sketches
of the Foreign Missions of the Seventh-day Adventists
(Basel, Switzerland: Imprimerie Polyglotte, 1886), p. 291.
Cf. Rex D. Edwards, A New Frontier--Every Believer a
Minister [Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1979], pp.
6. Cf. J. David Newman, "Seminar in Spiritual Gifts,"
Unpublished MS, p. 3.
7. On the seriousness of this condition, see White, "Home
Discipline," Review and Herald, June 13, 1882, p. .
8. SDA Bible Commentary, rev. ed., vol. 5, p. 511.
9. Don Jacobsen, "What Spiritual Gifts Mean to Me,"
Adventist Review, December 25, 1986, p. 12.
10.See Roy C. Naden, Discovering Your Spiritual Gifts
(Berrien Springs, MI.: Institute of Church Ministry, 1982);
Mark A. Finley, The Way to Adventist Church Growth (Siloam
Springs, AR: Concerned Communications, 1982); C. Peter
Wagner, Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow
(Glendale, CA.: Regal Books, 1979).
11.Cf. White, Acts of the Apostles, p. 50; White, Counsels
to Parents, Teachers and Students (Mountain View, CA:
Pacific Press, 1943), p. 131.