12:6 We have different gifts…NIV We must be humble and recognize our partnership in the body of Christ. Only then can our gifts be used effectively, and only then can we appreciate others’ gifts. God gives us gifts so we can build up his church. To use them effectively, we must:
- realize that all gifts and abilities come from God
- understand that not everyone has the same gifts nor all the gifts
- know who we are and what we do best dedicate our gifts to God’s service and not to our personal success
- be willing to utilize our gifts wholeheartedly, not holding back anything from God’s service.
…according to the grace given to us.NRSV God’s gifts differ in nature, power, and effectiveness according to his wisdom and graciousness, not according to our faith. The “measure of faith” (12:3) or the “proportion” of faith means that God will give the spiritual power necessary and appropriate to carry out each responsibility. We cannot, by our own effort or willpower, drum up more faith and thus be more effective teachers or servants. These are God’s gifts to his church, and he gives faith and power as he wills. Our role is to be faithful and to seek ways to serve others with what Christ has given us. The gifts Paul mentions in this list fall into two categories: speaking and serving. Gifts are given that God’s grace may be expressed. Words speak to our hearts and minds of God’s grace; acts of service show that grace in action. This list is not exhaustive; there are many gifts, most of them hidden from the public, those “behind the scenes” words and actions that serve and magnify God.
If a man’s gift is prophesying let it be done in proportion to his faith.NIV
Prophesying, according to the New Testament, is not always predicting the future. Often it means effectively communicating God’s messages (1 Corinthians 14:1-3)
The Old Testament or New Testament prophet (or apostle) might speak direct revelation, but could and did also declare what had been revealed previously. The gift of prophecy does not pertain to the content but rather to the means of proclamation. In our day, it is active enablement to proclaim God’s Word already written in Scripture. Paul gives no distinction to this gift among the other six, which are clearly ongoing gifts in the church, thus not limiting it to revelation.
The gift of prophecy is simply the gift of preaching, of proclaiming the Word of God. God used many Old and New Testament prophets to foretell future events, but that was never an indispensable part of prophetic ministry. Paul gives perhaps the best definition of the prophetic gift in 1 Corinthians: “One who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3). Peter’s admonition also applies to that gift: “Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God; . . . so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever” (1 Pet. 4:11).
Another translation of in proportion to his faith would be “in agreement to the faith”; in other words, the message communicated must be true to the tenets of the Christian faith. The way that Paul refers to each of these gifts focuses on their importance in use. These gifts are not for having, but for using. In other words, God’s gifts fulfill their value as they are utilized for the benefit of others. Discovery of God’s gifts to us ought to be followed by putting them to work.
12:7-8 If its serving let him serve. If a person has the gift of serving, then he or she should use it where and when it is needed, and use it to its best and fullest capacity.
The second spiritual gift mentioned is that of service, a general term for ministry. Service is a simple, straightforward gift that is broad in its application. This gift certainly applies beyond the offices of deacon and deaconess and is the idea in Paul’s charge to the Ephesian elders to “help the weak” (Acts 20:35). The gift of service is manifested in every sort of practical help that Christians can give one another in Jesus’ name.
…if it is teaching, let him teach;
The Christian who teaches is divinely gifted with special ability to interpret and present God’s truth understandably. The primary difference between teaching and prophesying is not in content but in the distinction between the ability to proclaim and the ability to give systematic and regular instruction in God’s Word. The gift of teaching could apply to a teacher in seminary, Christian college, Sunday school, or any other place, elementary or advanced, where God’s truth is taught. The earliest church was characterized by regular teaching (Acts 2:42). The Great Commission includes the command, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt. 28:19–20). Paul’s spiritual gift included features of both preaching and teaching (2 Tim. 1:11).
Later in the epistle just cited, Paul charged Timothy: “And the things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Barnabas had that gift and ministered it in Antioch beside Paul, where they were “teaching and preaching, with many others also, the word of the Lord” (Acts 15:35). Likewise “a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, . . . had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus” (Acts 18:24–25).
Jesus, of course, was both the supreme Preacher and supreme Teacher. Even after His resurrection, He continued to teach. When He joined the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, “beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. . . . And they said to one another, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?'” (Luke 24:27, 32). Both diermēneuō (“explained,” v. 27) and dianoigō (“explaining,” lit. “opening up,” v. 32) are synonyms of didaskōn (teaches) and didaskalia (teaching) in Romans 12:7.
Regular, systematic teaching of the Word of God is the primary function of the pastor-teacher. As an elder, he is required “to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2) and to hold “fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). Above all, Paul entreated Timothy, “pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching” (1 Tim. 4:16). Pastors are not the only ones the Lord calls and empowers to teach. But if a pastor’s ministry is to be judged, among other things, on the soundness of his teaching—as the passages just cited indicate— then it seems reasonable to assume that, in some measure, he should have the gift of teaching.
8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage;
The gift of encouraging encompasses the ideas of advising, pleading, exhorting, warning, strengthening, and comforting. At one time the gift may be used to persuade a believer to turn from a sin or bad habit and at a later time to encourage that same person to maintain his corrected behavior. The gift may be used to admonish the church as a whole to obedience to the Word. Like the gift of showing mercy (see below), encouraging may be exercised in comforting a brother or sister in the Lord who is facing trouble or is suffering physically or emotionally. One who encourages may also be used of God to encourage and undergird a weak believer who is facing a difficult trial or persistent temptation. Sometimes he may use his gift simply to walk beside a friend who is grieving, discouraged, frustrated, or depressed, to give help in whatever way is needed. This gift may be exercised in helping someone carry a burden that is too heavy to bear alone.
Paul and Barnabas were exercising the ministry of encouragement when “they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God'” (Acts 14:21–22). This ministry is reflected in Paul’s charge to Timothy to “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).
It is the ministry of encouragement of which the writer of Hebrews speaks as he admonishes believers to “consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24–25).
In summary, it might be said that, just as prophecy proclaims the truth and teaching systematizes and explains the truth, encouragement calls believers to obey and follow the truth, to live as Christians are supposed to live—consistent with God’s revealed will. In many servants of Christ, all of these abilities are uniquely and beautifully blended.
if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously;
The fifth category of giftedness is that of giving. The one who exercises this gift gives sacrificially of himself.
When asked by the multitudes what they should do to “bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance,” John the Baptist replied, “Let the man who has two tunics share with him who has none; and let him who has food do likewise (Luke 3:8, 11).
In the opening of his letter to Rome, and in his letter to Ephesus Paul makes clear that, whether or not a believer has the gift of giving, he is to have the spirit of generosity.
Generosity carries the idea of sincere, heartfelt giving that is untainted by affectation or ulterior motive. The Christian who gives generously gives of himself, not for himself. He does not give for thanks or recognition, but for the sake of the one who receives his help and for the glory of the Lord.
if it is leadership, let him govern diligently;
Leads has the basic meaning of “standing before” others and, hence, the idea of leadership. In the New Testament it is never used of governmental rulers but of headship in the family (1 Tim. 3:4, 5, 12) and in the church (1 Tim. 5:17). In 1 Corinthians 12:28, Paul refers to the same gift by a different name, “administrations” (kubernēsis), which means “to guide.” In Acts 27:11 and Revelation 18:17, it is used of a pilot or helmsman, the person who steers, or leads, a ship.
Although it is not limited to those offices, the gift of church leadership clearly belongs to elders, deacons, and deaconesses. It is significant that Paul makes no mention of leaders in his first letter to Corinth. Lack of a functioning leadership would help explain its serious moral and spiritual problems, which certainly would have been exacerbated by that deficiency. “Free-for-all” democracy amounts to anarchy and is disastrous in any society, including the church. The absence of leaders results in everyone doing what is “right in his own eyes,” as the Israelites did under the judges (Judg. 17:6; 21:25; cf. Deut. 12:8).
Effective leadership must be done with diligence, with earnestness and zeal. It also carries the idea of haste (see Mark 6:25; Luke 1:39). Proper leadership therefore precludes procrastination and idleness. Whether it is possessed by church officers or by members who direct such things as Sunday school, the youth group, the nursery, or a building program, the gift of leadership is to be exercised with carefulness, constancy, and consistency.
if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. NIV
The seventh and last spiritual category mentioned here is that of showing mercy and carries the joint idea of actively demonstrating sympathy for someone else and of having the necessary resources to successfully comfort and strengthen that person.
The gifted Christian who shows mercy is divinely endowed with special sensitivity to suffering and sorrow, with the ability to notice misery and distress that may go unnoticed by others, and with the desire and means to help alleviate such afflictions. This gift involves much more than sympathetic feeling. It is feeling put into action. The Christian with this gift always finds a way to express his feelings of concern in practical help. He shows his mercy by what he says to and what he does for the one in need.
The believer who shows mercy may exercise his gift in hospital visitation, jail ministry, or in service to the homeless, the poor, the handicapped, the suffering, and the sorrowing. This gift is closely related to that of exhortation, and it is not uncommon for believers to have a measure of both.
This enablement is not to be ministered grudgingly or merely out of a sense of duty, but with cheerfulness. As everyone knows who has had a time of suffering or special need, the attitude of a fellow believer can make the difference between his being a help or a hindrance. The counsel of Job’s friends only drove him into deeper despair.
The genuine helper always serves with gracious cheerfulness, and is never condescending or patronizing.
Would that all Christians with this gift not only would minister it cheerfully but also regularly and consistently. There would be far fewer needy who have to depend on a godless, impersonal government or social agency. And if Christ’s people patterned their lives after His gracious example, far more people would hear and respond to the saving gospel that meets their deepest need.
Whatever gift a believer has, he or she should faithfully use it in gratitude to God. By focusing on the application of the gifts, Paul is removing the tendency toward unhealthy self-congratulation in the discovery of gifts. If we are busy using our gifts, we will be less taken up with concerns over status and power. Genuine service controls pride.
This list of gifts is representative, not exhaustive. It would be difficult for one person to embody all these gifts. An assertive prophet usually would not make a good counselor, and a generous giver might fail as a leader. When people identify their own gifts and their unique combination of gifts (this list is far from complete), they should then discover how they can use their gifts to build up Christ’s body, the church. At the same time, they should realize that one or two gifts can’t do all the work of the church. Believers should be thankful for each other, thankful that others have gifts that are completely different. In the church, believers’ strengths and weaknesses can balance each other. Some people’s abilities compensate for other people’s deficiencies.
Together all believers can build Christ’s church. But all these gifts will be worthless if they are used begrudgingly out of duty, or if they are exercised without love (see also 1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
Sources: Life Application Bible Commentary
MacArthur New Testament Commentary, The