First published: Richard B. Gaffin Jr., ‘The Gifts of the Holy Spirit’, The Reformed Theological Review 51 no. 1 (1992), 1–10.

A lecture, slightly edited for publication, under the auspices of the John G. Paton Fellowship, a fellowship of students at the Presbyterian Theological College, Melbourne, Australia; given at Donvale Presbyterian Church June 28, 1991.

In current preoccupation with the work of the Holy Spirit the large area of the Spirit’s gifts no doubt attracts the greatest amount of attention. Also, many of the differences across the face of contemporary Christianity focus in one way or another on this topic. That means that in a single lecture like this we will have to settle for something less than a comprehensive treatment.

There are a variety of approaches we could take. We might, for instance, focus on trying to sort out and settle the conflicting claims being made today by various groups and individuals concerning gifts of the Spirit. All told, however, a better, more helpful use of our time will be to concentrate on Scripture rather than on such claims. What does God’s word have to teach us in this matter of spiritual gifts?

This focussing of our topic, however, will still not permit us to be comprehensive; some further limits are necessary. What I propose to do, then, is to say those things as it appears to me, that need to be said first from Scripture; I hope to establish a biblical overview on spiritual gifts. Such an approach seeks to be positive rather than controversial, one which I hope will also prove practical for the concern that every believer in Jesus Christ has, or ought to have, about personally exercising the gifts of the Spirit.

1. Preliminary comments

Having just said that I wish to take a positive approach, let me proceed to make two negative commands!—a couple of necessary warnings that will clear the way, helping us toward a truly positive approach.

1. The first negative in our positive approach is this: we have to be on our guard against an abstract or mechanical approach to the question of spiritual gifts. What do I mean by that? If we ask where in the New Testament we find lists of the Spirit’s gifts, three passages, all in Paul, particularly come to mind: Rom 12:6–8, 1 Corinthians 12:8–10, 28, and Ephesians 4:11. In them Paul is plainly seeking to list or to itemise particular gifts or workings of the Holy Spirit.

Now when I warn against falling into a mechanical approach, what I have in mind is this: In  the entirely legitimate concern for the gifts of theSpirit in our lives, we ought not to go to any one of these passages, or to all of them together, jot down the listings we find, and then do a kind of spiritual inventory on our lives, measuring our lives by this list until we come to a particular gift we think we would like to have and then, as it is sometimes put, praying and tarrying before the Lord to receive that gift.

In passing, I’d observe that such an attitude—the ‘spiritual inventory’ approach—may be one that we are especially prone to in our own time. You do not need me to tell you that we are living very much in the day of the expert; we rely on the specialist. That kind of outlook, present in all areas of life around us, tends to carry over into the church; the predisposition, the mind-set, is for me to try to determine my spiritual expertise, what is my speciality, spiritually, that sets me apart from others.

Whatever merit there may be in this observation, the ‘spiritual inventory’ approach is wrong—for at least two reasons. First, some of the gifts listed in these passages are intended to be temporary. I am well aware that statement is debatable; a number of Christians today would deny it. But I will not try to argue the case here. Let me cite just one example where there is perhaps less disagreement. By God’s design, the gift of apostleship mentioned in I Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 does not continue in the church today. So, to be seeking that gift by a narrow kind of concentration on these lists would be getting us off track.

A second reason why the ‘spiritual inventory’ approach is wrong is that in these lists—in any one or all of them taken together—Paul is not intending to be complete. We ought not to suppose that together these three lists give the sum total of the gifts of the Spirit. A comparison reveals a certain amount of overlap among these lists, while in some lists gifts are listed which are not present in the others. That phenomenon—a combination of overlap and difference—shows that Paul is being selective and intends to give no more representative listing of the Spirit’s gifts. The lists are only partial. You can see, then,what would be happening for us to go only to these lists to learn what gifts of the Spirit there are. That would be limiting ourselves and inhibiting our vision, because,as we will presently see more clearly, there are more gifts of the Spirit than are mentioned in these three lists.

2. My second negative is to warn against separating the gifts of the Spirit from their source; be careful not to abstract the gifts from the Giver. By developing this point we will soon find ourselves involved in exploring New Testament teaching on the Spirit’s gifts in a quite positive manner.

We can begin here by looking at the vocabulary the New Testament uses for the gifts God has given to believers. Several words are used that have the sense of our English word gift, but perhaps the most prominent word in the Greek New Testament is charisma. Even if you have never studied Greek or, for that matter, do not know a single word of Greek, you can still recognise in that word the much-used adjective charismatic; it has been borrowed directly from Greek and simply means ‘gifted’. We use the noun when we speak, say, of a politician or entertainer as having a great amount of ‘charisma’. By that we mean to say that such persons are unusually attractive or gifted.

The most basic and comprehensive gift is Christ.

In the New Testament vocabulary for gifts given by God to his people, we are bound to recognise that the most basic and comprehensive gift is Christ—not something that Christ gives but Christ himself. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:15, ‘thanks be to God for his indescribable gift’. As the King James translation puts it, very strikingly to our ears, ‘his unshakable gift’, that is, his gift that is so great, so truly awesome, that it is ‘beyond words’. Similarly, according to Romans 6:23, ‘the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord’, while earlier, in 5:15–17, Christ’s righteousness is God’s gracious gift.

These various passages taken together lead to the conclusion that the great, all-important gift that God gives is Christ himself. The grace of God in Christ must be our point of departure in talking about the gifts that God gives to his people.

Similarly, we may go on to observe briefly that the great gift God gives is the Holy Spirit—again, not certain things from the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit himself. Recall what Peter promises on the day of Pentecost to the crowd under conviction for the terrible thing that they have done in crucifying Jesus, When they ask Peter what is to be done, the heart of his (gospel) response is ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2:38).

We ought not to think that Peter was promising his hearers the gift of tongues. That conclusion, often drawn from this passage, does not necessarily follow. What Peter promised was not just one particular working of the Spirit, whether tongues or some other gift  (although some present may also have been given one or other gift, like tongues). Rather, he is promising something more fundamental. He is promising the presence of the Spirit himself, the indwelling power and presence of the Spirit in the life of everyone who repents and believes.

This brings us to a further point. As we are seeing, the fundamental, first-order gift that God gives to his people is both Christ himself and the Holy Spirit himself. In putting it that way I am not denying or forgetting the personal distinction between Christ and the Spirit. But at the same time, we must be careful not to separate them. We ought not to think, for instance, that in our personal experience of salvation God first gives us Christ and that then the Holy Spirit is somehow a gift in addition to Christ.

The gift of the Spirit is no more or no less than the gift of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 15:45 Paul expresses the unity that exists between the glorified Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit by saying that at his resurrection, Christ, as the last Adam, became the ‘life-giving spirit’ (cf. 2 Cor. 3:17). With the functional unity in mind, we can say that, in a very real sense, Pentecost is not only the coming of the Spirit to the church but is as well the coming of Christ, the glorified Lord Jesus, to be with the church. The promise the resurrected Jesus makes to the church in the Great Commission—‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matt. 28:20)—is to be understood, at least primarily, not in terms of Jesus’ divine omnipresence (that of course is involved) but the historic coming of the Spirit at Pentecost. The gift of the Spirit—the Spirit himself as a gift—is no more or no less than the gift of Christ—Christ himself as gift.

This inseparable, even interchangeable relationship in the life of the believer between Christ and the Spirit comes out clearly in Romans 8:9-10. There Paul is involved in contrasting believers and unbelievers, the Spirits and ‘flesh’ (sinful human nature). He says, You believers, the church, are controlled not by the flesh but by the spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness.

What is of interest in this passage is the way in which we encounter different expressions referring to Christ and to the Spirit. The passage begins with ‘you…in [controlled by] the Spirit’ (9a). The next clauses turns that around, ‘the Spirit of God…in you’ (9b); now it is the Spirit in you. Then, having affirmed a bond between the Spirit and Christ by identifying the latter as ‘the Spirit of Christ’ (9c), Paul says that if anyone does not have the Spirit, he does not belong to Christ (9d); ‘belonging to Christ’ is equivalent to, much more frequent in Paul, being ‘in Christ’. Finally, at the beginning of verse 10 we have ‘Christ…in you’.

Notice what is happening here. Within this brief passage, in close proximity to each other, all the possible combinations occur: the Spirit in you, you in the Spirit, Christ in you, you in Christ. That way of speaking simply reflects the unbreakable tie there is in our experience between Christ and the Holy Spirit; our relationship with the one involves a relationship with the other so that, as here, they can even be referred to interchangeably.

Moreover, that is the case not just because God has arbitrarily said it is to be that way. Rather, the Spirit and Christ are interchangeable in our experience because of what has taken place once-for-all, in back of our experience—because of who Christ is, the life-giving Spirit and who the Spirit is, the Spirit of Christ.

Another example worth noting is Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:16–17:

I pray that out of his [the Father’s] glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

Notice, once again, how Paul brings the Spirit and Christ together. The Spirit ‘in your inner being’ (your inner person, literally, ‘the inner man’) is Christ dwelling in your heart. The two are interchangeable; as God’s great gift to his people, they cannot te separated.

3. Along a related line, another point needs to be made. As we survey in its entirety the New Testament’s teaching about the work of the Holy Spirit, we must be careful to distinguish the gift (singular) of the Spirit and the gifts (plural) of the Spirit. So far I have been talking about the former. But we must not confuse that gift, for reasons that will become clear as we go along, with the gifts of the Spirit.

An important principle of New Testament teaching is that all believers, without exception, share in the gift (singular) of the Holy Spirit. The truth is is taught in a number of ways, but most effectively by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:13:

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were baptised with [in] one spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all given the one spirit to drink.

This Statement answers two questions that can be put to it. First, who is it that is baptized with the Spirit? Paul is clear: all have been Spirit-baptized. The meaning of ‘all’ is controlled by the immediate context. Plainly, Paul is not referring to all human beings without exception or to all in some other indiscriminate way, but to the ‘all’ of Christ’s body, to all in the church. With the qualification, however, notice that Paul is not saying that just some in the church, in distinction from others, have received the gift of the Spirit, share in spirit baptism, but that all, all without exception, have received that baptism.

But if it is true that all are Spirit-baptized, when does that take place, at what point in time is the believer baptized with the Spirit? At a first glance verse 13 may not seem to address the question. An indication of time is there, however, in the preposition into. Paul says that being baptized with the Holy Spirit is bound up with coming ‘into’ the body, that is, coming ‘into’ the church.

Involved in Paul’s teaching here is that we come to share in the gift of the Holy Spirit when we are brought into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. To be incorporated into Christ is to be incorporated into his body. The two cannot be separated. It is not at some subsequent point, then, but at conversion, at the beginning of their saving experience that believers come to share in the gift of the Holy Spirit, to be baptized with the Spirit.

There are those who seek to resist this point by arguing that Paul says here that at conversion all believers have been baptized by, not in (or with), the Spirit—something allegedly distinct, then, from having (subsequently) been given the gift of the spirit or baptized with the Spirit. The debate turns of the force of the Greek preposition (en) as used here.

All in the church are in possession of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

That line of augmentation is weak. Even if we were to concede that here the preposition means ‘by’ (an unnecessary concession), the latter part of the verse still has to be considered. There Paul goes on to say that ‘we were all given the one Spirit to drink’. But that is just another, more picturesque way of saying that all have been given the gift of the Spirit. The end of verse 13 is not saying something different from its beginning. Paul is a good teacher and repeats his point with parallel expressions; he says it one way and then another. His concern is what all believers have in common, that all in the church are in possession of the gift of the Holy Spirit as the foundation of their Christian experience. Every Christian, we can say on the basis of this passage, is a spiritual Christian. An ‘unspiritual Christian’ is a contradiction in terms.

But is not that, in effect, what Paul calls these same Corinthians believers (‘brothers’) earlier in this letter (3:1, 3)? True, but his point there is hardly to provide a rationale for a presumably lower, second-class believer (‘carnal Christian’). To draw that conclusion, as some do, blunts the sharpness of Paul’s exhortation. Their immature behaviour, he wants them to know, is not child-like and innocent, but infantile, puerile (vv. 1–2); it is utterly anomalous. There can be no place in the church for the ‘jealousy and discord’ (v. 3) of which they are guilty. Such conduct is not somehow excusable or tolerable immaturity in the church but is nothing other than the very opposite (‘fleshly’, ‘carnal’) of who they are in Christ (‘spiritual’). Notice that in Galatians 5:20, the only other place in Paul where ‘discord, jealousy’ occur in sequence, they are among the ‘works of the flesh’ (vv. 19–21) set in flat antithesis to the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (vv. 22–23). Sin is sin wherever it is found, even in God’s people. For the Corinthians to be acting as they do is to be acting as if they were not Christians; an ‘unspiritual Christian’ is a contradiction in terms. All believers are ‘spiritual’.

Strictly speaking, my comments so far have largely been preliminary to the topic of this lecture—the gifts of the Spirit. But the time has been well, perhaps even necessarily, spent because of our tendency to be preoccupied in one way or another with some particular gift in the plural sense, in a way that neglects the Spirit himself as gift. To summarise in a way that reinforces the impact of the entire reality we are dealing with, the gift is nothing other than the Giver himself. The great gift, in which every believer shares, in God himself—God our Father, in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are bound to maintain nothing less that this full, trinitarian perspective on our topic.

2. Three points

There are three basic points I want to make about spiritual gifts.

1. We must recognise the great breadth there is to such gifts. We have already gotten an intimation of that earlier in seeing that the lists in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 are not intended to be exhaustive. The preceding discussion about the gift of the Spirit also provides us with an important perspective on the full range covered by the spiritual gifts: Believers have received Christ, God has given them Christ and he dwells in them by the power of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual gifts, then, are all the ways in which God, in Christ, through his Spirit, uses us as instruments in his service.

Such breadth is reflected in Paul’s use of charisma, one of the Greek words for gift. Particularly instructive is what we find in 1 Corinthians, when we move back from the word’s repeated and explicit usage for spiritual gifts in ch 12 (vv. 4, 9, 28, 30, 3) to its next earlier occurrence in 7:7. There Paul says I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from Go; one has this gift, another has that.

The context here finds Paul addressing a set of specific pastoral concerns—some rather complicated problems that have developed in the whole area of marriage. But without getting into the complexities involved we can recognise that in verse 7 Paul’s point is that something we properly see as a very natural or mundane matter—the inclination to marry—we need as well to see as a gift from God, in other words, as a spiritual gift. As believers in Christ, Paul implies, we are not to set our spirituality and our sexuality in opposition to each other. For the believer, whether to marry or not, with all the attendant issues involved, is ultimately a spiritual issue and is to be decided in terms of the spiritual gifts God has given to this believer or that.

Taking 1 Corinthians 7:7 and the example Paul uses there as a key, we may go on to make the generalisation that everything about me used in God’s service—including aptitudes that I may have had even before I was a Christian, capacities that I was born with—all of my aptitudes and capacities used in the service of God are to be seen as spiritual gifts. Scripture itself, then, disposes us to such wide-angle vision on the whole matter of spiritual gifts.

That point was brought home to me a number of years ago in an indelible way. I was speaking on this topic to a group of wives of seminarians, and after the talk one of them came up to me, very much burdened that she had not yet found and begun to exercise her spiritual gift. Now I happened to know that she was a nurse, involved right at that time in a particularly difficult assignment under the most demanding circumstances in the inner city of Philadelphia. As we were talking it struck me, here she was, exercising this ministry of mercy, in a most gifted and effective way, in the name of Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit. In carrying on her nursing activity she was exercising her spiritual gift without even being aware of it.

In fact, we should expect that spiritual gifts would have such breadth. The Spirit of God is a powerful breath of nothing less than a new and final creation. At work he is like the wind, as Jesus says, that ‘blows wherever it pleases’ (John 3:8). God’s Spirit is the new-creation wind and eschatological power that takes hold of the life of the believer and transforms us from top to bottom. He takes over everything that we are and uses us in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We ought not to suppose that spiritual gifts are limited to such supernatural activities.

Note that this emphasis on the breadth of spiritual gifts is not in any sense intended to deny that there are certain gifts that go beyond our natural capacities and involve capacities beyond our natural abilities. We can think, for instance, of the gift of healing or the gift of prophecy as they were exercised in New Testament times. But I have thought it important to remind us that, even as we look into the New Testament, we ought not to suppose that spiritual gifts are limited to such supernatural activities.

2. The gifts of the Spirit are variously distributed in the church. In this respect we must distinguish once more between the gifts (plural) and the gift (singular). The gift of the Spirit, as we saw, is given to all believers; the Spirit as gift is present in the church on the principle of ‘universal donation’. But the gifts, to coin a contrast, are present on the principle of ‘differential distribution’; that is, no one gift is intended for every believer.

No point in the New Testament, it would seem, is clever than this. Yet in so much of today’s discussion about spiritual gifts it is virtually ignored or overridden. Paul is quite clear on this matter. He closes the discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 with a series of rhetorical questions (vv. 29–30): ‘Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?…Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?’

The answer to these questions (as the Greek construction makes clearer than the English translation given)is ‘No, all do not’. Why is it that?— all are not apostles and all do not prophecy and all do not speak in tongues and so on. Not because some lack faith of others or fail to seek these gifts. Rather, all do not possess any one of these gifts, ultimately, because of God’s design, because of the make-up of the one body with the many different parts. So there is no one gift (tongues or any other) intended for every believer.

That brings us to this very important observation: the gifts of the Spirit are not ‘means of grace’. That is, they are not given by God as those things necessary for our growth as Christians and to mature in holiness before the Lord. It is simply not the case, as so often claimed today, that if I get a particular gift (say, tongues), then my fellowship with God and other believers will be more warm and vital, my prayer life more spontaneous and joyful, my witnessing more free and vibrant.

The New Testament never teaches that we are dependent on some particular gift before we can do the things that God exacts from all his people. We can be sure (and comforted) that in the matter of sanctification, in our concern to grow in that holiness without which ‘no one will see the Lord’ (Heb. 12:14), he does not put some other believers at a disadvantage in relationship to others by giving a particular gift that would advance sanctification to some while withholding it from others. For what is necessary to our sanctification, our growth in grace, so far as God’s provisions are concerned, all in the church, all believers, are on an equal footing. We all have the word of God, the sacraments and prayer.

We need, then, to keep in mind the variously distributed character of spiritual gifts, the principle that no one gift is intended for every believer.

3. The gifts of the Spirit are given for service in and for the church. God gives gifts to his people not for what they can do for the individual recipient, but what they enable that recipient to do for others within and outside the church. There is no place in Scripture, including the matter of spiritual gifts, for spiritual self-centredness. There, precisely, is a great deal of the problem in much of the current preoccupation with spiritual gifts; in one way or another it becomes a self-centred sort of preoccupation.

The ministerial principle—that gifts are given to serve others—comes out very clearly in 1 Corinthians 12:4–6:

There are different kinds of gifts but the same spirit.
There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.
There are different kinds of working, but the same God who works all of them in all men.

A glance at these verses shows another example of Paul using parallelism—a trinitarian structure this time—to reinforce his point. On the one side are the three persons: the Spirit, the Lord (Jesus), and God (the Father). On the other side are things connected with each of these three: ‘gifts’ with the Spirit, ‘service’ with the Lord, and ‘working’ with God.

Because of this parallelism, we ought not to think that ‘gifts’ (v. 4) refer to something different than ‘service’ (v. 5) and that these, in turn, differ from ‘working’ (v.6). Each of the three is a different way of describing the same phenomenon: God effectively present among his people in all his triune fullness. That means, among other things, that ‘gifts’ are for ‘service’. As Paul goes on to say immediately (v. 7), ‘to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good’. Again, spiritual gifts are ‘for the upbuilding of the church’ (14:12).

1 Peter 4:10–11 fairly serves to summarise in large part New Testament teaching on spiritual gifts:

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone seizes, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever. Amen

Notice how the various points that we have been making come through in this brief statement. Peter begins by making reference to the gift, whatever it may be, received by the individual believer. That gift, he says, is for service to others. He then ties all this back to the God’s grace: the gifts, for serving others, consist in ‘faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms’.

Verse 11 also advances our discussion by providing us with a two-part profile on the entire range of spiritual gifts: ‘If anyone speaks,…If anyone serves,…’ All of the gifts, in their full diversity, Peter is telling us here, reduce to one of two basic kinds: word gifts and deed gifts. Spiritual gifts, to put it another way, are all the ways in which the gospel is ministered in word or deed. This dual profile on spiritual gifts points us once again to the factor of breadth noted earlier.

3. Personal relevance

Most, if not all, of us at one time or another have (or ought to have) wrestled with the question: how do I determine my spiritual gift(s)? A great deal can and needs to be said to this very personal and vital question, more, certainly,than I can say here. But in the light of what we have been considering in Scripture, I do want to emphasise several points that help to provide an answer.

1. One way not to proceed is to ask the question, what is my spiritual speciality? What is ‘my thing’ spiritually that sets me apart from other believers? That smacks of the ‘spiritual inventory’ approach that we discounted earlier.

What are the specific ways in which I can minister the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed?

The New Testament, I am inclined to say, would rather have us take a more functional or situational approach to identifying spiritual gifts. The key question to ask is this: What needs are there in the situation where God has placed me? What in the situation where I find myself are the particular opportunities for serving others? To put the question another way, in the light of the dual profile given in 1 Peter 4:l1, what are the specific ways in which I can minister the gospel of Jesus Christ in word and deed? Asking the question that way will take us a long way—not only toward identifying our spiritual gifts but also, and more importantly, to actually exercising them!

2. It bears emphasising that we ought always to be asking this question not by ourselves in a corner, so to speak, but in the context of the church, within the fellowship of the congregation, as we help and encourage one another in seeing needs around us and in being open to meeting them. Identifying spiritual gifts is not a private but a corporate matter. The danger in trying to answer the question on your own is that in the church there will always be ‘ears’ that think they are ‘eyes’, and ‘feet’ that think they are ‘hands’, and so on. One large point of 1 Corinthians 12 is that the church as one body is made up of many different parts that recognise, respect and encourage one another, in order that all may work together and function as a harmonious whole.

3. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul reflects on his Christian experience. He begins with the sublime and memorable visions he has enjoyed as an apostle (vv. 1–4). But then he adds (vv. 7–8):

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassing great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me. Three times l pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.

Down through church history interpreters have differed to exactly what this ‘thorn’ was. Most likely, although we cannot be sure, it was some kind of physical ailment.

But we do not need to be much concerned about identifying this affliction precisely. Much more important is the answer Paul received after he had repeatedly implored the exalted Lord Jesus to have it removed, and his response to that answer (vv. 9–11): ‘My grace is sufficient for you’, Christ said, ‘for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ To which Paul replied,

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The Spirit is at work in our lives not because of but despite the gifts he has given to us.

Remember who is speaking here. If there is anyone in the New Testament who is gifted, it is Paul; in the matter of spiritual gifts, he is super-gifted. But here this most gifted of Christians tells us what, from his own experience, is perhaps the most important thing he had to learn about the gifts given to him by the Lord. He had to come to appreciate that ultimately the Lord was using him in spite of himself, in spite of his weaknesses.

That, more than any other, is the perspective I want to leave you with on this whole matter of spiritual gifts. We need to feel with Paul the force of what he learned. The Lord does indeed give much to his church—the capacities entrusted to each one of us as his servants, the abilities he can and does utilise in us. Nevertheless, there is that ultimate consideration—one we are all tempted to forget or evade—that in ourselves, even in what we have been given, we are weak, and the strength of our Lord is not so much made evident in our strengths as in our weaknesses. Ultimately the Spirit is at work in our lives not because of but despite the gifts he has given to us; and because of what he can do with us in spite of ourselves.