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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Introduction to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Don Stewart :: In What Ways Have Believers Classified the Gifts of the Spirit?

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In What Ways Have Believers Classified the Gifts of the Spirit?

Introduction to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Question 8

While the spiritual gifts are listed for us in Scripture, they are not generally classified into any categories. This has not stopped people from placing the gifts into different classifications.

It must be stressed that, with one exception, these classifications of spiritual gifts are entirely human-made. Consequently, in attempting to place the gifts of the Spirit into categories, we must be careful not to go beyond what the Bible says, or make distinctions that it does not make.

Some Selective Classifications of Spiritual Gifts

The following are some of the ways in which spiritual gifts have been classified. The listings are only selective as to how believers have classified the gifts of the Spirit. Indeed, there are many more ways in which they have been categorized. While these categories are meant to be helpful, only one of them is found in Scripture.

In fact, the final two categories, gender-based gifts and the duration of the gifts are highly controversial. Not everyone would agree that the gifts should be classified according to gender or duration.

Classifying Gifts May Give the Wrong Impression

In addition, by classifying gifts into categories it is possible to give the impression that those with the more public gifts are more important than those with the serving gifts, or that the more miraculous gifts are more crucial than those which are less miraculous. However, nothing could be further from the truth. A person who has been given a serving gift should not feel useless or inferior to one who has a more public gift.

Paul makes this very clear when he wrote to the Corinthians. He gave the analogy of the human body to demonstrate the necessity of each gift.

On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member (1 Corinthians 12:22-24 NRSV).

Obviously believers need each other to perform the work of the ministry.

The following are some of the popular ways in which spiritual gifts have been categorized.

Speaking and Serving Gifts

The function of the gifts is one way in which they are categorized. The gifts can function as speaking gifts as well as serving gifts. This distinction is based upon a verse found in First Peter. He classifies all the spiritual gifts into two categories.

Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:11 NRSV).

This is actually a biblically way of categorizing the gifts – speaking and serving. Each one of the spiritual gifts can be placed into one of these two categories. The gifts of an apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher, evangelist, exhorter, and discerner of spirits, the word of wisdom and the word of knowledge would be classified under the speaking gifts. They are given to enable the church to minister the truth of God.

The gifts of giving, ruling, showing mercy, and displaying faith can be designated the serving gifts. Obviously this is a very general way of categorizing the gifts.

The Natural and Supernatural Gifts

Some make a distinction between the natural and supernatural gifts. The natural gifts are abilities that non-Christians may have. This includes the ability to teach, administer, show mercy, and give.

The supernatural gifts would be those in which non-believers could not participate. They would include prophecy, miracles, healing, and speaking in tongues.

However the Bible makes no such distinction between the natural and supernatural gifts. Whenever the gifts are listed, the so-called natural gifts are always listed with the so-called supernatural gifts. They are never listed separately.

In addition, by classifying the gifts in this non-biblical manner it gives the impression that those with the supernatural gifts are somehow more important that those with the natural gifts. The Bible does not teach this. Therefore this classification is not only unbiblical, it is also unhelpful.

The Sphere, or Place, Where They Are to Function: The Universal or Local Church

There is also the possibility of dividing the gifts into the place or sphere in which they are to function. God designs some gifts to be specifically used in the local church while other gifts can be used in a broader sense. This is illustrated by the gifts that Paul did, and did not, list when writing to the various churches.

Ephesians Deals with the Universal Church

It is common understood that Ephesians was actually a circular letter which was addressed to more than one church. In this letter Paul presents some of the great truths about the nature of the universal church – not the local assembly. When it comes to the subject of spiritual gifts he only lists five – apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher, and evangelist.

The reason that this list is not as long as the other list of spiritual gifts found in Romans or First Corinthians is because Paul is listing the gifts that are beneficial to the church at large – not merely the local assembly. These gifts are the ones that will fulfill the Great Commission. Jesus commanded believers to the following.

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19, 20 NASB).

The entire world was to be evangelized with the message of Jesus Christ. Once people believe in Christ they are to be made into His disciples.

Other Letters Dealt with Local Issues

When Paul wrote to the churches at Corinth and Rome the situation was different. He was addressing local assemblies with local issues. There are a wider variety of gifts, or ministries, that are exercised in local assemblies. Hence this is the reason for listing a greater number of spiritual gifts.

This tells us that some of the gifts are to be exercised in the broadest possible way to fulfill the Great Commission, while other gifts have a more localized use to deal with issues in a local assembly of believers.

Gender-Based Gifts: Gifts for Men Only

There are some who make gender an issue when it comes to spiritual gifts. This perspective believes that there are certain gifts that are to be exercised by males only. Specifically the leadership gift of Apostle is limited to males. Others limit the gift of pastor to males as well as the gift of speaking in tongues. They believe the Bible limits these gifts to males only.

There is another point of view that says women have all the spiritual gifts that men have today. They can, and should exercise them without restrictions.

Another viewpoint says that women do possess all the gifts that are presently available the only restriction is where they can exercise the gift.

The Duration of the Gifts: Permanent and Temporary

This category is one that not all believers hold. It divides the gifts between those which are permanent, and those that were only temporary. It is argued that some of the gifts that are listed in the New Testament are no longer available for believers today. These include what is known as the foundational gifts and the sign gifts. They were only given to the first generation of Christians to exercise before God finished revealing His truth to humanity which resulted in the completion of the New Testament. Once the New Testament was written these gifts were no longer necessary.

The foundational gifts would include the gift of apostle and prophecy. The sign gifts would include: miracles, healing, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, and discerning of spirits.

It is argued that God is not obligated to give all of the spiritual gifts to every generation and that these gifts had a unique purpose in the foundation of the church.

There is a disagreement among good Bible-believing Christians over this issue.

They Are Categorized Only for Convenience Sake

As mentioned, the placing of spiritual gifts into categories may be convenient but it is not biblical. Except for the general categories that Peter places all the gifts, speaking and serving, there is no other way in which the Scripture categorizes the gifts. Therefore we must be extremely careful not to go beyond what the Scripture has to say with respect to the meaning, purpose, and extent of any spiritual gift.

There also seems to be as many categories of spiritual gifts as there are people who study the subject. The fact that people have divided spiritual gifts into so many different categories only goes to show that there is no one, single, biblical way in which to list or study them. There are a variety of ways in which we can, and should, approach this subject.

Summary – Question 8
in What Ways Have Believers Classified the Gifts of the Spirit?

With the exception of a general division by Peter into the categories of speaking and serving, Scripture does not group spiritual gifts in any special way. Believers, however, have classified them in a number of different ways. Classifications include the following.

Some make the distinction between the natural and supernatural gifts. However, the Bible never does this. Indeed, the supernatural gifts are always listed next to the ‘natural’ gifts without any comment.There are those who classify the gifts into the sphere in which they are used. Some gifts apply to the universal church while others apply only to the local church.

We also find some people making a distinction based upon gender. It is argued that males alone have been given certain gifts. This usually includes the gift of pastor and apostle. Others add speaking in tongues to this list. Of course, not everyone accepts this distinction.

One of the biggest areas of controversy concerns the duration of the gifts. There are those who believe that some of the gifts were only temporary. Once the New Testament was completed these gifts were withdrawn. Others argue that God has given all these gifts to be used throughout the entire church age. Obviously there is no agreement here.

These groupings are selective examples as to how some Christians have divided spiritual gifts into categories. There are many more ways in which the spiritual gifts have been categorized.

As noted, these categories have not found 100% agreement among all Christians. Therefore any classification of the gifts of the Spirit must be held with some reservation.

What Are the Various Spiritual Gifts That the Bible Lists? ← Prior Section
What Does the Bible Have to Say about the Christian and Spiritual Gifts? Next Section →
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