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

Don Stewart :: What Is the Purpose of Spiritual Gifts?

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What Is the Purpose of Spiritual Gifts?

Introduction to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit – Question 11

There is a difference of opinion among Christians as to the purpose of spiritual gifts. Some feel spiritual gifts are for the benefit of the individual exercising them while there are others who think the purpose of spiritual gifts is for the building up of the body of Christ, the church. Still others think the gifts are for both the building up of individuals as well as the body of Christ. What is the best answer to this question?

The key verse in this discussion is found in First Corinthians. It reads as follows.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7 ESV).

The Greek text literally says, “for someone’s benefit.” The question is, “Whose benefit?” The text does not tell us.

However a look at other passages of Scripture makes it clear that spiritual gifts are for the benefit of the church, the entire body of Christ. Indeed, they are not for the benefit of the individual. Several points need to be made on this issue.

The Gifts Were Given for the Building up of the Church

The Apostle Paul specifically says the gifts of the Spirit are for the building up or edifying the believers. We find him writing the following to the church at Corinth.

So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church (1 Corinthians 14:12 NRSV).

Without doubt, the gifts of the Spirit are to be used to build up the church, the true believers in Jesus Christ.

The Gifts Were Given to Aid the Church until Christ Returns

Paul also said that the gifts were to aid the church in its mission. This aid would continue until the time of the return of Jesus Christ. He explained it this way in his letter to the Corinthians.

That in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge-even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you–so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:5-7 ESV).

This means that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were to continue until Jesus Christ comes back. When Christ returns the gifts of the Spirit will no longer be necessary.

The Gifts Are for Others, Not Ourselves

The same purpose for the gifts of the Holy Spirit is confirmed elsewhere by another New Testament writer. Indeed, Peter wrote that spiritual gifts are for the benefit of others. He put it this way.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms (1 Peter 4:10 TNIV).

The gifts of the Spirit are for others. They are not for ourselves!

The Gifts Are to Ultimately Glorify God

In the very next verse Peter emphasizes that the gifts are ultimately to be used to glorify God. He put it this way.

Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies–in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 4:11 ESV).

The purpose of spiritual gifts is to glorify the God of the Bible. Again, they are not given to glorify ourselves.

The Individual Parts of the Body Do Not Exist for Their Own Benefit

The church of Jesus Christ is likened to a body. Paul compares the individuals in the church to the various parts of the human body. The body does not exist so that each part will flourish. Indeed, each part exists so that the entire body can be built up. This means the gifts that God has given individuals are for the purpose of the entire body – not merely one separate part. This is crucial for us to realize.

Self-Edification Is a Result, Not the Purpose, of Using Spiritual Gifts

But what about the idea of self-edification or the building up one self? Is that something which is wrong?

It must also be noted that self-edification is the result, not the purpose of the exercise of spiritual gifts. The fact that a person is personally built up through the use of a spiritual gift is not the purpose of that gift – it is the result of using it. We should never confuse the two.

For example, those who practice the gift of evangelism are certainly not doing it for their own self-edification – they are doing to teach others how to evangelize as well as to personally win people to Jesus Christ. The fact that they may be built up in the process is a result of exercising the spiritual gift but it is obviously not the purpose of the gift.

Christian love is not the practice of seeking to promote oneself in any way. In the famous chapter about love, Paul wrote concerning what love was all about. He put it this way.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful (1 Corinthians 13:4, 5 ESV).

Note well the results of true love. It does not insist on its own way.

This fits well with the purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth. It was not for Himself but rather it was for others. Matthew explains.

Just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28 NRSV).

Jesus came to our world to meet the needs of others. He did not come to serve Himself.

In the same manner, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians about counting others more important or significant than ourselves.

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves (Philippians 2:3 ESV).

The biblical focus on spiritual gifts is the building up of the church, the body of Christ, for the work of the ministry. The ultimate goal is the glorification of God. Any benefit to the individual is simply the result of doing God’s work.

Self-Edification Is Valid According to Some

There are some Christians who disagree with this idea. They contend that spiritual gifts are given to build up the individual believer as well as the body of Christ. God has given spiritual gifts so that the practitioner will also benefit along with the members of the church.

While this is true, it seems much better to see the benefits are a result of using the gifts rather than assuming that it is one of the purposes of why God gave the gifts.

Are the Gifts a Foretaste of the Age to Come?

Some think that spiritual gifts allow believers to experience what it will be like in the coming age. While it is only in a limited sense, these gifts allow believers to have a foretaste of the world to come.

For example, the gift of healing allows believers to experience a foretaste of the perfect health of the future resurrection body. The gift of the word of knowledge allows believers to partially experience the knowledge that all believers will have when we someday enter the presence of the Lord. Therefore, in addition to building up the body of Christ for the work of the ministry, spiritual gifts actually provide believers with a small foretaste of things to come.

Others Do Not Believe This Is the Case

Others have a different opinion. They do not believe that the spectacular spiritual gifts such as healing, miracles, and speaking in tongues are still operating in the church. They also have a different understanding of gifts such as the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, and the distinguishing between the spirits. Therefore they believe that spiritual gifts should not be considered as giving believers today a foretaste of the coming age.

In sum, we discover that God has given spiritual gifts for the purpose of building up the entire church, the body of Christ. It is not for the glorification of any one individual but rather for the glory of God alone. This is something which we must always remember.

Summary – Question 11
What Is the Purpose of Spiritual Gifts?

There has been some discussion among Christians as to the purpose of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. While some have argued that the gifts have been given to build up the individual believer the Bible makes it clear that the gifts are to be used to edify or build up the entire church. A number of points need to be emphasized.

First, Scripture specifically says that spiritual gifts are given to build up the church, the body of Christ. There were given by Jesus Christ to aid the church with its mission until He returns. These gifts from the Lord allow believers to do the work of the Christian ministry.

The Bible says that spiritual gifts are ultimately to glorify God. It is to glorify Him rather than any group or individual. Thus, individuals do not exercise spiritual gifts for their own benefit. Any benefit derived from exercising a spiritual gift is a result of using the gift, it is not the purpose of it.

Some Christians, however, see God designing spiritual gifts to benefit all concerned – the user and the recipient. However, the Scripture stresses that spiritual gifts are to be used to build up one another. While the user of the gift may benefit from the proper exercise of it, this is merely the result of being obedient to the Lord.

It is also contended that spiritual gifts give believers a foretaste of the coming age where there will be perfect health, more complete knowledge, etc.

Others however deny that this is occurring. They believe the purpose of spiritual gifts is to equip believers for the work of the ministry solely in this present age.

While there continues to be discussion among believers about these issues we can conclude that God has given the gifts of the Spirit so that all Christians will benefit from them and that He will ultimately get the glory. Of this, we can be certain.

Are Some Spiritual Gifts More Important than Others? ← Prior Section
When Do Believers Receive Their Spiritual Gifts? Next Section →
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