Misconceptions about Spiritual Gifts

Charles Kiser —  May 18, 2016 — 13 Comments

It’s the week after Pentecost Sunday, the day when the Holy Spirit was made available to everybody — male and female, young and old, slave and free, near and far (Acts 2:1-21).

We often associate the gift of the Holy Spirit with a blessing we receive: salvation, life, peace, joy, etc.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is also about what we are able to give to others. The Holy Spirit fills us so that his grace can pour out of us to bless others.

Paul calls these spiritual gifts:

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

I believe spiritual gifts are misunderstood in at least two ways. As Inigo Montoya would say, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

1. Sometimes gifts are described as the equivalent of natural strengths or temperament. My spiritual gift is whatever I’m good at.

Certainly there is sometimes overlap between gifts and strengths. The trouble is that God often calls people to ministry in areas of their weakness. Moses is a good example. God calls him to be a public speaker and he is “slow of speech and tongue” (see Exodus 3-4). Sometimes the Holy Spirit gives us grace to do something precisely because we need the grace…because of our weakness! Which makes the glory of God all the more evident in our lives when we cooperate.

This is an important point because it’s possible to use spiritual gifts as a cover up for selfishness or fear. If something is outside our comfort zone, we might be tempted to say, “Well, that’s not my gift.” By which we mean,”That’s not my natural strength.” But what if the Holy Spirit is calling us to do something outside of our strength so that the image of Jesus might be formed more fully within us?

2.Sometimes spiritual gifts are assumed to be permanent. This is my spiritual gift for all time.

This assumption is built on the first misconception. If my gift is my natural strength, then it will always be my gift. But the language that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 12:7ff. is “manifestation.” Another word for it is “appearance” — as in, if the gift appears, it can also disappear. Paul is saying that gifts “show up” in disciples to bless people and build up the church and then they go away. Granted, some gifts, like “apostle” or “teacher” may have a longer vocational shelf-life, but it seems that there are shorter term gifts as well (e.g., gifts of knowledge, wisdom, discernment, etc.).

So what are spiritual gifts then? Notice the words Paul uses for them in the passage above: gifts, service, and working.

Spiritual gifts are like an assignment from the Spirit. A role. A job. And the purpose of that assignment is to strengthen and bless the church for the good of the world.

The good news of Pentecost is that everybody gets to play! Everybody who receives the gift of the Spirit also receives an assignment in the body of Christ that helps to implement the restoration of the world.

What are the implications of understanding spiritual gifts in this way? How does this understanding compare with yours?


Charles Kiser


I’m a pastor, missionary, and contextual theologian in Dallas, Texas. I’m committed to equipping and coaching Christians to start fresh expressions of Christian community in Dallas County — communities of hospitality, inclusion, justice, and healing.

13 responses to Misconceptions about Spiritual Gifts


    Charles I like that you say everyone gets to play. That does not means just the specially educated and formally ordained clergy.

    I like that you say with the gift comes an assignment. This divine assignment is essential for the health and growth of the organism of the body of Christ.

    As you know I tend to be a rather intense person. Partly that is my personality and partly that is due to 3 near-death experiences.

    I remain amazed that more Christians do not take their spiritual gifts and divine assignment much more seriously. The Bible reveals that we are just pilgrims passing through this earthly journey. Our citizenship is in heaven and that is our destiny. Meanwhile as we live in the light of eternity we make it a top priority to be about the Fathers business.

    I am in the process of writing a large and complex document that is essentially the vision and game plan for an online ministry. I have been going back into my notes that go back more than 10 to 15 years. Much has changed and much has remained the same. The flow of God through my life to bring Christian education to others using the latest technologies has remained the same. The names and faces of people I have been in contact has changed. There are many names in my email address book and on my Facebook page that I do not recall at all.

    Long ago I was clueless about how God might use me for ministry. Then the spiritual gifts inventories were useful to get some bearings. It highlighted what I knew intuitively and let me realize I could not be all things to all people all the time. That is why we have need of each other to exercise their gifts so that we might operate as a community in harmony and unity.

    In my eagerness I have taken several spiritual gifts inventories over the decades. I have also taken personality tests and strengths finder tests. Each one brought another perspective. None of them were one hundred percent accurate.

    These days my focus is on just communicating the truth in love to others. I look for opportunities to love one another using words and deeds. I do not care about the labels in terms of what are my spiritual gifts. I want the gospel message to go forth and for believers to grow in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. I want the leaders to be equipped. I want to be a doer of the Word and allow the Word of God to renew my mind. I want to gradually and gracefully progress in my ongoing internal sanctification. I want God to get all the glory for what I do in the name of Jesus.


    I was worried where you might take this subject, but I believe you are right on track. Good words to remember.


    In the past I’ve taken “spiritual gift inventories” and I’ve often thought they were a bit of a sham. They also limited the gifts to a certain number listed in the text. All they really seemed to boil down to is what your “bent” was–and they even listed “evangelism” (which I don’t believe is a “gift”–there is the role of an “evangelist” who, according to Paul, equips the body–to what? evangelize maybe?).

    This seemed to be more of a psychologizing of spiritual giftedness. I wonder what in the world the church did before we came up with these nifty inventories? 8^)

    I appreciate your treatment of this, Charles. Spot on.


      Good stuff Darryl. Re:evangelism. Do you read Eph 4 as a gift list? I’m inclined to because of the overlap of terms like apostle and teacher between Eph 4 and 1 Cor 12. Eph 4 are leadership/equipping gifts that help to activate the rest of the gifts in the body, including more evangelism, etc. I’ve also long suspected that evangelist is another one of those words that may not mean what I think it means.


        Actually I don’t read it as a “gift list” but as a “role list”. Now that may be just a matter of semantics and I’m OK with that–always reserve the right to change my mind. But “evangelism” and “evangelist” aren’t exactly the same. One is an activity another is a function or role. We are all called to the activity, but not all given the role. How we engage in evangelism may be related to our particular giftedness, but I don’t see evangelism as a gift–merely as an activity we are all called to do (announce good news wherever we are)…


        What if they were both “role lists”? 🙂 “Grace/gifts” = roles in Eph 4:7 and 1 Cor 12:4.


    I agree that spiritual gifts are more practical than personal. It’s more about the job God is after then the identity boost I get from falling into a certain gift category. When Paul says something to the extent that he’s grateful he speaks in tongues more than the Corinthian Christians, but that he’d rather speak one intelligible word in a gathering, I think he’s making this point. That’s also why we can ask for more “gifts”, because there is a need for the building of the church and/or the pursuit of God’s mission. Perhaps it’s the translation “gift” that’s throwing us off. Isn’t a gift something for me to hold and look at and enjoy and share if I want to?


    I think this is a great discussion. Thanks for starting it with your lesson and your blog on the topic!


    Charles Kiser: it is interesting to me that to Paul the chief gift to desire is to prophesy. On the hand, very “evangelistic” in Corinthians (tho I have personally never seen a Stone-Campbell heritage congregation ever invite up 2 or 3 prophets for the rest to discern — for all their Bible-centrality rhetoric). On the other hand, prophets in the OT tended to get stoned, sawn in two, etc.


    Also, we need to remember our spiritual gift is not a talent. Paul explains spiritual gifts completely in 1 Corinthians Chapter 12.


    Aren’t most spiritual gifts commands? We should obey all commands but God makes some people better than most, and their job is to better equip the rest.

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