How To Interpret Spiritual Gifts

I was asked this question on Twitter today:

It is a great question and this is how I would simply answer it.

There is a difference between calling and gifts.

Think of the Ephesian 4 “callings” as vehicles and the “gifts” of the Spirit in Corinthians as accessories that trick up the car. 

The Vehicle – Five-Fold Calling

What kind of car are you driving is the first question.

In Ephesians 4 (here is my blog post interpreting that chapter) Paul makes it clear that Jesus has given “people” as gifts to the church.

“It was he who gave some to be apostles…”

Jesus gave people to the church to bring it to full unity and maturity. In Ephesians Paul is making it clear that Jesus didn’t give gifts to the people, the people are the gifts.

Since Jesus gave those “people” to the church, it can be seen as an office or calling.

This is the direction or vocation of ones life – you are apostolic, or prophetic, or evangelistic – you don’t just have a “gift” of apostleship, you are an apostle.

As far as Ephesians is concerned the five-fold callings are vehicles that drive the direction of our life and therefore the church towards maturity and unity.

Ephesians is answering the question of “what kind of car”?

Accessories – The Gifts of The Spirit 

It is an entirely different question to ask “what kind of accessories are on that car?”

So, in Corithians 12 when Paul is talking about the gifts of the Spirit, he is talking about gifts given to people – accessories of the Holy Spirit.

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” 1 Cor 12:7

It goes on in the chapter to say in verse 28:

“And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.”

I believe the logic and theology follows in this verse as well. Some are “placed” as apostles and prophets and teachers (callings), but then the verse transitions to “gifts of” healing of guidance and different kinds of tongues.

So sticking with the metaphor of vehicles and accessories I believe that we all have an office or calling – a vehicle per say – that carries us forward in life and the building of the Kingdom. For me it is an apostolic and evangelistic calling.

[what does apostolic mean…]

But every vehicle is empowered by the Holy Spirit with gifts (accessories) that “soup it up” to perform at a higher level or in our case a supernatural level.

One Souped Up Vehicle

It is one thing to be an apostolic leader that is called to plant new communities. It is another thing to show up as a planter with a word of knowledge or prophetic word.

It is one thing to be an evangelist carrying boldly the gospel of Jesus, but it is another thing to be an evangelist that shows up, demonstrates the power of the Spirit by healing someone, and then shares the gospel into that persons wonder.

It is one thing to know what vehicle you are. It is another thing to know and ask for accessories to increase your effectiveness.

You see, we should all eagerly desire the spiritual gifts (1 Cor 12:31).

But do not confuse this desiring of gifts with the callings Paul mentions in Ephesians.

God gives all of us as gifts (Ephesians) and all of us are given gifts (Corinthians).

Your calling is you as the gift to the church (apostle, prophet, evangelist, teacher, shepherd) and your gift/gifts are what empower that calling to do supernatural things by the power of The Holy Spirit.

[Are Supernatural Gifts For Today?]

Do Callings and Gifts Change?

I believe that we have a calling or vehicle that shapes the vocation of our life, but that the accessories may change. Could one person always have the gift of healing? Sure. But I don’t think scripture is clear that these “manifestations” are permanent or temporary. You could have a gift of healing, or you could get the gift of healing for an important moment. I think we should pray for what kind of empowerment we need and we should eagerly desire these gifts.

However, I do not believe you have apostleship, and then it can flee you the next moment. I believe God has “placed” or “given” all of us as gifts to the church by way of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds or teachers. These are permanent vocations and vehicles. Gifts may come and go, but calling does not.

That is how I see it.

How about you? Leave me a comment and let’s dialogue…

*Update – I’ve had someone share with me that they found the idea of spiritual gifts as “accessories” too cavalier for them. They said, “the gifts are accessories, they are the power!” I think this is fair critique and how any metaphor falls short. Of course, anything that the Holy Spirit gives us is powerful. 

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About Beau Crosetto

Beau is the author of "Beyond Awkward: when talking about Jesus is outside your comfort zone". He is called by God is to raise up and release people that want to start new ministries (apostolic) as well as people that want to share their faith (evangelists). He currently is the Greater Los Angeles Director for Greek InterVarsity and in charge of specifically seeing new Greek (fraternity & sorority) InterVarsity chapters start on college campuses. Beau is married to Kristina and they have three kids: Noah (7), Sophia (5) and Wesley (3).

5 comments

  1. I prefer to say that the gifts of Christ define who I am, while the gifts of the Holy Spirit equip me for what I do. The gifts of Christ are relatively stable over the course of my life, but gifts of the Spirit change for the needs of the moment. However, according to 1 Cor 12:28, they can all be lumped together as “spiritual gifts.”

  2. Regarding callings/vocations change: In reading Acts, when Barnabus tracked down Paul for ministry in Antioch, Paul was sought for his teaching capacity. Then after some time, after praying and hearing God, they laid hands on Paul and Barnabus sending them out on foreign mission. I believe this is when we can first call Paul AND Barnabus apostles. In Acts 13, Saul and Barnabus are in the list of prophets and teachers in Antioch at the time before their commission. Maybe we agree that God equips those he calls, and that our callings may change. Does this sound right?

  3. Insightful article, thank you. Clever spin on distinguishing between the gifts in Corinthians and Ephesians. In studying Ephesians 4 fivefold for several years now, I would tend to agree. I am currently writing a discipleship training manual on the five gifts Jesus gave to the church in Eph 4:7-11 with an emphasis on practical exercises to activate them. If interested in more, shoot me an email.

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