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As we explore spiritual gifts in more depth, we need to answer a few crucial questions, such as:

  • What is a (spiritual) gift?
  • What is the purpose of a (spiritual) gift?
  • How are (spiritual) gifts used? 

We will encounter more questions as we progress through this important topic.

In this post, we begin to answer some of these questions by exploring 1 Peter 4:10-11 and identifying seven characteristics of (spiritual) gifts. We will conclude with a proposed working definition of spiritual gifts.

Our text

First, let’s read 1 Peter 4:10-11.

Each one should use whatever gift he [or she] 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 serves, 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 for ever and ever. Amen.

Here are seven characteristics of (spiritual) gifts Peter mentions, including what they are, how to use them, and their purpose. 

1.         whatever gift

Here, the Greek word for “gift” is charisma, derived from charis, meaning “grace.” Thus, the characteristic of this gift is “that which is freely and graciously given” (DBAG), or a “gift involving grace” (Vine). 

In the New Testament, charisma always refers to God’s gift.

2.         each one … has received

Who is Peter addressing when he writes, “each one … has received”? 

Rereading the opening for this letter, he speaks to those who have had a “new birth” and love Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:1-9).

The Greek structure of “has received” refers to a point-in-time in each Christian’s life, which is the time of their “new birth.” If this includes you, then you received your (spiritual) gift when you received Christ.

We also note that since the gift is received, you neither earned it nor chose it. We will explore this in a future post.

3.         to serve others

We are to use the gift that God has given us to serve others. 

This statement has at least three important implications.

First, the gift is “to serve others.” It is not for self-satisfaction or self-glorification; it is for the benefit of others. 

Second, the gift is to be used. This gift is not a trophy to be put on a shelf and admired; it is for active use in serving others.

Third, based on the previous two points, the gifts are activities, not simply abilities—more on this in later posts.

4.          faithfully administering 

Other Bible versions render this as “good stewards.” What does this mean?

“Administering” or “steward” translates the Greek word oikonomos, which combines two words: oikos is “a house” and nemō “to arrange.”  This refers to a person arranging or managing the affairs of a household on behalf of the master (Luke 12:42). It also is used for a “director of public works” (Romans 16:23) and a trustee or guardian (Galatians 4:2).

In each case, the person is entrusted with the property and wealth of the master and is required to use those assets with competence and faithfulness

The meaning is clear. Spiritual gifts are entrusted to us by God—we do not own them. You are to use God’s gift entrusted to you faithfully and competently.

5.         God’s grace in its various forms

Peter gives us insight into the nature of a (spiritual) gift. Earlier, we pointed out the relationship between a gift (charisma) and grace (charis).

In the short book of 1 Peter, the word “grace” (charis) appears no fewer than ten times (1 Peter 1:2, 10, 13; 2:19, 20; 3:7; 4:10: 5:5, 10, 12). Peter has a lot to tell us about God’s grace in our lives. 

What is “God’s grace”?

Here is one helpful definition of grace: 

God’s “uncoerced initiative and pervasive, extravagant demonstrations of care and favour for all.” (Joel B. Green)

These (spiritual) gifts are not our initiative, talents, and resources, they are the ways in which God bestows His grace through us toward others. 

6.         Two categories

If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God

If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides.

In the previous characteristic, we learn the gifts are a pouring out God’s grace in its various forms. The Greek word “various” is poikilos, which can be understood as “many-colored.” So, for example, in Genesis 37:3, Jacob makes his son, Joseph, “a many-colored (poikilos) coat.”

God’s gifts are as varied as the colors of the spectrum, and Peter provides us with two general categories—if you will, from infra-red to ultra-violet. One group of gifts is predominantly verbal, such as teaching. The other group focuses on non-verbal activities, such as helping. We will explore the spectrum of gifts in future posts. 

It is intended that the verbal gifts be “as one speaking the very words of God”—in other words, as one actively and dependently cooperates with God, it should be as if people are hearing what God is saying. Similarly, non-verbal gifts should be the expression of God’s strength. If it was not Peter or another apostle writing this, we would think this claim was a gross exaggeration.

7.         A great purpose       

The goal or purpose of these gifts is,

so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

The gifts are God’s way of speaking and touching the lives of others through His people. His desire is that those people come to know God through Jesus Christ and honor Him.   

Summing up

Much more can be learned from Peter’s text. But, for now, I propose this working definition of  (spiritual) gifts:

The activities of God’s empowering presence working through His people as they cooperate with Him in serving others with His grace-filled benefits so that all may know and honor Him.

I am not satisfied with this description, so I invite you to provide your comments and recommendations on how to improve it. You can contact me here.

FORWARD TO the next post in this series

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