Key Purpose for Spiritual Gifts
God has given us spiritual gifts for many purposes. Ultimately, all of these gifts have been provided to equip us to glorify God.
The gifts of the Spirit were given “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man [complete, mature] man, unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ. . . speaking the truth in charity, [that we] in all things grow up in him who is the head, even Christ:” (Ephesians 4:12–13, 15).
To Manifest God’s Presence in the Body of Christ on Earth
Jesus is our perfect example; He exemplified all the spiritual gifts through the words He spoke and the actions He carried out. Since Jesus is now at the right hand of God the Father, the Holy Spirit is the primary manifestation of the presence of God on the earth. Thus our heavenly Father distributes the gifts of the Spirit among the members of His Body, so believers now glorify God through those gifts.
Since the Holy Spirit is the one who shows or manifests God’s presence in the world, it is not surprising that Paul can call spiritual gifts ‘manifestations’ of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:7). When spiritual gifts are active, it is another indication of the presence of God the Holy Spirit in the Church.
One of the Spirit’s primary purposes in the new covenant age is to manifest the presence of God, to give indications that make the presence of God known. And when the Holy Spirit works in various ways that can be perceived by believers and unbelievers, this encourages people’s faith that God is near and that he is working to fulfill his purposes in the church and to bring blessing to his people.
Remind Us of Our Dependence Upon One Another
Rather than giving each believer all of the gifts, the Lord chose to give each of His children one motivational gift and an unlimited number of ministry and manifestation gifts. He did this so that no one would “think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, and according as God hath divided to every one the measure of faith. For as in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office: So we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. And having different gifts, according to the grace that is given us, either prophecy, to be used according to the rule of faith; Or ministry, [serving] in ministering; or he that teacheth, in doctrine; He that exhorteth, in exhorting; he that giveth, with simplicity; he that ruleth, with carefulness; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness."(Romans 12:3–8).
As our understanding of the spiritual gifts matures, our appreciation for all the members of the Body is magnified. For example, if you have the motivational gift of mercy, God has given you a heightened sensitivity to the hurts of others (so that He might express His compassion to them through you). Until you understand that everyone else is not supposed to be as sensitive to others’ hurts (to the degree that you discern them and want to respond to them), you will probably be tempted to condemn others as callous and heartless.
Our human nature, which naturally operates pridefully, assumes that “my perspective” is always the right perspective—and usually the “only” perspective. If you think that way, you are deceiving yourself. Yes, your perspective is valid—and essential—but it is not the only right perspective.
If others seem insensitive to someone’s hurts, it’s probably because God has not given them a spiritual gift that includes the “mercy-giver’s” heightened sensitivity to others’ suffering. Others are not being callous; they simply do not “see” as you see. In fact, others will be sensitive to needs to which you are totally oblivious, such as (1) the suffering person’s financial needs or (2) the need to be shown the truth about the situation that is causing the suffering or (3) the need to mow the sufferer’s overgrown lawn, which is frustrating his wife and his neighbors!
In this scenario, the giver would be quick to discern the financial needs, because God has given the giver a heightened sensitivity to them. The prophet, exhorter, and teacher would be especially sensitive to the need to point out God’s commands, promises, and precepts to the suffering person, so that he might obey God, be encouraged, and know the truth (which can set him free from bondage, i.e. types of suffering to which the mercy-giver is not as sensitive). The server would be quick to notice and address practical needs around the hospitalized person’s house, like an overgrown lawn. As different members of the Body of Christ discern each of these areas of need, all of the suffering person’s needs can be addressed and God will be glorified.
We need each other desperately. God has not given “the whole picture” to any individual, but He has given each of us a “window” through which we are to perceive one another’s needs—by using our spiritual gifts. All the needs cannot be met unless the Body of Christ is thriving, practicing our gifts in love.
To Build Unity in the Church
Spiritual gifts are given to the Church to unite it, not to divide it. (See John 17:21–22.) In his letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul exhorts believers to endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3), and he explains that God gave the ministry gifts (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers) “for the perfecting of the saints . . . until we all meet into the unity of faith” (Ephesians 4:12–13).
We might think that people who have differing gifts would not readily get along well with each other, but Paul’s conclusion is just the opposite: differing gifts draw us together, because we are forced to depend on each other. "If the whole body were the eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?” (I Corinthians 12:17).
These differing gifts, Paul tells us, are empowered by “But all these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he will.” (I Corinthians 12:11), so that in the church, “But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal.” (I Corinthians 12:7). In fact, “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit”.
The idea that the Holy Spirit unifies the church is also evident in the fact that “Idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects,” (Galatians 5:20) are desires of the flesh that are opposed to being “led by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:18, cf. v. 25). The Holy Spirit is the one who produces love in our hearts (Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22; Colossians 1:8), and this love "is the bond of perfection”, it binds us everything in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:14). Therefore when the Holy Spirit is working strongly in the Church to manifest God’s presence, one evidence will be a beautiful harmony and an overflowing love for one another.
To Edify the Church—Individually and Corporately
God gives us spiritual gifts for the edification of the Church (I Corinthians 14:12), to build up the Body of Christ in love and unity, “ that in all things God may be honoured through Jesus Christ” (I Peter 4:11). As God distributes His gifts among His people, His power, love, and wisdom are displayed gloriously and the Body of Christ is edified. “The manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal” (I Corinthians 12:7).
The Apostle Paul exhorted the Corinthian believers, clearly identifying edification of the Church as the main purpose for the manifestation of the gifts: “Forasmuch as you are zealous of spirits, seek to abound unto the edifying of the church.” (I Corinthians 14:12; see also I Corinthians 14:3, 26, and Ephesians 4:10–16).
The spiritual gifts (motivational, ministry, and manifestation gifts) are God’s provision to equip His children to minister to others in ways beyond mere human capability and ingenuity. It is a manifestation of the Divine Presence when an ordinary human suddenly is given illumination of unknown facts and wisdom how to meet a difficult problem, or can discern what is an evil spirit, or can believe for a miracle, or can administer healing to an incurable, or can speak forth a message from the Lord in his own language or in one he has never learned, or interpret an utterance given in an unknown language. (See I Corinthians 12:7–11.)
The gifts of the Spirit are never an end in themselves. They are tools with which we can articulate the love of God to all men. They are not mysterious powers that can be bought or sold (see Acts 8:9–24); the gifts are bestowed upon God’s children by their Father, at His discretion and for His glory. “But all these things (gifts) one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he will.” (I Corinthians 12:11).
To Reveal the Living God to Unbelievers
The Spirit of God works through the spiritual gifts in ways that can be perceived by both believers and unbelievers. Believers are encouraged through the manifestation of the spiritual gifts because they are reminded that God truly is near and is actively, diligently, carefully, and thoroughly carrying out His will in the earth. Unbelievers come face to face with the reality of the living God as He displays His power, His love, and His wisdom through His people. (See I Corinthians 14:1–40.)
In his letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul explained one way that the spiritual gifts of tongues, interpretation of tongues, and prophecy can be manifested as tools of evangelism: “Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to believers, but to unbelievers; but prophecies not to unbelievers, but to believers. If therefore the whole church come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in unlearned persons or infidels, will they not say that you are mad? But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or an unlearned person, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all. The secrets of his heart are made manifest; and so, falling down on his face, he will adore God, affirming that God is among you indeed.” (I Corinthians 14:22–25).
To Bring Glory to God
God has given gifts to the Body of Christ to manifest His presence among us, to remind us of our dependence upon one another and thus build unity in the Church, to edify the Church individually and corporately, and to reach the lost. Through the spiritual gifts (motivational gifts, manifestation gifts, and ministry gifts), the believer is humbled, fulfilled, encouraged, and made useful in the hands of our Master, to whom all glory is due.