STUDY FIVE: KNOWING YOUR TALENTS, ABILITIES AND GIFTS

© Rosemary Bardsley 2009, 2014

In this study we are looking at our natural talents, our learned abilities and our spiritual gifts. Some Christian teachers make clear distinctions between these three areas. Others understand that there is room for over-lap and even co-identity between them.

 

A. NATURAL TALENTS AND LEARNED ABILITIES

A.1 Natural talents are the gift of God
Natural talents are abilities that are part of who you are – they may be artistic talents, intelligence, physical strength, organizing ability and so on. They are something that is ‘innate’ – part of us. Sometimes they are ‘latent’ – unrecognized and unused until some life circumstance brings them forward, and we discover that we have this hidden capacity or talent that we had know nothing about. These ‘talents’ are part of the way God made us.

Complete Section #1 in the Study Five Worksheet now.

 

A.2 Learned abilities are a gift from God
Learned abilities are the result of our informal and formal education – things we have learned to do as a result of observing other people do them [in the first instance, our parents], or by deliberately learning how to do them [at school, university or ‘on the job’].

Sometimes learned abilities overlap with our natural talents. For example, a person with a musical talent who has also studied music in a formal way.

Complete Section #2 in the Study Five Worksheet now.

 

A.3 Identifying your natural talents and learned abilities
With the help of interactive discussion with your Christian peers, make an inventory of your natural talents and learned abilities. Include everything you and they can think of.

Do this in Section #3 of the Study Five Worksheet now.

 

A.4 The inter-relatedness of the three areas of ability

Natural talents are abilities we are born with. Someone might, for example, naturally be a fast runner or have the ability to sing in tune. These talents become evident as we grow and mature, as opportunities for their use or expression occur, and as our environment facilitates their development. It is possible that a person might never know what their natural talents are if their environment was repressive and/or no opportunities to express and use these talents arose.

Learned abilities are abilities which we have learned either by our own personal observations and trial and error, or by being taught by someone else. Sometimes learning a skill can cause a natural talent to come to light and/or be maximized. For example: a person with a natural talent for maths has to be taught geometry or algebra, but because they have mathematical talent they will learn it far more quickly and efficiently than a person who has no mathematical talent; and, having been taught, will be able to develop and use their natural talent beyond where it was before they were taught.

Spiritual gifts are God-given abilities of a particular spiritual nature and/or a spiritual purpose. They may or may not over-lap or coincide with natural talents or learned abilities. For example: a person may be born with an aptitude for teaching. He goes to university and learns the practical ins and outs of teaching. This gives direction and boundaries in which his natural talent is used. After his conversion and subsequent study of the Scripture he discovers that he has the spiritual gift of teaching – something that is more than his natural talent or learned ability: that God works powerfully and effectively through his teaching of the word of God for the instruction and edification of his people. [This includes God enabling him both to understand and to present his Word with spiritual clarity and spiritual power and authority.]

As we observe Christians in action, we can see:

  • Spiritual gifts, learned abilities and natural talents coinciding
  • Spiritual gifts as the development of natural talents or learned abilities.
  • Spiritual gifts that are apparently totally additional to natural talents and learned abilities.

 

B. SPIRITUAL GIFTS

The two words ‘spiritual’ and ‘gift’ occur together as a phrase only once in the Greek text. This occurrence is in Romans 1:11, where it does not seem to be referring to a gift given by the Holy Spirit but to some spiritual benefit that Paul wants to bring to them.  English translations have the term ‘spiritual gifts’ in 1 Corinthians 12:1 and 14:1, but only the adjective ‘spiritual’ is in the  Greek text. In the former reference Paul could simply be saying ‘now about spiritual things/matters’; in 14:1 reference to ‘spiritual gifts’ is more likely, but the word ‘gifts’ does not occur in this verse in the Greek, even though it occurs twice in English translations.

Another interesting fact from the Greek text is that the word translated ‘gift’ in the ‘spiritual gifts’ passages is charisma which is derived from charis [grace]. A ‘charisma’ is a free gift, involving grace on the part of the giver.

In the table below the passages normally considered to refer to spiritual gifts are listed. We need to exercise caution however in calling every instance of an ability listed in these passages a ‘spiritual gift’. Certainly they are all given by God, but so are our natural talents and learned abilities. Nor should we limit ‘spiritual gifts’ to those listed in these passages.

The table below contains the ‘gift’ lists from the New Testament.

1Corinthians 12:8-12, 27-29

Romans 12:6-8

Ephesians 4:11

1Peter 4:8-10

Teaching gifts

Apostles

 

Apostles

Speaking

Teachers, knowledge

Teaching

Teachers

Prophets

Prophesying

Prophets

   

Evangelists

Wisdom

Encouraging

Pastors

Sign/miraculous gifts

Faith

     

Gifts of healings

     

Workings of miracles

     

Distinguishing between spirits

     

Diversity of languages

     

Interpretation of languages

     

Service gifts

Administration

Leadership

   

Those able to help others

Showing mercy

 

Love

Serving

 

Serving

Giving

 

Hospitality

 

A glance at these lists clearly indicates four facts:

[1] that there is no fixed list of gifts.
[2] that only the earliest list [Corinthians] contains the ‘sign’ or ‘miraculous’ gifts.
[3] that the teaching gifts are given most attention
[4] that many of the gifts involve activities or attitudes that are elsewhere the focus of biblical commands and the biblical commission, either to the church generally, or to people or groups with certain roles and responsibilities within the church.

This variation in the lists indicates that gifts are not limited to those actually mentioned in these lists, but to any God-empowered use of God-given abilities in the ministry of his Kingdom. As we have seen, in the Old Testament artistic ability and craftsmanship were referred to as the coming from the Spirit of God [Exodus 31:1-5] and instructions were given for those gifts to be used in the construction of the Tabernacle and its furnishings.

When we read these passages discussing the gifts we learn:

About their source: God [Father, Son and Spirit] is the giver of the gifts

‘There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working but the same God works all of them in all men’ [1Corinthians 12:4-6]

‘To each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. … he ascended on high … and give gifts to men’ [Ephesians 4:7-8].

About their distribution:

  • God decides their distribution and appointment [Romans 12:6; 1Corinthians 12:11,28; Ephesians 4:7,11]
  • Every individual has his/her allotted proportion or endowment [1Corinthians 12:7; Ephesians 4:7]
  • Some people may have more than one gift [Romans 12:6; 1Corinthians 14:13]
  • In any local church it is possible that there will be several people with the same gift [Ephesians 4:11]
  • It is possible to receive gifts in addition to those one has [1Corinthians 14:13].
  • No individual is so multi-gifted as to live independently of other believers [1Corinthians 12:12-26; Romans 12:3-6].

These Scriptures outlaw some contemporary Christian beliefs and practices:

Belief that a particular gift is mandatory for either salvation or spirituality

The exaltation of a particular gift over and above other gifts, and a parallel quest for that gift.

Pride over the possession of a specific gift or gifts. Feeling of inferiority if lacking specific gifting.

Over-emphasis and over-use of a specific gift or gifts.

Neglect or disregard of a wide range of gifts.

About their role and purpose:

Although they are obviously given to individuals, their purpose is not focused on the individuals to whom they are given but on the body of which the individuals are part, that is, the church.

They are appointed by God ‘in the church’ [1Corinthians 12:28] – their role is not personal, but ecclesiastical.

They are other-directed; specifically, they are to be used for the good of others in the church – the instruction, encouragement and strengthening of other believers [1Corinthians 12:7; 14:1-19, 26-31; Ephesians 4:11-16].

They are not intended for individual personal use but for use within the body [Romans 12:4-8; 1Corinthians 12:14-27; 14:16-19]. In fact, they are meaningless if they are not exercised towards others; they are meaningless exercised in isolation apart from the body context. The speaking gifts imply an audience; the sign gifts imply that there are observers; the service gifts imply that there are people being served. The gifts simply have no point in isolation. Paul likens the presence of various gifts in the church to the various parts of the physical body; he indicates that ‘each member belongs to all the others’ – in other words the various gifts within the church exist for the support, benefit and proper functioning of all the individuals who comprise the church. Hence Paul’s condemnation of the Corinthian use of languages in a way that had no possibility of impacting the body. The gifts are for the body, the church, not the individual.

Similarly, Peter commands the use of the gifts within the church for the mutual benefit of those who comprise the church [note the phrases ‘each other’ and ‘one another’] resulting in praise to God [1Peter 4:7-11].

In addition:

In 1Corinthians 14:20-22a the role and purpose of the gift of languages is specified - that they are evidence of God’s indictment against the unbelief of Israel. [Here Paul quotes Isaiah 28:11,12, a prophecy spoken to the unbelieving Israelites at the time of their widespread national idolatry; he states that languages are a fulfilment of this prophecy.] It is only when the languages are interpreted that they are of any use in the church [vv13-19]. 


About their use:

  • They are to be used with diligence, cheerfulness and faithfulness [Romans 12:6-8; 1Peter 4:10-11].
  • They are to be used in an orderly and fitting way [1Corinthians 14:26-33,40].
  • Although given by God, how and when they are used is under the direction and control of the individual who is accountable to God for his/her use of their gifts [1Corinthians 14:26-33,40]. This personal responsibility/control factor is in contrast to the ecstatic spirituality of the Corinthians prior to their conversion [1Corinthians 12:2].
  • The verbal content expressed in their use will express genuine acknowledgement of the deity of Christ [1Corinthians 12:3].
  • They are to be used for the good of the church [1Corinthians 14:5b, 1Peter 4:10].
  • The possession of a specific gift should never be a cause of personal pride, boasting, individualism or isolationism [Romans 12:3; 1Corinthians 12:14-26].
  • The possession of a gift does not provide an excuse for disobeying God’s commands [1Corinthians 13:1-8a; 1Peter 4:7-11]

[From this it is clear that the possession of a gift does not automatically mean that gift will be used, or that that gift will be used appropriately in line with its God-given purpose and role. Indeed, it is obvious in the Corinthian passage that these gifts were capable of being used in a way that was far from the Giver’s intention. It is also clear from the Corinthian passage that there were counterfeit gifts [1Corinthians 12:1-3].]

About identifying one’s spiritual gift
It is interesting that nowhere in the New Testament are we commanded to try to find out what our ‘gift’ is. The interest of the New Testament is not what gift we have, but how we are using our God-given talents, abilities and gifts for the well-being of Christ’s body, the church.

 

C. SPIRITUAL GIFT ANALYSIS

Some of you will already be aware of one or more of your spiritual gifts. Some may not be. A spiritual gift analysis is simply a tool to help you come to an awareness of your gifts. It is not a perfect tool. It could probably just as easily be called a ‘learned abilities’ analysis, or a ‘natural talents’ analysis. Another point to note is that it’s possible to do two different spiritual gift analyses and obtain two different results. This is because the questions were formulated by humans with their own particular perspectives, and in addition, your answers have a degree of subjectivity.

Whatever it is actually bringing to light, and however imperfect it may be, it does serve to make you aware of the things you have an ability in, or a leaning towards. You may think the results are not accurate; that’s okay. It’s just a human tool. But think about the results for a while; they may have unearthed some hidden talents or inclinations you didn’t realise you had.

PRACTICAL EXERCISE: Go to http://mintools.com/spiritual-gifts-test.htm , scroll down and complete the test on line, and print off a copy of your result. [Note: this Test reflects a conservative approach to Spiritual Gifts. It does not include the ‘miraculous’ or ‘sign gifts’ that are emphasised in some sections of Christianity today.]

Complete Section #4 of the Study Five Worksheet now.