Questions about spiritual gifts have been around for a long time. What are they? How many are there? Who has them? What is their purpose? Do I have one; and, if so, how can I know which gift I have?
To the end that individual Christians might be able to identify and better utilize their spiritual gifts, a team of church leaders in the 1970s developed a spiritual gifts inventory along the lines of a popular personality-type questionnaire. This work was followed by the publication of books such as Edward Murphy’s Spiritual Gifts and the Great Commission (1975) and Tim Blanchard’s A Practical Guide to Finding Your Spiritual Gifts (1979). Less than fifty years later, churches today frequently encourage their members to take a spiritual gifts assessment, multiple examples of which can be accessed on the Internet. (Download an Inventory from Lifeway)
So, why would anyone—me, in other words—write an article that gives three reasons NOT to take a spiritual gifts inventory? Actually, I’m in favor of such assessments. I think they can be extremely helpful in challenging and equipping believers to serve the Lord in and through their local churches. This post is meant simply as a caution based on the confusion over spiritual gifts that existed in Paul’s day in the church at Corinth. Paul’s words to that church are a good reminder for us to have proper motives when we seek to identify our spiritual gifts.
Here are three improper reasons to take a spiritual gifts inventory; first:
To brag about your giftedness—Some of the Christians at Corinth liked to brag about themselves. They seemed to be especially amazed by and desirous of spiritual gifts that emphasized the mysterious and miraculous. They had a tendency to look down on other believers who had less “flashy” spiritual gifts. Paul reminded the braggers in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 that God in His infinite wisdom chooses who gets what gifts. Consequently, if there is bragging to be done, it ought to be bragging on God the Gift-Giver, not on the gifted believer.
Here is a second reason not to take a spiritual gifts inventory:
To excuse yourself from basic Christian responsibilities. James may have been dealing with a similar issue when he wrote “But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith by my works” (Jas. 2:18). Not having the spiritual gift of prophecy, for example, does not excuse me from being a witness for Christ and sharing my faith. I may not have the spiritual gift of healing, but I am still called as a believer to show compassion for the sick and needy and do what I can to meet others’ needs in the name of the Lord Jesus. Taking a spiritual gifts assessment to identify my area(s) of giftedness should motivate me to serve more and with greater passion. It should not be used as an excuse for opting out of basic Christian duties.
Here is a third inappropriate reason for taking a spiritual gifts inventory:
To establish or justify church cliques. The church at Corinth was a divided church. They had factions built around their favorite preachers and around their views concerning appropriate behavior (for example, whether or not it was OK to eat meat bought from pagan markets). Paul reminded them in 12:12-26 that the church was like a body. In fact, they were Christ’s body. As such, there were no unimportant body parts, because every member contributed to the body’s proper functioning. The “eyes” dared not bunch together and say they didn’t need the “feet” or the “hands.” Likewise, Christians with certain spiritual gifts were not to bunch together and say they didn’t need believers with other, perhaps less obvious, spiritual gifts. God had distributed spiritual gifts among the members in such a way that the church as a body could function properly.
By all means, Christians should be encouraged to identify their spiritual gifts—but for the right reasons. Knowing why God gave you spiritual gifts is equally crucial. He gave them to you to glorify (brag on) Him and so that you could serve Him and others in and through His church.
David Briscoe is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.