Paul calls the parts of the body “members.” We are those members. So the image teaches that Christians have different gifts and are to function differently from others in the use of these gifts, while nevertheless being part of the body and contributing to the body’s unity.
Charismata, the word translated “gifts,” occurs seventeen times in the New Testament; sixteen of those occurrences are in Paul’s writings. Charismata is based on the word grace (charis) and actually means “a grace gift.” It’s something given to the people of God by God or, as can also be said, by Jesus Christ. Since grace is God’s unmerited favor, the word indicates that spiritual gifts are dispensed by God according to His pleasure and that the gifts will differ. Every Christian has at least one gift, like the people who received talents in Christ’s parables. Moreover, since these are given by God, they are to be used for His glory and according to His plans rather than to enhance our own glory or further our plans. This is where the thrust toward unity comes in. Each member of the body is to work toward the well-being of the whole so that when one member does well all the others do well and when one member suffers the entire body suffers. Another way of saying this is to say that we not only belong to Christ, we also belong to one another.
There are nineteen spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament (Rom.12:6-8, 1 Cor. 12:8-10 and 28-30, Eph. 4:11, 1 Peter 4:11), but the number in not absolute. Different words may describe the same gift, as with serving and helping, and there are probably gifts that could be mentioned but are not. Seven gifts are mentioned in Romans 12:
(1) The first is prophesying (v. 6b). In the Old Testament a prophet is one who speaks the words of God. The Greek word for prophet literally means “one who stood in front of another person and spoke for him.” An example is the relationship between Moses and his brother Aaron (see Exod. 7:1). It’s the same in the New Testament (Luke 7:26-28, John 4:19). From this and other passages it would seem that the prophets were men who spoke under the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit to communicate a doctrine, remind people of a duty, or give a warning. (Acts 21:10-14). The gift of prophesy is sometimes predictive, but not necessarily or primarily. This gift is normally the communication of revealed truth in a manner that convicts and builds up its hearers. Oftentimes one who has this gift will have penetrating things to say about specific problems in society or life. One is to do this “in proportion to our faith” looking, as we saw in verse 3.
(2) The next spiritual gift is serving (v. 7a). The Greek word diakonian is the root of our word deacon. So what is spoken of here is a diaconal, or service, ministry. Does this refer to the specific office of a deacon or deaconess in the church, as in Acts 6:1-6? Yes, but not only that. In the church we are called to serve others, though some are given this gift in special measure in order to lead others in the work. We need to remember that even Jesus was a deacon in that, as He said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Here the text says, “If it is serving, let him serve.” In other words, just do it! Each of us has a service ministry to perform, because each of us is called to be like Jesus Christ.
(3) Next is the grace of teaching (v. 7b). Teaching differs from prophecy in that it instructs the mind, whereas prophecy is addressed more to the heart and will. Teaching is more concerned with knowledge, prophecy with revelation. The teacher is to apply his all to this task. Probably a third of the Christians has this gift and should be using it. If you know anything about Jesus and the gospel, you should teach what you know, formally if you have the opportunity but also informally by a casual word or testimony. You will be surprised what you are able to teach others.
(4) Then there is the grace of exhortation (v. 8a). The root idea is “to come alongside and encourage.” Exhortation can take many forms – warning, advice, counsel, encouragement. It is a wonderful gift, and we are to place it at Christ’s feet and be willing to be worn out in its use. What a tremendous need we have for those who have this gift. Many people are hurting, but there are not many helping, because we are all absorbed in ourselves and our own private affairs. We are living in a narcissistic age, another “Me Decade.”
(5) Next is the grace of giving (v. 8b). “Generosity” should be translated “with simplicity.” This refers to our motive in giving. Those who have this gift are to exercise it without ulterior motives or hidden purposes, simply out of love. This is where Ananias and Sapphira failed (Acts 5:1-10). When we give, it is to be simply to the glory of God and to meet the needs of brothers and sisters in Christ in the world.
(6) Then there is the grace of leadership (v. 8c). Those who exercise spiritual leadership in the church, whether pastors or elders or deacons or committee leaders, are not “to wing it.” Leaders should not become casual and careless but should see their abilities as divinely granted gifts and their charges as from God.
(7) Lastly, there is the grace of showing mercy (v. 8d). This gift takes many forms – aiding the poor, working with the mentally handicapped, tending to the ill. But whatever the function, it must be done with cheer. There is no room for a hangdog expression in the Church. If you have come with sympathy to sorrow, bring God’s sunlight in your face.
Seven beautiful gifts, are they not? Perfumes for the Body of Christ. If Paul’s advice were followed, think how healthy the Church would be. Perhaps God is speaking to you about your gifts. Remember, the Church did not give you your gifts – God did. They are His. Use them for His glory!
Paul told Timothy, “Fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you” (2 Tim. 1:6). That is exactly what you should do. You have a gift. The rest of the Body needs it. You will be accountable for what you do with it. Use it so that one day you will hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matt. 25:21, 23).
Romans 12:6-8 Reflection Questions:
How does Paul suggest that the gifts he mentions are not just ways in which we are carried away by supernatural power but that they also involve plain hard work?
How according to Paul, might our attitude make a big difference as we express our gifts?
How can you identify your spiritual gifts?