Skills and Talents
First, Skills and Talents are perhaps best described as ‘natural’ or ‘acquired’. All our abilities do, of course, come from God but we are born with certain latent abilities; some people are very artistic others are more scientific, some are athletic others are academic. These are not of course mutually exclusive. We can also acquire new skills through training, perhaps learning a language (not very successfully in my case) or computer skills.
Second, who benefits? The way these skills and talents are used may benefit others or be essentially for one’s own fulfilment and gratification. This is all part of God’s purposes in allowing us to be satisfied and in realising our potential as people made in His image. It also contributes to our being part of a community; He expects us to consider not only our own interests but also the interests of others (see Phil 2:4).
If we consider the same two aspects – the source and the beneficiaries – we see that Spiritual Gifts differ from Skills and Talents in both respects.
First, Spiritual Gifts come only from God through the Holy Spirit. We can desire them (1 Cor 12:31; 14:1) and nurture them (2 Tim 1:6), but we cannot demand them. As with skills and talents, the gifts we may exercise differ from one person to another. God in His wisdom involves many members of the body in stewarding the full range of the gifts of the Spirit, perhaps to avoid us becoming puffed up! ‘And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly’ (Rom 12:6 NASB).
Second, who benefits? In 1 Pet. 4:10 we read ‘As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace’. And in I Cor 14:12 ‘So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church’. So, the primary purpose of the gifts is to benefit individuals and the church, not the bearer of the gift.
What they are not
I have often heard people speak of the Gifts as if they were synonymous with the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). But Spiritual Gifts differ from the Fruit of the Spirit as fruit is evidence of character and maturity, not the ‘tool-kit’ for edifying the church (1 Cor 14:12). Of course, a church thrives more with healthy, fruit-bearing members than with unproductive ones, but that does not make the gifts identical with the fruit.
Similarly, spiritual gifts are not an alternative description for a normal healthy Christian life which displays love, mercy and so on, and is lived in a context of worship, prayer and witness. Spiritual gifts are given sovereignly by God, not as a reward for performing well.
Next time we shall consider how Spiritual Gifts are given and stewarded.