Gifts of the Spirit are spiritual abilities given to believers to enable them to serve Jesus.
As we read the gospels, we can't help but be struck by the tremendous number of personal abilities that Jesus had. While he was on this earth he took upon himself all the human and spiritual abilities necessary to complete the work given him by the Father.
When he was in his early thirties, right at the beginning of his three year ministry, he came to see John the Baptist. As John baptized Jesus, God's Spirit descended upon him in the form of a dove. At that moment he was empowered for service. He was given every spiritual ability necessary to do his Father's will over the next three years. Natural abilities that he had acquired during his life were heightened and empowered, and specialized extraordinary abilities were given him, abilities well beyond the realms of nature.
Just before his death and resurrection, he told his disciples that they were to carry on this work. They were not to be afraid, he would be with them. They would receive all the spiritual abilities necessary to enable them to perform this work, in the same way as they received all they needed while he had been with them, Mk.6:7-12. On the last occasion Jesus was with his disciples, he told them to wait in Jerusalem until God's Spirit came upon them. At that moment they would receive "power from on high" to be able to be Jesus' "witnesses .... to the ends of the earth", Lk.24:45-49, Act.1:1-8.
On the day of Pentecost, which was just over forty days after Jesus' crucifixion, the disciples were together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound of rushing wind and what seemed like fire from heaven fell on them. It was God's Spirit coming upon them. Their sadness was turned to joy because they were reunited with their best friend, Jesus. He had promised he would not leave them alone - "I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you", Jn.14:9. The Spirit of Christ had come upon them. At that moment they were empowered for service. They were soon in the streets "declaring the wonders of God" and by late afternoon 3,000 people had decided to follow Jesus.
As a group, God gave them a complete range of personal spiritual abilities to enable them to do his work. From this small church the world was turned upside-down.
When we become believers, God equips us with all the personal spiritual abilities necessary to be able to serve him. These gifts of the Spirit enable us to be effective disciples for Jesus.
We are not all equally gifted. It is also true that some are more gifted than others. You will always find a variety of gifts shared by members of a church, 1Cor.12:14-26. It is this variety that makes the church better able to do the Lord's will. Jesus expects the church to be his representative in the local community, and to work as he would work if he were present bodily. So he sees to it that each church is able to perform that task, by equipping members with a variety of complementary gifts/skills/abilities.
We receive our spiritual gifts gradually. Even before we become believers, we are shaped by the experiences of life. Then at our conversion, the Spirit begins his work of equipping us, enriching natural abilities, building up special spiritual abilities, even just giving a special ability for a short period of time. In many ways he equips us for service.
Many believers say they have no spiritual gifts. They couldn't be further from the truth. There is a whole range of spiritual gifts that every Christian has - gifts that are fundamental to our Christian faith. When we give our life to Jesus, the Holy Spirit performs a miraculous work of renewal in our lives. This work is called regeneration. At that time he endows us with a range of spiritual abilities/gifts that set us apart as a child of God and enable us to live the rest of our lives in service for Jesus. For example, we have the ability to know God, to be his friend. We have the ability to begin to live for God in the way he wants us to. We have the ability to understand the deepest truths of the universe. We find we have the ability to trust God, 1Cor.12:7-11.
The Bible says that the greatest spiritual gift is "love". If it were the only gift we had, then it would be enough. Many of the specialized gifts Christians have are only for this world, but love is for eternity. It is the greatest of gifts because it endures, 1Cor.13.
As already pointed out, we all have a range of spiritual abilities that are given to each member of a church to enable them to work to build up the church and reach out to the world. We all have spiritual abilities, but not everyone has the right combination to enable them to perform some special ministry in the church. These ministries, or gifts of ministry, are special functions which some members of the church are able to perform. Not everyone has the gifts to perform a ministry, nor do you find that all have the same gifts to perform the same ministry. Within any church you should find that all members possess a range of different special spiritual abilities. Only some members will be able to perform a special ministry in the church, cf. 1Cor.12:27-31.
The Bible term "gifts" can be a bit confusing. It is probably best to distinguish between "spiritual gifts" and "gifts of ministry". Spiritual gifts are qualities/abilities given by God to all believers to help them serve Jesus. Gifts of ministry are given by God to the church. Each individual ministry requires a range of spiritual abilities to enable that ministry to be performed. Those ministries, in combination, become Jesus ministering to the church.
These specialized spiritual abilities, given by God to different believers, enable them to perform a ministry or work, to build up the church and reach out to the lost. There are two groups of ministries:-
i] Apostle. Apostles are limited to the 12 disciples of Jesus, plus a small group of contemporaries who knew Jesus. To this group was added the Apostle Paul. They were highly gifted and they could back up their words with miracles. Their main job was to pass on Jesus' teachings and this they have done through the New Testament.
ii] Prophet. Someone who speaks very directly to the problems that might exist in a church. For example, exposing hypocrisy.
iii] Teacher. Someone who carefully explains the truths of the Bible.
iv] Evangelist. A person gifted at telling non-Christians about Jesus - telling people the gospel.
v] Tongue-speakers. Someone who prophecies in an abnormal (ecstatic) way. Although there are many today who claim to speak in tongues, it is probably a fairly rare gift, in much the same way as prophecy is fairly rare. Most congregations at best only have one prophet. Most modern tongue-speaking is a form of religious ecstasy where a person loses control of their speech. Often this is done purposely.
i] Administrators. Gifted leaders. They are often called "elders" or "bishops". Some elders are gifted teachers as well. The teaching elder is given greater authority.
ii] Helpers, givers of aid. Christians gifted at performing works of mercy.
iii] Financial supporters. Gifted with the abilities to generate and give excess financial support to the church.
iv] Miracle-workers. Believers able to do wonderful and striking things which reveal the power of God. This is a fairly unusual ministry and is not often seen.
v] Healers. Those able to touch others in the name of Christ and positively affect their physical and emotional well-being. The healing ministry today is far less effective than the healings of Jesus. None-the-less, there are those with a gift of healing who, in the name of Jesus, turn darkness away and become a channel of God's life-giving power. The effectiveness of the healing varies. Sometimes it seems very small indeed. Yet when the people of God reach out with the touch of Jesus, something always happens.
These and other ministries are listed in the Bible, Rom.12:1-8, 1Cor.12, Eph.4:11-16. Of course, there are other roles we perform for Jesus which are not listed, but which are still in a true sense ministries, eg. counselling. The Bible list of ministries is not meant to be complete.
Naturally not everyone is equally gifted at performing some special ministry. For example, there are really "hot" preachers and there are good preachers and there are some preachers who are poor and who obviously aren't gifted at all. It is probably true that all of us are gifted, in part, to be able to perform most of the above ministries. So for example, most of us could teach a Sunday School class if we had to. When the chips are down we can usually make a reasonable showing for the Lord whenever there is a need in the Christian fellowship. Yet there are those gifts which stand out, and those who possess them we recognize.
i] If Jesus is our friend, we should try to work out what spiritual abilities we have and whether they could be used to enable us to do some particular ministry in the church. We all have spiritual abilities - heightened natural characteristics and miraculous qualities added to our persons. We just need to look at ourselves honestly and see what qualities we have to use for Jesus.
ii] We need to care for and nurture our spiritual abilities - especially love.
iii] We should be willing to seek after spiritual gifts that we feel would better help us serve the Lord.
iv] We need to use and develop those gifts God has given us so that we can serve him better. Remember, what we don't use will be taken away from us, Lk.19:11-27.
v] We must recognize the gifts in others and be willing to place ourselves under their ministry.