What Is the Purpose of Spiritual Gifts, and How Do You Discover Yours?

I was asked to share some thoughts on 1 Peter 4:10-11 for a study series for my church. Here’s the video, and below is an edited transcript:

First Peter 4:10-11 (NIV) says,

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Verse 10 is preceded by, “Show hospitality to each other without grumbling.” I think that writing about hospitality, which is a major gift, might have gotten Paul thinking about spiritual gifts in general. And then he says in verse 10, “As each has received...”

Every Christian has received a spiritual gift, so you don’t have to wonder, “Do I have one?” You certainly might wonder what it is. There are ways you can discover it, and I’ll talk about that a little later.

Here’s what the gifts are to be used for: “to serve one another as good stewards of God’s grace” (ESV). We’re to think, God has entrusted this gift to me, and I’m to steward it. He has entrusted time to us, and we’re to steward it; He’s entrusted money to us, and we’re to steward it. Likewise, He’s entrusted a spiritual gift to each of us—perhaps more, as some people have more than one spiritual gift.

This passage is a little different from the other gifts passages (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4). All of those passages list a number of specific gifts. This one does talk about serving gifts and speaking gifts, but even the speaking gifts are to be used to serve the body of Christ.

The Point of Our Gifts Is to Glorify God

“Whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies” (ESV). That clarification is critical! God gives us strength to do the tasks He has for us. He’s given us gifts, but He also empowers us, and we are to be dependent on Him. Jesus said, “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). How effective will we be in exercising our spiritual gifts? As effective as the degree of our dependence upon God. We’re to pray to Him and ask Him to help us serve our brothers and sisters.

And it’s all to be to the glory of God: “that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion, forever and ever. Amen” (ESV). You can’t read this passage without being reminded that it’s not about you, and it’s not about me. It’s about our Lord Jesus!

Sometimes when we talk about things like gifts, people can start being proud of a gift they have. It’s as if they feel it came through some merit of their own. But God has given us these gifts, and while we do develop them and hone them as we do natural talents, God gets the praise and the glory because even in the exercise of the gifts, we are dependent upon Him. Spiritual gifts come from His hand, and we are to utilize them to His glory.

All of Us Are to Exercise Our Gifts

Note that it says “each of you.” There are no exceptions. This isn’t just something for pastors or church leaders—this is a calling for every single member of the body. Nor are the gifts just for our self-fulfillment or glory. We are to use them to serve one another in the body of Christ. There’s interdependence here. When the church is without some of its people, it’s without some of the vital gifts that God has given to the body for everyone’s good.

Ephesians 4:12 says that the gifts are given so that Christ’s body may be built up. Not just that we as individuals would be built up, but that the body of Christ would be built. That’s how we serve one another.

There are different gifts listed in the other passages I mentioned. The ultimate goal of using the gifts is that God may be praised, but the gifts are unique. God gives you a gift in a certain circumstance, and how you use that gift may be quite different than how someone with a different gift uses it, and that’s great. Scripture makes clear in 1 Corinthians 12:17 that “If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?”

God has distributed the gifts to us as He wills for the good of the body. God chooses our gifts and gives them to us, but we’re to use them to His glory.

We’re to Actively Discover Our Gifts

So how do you discover what gift you have? One of the ways is by asking other people who know you well what you do that they consider particularly significant. What do you do that helps and encourages others, and contributes to the body of Christ? What do you do that people say, “Thanks for that! That really met a need!” I think of some men in our church who cut wood and bring it to people who need of it, and other guys who help widows and others by repairing their cars. That’s a gift of service.

I’d also add this: what do you find the most happiness in? What really fulfills you? God has wired you to use your gift in a way that not only touches others, but also brings enrichment to your own life. God is glorified, others are helped, and you receive the pleasure of serving others.

How does a duck know it has the gift of swimming? It has to get out into the water and swim. Let me give an example that I think will help illustrate this. Over forty-five years ago, I had the joy of leading my mom to Christ. She’s been with Jesus since 1981, but when she first came to the Lord, several years before she died, she was asked to speak or teach at an event. She said, “I don’t like to do that. I don’t have the ability to speak.” Then she was asked to teach a Sunday school class for 4th grade girls, and she was terrified. I told her, “Mom, the Lord says He has given you gifts.” She said, “But I don’t know what they are!” I said, “Just try it and serve Him. Do what He has called you to do and see what happens.”

The rest of the story is that my mom became what to me will always be the gold standard of Sunday school teachers. She studied fifteen hours a week in her Bible study to prepare a lesson for the girls in her class. Every week, she got on the phone and called the girls or their moms, and she wrote letters to them. To this day, I still have women who come up to me—some at our church, and some at other churches—and say, “Your mom had an incredible role in my life.”

There is great joy and purpose in serving God by using our gifts, and ultimately He is glorified. So find your gift, and use it! You’ll do that as you get out into the water like the duck does and swims, and now knows it has the gift of swimming. And if you don’t yet know what your gift is, don’t worry about it. You do have a calling to serve. God will show you in time what that gift is, and everybody will benefit as a result—including you. And God will get the glory.

Photo by chay tessari on Unsplash

Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries