The first list of spiritual gifts that I will examine in this series is found in Romans 12:6-8. These two verses are part of a larger paragraph that either includes (depending on your English version) Romans 12:1-8 or Romans 12:3-8. Whether or not the first two verses should be included in this paragraph, they certainly set the background for Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts and the remainder of the book of Romans. Therefore, let’s include them in our examination:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:1-8 ESV)
The gifts listed in verses 6-8 are prophecy, service, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading, and mercy. In this passages, both gifts (prophecy, service) and the ones exercising the gifts (the one who teaches, the one who exhorts, the one who contributes, the one who leads, the one who does acts of mercy) are variously addressed. As we will see in later passages, this blurring of distinction between the gifts and the ones exercising the gifts is common for Paul.
In context, Paul begins by encouraging his readers to offer themselves to God as spiritual worship or spiritual service. They do this by first renewing their minds and learning what God desires from them. It is interesting that Paul moves from his readers renewing their minds to not thinking more highly of themselves than they ought to think. He moves from not thinking too highly into spiritual gifts.
Paul says that each one has been given gifts according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. In spite of the fact that the gifts are different, the common attribute is God: “God has assigned”, “one body in Christ”, “members one of another”. When exercised according to the will of God, the different gifts do not fracture the body, but serve to bring the body together.
These gifts are often called “motivational gifts”. Some explain that everyone is given at least one of these gifts and are motivated to serve others through one or more of these gifts. However, Paul does not indicate that this list of gifts is different or special compared to other lists, nor does he indicate that this list is exhaustive, nor does he indicate that people are motivated to use one or more of these gifts. These are distinctions that others have placed on this passage in order to distinguish this list of gifts from other lists of gifts.
Instead of emphasizing motivation, Paul emphasizes that each person should exercise the gift or gifts that they have been given by the Spirit. They should not think too highly of themselves and attempt to exercise a gift that they have not been given. The body has many members and all are necessary, therefore there are no unnecessary or unimportant gifts. While Paul does not spell this out in this passage as he does in others, it does seem to be the focus of his passage.
Importantly, Romans 12:9 begins by describing “unhypocritical love”. If anything, the desire to offer spiritual service to God in hypocritical love is the motivation for each individual to exercise their specific gifts. As we think about how to serve God and as we think about the unhypocritical love that God is creating within us by his Spirit, we are motivated to serve others.
The question is how are we going to serve others? Are we willing to serve others in the way that God has chosen to gift us, or are we going to try to serve others in a way that we consider to be more important? According to Paul, we should not think too highly of ourselves, we should recognize that God has gifted us according to our faith and by his desire, and we should serve others with the gifts that God himself has chosen to give us. Otherwise, we are trying to serve with hypocritical love.
Series on Spiritual Gifts