Charisms and Spiritual Gifts
by Charles Whitehead
in the Scriptures
In the Charismatic Renewal, the list of nine
charisms in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 is often looked upon as Paul’s list
of the most important charisms or spiritual gifts. Here he writes about
wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, recognizing
spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. So it is upon
these gifts that our attention has often been focused. But there is a
danger in taking this narrow approach. In verse 28 Paul offers a second
list of gifts—apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles, healing, helpers,
leaders, and languages. Then in Romans 12:6-8 and Ephesians 4:11 even
more gifts are mentioned. In each list some gifts are repeated, new
ones are added, and others are omitted. The most likely explanation for
this is that when writing to the Corinthians Paul was addressing some
specific problems they were experiencing, and he knew which gifts were
involved. In his other letters he did not need to be so specific. The
lesson we must learn, however, is that there are many, many gifts of
the Holy Spirit. So in this article I am writing in general terms about
the gifts of the Holy Spirit, rather than trying to deal with
individual gifts taken from one or more of Paul’s lists.
When I was prepared for the Sacrament of
Confirmation at the age of 12, I remember being taught that one of the
results would be that the gifts of the Holy Spirit would increase
within me. I would grow in wisdom, understanding, right judgment,
courage, knowledge, reverence, and fear of the Lord. These gifts would
all help me in my relationship with the Father, unite me more closely
to Jesus His Son, root me in the Church, and give me the courage to be
a true soldier of Christ. In other words, these gifts of the Holy
Spirit were given to help me grow in my personal faith as a good
Christian should. There seems to me to be a clear difference between
the purpose for these confirmation gifts and those listed in Paul’s
letters. The confirmation gifts are mainly for my own personal
spiritual growth and development, whereas Paul’s gifts are more
concerned with the growth and development of other people.
In Ephesians 4:11 we read that some people are
gifted to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, and
in 1 Corinthians 12:28 Paul puts them in a definite order—first
apostles, second prophets, third teachers, and after them miracles,
healing, helpers, leaders, etc. Here he is mixing together descriptions
of the persons having the gifts with the gifts themselves. Earlier in
the chapter in verse 5 he has reminded us that "there is a variety of gifts, but always
the same Spirit; there are all sorts of service to be done, but always
to the same Lord." So we must keep in mind that there are many
different gifts of the Holy Spirit, and that in Paul’s letters all of
them have to do with ministering to or serving other people.
are Spiritual Gifts?
Spiritual gifts have their origin in God, and are
given to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. This means that they are
ultimately supernatural, and in their operation we see a wonderful
cooperation between the supernatural grace of God and the freedom and
natural abilities of the person exercising the gifts. Spiritual gifts
or charisms are sometimes seen as exceptional graces only given to very
holy men and women, but the Church’s recent teaching clearly states
that they should belong to the normal Christian experience. They are
given to enrich our lives and the lives of those around us, and are not
to be confused with natural gifts or talents which are given to
everyone. They are gifts, freely bestowed upon us by a sovereign act of
God, and they are not rewards or wages we have earned, nor are they
prizes given for special merit. They are freely and widely distributed
among the faithful of every rank.
uses five important words to describe the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
- Spiritual (pneumatika).
This means that they are of the Spirit and come from God, so they are
not the same as talents.
- Gifts (charismata). They
cannot be seen as prizes, or as something we have earned or deserved.
They are freely given to those God chooses.
- Services (diakoniai).
They are not given for our own benefit (the gift of praying in tongues
is the only exception) but are to be used to help other people and to
build up the Church.
- Powers (energemata).
They are not permanent, but momentary explosions of God’s power
bursting into our lives.
(thanerosa). They are visible acts, manifesting the presence, power,
and holiness of God at work among His people.
for the Church
In Lumen Gentium, section 12, the Church tells us:
"It is not only through the
sacraments and ministrations of the Church that the Holy Spirit makes
holy the people, leads them and enriches them with his virtues.
Allotting his gifts according as he wills (Cor 12:11), he also
distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these
gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and
offices for the renewal and building up of the Church."
When any gift is correctly used it will be of value
and benefit to us, but if it is ignored or misused it has little value
or purpose. So when we speak of the charisms or spiritual gifts, these
same truths apply. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sections
799 and 800, we are told:
extraordinary or simple and humble, charisms are graces of the Holy
Spirit which directly or indirectly benefit the Church, ordered as they
are to her building up, to the good of men, and to the needs of the
world. Charisms are to be accepted with gratitude by the person who
receives them and by all members of the Church as well. They are a
wonderfully rich grace for the apostolic vitality and for the holiness
of the entire Body of Christ, provided they really are genuine gifts of
the Holy Spirit and are used in full conformity with authentic
promptings of this same Spirit, that is, in keeping with charity, the
true measure of all charisms."
do we need the charisms or spiritual gifts?
Quite simply, we cannot meet many of the human needs
around us ourselves, but we can in the power of the Holy Spirit. The
spiritual gifts are given so we can play our part in building up the
Body of Christ and function properly as His Church. Jesus himself was
guided by the Holy Spirit in proclaiming and establishing the Kingdom
here on earth, and we are called and equipped to do the same (cf. Jn
This is why the Church teaches that we are to accept
the spiritual gifts and to use them for the good of the Church and the
world. As baptized Christians we have a right to exercise our gifts and
service for the benefit of others, and those in authority are not to
quench the Spirit but to test the gifts to make sure they are genuine.
In our increasingly secular world we need to be able to witness to the
activity of the living Lord among His people, and an explosion of His
supernatural power through the spiritual gifts is a powerful
demonstration of His presence.
At the beginning of chapter 12 of 1 Corinthians Paul
writes of ignorance and wrong impressions about the charisms. This is
as true today as it was then. People still need good teaching on the
gifts of the Holy Spirit, but before we can receive His gifts we need
to be fully open to the Holy Spirit himself. The entry into spiritual
gifts comes through the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and unless we are
praying for people to be filled with the Spirit we are unlikely to see
them exercising His gifts. As leaders we need to use the gifts we have
received ourselves, and encourage others to do the same. If we really
value the charisms, pray for them, and then use them in love and good
order for the benefit of others, God will not hold them from us.
are the charisms or spiritual gifts to be used?
There is a very simple answer to this question—in
love and in good order. In 1 Corinthians chapter 13 Paul emphasizes the
importance of love, and in chapter 14 he gives practical advice about
the time and the place for the public use of the gifts. It is good to
know all about the gifts God wants us to have, but it is even better to
allow those gifts to be used in an atmosphere of love. The gifts
themselves are good, but it is when we use them that we discover the
love or lack of love in our group, church, or community. We often meet
each other on a superficial level—it’s easy to maintain a good
relationship at arms length. But when we get really closely involved
with one another, then we’ll find out how strong our love is. Love is
not just a feeling—it’s an outlook, a way of life, always seeking the
best in others, holding on even when we are let down again and again.
God is love, and He gives us His gifts to be used in a climate of love,
so let’s accept them and use them as He intends to build up the Church.
with permission of ICCRS Newsletter May/June 1998
Leadership Formation Supplement.