Serving Gifts

The second ten gifts compiled from the lists fall into the broad category that Peter describes as “the gift of helping others” (1 Pet 4:11): Paul can speak generally of serving or helping others (Rom 12:7; 1 Cor 12:28). Or he might detail how this is be done, through such gifts as mercy, encouragement, contributing, leadership and administration, faith, healing, and miracles. Of those who serve with one of these service gifts, Peter says, “Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 4:11).

Serving and Helps

  • If your gift is serving others (διακονία/G1248), serve them well. (Rom 12:7)
  • …then… those who can help (ἀντίλημψις/G484) others.… (1 Cor 12:28)
The gift of serving doesn’t put you into a servile position
“Service” can refer to the ministry of Jesus Christ,1Rom 15:8; Gal Christian ministry in general,2Rom 15:25; 1 Cor 3:5; 12:5; 16:15; 2 Cor 3:3–9; 4:1; 6:4; 11:15, 23; Eph 3:7; 4:12; 6:21; Col 1:7, 23, 25; 4:7; 1 Tim 1:12; 4:6; 2 Tim 1:18; 4:11; Phlm 13. to someone’s specific ministry,3Rom 11:13; 2 Cor 5:18; 6:3; Col 4:17; 2 Tim 4:5. to the ministry of collecting funds for the saints in Jerusalem,4Rom 15:31; 2 Cor 8:4, 19, 29; 9:1, 1, 13. or perhaps even to a recognized office in the church.5Rom 16:1; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:8–13. Here it could refer to a general ministry of Christians, but given that it’s in a gift list, we should see it as a specific gift, if not necessarily an “office” per se. Schreiner leans toward “the gift of service in general, perhaps especially the task of rendering financial and material assistance.”6Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, BECNT (Baker, 1998), 657.

So having this gift of serving doesn’t put you in a servile position. Eve was “a helper just right for [Adam]” (Gen 2:18), and God is our “helper”7Pss 54:4; 70:5; 146:5; Exod 18:3; Isa 41:10, 13.; however, that doesn’t make our wives our servants or God our slave. Deacons especially are to help those in need, which indicates that this is a gift that deacons should earnestly covet. The exercise of this gift would involve doing anything that is “helpful,” with a priority on helping fellow believers (Gal 6:10). But it could also refer to helping and serving the broader community, among which the church functions as salt and light.8Matt 5:13–17; Phil 2:15


A New Testament example of someone exercising this gift was Dorcas, who “was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor” (Acts 9:36). Today, we recognize that people use many talents for the kingdom of God, from the church’s pianist laboring for the Lord during worship and prayer,9Think of the parallel between this work and that of the musical Levites, who were given to the Aaronic priesthood as helpers. the repair man who conscientiously appears around the church bearing tools the week after he’s noticed something loose, broken, or squeaking; or the high school boy who shows up at a widow’s home with a lawn mover in the summer, a rake when the leaves are falling, or a shovel and salt when the snow is falling.


  • …And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others (ἐλεάω/G1653), do it gladly (ἱλαρότης, Rom 12:8)10Don’t draw the silly and frivolous conclusion that just because the Greek for “gladly” is ἱλαρότης/G2432 it means “hilarious.” I’ve actually heard of places where someone has advised congregations that they should all laugh hilariously while they collect the offering.

The New Living Translation has “showing kindness,” but most translations have “showing mercy.”11KJV, NIV, RSV, ESV, NASB, NJB, cf. “the compassionate,” NRSV. It seems to be an emotion roused by affliction; it speaks of sympathizers who do something about suffering and misfortune when they see it. In the LXX, ἐλεάω/G1653 was closely associated with God’s own compassion and grace; indeed, God’s mercy precedes man’s (Matt 18:33).

Like faith, mercy is something that God requires of all believers (Matt 9:13; 12:7; quoting Hos 6:6); indeed, reciprocity governs how mercy is distributed (Matt 5:7). Since we have all received mercy, we should show it to others (Rom 11:30–32; Col 3:12). Paul had been “a blasphemer and persecutor, and an arrogant man,” but God had showed him mercy (1 Tim 1:13–16). Paul didn’t treat this as just his personal testimony, but he rooted it in redemptive history, which brought salvation to all by grace alone.12Paul puts mercy in the context of salvation history (Rom 9, 11, and 15); mercy is God’s eschatological act in Jesus Christ (Titus 3:5).

This had been a long-standing promise13Exod 20:6; Pss 31:19; 103:17ff.; now we have received it in Christ Jesus. God, who is rich in mercy (Eph 2:4), gives and withholds mercy according to his sovereign counsel.14Rom 9:15ff.; quoting Exod 37:19 That sovereign distribution means bounty not lack; it means he freely distributes it, even to the unworthy (Rom 11:30ff), rather than hoarding it only for the so-called worthy. Freely you have received, freely give (Matt 10:8). So, in an important sense, everyone who is in Christ Jesus has been given the gift of mercy.

Sovereign distribution means bounty not lack
But like faith, mercy can also be a special gift sovereignly distributed to some—and by implication, not given to all in that same degree. God gives a special compassion to some, a special empathy, an especially kind heart. And then God empowers that empathy so that what results isn’t just psychological torment at all the suffering you can see more clearly than others, but a healing response.

How should someone with this gift exercise it? First, we have the Bible’s own counsel. Where Paul lists it as a special gift, he prescribes a cheerful attitude towards the display of mercy. And Jesus’s counsel is that it should be done without show or display (Matt 6:2–4).15Exod 20:6; Pss 31:19; 103:17ff. This isn’t a gift that gives you a platform for parading how self-sacrificing you are; it isn’t a melancholy penchant for giving up so much for the unfortunate.

Second, we can rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us; after all, it’s a spiritual gift. Just as one speaks in tongues as the Spirit gives utterances, so too one displays and distributes mercy as the Spirit prods and provides. I doubt if that means you’re supposed to wait for a direct revelation from God before you act with mercy toward someone; we should all show bountiful mercy. But the one who has this gift is more likely to sense a divine prompting than just a human emotion, a mandate from God rather than just an innately compassionate response to someone’s misfortune or folly. And in that divine prompt there is the potential for ministry that goes beyond mere humanitarian relief to genuinely spiritual succor.

… we might even turn to sanctified common sense

Third, it will pay to see the connections that the Scriptures itself make with showing mercy. (1) The Gospels closely connect the call for mercy with requests for Jesus to heal.16Matt 9:27; 15:22; 17:15; 20:30–31; Mark 10:47–48; Luke 16:24; 17:13; 18:38–39. So perhaps the one who has the gift of mercy ought to seek earnestly the gift of healing, just as one who has the gift of speaking in tongues wants the gift of interpretation (1 Cor 14:13). Or, following that same principle, the one who has the gift of healing might seek the gift of motivating mercy. (2) And Jude connects the display of mercy with edifying, sanctifying, restoring love:

But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourself safe in God’s love. And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. Rescue others by snatching them from the flames of judgment. Show mercy to still others, but do so with great caution, hating the sins that contaminate their lives. (Jude 20–23)

This indicates that the one who has the gift of mercy might get involved with efforts to restore a congregation’s wandering sheep (Jas 5:19–20); that’s certainly a spiritual work (Gal 6:1). By contrast, note how God rebuked Israel’s false shepherds for failure in this regard (Ezek 34:4). And anyone whose position put them in the role of implementing programs of restoration should pray for this gift. And of course, the gift of mercy would always be a useful gift for anyone involved in the church’s diaconal ministries.

Finally, we might even turn to sanctified common sense. Where you see someone in need, show the mercy of helping them get financial help. Where you see someone suffering alone, come alongside them in burden-bearing companionship. Where you see someone doubting and drifting, refuse the attack mode of discipline in favor of friendship and fellowship. And where you yourself suffer under the lash of harsh and unfair attacks, forgive those who do it—seventy times seven times.17Matt 18:22; Luke 17:4 That would be 490 times; by then, you’ve probably lost track—and who’s really counting anyway? “Blessed are those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt 5:7).


  • If your gift is to encourage others (παρακαλέω/G3870), be encouraging.… (Rom 12:8)

Paul uses the verb παρακαλέω frequently, sometimes meaning to exhort or encourage,18To urge strongly, appeal to, exhort, encourage (Rom 12:8; 15:30; 16:17; 1 Cor 1:10; 14:31; 16:15–16; 2 Cor 2:8; 5:20; 8:6; 10:1; Phil 4:2; 1 Thess 2:12; 3:12; 5:11, 14; 4:1; 1 Tim 2:1; 2 Tim 4:2; Titus 1:9; 2:6, 15). to implore or entreat,191 Cor 16:12; 2 Cor 9:5; Phlm 9. or to comfort, encourage, or cheer up.20Rom 12:8; 2 Cor 1:4, 6; 2:7; 7:6, 7, 13; 13:11; Eph 6:22; Col 2:2; 4:8; 1 Thess 3:2, 7; 4:18; 2 Thess 2:17; Titus 1:9. So for this list, some translations opt for “encourage”21NIV, NLT, NJB and some for “exhort.”22KJV, NASB, NET, ESV I prefer “encourage,” but “exhort” works well too, so long as you understand that there is nothing sharp or polemical in the exhortation.

Our God is the God of all comfort

Throughout Scripture, we see this gift exercised on behalf of those who are in prison for the faith or who are sick (Matt 25:36, 39, 43),23Visiting those in prison in New Testament times meant visiting those who were imprisoned for their faith, not for breaking and entering or car jacking; visiting the likes of Paul and Silas not Bonny and Clyde. for those who grieve,241 Chr 7:22; Job 29:25; Isa 57:18; Jer 31:13–15; Lam 1:2; Matt 2:28; 5:4; John 11:31 and even for the backslider who is seeking restoration.252 Cor 2:6–7 Ultimately, our Comforter is God himself; so to the degree this is a speaking gift, we should exhort or comfort as though God himself were speaking through us (1 Pet 4:11). For our God is the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3–4). Ultimately, he is the one who comforts those who mourn—and even blesses them (Matt 5:4).

Because God ministers through us, we can offer deep and eternal comfort. If we exhort, we do so as “Christ’s ambassadors; God… making his appeal through us” (2 Cor 5:20). We will do it “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” as we are motivated by love for one another (Rom 15:30). It’s only in Christ that we find our own encouragement, comfort, and sympathy and then communicate it effectively to others (Phil 2:1).

Note the connection between suffering and comforting, which Paul illustrates with his own experience:

For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. (2 Cor 1:5–7)

With those who mourn, we can look back to remember the good times. We often do this at funerals, mixing weeping for loss with laughter at fond memories. But our greatest comfort as Christians is to look forward. This forward look encouraged Jesus Christ himself to despise the shame of the cross, because he knew he was destined to be “seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).

Likewise, God has destined us for heavenly thrones (Rev 22:5). Indeed, our chief focus, whether exhorting from a pulpit or consoling family in a hospital waiting room, is the gospel. Even before Jesus Christ came, Isaiah spoke of gospel-comfort: “‘Comfort, comfort my people,’ says your God. ‘Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned’” (Isa 40:1). So Simeon, who had waited for that comfort, recognized it when it came in the person of the baby Jesus (Luke 2:25, 28). In the fullness of time, Jesus came preaching that comfort (Matt 5:4), and eventually John saw a vision of its final realization:

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.26This promise of God’s presence among his people is central to the hope of comfort, and it was a core covenantal promise (Lev 26:11–12, cf. 1 Kgs 8:27; 2 Chr 6:18; John 1:14). He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” (Rev 21:3–5)


  • …If it is giving (μεταδίδωμι/G3330), give generously (ἁπλότης/G572)…. (Rom 12:8)
You can give without stripping yourself
Paul uses a term for sharing, for transferring part of what you have to another. For example, it’s the same term Jesus uses when he tells the one that has two coats to give one to someone who has none (Luke 3:11). The Philadelphia art museum has a painting of the story of St. Martin. He’s astride a horse, using a sword to split his own cloak so he can give half to a naked beggar. The story continues: In heaven, St. Martin saw Jesus wearing half of a torn coat. When he asked about it, Jesus said, “Don’t you remember? You gave it to me.” You can give without stripping yourself. Sometimes the most generous giving comes from those who have little.27Mark 12:41–44; Luke 21:1–4; 2 Cor 8:2 And when the giving comes out of divinely supplied bounty, the giving can actually exceed the need (e.g., Exod 36:5).

St. Martin’s Cloak

You can give without stripping yourself. Translations differ in how to render haplotēs. Some take it to refer to simplicity, as opposed to ostentatious show (KJV) or to sincerity that shows no mixed motives (NET). This would advise against the flamboyant mode of philanthropy that seeks headlines and honors for involvement in charitable causes. Most take ἁπλότης to mean with generosity.28RSV, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT, ESV Bengel attempts to combine both senses and may hit a good note: “Neither prevented by the desire of private advantage, nor by anxious deliberation whether another be worthy of the favor, and whether proper moderation be observed in giving.”

Although Paul elsewhere uses the term metadidōmi to describe imparting a share of the spiritual gifting he has,29Rom 1:11; cf. Num 11:25–29 here it’s certainly about sharing material help. Paul’s own drive to collect an offering for the beleaguered Jerusalem church provides a good example of this practice, describing the proper approach to sharing and its expected outcome. It represents how to exercise this gift so well that it’s worth quoting at length:

I want it to be a willing gift, not given grudgingly. Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As Scripture says, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds are remembered forever.” For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God. As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ. (2 Cor 9:5–13)

Paul was talking about the Corinthian congregation’s gifts for Christians at Jerusalem. But the same principle would apply to individuals giving to help others who are in need—especially if the needy are fellow believers.30Gal 6:10; cf. 1 Tim 5:8 If God has been generous with you, he’s done so to enable you to be generous to others; if God has lavished wealth on you, he has done so to enable you to give largely—and joyfully. Indeed, if he’s given you gainful employment, it’s so you can “give generously to others in need” (Eph 4:28).


  • …and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing (χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων, 1 Cor 12:9)
  • …then… those who have the gift of healing (χαρίσματα ἰαμάτων).… (1 Cor 12:28)

In both cases, this is more literally “gifts of healings,” perhaps more of a reference to occasions where healing comes than to the person who is the vehicle of those healings. Fee also notes that the manifestation of the gift is given to the healer, not to the healed, which underlines the corporate nature of how these gifts operate for the good of all.31Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987), 594. Thiselton thinks the reference to “various kinds of healings” (1 Cor 12:9) leaves the door open for any way the Lord wants to heal. He speaks of “sudden or gradual, physical, psychosomatic, or mental, the use of medication or more ‘direct’ divine agency.”32Thiselton, 1 Corinthians, 948. He warns against imposing a false natural/supernatural dichotomy on this discussion and notes that medicine isn’t ruled out (1 Tim 5:23).

Nicolas Colombel, “Christ Healing the Blind”

The religious offer of healing was not a new thing in New Testament times. For example, the healing God “Aesclepius is a conscious and deliberate alternative to the Saviour of Christianity.”33TDNT, 3:199. But Christianity reflected the Old Testament sense that the Lord was the true physician, present among his people by virtue of the incarnation and then by his Spirit after his ascension.

As biblical examples, think of Elijah (1 Kgs 17) and Elisha (2 Kgs 4) in the Old Testament, and Jesus and the apostles in the New. On the one hand, Jesus discounted any rigid connection between personal sin and sickness,34John 9:3ff; 11:4; Luke 13:1ff which enabled Paul to bear even chronic sickness without lapsing into hopelessness.35Rom 8:28; 2 Cor 4:17; 12:7–10 On the other hand, Jesus noted the relation of sickness and demonic powers that sometimes existed (Matt 12:22 // Luke 13:11), which the early church also recognized.36Acts 12:23; 1 Cor 10:10; 2 Cor 12:7; Rev 16:2 Jesus avoided the sensationalism that characterized the work of many of the Graeco-Roman healers; indeed, he sometimes asked that the miracle be kept private.37Mark 1:44; 3:12; 5:43; 7:36; 8:26 And he wouldn’t accept payment; he wanted only gratitude to God (Luke 17:7ff).

Despite the refusal of fame– and wealth-producing sensationalism, Jesus’s healings signalled the age of salvation, which the prophets had foretold.38Matt 11:5; Isa 35:5–6; 61:1 They were signs that the kingdom of God had come (Matt 12:28; Luke 17:21). Not to acknowledge that is wickedly obtuse (Luke 12:54–59). Indeed, every healing is a partial victory for the kingdom of God and thus a foretaste of full and final victory that awaits us.

While he was still on earth, Jesus passed on the ministry of healing to his disciples, to make them effective witnesses to the gospel of Jesus Christ.39Mark 3:14–15; 6:7 And that was how the early disciples worked; they performed many miracles and healings, but they attributed them to Jesus Christ.40Rom 15:18–19; 2 Cor 12:12; Acts 2:43; 5:12; 6:8; 14:3 The early disciples never claimed that this power to heal was innate; rather, they attributed it to the exalted Christ working through them by the power of the Holy Spirit.41Acts 3:16; 9:34; Rom 15:18–19 And this is how we should view it today—especially anyone who operates with the gifts of healings or miracles.

Anything that doesn’t issue in proclamation of the word with increased effectiveness should be suspect
Although some Christians believe the gifts of healing were a uniquely apostolic activity and thus limited to the apostolic age, we note that these gifts continued to operate well into the church age,42Ronald Kydd, Charismatic Gifts in the Early Church (Hendrickson, 1984) and Kydd, Healing through the Centuries: Models of Understanding (Hendrickson, 1996); contra B. B. Warfield, Counterfeit Miracles, reprinted from Thomas Smyth lectures, Columbia Theological Seminary, 1917–1918 (Banner of Truth, 1972). and in these last days they have been renewed. That is only fitting for a gift that the Holy Spirit promised to distribute throughout the church for its edification and for the glory of Jesus Christ.

How should you operate if God works through you by gifts of healing. The most obvious counsel is to watch the example of Jesus and the early apostles, who always used it as a pointer to the Gospel, as a demonstration of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God. Anything that doesn’t issue in proclamation of the word with increased effectiveness should be suspect.

The second thing to note from their example is that the gift isn’t inherent; you’re not a “healer,” only God can claim that title.

Perhaps a third thing to note is the suggestion that anyone through whom this gift operates might also seek the gift of discerning spirits, since Jesus connected some sickness to demonic influence that needed to be addressed if recovery was to happen. On the one hand, it certainly won’t do to go around attributing every sickness to the demon of this, that, or the other; on the other hand, it would never do to ignore the real possibility that the sickness has an underlying spiritual cause that should be addressed through counsel, prayer, or even exorcism at times. And sometimes that underlying spiritual problem may require confession and repentance.

Finally, we should note that this gift has strong pastoral tones, as James notes:

Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord. Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (Jas 5:14–16)

Maybe you whom God, through the church, has appointed as elders should pray that God would operate through you by the gifts of healing, since you’ll often be called upon to pray for the sick—and they’re promised healing.

Leadership and Administration

  • …If God has given you leadership ability (προΐστημι/G4291), take the responsibility seriously.… (Rom 12:8)
  • …those who have the gift of leadership (κυβέρνησις/G2941, (1 Cor 12:28)

Leadership and administration are related; in fact, the New Living Translation renders both Greek terms as leadership. Paul’s term in Romans (προΐστημι) means to go first, preside, direct, or lead. So I like the translation, “if you are put in charge, you must be conscientious” (Rom 12:8 NJB). But because the term so often occurs in contexts that involve providing care and protection for those you lead, it almost comes to mean a responsibility to care for.

The term occurs eight times in the New Testament, all in Pauline literature. A key idea is that those whom the church appoints to direct its pastoral and deaconal ministries431 Tim 5:17; Titus 3:8, 14 must first show themselves able by doing a good job of leading and caring for their own families (1 Tim 3:4–5, 12). Such people are worthy of honor (1 Thess 5:12) and even obedience (Heb 13:17), but not as people who lord it over others, rather as servants (Luke 22:26; 1 Pet 5:3).

Paul’s term in 1 Corinthians 12 is (κυβέρνησις), which has to do with administrative and managerial skills. In secular Greek literature it was used for a ship’s helmsman, and in the LXX of Proverbs, it referred to wise guidance (Prov 1:5; 11:14; 24:6). The older English translations opted for “government,”44KJV, ASV, GNV and newer translations opt for “management” or “administration”45NASB, NIV, NKJV, RSV, ESV or just leadership.46NET, NRSV, NLT

These gifts of leadership and administration are especially necessary for ruling elders at local, regional, and national levels, such as pastors, elders, and bishops. They would also be useful for those who organize the various diaconal works at all those levels, from the local church benevolence committee to the national offices of a denomination or its international compassionate ministries.

In the New Testament church, it involved such matters as the distribution of aid to the widows, the first task of deacons (Acts 6). It would also come into play in such matters as the “binding and loosing” of church discipline47Matt 16:19; 18:18–19; John 20:23 and the ordaining of ministers and sending of missionaries.

The seventy elders that God gave Moses for a help likely had at least a measure of this gift (Num 11:25–29). Solomon’s reign certainly illustrates this, with his imperial organization and his building projects. I would say the men picked to function as the church’s first deacons would have had the gift (Acts 6). And of course, Paul told his congregations to look for good household managers to appoint as bishops and deacons (1 Tim 3:4–5, 12).


The same Spirit gives great faith (πίστις/G4102) to another.… (1 Cor 12:9)

Nature of the Gift

This faith/πίστις48(1) described actively, it’s confidence, trust, or reliance on (e.g., Matt 9:2). When used absolutely, without an object, it is the essential Christian religion, (the) faith (Col 2:23; Jas 2:17). It can refer to a decision to be faithful and loyal to the Christian religion, pledge, commitment (1 Tim 5:12). It can denote a conviction that brings certainty, faith, assurance (Rom 14:22). It can refer to Christian virtue, especially along with hope and love as characterizing believers (1 Thess 1:3). (2) Used passively, it can denote (a) what brings trust and confidence from others, faithfulness, fidelity, reliability (Titus 2:10) and (b) what inspires confidence, a pledge, (means of) proof, guarantee (Acts 17:31). Used objectively, it denotes the content of what is believed, doctrine, (the) faith (Rom 1:5; Jude 3). is neither the saving faith by which believers gain salvation (Rom 10:8–10) nor the faith that should grow in every believer as fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22). It not just the faith that’s essential if one is to please God (Heb 11:6); all believers should display such faith. Instead, this is a special gift distributed only to some in the body of Christ.

The gift of faith envisions things for which others can’t summon hope, knocks longer without growing weary, and expresses confidence where others express only resignation

This faith is certainly not a humanistic optimistic tendency or Gnostic-like positive confession. The Scripture says faith “gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Heb 11:1); it doesn’t say faith confesses things we know to be untrue—that’s not expressing faith, it’s lying.

But it does envision things for which others can’t summon hope, knock longer without growing weary, and express confidence where others express only resignation. Carson adds, “This special faith, however, enables a believer to trust God to bring about certain things for which he or she cannot claim some divine promise recorded in Scripture, or some state of affairs grounded in the very structure of the gospel.”49D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12–14 (Baker, 1987), 39.

This faith is certainly not a humanistic optimistic tendency or Gnostic-like positive confession.

This is faith distributed—as Jesus determines to distribute it around the body—as with all the other gifts. This special distribution may be characterized by a special focus on a particular issue requiring the exercise of faith. Or this special faith may manifest special endurance, an ability to sustain itself even through the valley of the shadow of death. I think of the dogged assurance that can be found among those who face potential martyrdom. This gift of faith may even refer to wonder-working faith like Jesus described in this way: “If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there, ’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”50Matt 17:20; 21:21–22; Mark 11:23–24 It is faith that is often linked with healing and other miracles.

One final note on faith: The presence of even miracle grasping faith is no substitute for righteousness and doesn’t constitute evidence of holiness. Paul said, “If I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing” (1 Cor 13:2).


  • He gives one person the power to perform miracles.51ἐνεργήματα δυνάμεων: supernatural manifestations of power, miracle, wonder, powerful deed (e.g., Heb 2:4). (1 Cor 12:10)
  • …then those who do miracles (δύναμις/G1411).… (1 Cor 12:28)

Nature of the Gift

God doesn’t give us people who merit or should covet the title “the Great One—the Power of God”
God does not give the church “miracle workers” but rather “miracles” and “workings of miracles.” Perhaps the focus is on the timely occurrence of miracles rather than on the human vehicle through which God works to provide them. Certainly, God doesn’t give us people who merit or should covet the title “the Great One—the Power of God” (Acts 8:9–10). The power at work isn’t human potential realized at its highest level; rather, it’s God’s power at work for his own sovereign purposes and glory. The one working isn’t the human but God.

The scope of this gift is broader than the gifts of healing, although it would include any healing that serves as wonder-provoking pointer to God’s presence. It would also include other miraculous interventions to shape human affairs for God’s glory, whether quieting a sea or removing a mountain, making an ax head float or floating a prophet up on a beach on his way to Nineveh—or raising the dead.


Rembrandt, “Christ on Sea”

In the Old Testament, we think especially of Moses performing miracles before Pharaoh’s court (Exod 7–10). We also think of the many miracles that Elijah and Elisha performed, for example, Elijah’s power encounter with the Baal prophets on Carmel (1 Kgs 8) or Elisha purifying poisonous stew (2 Kgs 4:38–41), feeding a hundred from little (4:42–44), healing Naaman (5:1–19), floating an ax head (6:5–7), and striking an Aramean army blind (6:18). Often Elisha’s parallel Elijah’s: both prophets replenished a destitute widow’s food supply,521 Kgs 17:8–16 // 2 Kgs 4:1–7 both raised a widow’s son.531 Kgs 17:17–24 // 2 Kgs 4:8–37, esp. vv. 32–35

We should never point to the miracle, but to the miracle worker, saying, “This is the finger of God”

In the New Testament, we think of Jesus during his incarnation, and of the apostles, who confirmed the apostolic message by miracles (2 Cor 12:12). It might be an occasion where apostles were miraculously delivered from physical danger, such as when they were imprisoned (Acts 5:19–20; 12:6–11) or bitten by a viper (Acts 28:3–6). It might be a powerful work of judgment on the enemies of the gospel or on someone requiring discipline in the church, as with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11; 13:9–12). It might be a powerful triumph over demon possession (Acts 16:18; Luke 10:17). It might be a healing apostolic shadow (Acts 5:15). And God aims to work miracles through his people and on their behalf, even greater than Jesus did during his incarnation (John 14:12)—for the same purposes.

The guidance that applies to the gifts of healing also applies to anyone through whom God acts by other miracles. These should all be done for God’s glory. We should never point to the miracle, but to the miracle worker, saying, “This is the finger of God” (Exod 8:19; Luke 11:20). And if God does use us that way, we shouldn’t claim “to be someone great”; rather, we should shudder if we hear someone talking about us like we’re “the Great One” (Acts 8:9–10). With great power comes the need for divinely sustained humility—perhaps even through means of a thorn in the flesh (2 Cor 12:7).


Author: Dale A. Brueggemann

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