Defining Spiritual Gifts

A spiritual gift is a God-given ability that functions through a member of the body of Christ for the benefit of the entire body to the glory of God. These gifts are given according to God’s will, based on God’s grace and for God’s glory (Romans 12:3,6;1 Corinthians 12:6; 15:9-10; Ephesians 2:8-10; I Peter 4:11-12).

According to 1 Peter 4:11, spiritual gifts are divided functionally based on two categories – verbal and service. Spiritual gifts may also be divided according to duration: temporary or permanent.

Spiritual gifts must not be confused with places of service or special ministries. For example, there is nothing listed as a spiritual gift for youth work or music ministry. Although we ought to give glory to God for all areas of service and talent, we must recognize spiritual the gifts specifically listed in the Scriptures.

                           Five lists of spiritual gifts

Romans 12:6-8                                        1 Corinthians 12:6-10

Prophesying                                                Message of wisdom

Serving                                                         Message of knowledge

Teaching                                                       Faith

Encouraging                                                  Healing

Giving                                                             Miracles

Leading                                                           Prophecy

Showing mercy                                               Distinguishing between spirits


Interpretation of tongues

1 Corinthians 12:28                                    Ephesians 4:11

Apostleship                                                    Apostleship

Prophesying                                                   Prophesying

Teaching                                                          Evangelizing

Miracles                                                           Pastor-teacher


Helping                                                            1 Peter 4:11           

Administration                                                 Speaking

Tongues                                                            Serving

Some of the gifts overlap with one another. The five lists together present eighteen individual gifts for discussion.

              Functional division of spiritual gifts

Speaking                                                            Serving

1. Prophesying                                                1. Giving

2. Teaching                                                      2. Administration

3. Apostleship                                                  3. Mercy

4. Evangelism                                                   4. Faith

5. Pastor-Teacher                                             5. Healing

6. Exhortation                                                  6. Miracles

7. Tongues                                                        7. Helping

8. Interpretation of tongues

9. Distinguishing of spirits

10. Message of wisdom

11. Message of knowledge

                 Durative division of spiritual gifts

Temporary                                                            Permanent

1. Apostleship                                                      1. Teaching

2. Prophesying                                                     2. Faith

3. Distinguishing of spirits                                  3. Helps

4. Message of wisdom                                         4. Exhortation

5. Message of knowledge                                    5. Administration

6. Miracles                                                            6. Giving

7. Healing                                                             7. Mercy

8. Tongues                                                            8. Pastor-teacher

9. Interpretation of tongues                               9. Evangelism

The durative division will be used for the purpose of this study.

Steve Cornell

Seven facts about spiritual gifts

1. The Holy Spirit is the source of spiritual gifts

  • 1 Corinthians 12:11 – ‘All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He gives them to each man, just as He determines.’
  • 1 Corinthians 12:4 – ‘There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit.’

The Holy Spirit distributes gifts according to His will. Spiritual gifts are not something gained by our efforts. Each believer in Christ is placed (baptized) into the body of Christ and is meant to serve a useful purpose as a gifted member (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 22, 27; Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:16; 1 Peter 4:10). Recognizing the Holy Spirit as the source of spiritual gifts reveals several other facts.

a. Spiritual gifts should function as a outworking of the filling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Evidence of a Spirit-filled life, is objectively measurable in the fruit of the Spirit outlined in Galatians 5:22-23. Emphasis should be placed on our need to walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:15-17).

b. Originating from the same Spirit, spiritual gifts should result in unity. Although the Corinthian believers had every spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 1:7) because of a failure to walk by the Spirit, they were disunited. They were filled with confusion and disorder (1 Corinthians 14:33,40). This misuse of spiritual gifts implies that spiritual gifts can be abused and even counterfeited for selfish purposes (see: Exodus 7:8-13).

2. Spiritual gifts are not for self-edification

  • 1 Peter 4:10 – ‘Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.’
  • 1 Corinthians 12:7 – ‘Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.’

Spiritual gifts were intended to function based on love for others (1 Corinthians 13:1-8a). The problem that with the Corinthians was their attempt to use gifts without love (based on selfish motives). The Apostle Paul emphasized the need for spiritual gifts to be used for building up others (1 Corinthians 14:5b, 12, 26; Ephesians 4:11-12).  While it is true that the individual using his gift will profit with the church, it is not proper to claim private gifts for private edification. Spiritual gifts are corporate in their purpose.

3. All believers are spiritually gifted

Every believer is in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit and gifted by Him to build up the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). Some believers have a combination of gifts. Timothy evidently had gifts of prophecy, exhortation, teaching, and evangelism (2 Timothy 4:1-5).

4. Spiritual gifts can be developed and neglected

Although the Holy Spirit is the source of spiritual gifts, the believer is sometimes called to have a part in developing the use of his gift. For example, the gift of teaching is one that will involve diligent preparation. The Holy Spirit sovereignty distributes the gifts, but He works through the receiver of the gift for its development. It appears evident that a believer could also have a spiritual gift and neglect it (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6).

5. Spiritual gifts have time limitations

Ephesians 2:19-20 ‘Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone.’

The offices of apostle and prophet were provisional for the beginning of the Church age based on foundational gifts. This does not mean that such offices and gifts are not profitable to the whole church in every generation. As in other times of history, God confirmed His message and messengers with special signs. These signs were never intended to be the norm for God’s children, but served special purposes at specific transitional times (Exodus 4:17-11:10; 1 Kings 17:17-24; John 20:30-31 with Acts 2:22; Acts 5:12-16; 14:3; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3-4).

6. Spiritual gifts are sometimes distinct from natural gifts

Natural abilities are often used by God but should not to be immediately identified with spiritual gifts. God often uses people with little natural talent for great spiritual purposes (1 Corinthians 1:26-29; 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 12:9). Spiritual gifts are manifestations of what God’s grace can do through the power of the Holy Spirit. God delights in confounding the wisdom of man by using sources man doesn’t expect.

7. Spiritual gifts do not guarantee spiritual maturity

The Corinthians did not lack any spiritual gift, yet they lacked greatly in spiritual maturity. A person cannot claim a level of spirituality solely on the basis of a particular gift God has given to him.

Steve Cornell

(See also: 14 Spiritual Disciplines)

The pathetic idea of flesh trying to be holy

There are countless Christians fighting a battle that is already lost, trying in their own strength to overcome the subtleties of sin. 

That is a battle you can fight all your days, but I tell you now, you cannot win! It is a battle already lost, lost in the first Adam, who was made a living soul, and died; but the last Adam, Jesus Christ, has already defeated sin and death and hell, and Satan himself!  Why not accept in Him the victory that He has already won?

Victory over the flesh is not to be attained — it is to be received.

“Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). No matter what it is that threatens you, if you walk in the Spirit, you can turn around and face your enemy.  You can find him helpless because God has already bruised the serpent’s head! (see Gen. 3:15; Heb. 2:14). In other words, to walk in the Spirit is to assume by faith the victory with which He credits you. God will vindicate your assumption and make it real in your experience.

Now the devil loves to invert truth and turn it into a lie, and probably what he has been saying to you is this: “Try not to fulfill the lusts of the flesh, and then you will walk in the Spirit,” as though the latter were a reward for the former.  He knows that in this way, he will keep you preoccupied with yourself, instead of being preoccupied with Christ. 

Nothing is more nauseating or pathetic than the flesh trying to be holy!  The flesh has a perverted bent for righteousness — but such righteousness as it may achieve is always self-righteousness; and self-conscious righteousness is always full of self-praise.

This produces the extrovert, who must always be noticed, recognized, consulted, and applauded. On the other hand, when the flesh in pursuit of self-righteousness fails, instead of being filled with self-praise, it is filled with self-pity, and this produces the introvert. 

The devil does not care whether you are an extrovert or an introvert.  He does not care whether you succeed or whether you fail in the energy of the flesh, or whether you are filled with self-pity or self-praise. He knows that in both cases you will be preoccupied with yourself, not with Christ. You will be egocentric and self-centered rather than God-centered.

Don’t let Satan deceive you into believing that, ‘walking in the Spirit’ is the consequence of your effort not to fulfill the ‘lusts of the flesh’ (adapted from a devotional by Ian Thomas).


Take time to reflect on this truth. Discuss it with others. Share it.

Steve Cornell


3 motivations for protecting unity

1. The prayer of Jesus

John 17:23 -Jesus prayed, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

2. The passion of God

Proverbs 6:16,19 - “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: …. a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

3. The duty of the Church

Romans 16:17-18 - “I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.”

Philippians 2:14-16a - “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…”

Jude 4, 16-  “Watch out for those who have secretly slipped in among you. These people are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.”

Steve Cornell

Don’t be alarmed by conflict

Mature perspective on conflict

The key to unity in a marriage, family or Church is not the removal of all conflict (that happens in heaven).

So instead of being unrealistically alarmed by differences and disagreements or dancing around them, we should view them as opportunities to mature in deeper and stronger love for one another (I Peter 4:8). When we avoid conflict or just enable others, we often postpone trouble for the future. God provides many opportunities (through conflicts) for us to practice the kind of love He demonstrated to us (Romans 5:6-8).

The key to unity is a deeply shared commitment to work through differences and pursue reconciliation based on God’s love for us in Christ (see: Ephesians 4:32-5:1; Titus 3:3-7)

Make every effort….. (memorize these verses)

  • “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace” (Romans 14:19).
  • Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
  • Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy” (Hebrews 12:14).
  • Do everything without complaining or arguing” (Philippians 2:14).
  • “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (offenses)” (I Peter 4:8).
  • “It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel” (Proverbs 20:3).

 Love is anti-rivalry and peace-building 

  • “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (I Corinthians 13:4-7).

Balancing truths

Short audio clips

Steve Cornell

Journey to and Beyond

The Church that LBC’s Freshmen will inherit

(My article in Echo Magazine for Lancaster Bible College, winter 2013)

In many ways, life is a journey—predictable and unexpected at the same time. Some of the changes along the way are more significant than others, and going to college is one of these significant changes. The incoming class of college freshmen faces exciting opportunities and substantial challenges. When they graduate in 2017, they will be faced with a Church that looks quite different from the Church that this generation has known.

As a fellow pilgrim, allow me to share what I have learned from my journey. I began ministry as a college student and youth pastor in the greater Philadelphia area. A couple of years later, my wife and I moved to the university town of Millersville, Pennsylvania, to start a church. I was only 25 years old, and we had 7 people in our initial group. This fall we will begin our 29 year at the church. God has faithfully worked through each step of the way.

Our world is much different from when I entered ministry 30 years ago. Although it’s not easy to predict how things might change in four years, here is what I’ve seen approaching. Advancements in science, technology, and medicine have been amazing over the past few decades. Through internet and cell phone technology, the world has become a smaller, more connected place. The amount of information available to us is overwhelming. These changes continue to offer both opportunities and potential dangers.

With the explosion of available information, longstanding questions of Christian apologetics, such as “How do we know what is true?” and “Hasn’t science liberated us from the need to believe in God?” will continue to deserve careful attention. The church cannot assume that people will easily accept the Bible as God’s Word and as the sole authority for faith and practice. They must learn how to make a case for the truth of the Bible and for the exclusive truth claims regarding Jesus as the only way to God.

Along with this challenge, the future church must confront an age-old tendency toward legalism. Few things have been more disruptive to the unity of churches and their witness for Christ than legalism. Future leaders must understand and counter this internal threat. When Scripture is misrepresented as requiring more than it does, it gives people more excuses for discounting the Bible.

We must learn how to distinguish the things clearly commanded and forbidden in Scripture from those things that are permitted and left to our conscience. The future Church will be challenged with the task to maturely follow leadership yet carefully distinguish between these institution-imposed standards and the explicit commands of God.

Increased concerns about the dangers of radical Islam could bring a backlash for Christians. As more people view radical Islam as a primary source of violence, they will likely become more skeptical of and perhaps even hostile toward religious organizations or beliefs that are viewed as radical, hurtful, or exclusive.

This means that Christians will have to learn to communicate the exclusive truth claims of Jesus in ways that do not unnecessarily provoke misunderstanding. Teaching Jesus’ call to love your enemies, the future church will learn to model this love to radical religions.

In a world that increasingly portrays Christians as intolerant, the future church will face the daunting task of remaining firm in truth without creating a rift between people of other beliefs. Tolerance has been the most emphasized social standard for the last several decades. I expect this issue to only increase because tolerance has been used more as an agenda of power to coerce society to accept certain ways of thinking on issues like gay marriage.

This will mean that people who hold the historic view of marriage and the view Jesus taught of marriage as a gift from God for male and female (Matthew 19:4-6) will be forced into public silence or threatened with charges of discrimination.

This could end up being a defining issue for the Church. Christian beliefs about marriage are rooted in our commitment to the way God created us and to marriage as God’s ordained gift for our good. If activists have their way, however, they will target churches that refuse to perform gay weddings and those that do not accept gay members. These churches will be falsely equated to those that practice racial discrimination.

America has become far more ethnically, religiously, ideologically diverse and the true virtue of tolerance is necessary to the civility of a diverse society. Diverse societies suffer when people do not respect each other, but we must help people understand that tolerance as a valued ethic does not mean putting up with differences or forcing everyone to agree but to truly respect others despite differences.

Somewhere along the way true tolerance was replaced with a counterfeit operating under the same name. The new version demands agreement, not respect, and the results are eroding our freedoms. Tolerance, as a virtue, actually shines most when people deeply disagree but still manage to treat each other with respect. We have an opportunity not only to teach the truth about tolerance but also to show people that the gospel is for people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. The Church should reflect this diversity as a body of people united in a common Savior.

Additionally, few things have changed the nature of ministry more in the past two decades than the demise of marriages and families. After more than 10 million divorces in the last 15 years and about a million new children of divorce every year, church leaders are inundated with requests for family related counseling and ministry. Gratefully, people often to turn to God for help in their desperation, but churches are typically unprepared to offer aid. Anyone preparing for ministry must be aware of and prepared for this reality.

Churches are also increasingly functioning as surrogate families to children and youth from broken homes. I expect a growing need for well-trained church-based counselors— especially female counselors.

Those who desire to be involved in church ministry should look for training in marriage and family related issues. They should gain a strong understanding of God’s will regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage. They should also prepare for preventive ministries that help people know how to make the marriage decision and offer premarital preparation.

Finally, anyone who wishes to serve in the future church needs to be fully transformed by God. God is far more interested in changing us as people than about where we serve. 

  • Remind yourself daily of God’s undeserved gift in the gospel of grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).
  • Remind yourself daily of God’s undeserved gift in the gospel of grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).
  • Encounter God daily based on Hebrews 4:12 and Hebrews 4:16.
  • Learn to distrust yourself enough to trust in the Lord with all your heart (Proverbs 3:5-7).
  • Keep short accounts with God about sin (I John 1:9-2:2).
  • Walk closely with those who walk with God (Psalm 1:1-3).
  • Pursue wisdom by learning Scripture because “the Lord grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6).
  • Humble yourself before God and then humble yourself again (Matthew 18:1-5; 1 Peter 5:5-6).
  • Be connected with a local Church and serve God’s people (Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 3:12-13; 13:7,17).
  • Don’t live in a Christian bubble but live as salt to the earth and light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16).
  • Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40).

Anyone pursuing these priorities will be well prepared for years of service to the Church of Jesus Christ.

By Steve Cornell

Senior Pastor, Millersville Bible Church, Millersville, PA

Member, President’s Pastors Advisory Council

When Pastors Study Scripture

When I visit other Churches or listen to sermons, I can tell if a speaker has done the hard work of biblical exegesis.
This is especially true if he’s doing a topical message because topical studies require exegesis of multiple texts. They also require careful theological consideration in connecting Biblical truth in the narrative of redemptive history.

I find it invigorating when I hear a sermon based on a combination of thorough biblical exegesis, theological maturity and perceptive contemporary application. But I am sadly reticent to believe that messages of this kind are easily found in our Churches.

One reason for this is a failure among pastors to faithfully do the hard work of studying Scripture. The large majority of pastors lose their ability to work in original languages by their fourth or fifth year of ministry (if not, earlier).

I understand how the demands of ministry can be overwhelming. I also know the pressures faced when trying to fill the training gaps for unexpected issues in pastoral work. But we must resist the temptation to do ministry at the expense of a disciplined habit of careful biblical exegesis.

Easier said than done? Yes! That’s why I want to share a helpful solution.

But allow me first to share a little of my journeyIn 30 years of pastoral work, I’ve been a youth pastor, Church planter, pastor of a Church from 10 people to 600 (with multiple staff). During most of that time, I’ve written monthly columns for several newspapers, produced daily radio programs; invested many hours in pastoral counseling, gave oversight to many building projects and raised four children to adulthood (with the indispensable co-laboring of a faithful wife). I fully understand the demands of ministry that pull us in many directions and make it hard to maintain focused study time. 

Questions: How can a pastor maintain a high level of skill in biblical exegesis under such demands? How can a pastor stay up on biblical languages?

The answer for me has been in the tools that I’ve used. I was reminded of this last week when I used a book by a commentator that has been one of the faithful helpers to me for many years. The commentator is Gordon Fee. The book is God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul. Dr. Fee stands in a tradition of teachers and authors who do the hard work behind the scenes that I (as a pastor) do not have time to do. I’ve worn out his commentaries on I Corinthians and Philippians. Currently I am reading his work titled, Pauline Christology.

Another helpful factor for me was the books I had to read in training for ministry.

Many years ago, I discovered D. A. Carson’s New Testament Commentary Survey. This was extremely valuable for commentary selection.

Another author who profoundly shaped my application of Scripture was John R. W. Stott. (See: Here). On an academic and cultural level, the work of Ken Myers in Mars Hill Audio has been a primary resource for my book selections.


My simple recommendation is for pastors to discipline themselves to read good exegetical commentaries. It is the best way I know to stay current in original languages and careful biblical exegesis. Only read devotional works or sermon collections after reading the in-depth exegetical commentaries.

When I do a sermon series through a book of the Bible, I choose about five or six of the best commentaries on the book and patiently read each one (including all footnotes). This has kept me in the biblical languages and has shaped the way I read and study Scripture.

As an example, earlier in my ministry, I spent three years teaching the Sermon on the Mount. My resources at the time included that following:

  1. D. A. CarsonMatthew (Expositors Bible Commentary) and  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
  2. John R. W. StottThe Message of the Sermon on the Mount
  3. Robert Guelich: The Sermon on the Mount
  4. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Studies in the Sermon on the Mount
  5. Five Views on Law and Gospel, ed. Stanley N. Gundry

Any current study of the book of Matthew, should include commentaries by Craig S. Keener,  R. T. France (NICNT)Donald Hagner (WBC), and John Nolland (NIGTC).

I realize that (for some pastors) reading thorough exegetical commentaries might prove to be challenging but the rewards are worth the effort. The effort necessary for me was nothing short of hard work and discipline. But I discovered that the more you disciplined yourself to read at this level, the easier it became. More importantly, this practice will positively affect the way you read and teach the Bible. It will strengthen your theology and give you wisdom for life and ministry.

I close with a reminder to all who teach the Scriptures:

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (II Timothy 2:15).

Start with Gordon Fee’s commentary on Philippians (read the footnotes!) Or, pick up D. A. Carson’s Showing the Spirit on I Corinthians 12-14 or his commentary on The Gospel According to John or his study of the prayers of the apostle Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation.

Steve Cornell

Surpass one another in showing honor

Our relationships and our Churches would be transformed if we were devoted to practicing Romans 12:10 - 

Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other (NLT).

I found it curious that the words “take delight” were used by the translators of the New Living Bible. Other translations include: “give preference to one another” and “preferring one another.”
The word translated “take delight” (προηγούμενοι) could be rendered “going before.”  
The expression conveys eagerness to honor others. It’s a call to initiate or even to surpass one another in showing honor. “Out do one another in showing honor” (ESV).
I like the rendering “Take delight” because it should not be considered a burden but a joy to show honor to one another. Honoring others involves recognizing their value. But honor first comes from humble character not a focus on the one honored.
What would happen if marriages, families and Churches had a renewed passion for showing deference to one another out of honor? Living out this calling would transform a Christian fellowship into the kind of community it was meant to be.  
After demonstrating deferential honor by washing His disciples feet, Jesus said, “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35).
Steve Cornell

Expository Preaching

This post is a response to a question someone asked me this week about expository preaching. He also noted that I had nothing specific about it on my blog.

I do expository preaching every time I teach from Scripture because exposition is what is happening. One of the long honored masters of expository preaching defined it well.

Dr. Stephen Olford explained that, “expository preaching is the Spirit-empowered explanation and proclamation of the text of God’s Word, with due regard to the historical, contextual, grammatical and doctrinal significance of the given passage, with the specific object of invoking a Christ-transforming response.”

Where this is happening (and there are fewer places than most realize), God’s people are blessed. A true test of whether this is actually happening is to look at how well the Church follows the Scripture in its leadership structure and fellowship. There’s no sense going through the motions of preaching if the Church doesn’t actually follow the Scripture on important matters like leadership and government. 

Some feel that the only way one is expositional as a preacher is if he teaches through books of the Bible verse by verse. But there is nothing mandating only one approach to preaching. I’ve given a number of book studies and will likely do more in the near future. I’ve also presented many theological studies. All the well-known expositors have done a mixture of biblical and theological studies as well as individual book studies.

Many times the person who says he prefers expository preaching simply means a book study vs. a theological study. This way of thinking however does not understand the meaning of exposition. And expository topical studies are actually harder when done well. They require much broader exegetical knowledge than individual book studies.

The important thing for all who teach Scripture is a commitment to do the hard exegetical work no matter what you’re teaching. And we should always be cautious about Churches or leaders who posture as superior for their approach to preaching. I’ve heard book studies and topical sermons that lacked careful exegetical work. To use Olford’s definition, they lacked “due regard to the historical, contextual, grammatical and doctrinal significance of the given passage/s.”

Steve Cornell

See also: 10 Attributes of good preaching