Why Does God Give Gifts?

A sermon on the 1 Peter 4:10-11 by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, 7/6/03

Who likes to receive gifts? Why? What is it about receiving gifts that you like?

I believe we like different gifts for different reasons. Consider these three gifts that people in DGCC have received recently. Why were they excited to receive them?

So these three examples show us that some gifts are desirable primarily because of the enjoyment they give us directly; others because of the love they symbolize, and others because they make us more effective at serving.

Today we are looking at spiritual gifts: Gifts that God the Holy Spirit gives to His people. Although the Bible discusses spiritual gifts in several longer passages, these two little verses in 1 Peter 4:10-11 answer concisely three key questions:

These three questions will form the outline for this morning’s message. As we discuss these questions, ask yourselves: Why should I be excited about receiving spiritual gifts? Which of the three reasons for enjoying gifts received applies here? We’ll come back to that at the end.

The Extent of Spiritual Gifts

Let’s read the text, first in the NAU then my personal translation of verse 10:

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11 NAU)

Just as each of you received a gracious gift, you all serve that very gift unto each other as good stewards of the multifaceted grace of God. (1 Peter 4:10, own translation)

Who receives a spiritual gift? Peter says “each of you”; that is, all believers. He assumes that each of them has a spiritual gift, and then tells them how to use it.

What is it, then, that each of us receives? What is he talking about?

The Greek word is one you know, for it has come into English as our word, “charisma.” But the word has changed meaning over the years – a spiritual gift is not the ability to attract people to yourself.

The word is used with different meanings in the New Testament. It is sometimes used of the gift of salvation, most famously in Romans 6:23:

The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“Free gift” is “charisma”. This is certainly a gift to all Christians! But that is not what Peter is talking about in our text; how could we employ salvation in serving others?

Elsewhere, “charisma” is used as an equivalent of “blessing,” specifically of being saved from enemies. We see an example of this in 2 Corinthians 1:11:

You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many. (ESV)

The previous verses discuss Paul’s despair, as he thinks he will die. But God delivers him from the peril. But again, this certainly is not what Peter intends in our text.

Instead, Peter is using the word “charisma” in the same sense that Paul uses it in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12:

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  . . .  7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4, 7) 

6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;  7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching;  8 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 12:6-8) 

These passages confirm Peter’s statement that such gifts are given to each believer. Although the gifts given differ from person to person, each is a manifestation (or “revelation” or “disclosure”) of the Spirit. The Spirit is making Himself known, showing Himself, through the gifts He gives to each true Christian.

Have you ever received a gift – a good gift – that tells you a lot about the giver? A gift that reveals the character of the one who gives? That’s what spiritual gifts do. They display to others something of the character of God.

Thus, we have seen the extent of spiritual gifts: A different manifestation of the Spirit is given to every believer.

The Use of Spiritual Gifts

How are spiritual gifts to be used? 1 Peter 4:10 says:

you all serve that very gift unto each other as good stewards of the multifaceted grace of God.

And 1 Corinthians 12:7 says:

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Look at this negatively first: What are wrong uses of spiritual gifts?

Spiritual gifts are not for personal pride.

Sometimes this happens w human gifts, doesn’t it? One person thinks he is better than others because of the expense of the gift received. Parents and grandparents are often sensitive to this possibility, and try to spend the same amount of money on each child. Indeed, my parents budget a certain amount per grandchild, and then send a check for any remaining amount. This shows how easily we are tempted to consider gifts as a boost to our pride.

People are just as tempted to boost their pride on account of gifts of God. Even if we don’t express it verbally, we’re often tempted to think,           “God gave ME the gift of leadership; I’m so much more important than Joe, who just has the gift of helps.”

But such thoughts are completely wrongheaded, as they misunderstand the purpose of spiritual gifts. Each of us is given a manifestation of the same Spirit. None of us is able to display all of God’s attributes, but together we are able to give a much more complete picture of God’s character. All spiritual gifts are important in this way. All are needed by the Body; all are given by the One Spirit for the same purpose; all reveal Him; all work together to accomplish His purpose.  

So spiritual gifts are not for personal pride.

Spiritual gifts are not given to enhance our personal relationship with God.

Some human gifts are intended primarily to build up the relationship. The engagement rings we discussed earlier are like this; their primary purpose (though not their sole purpose) is to take the relationship to the next level.

But not so with spiritual gifts. These gifts are given “for the common good”, “to serve to each other.”

Saying that the primary use of a spiritual gift is to serve others doesn’t rule out some personal impact on the one receiving gift. But that is not the primary purpose of the gift. For example, I do indeed benefit from being a preacher – I preach to myself quite a bit! But what would you think if I were to say, “Yes, God gave me the gift of preaching, and it has had such a magnificent impact on my relationship to Him! I preach to myself, and I listen to myself, and I respond, and I’m so much closer to God as a result! This is really a marvelous spiritual gift!” I hope you would think, “Coty, you’re missing the whole point! God didn’t give you the spiritual gift of preaching for yourself – it is for the building up of the body!”

So spiritual gifts are given neither to build up our pride nor to build up our personal relationship with God.

Third, spiritual gifts are not a sign of maturity.

Once again, a human gift is sometimes a sign of maturity. If our parents give us a car, clearly they must consider that we are mature enough to handle it. They would not give us that gift unless they were confident that we are responsible.

But not so with spiritual gifts. We already saw that all believers receive spiritual gifts. Thus both the mature and the immature receive gifts. Also, consider the qualifications for elders laid out in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Spiritual gifts are never mentioned. All elders must be able to teach, but the spiritual gift of teaching is not required.

The sign of our maturity is not giftedness, but Christlikeness. The sign of our maturity is not the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit, but the manifestation of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

If spiritual gifts are not intended to enhance our pride, not intended to build up our own relationship with God, and not intended as a sign of maturity – what are they used for?

Spiritual gifts are intended to be used in service to others.

As I translated 1 Peter 4:10, “You all serve that very gift unto each other.”

"Serve" is the word from which we get "deacon". You may recall from our study of deacons that the word was commonly used for "table waiter". I think that's the idea here: We are to offer the gifts God gives us to each other as a waiter offers well-prepared food to the guests - not with personal pride, for the waiter does not prepare the food; not keeping the food to ourselves, for it is not meant for us; but instead enjoying the tremendous privilege of being the ones who "carry" God's grace from Him to His people. 

One of us has the hors d'oeuvres. One of us carries a selection of main courses. Some of us have the desserts. Some of us have the salads. If I have lasagna and Beth has pecan pie, should I think, “I’m so great! I have the main dish she only has the dessert!”? Or should I go off in a corner and eat the lasagna all by myself, thinking, “Oh, I’m really learning to appreciate the cook more here.”? Then no one else gets lasagna, and I miss out on all the other foods!

No! We are waiters! The food is given to us so that we might distribute it to others. Just so, spiritual gifts are given to us so that we might distribute them to others in the body.

Think a bit more of the nature of what we are distributing. The last phrase in verse 10 says that when we serve spiritual gifts to others, we are acting “as good stewards of the multi-faceted grace of God.” We said already that the word for spiritual gift is “charisma.” The word for “grace” is similar, “charis.” When we distribute the charisma, we are good stewards of God’s charis.

Do you see the point? The spiritual gift you receive is one aspect of the grace of God He intends to give to others. So when you use your spiritual gift for the benefit of others in the body, you are God’s agent, God’s conduit through which he gives His grace to His people.

Thus the use of the term “steward”.  A steward in this sense manages resources that belong to someone else. To be good stewards, we must use those resources in the way the owner intends. And God intends His gifts to be used as manifestations of His grace to His people. Will you be a faithful steward, and use your gift in the best way?

Note also the adjective used, what I’ve translated “multi-faceted.” We could also use “varied,” “manifold,” or “many-sided” as translations. Each of us receives one facet of the grace of God. No one of us can possibly embody that grace in all its aspects. But together we show the grace of God to the church and the world.

So we use spiritual gifts to distribute God’s grace to others. What does this imply about how we distribute that grace? The first part of verse 11 tells us how :

Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies

Note two points here. First, the importance of the task. The one gifted to speak must realize he is speaking God’s word to His people! Every one of us is distributing the grace of God in some way – each one of us is specially chosen by God for a specific, vital task. So can you do that in a flippant manner? Can you decide, “Oh, maybe I won’t distribute that today.” Think of the picture of each of us serving as waiters. Will you just sit down, and not bring out the lasagna? What happens to your those eating if you act that way? Each person has a role to play, a task to fulfill, so that God’s grace might be shown in all its fullness. Each has an important job.

The second point here is the source of strength for the task. We are to use our spiritual gifts, serving by the strength which God supplies. We accomplish God’s purposes by God’s power. We must depend on God here, not on our human effort.

Understanding this destroys our pride. To the extent that we accomplish anything through our spiritual gifts, God is the One Who gets the glory. Whatever strength we have comes from God, whatever abilities we have come from God.

So we have seen that we are to use our spiritual gifts to build up the body. We are given aspects of God’s grace to use to help others grow in Christlikeness. That is the proper use of spiritual gifts.

The Ultimate Aim of Spiritual Gifts

Finally, the ultimate aim of spiritual gifts. Peter tells us the ultimate purpose of these gifts in the second part of verse 11:

so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

We are to use our spiritual gifts to build up the body. But that is not the final aim, the ultimate aim of our receiving spiritual gifts. The ultimate aim is NOT to help people. Rather the ultimate aim is the glory of God.

This verse makes the point clear: The two words “so that” tell us that Peter is about to tell us the final purpose of our use of the gifts: we use our gifs so that in ALL THINGS – that is, in every gift, in every manifestation of the Spirit – God might be glorified thru Jesus Christ. This is the work of the Holy Spirit – not to bring glory to Himself directly, but to glorify God through Jesus Christ.

How do spiritual gifts bring glory to God? The key is in the last clause – “Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever.” Glory belongs to Him. Power and Dominion belong to Him. This is fact.  But how are His glory and power displayed when we use our spiritual gifts in the right way? In two ways. First in the use, and second, in the result.

Jesus is glorified as we use His gifts because they are aspects of God’s grace. When we put them into practice, we display His grace - His love, care, concern, and wisdom – to those around us. We provide His comfort to those who need it. Acting on His strength, we display His power – for anyone looking at us can know that we could never change lives on our own! Christ’s power thus shines through us. We truly become the light of the world.

So God is glorified even as we use the gifts. But He is glorified much more in the result.

What is the result of each of us using our spiritual gifts? The church becomes the perfect bride of Christ: spotless, without blemish, pure, beautiful. By God’s grace shown on the cross, we are declared righteous before God. By God’s grace, in part administered through the exercising of spiritual gifts in the body, we move towards being righteous, being Christlike, in all our behavior.

Consider the meal image one last time: Each of us receives part of the entire meal to distribute to others. We’ve said that. But now consider the ultimate result of feasting on the entire meal: As each of us receives nourishment, we delight in the cook, the giver – that works to the glory to God – and we grow in strength and stature, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”. This too is to the glory to God.


Remember the questions I asked at the beginning? Why do you like to receive gifts? We said that gifts could be useful or desirable to you personally; they could represent the love of another; and they could make you more useful to others.

Why should we like to receive spiritual gifts? All three apply to an extent. Yes, spiritual gifts are useful to use personally; yes, they show us God’s love. But the third reason is far and away the most important: We should delight in spiritual gifts because they make us useful to others – to other believers, to unbelievers, and to God Himself. That is the main reason we should delight in God’s spiritual gifts.

At Desiring God Community Church, becoming a member involves making a commitment to use our spiritual gifts for the building up of others in congregation. This is right at the center of what the church should be. We say this explicitly in several of our foundational documents. Consider first of all our church covenant, which we all affirm regularly. Here is the key sentence:

“We will exercise an affectionate care and watchfulness for each other, using our spiritual gifts for the common good, so that together we might live to God’s glory.”

And if all are involved in using their gifts, implicit in this promise is a commitment to receive spiritual gifts from others in the body. This is one reason we put such a high priority on meeting together, in accord with Hebrews 10:24-25. Unless we come together, we can neither give nor receive spiritual gifts. So we promise each other:

Unless providentially hindered, we will not neglect meeting together, but will faithfully attend the church's meetings for worship, prayer, study, fellowship, and business.

Furthermore, we must not only show up but must be active in ministry in order to exercise our gifts. The leadership gifts in the church are given in part to help people to discover and effectively make use of their gifts. So we say in our mission/values/vision statement:

We are not spectators. We value an atmosphere in which our elders and staff equip us for ministry, with each person being encouraged to expect great things from God and to attempt great things for God, as He develops the gifts He gives to each believer.

Finally, we must be deeply involved in each others lives in order to live out these truths. So we say in the same statement:

Within the small group context, we will help believers to identify their spiritual gifts and to put them into practice, so that the body of Christ might grow and be built up in love as each member works properly.

Desiring God Community Church! God has entrusted each one of you with a spiritual gift.

This sermon was preached at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC on 7/6/03.

Copyright © 2003, Thomas C. Pinckney. This data file is the sole property of Thomas C. Pinckney. Please feel free to copy it in written form, but only in its entirety for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must contain the above copyright notice.

This data file may not be copied in part, edited, revised, posted on the internet, copied for resale or incorporated in any products offered for sale, without the written permission of Thomas C. Pinckney, email, c/o Desiring God Community Church, Box 620099, Charlotte NC 28262.

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