Generally, when we discuss spiritual gifts, we turn to key passages such as 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12 or Ephesians 4. These are the primary texts that help us understand the type of gifts that are bestowed upon believers at their conversion. The uses of the plural noun, gifts, in these passages seem to indicate the presence of multiple gifts. However, it’s important to remember that Paul is writing to a large number of people, so it is appropriate in the context.
Also, keep in mind that the lists in these passages are representative of the various gifts available through the Holy Spirit. They are more like categories of gifts. All of the lists are similar, yet they are different, which leads most Bible scholars to believe that they are not exhaustive of the gifts available through the Holy Spirit. If these were the only texts available to guide us in understanding spiritual gifts, it would be difficult to conclude whether a believer has one gift or many gifts.
Fortunately, the Apostle Peter had something to say about the use of spiritual gifts as well. In 1 Peter 4, he is preparing his readers to live in the midst of intense persecution. Part of that included serving one another and suffering for God’s glory. In verse 10, he tells his readers to use the gift they have been given in service to one another.
It is clear from this text that each believer receives one spiritual gift. The best way to think about it is to compare it to a painter and his palette. He puts each of the primary colors onto his palette as he begins his artwork. He then takes a dab of one color, a dab of another color, a dab of yet another color, and so on, until he creates the perfect color for his painting. In much the same way, the Holy Spirit takes from the categories of gifts (Romans 12:3-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-10) and creates a unique spiritual gift for each believer.
He then places that believer into a local body of other believers where they are to exercise that unique spiritual gift in serving one another for the glory of God. No two people have the exact spiritual gift. No one can do what you can do. This is why you are so very important to the body of Christ and to your local congregation of believers. When you are not present, the body suffers. It’s not complete. It doesn’t function properly.
This is also the reason it is important to be committed to one local body of believers. Going to church sporadically*, bouncing around to various churches, or considering TV or internet as “church” makes it impossible for you to exercise the gift you have been given. Going to church and never interacting with other members also prohibits you from exercising your spiritual gift properly. Spiritual gifts are to be used in service to other members in the context of a local assembly.
If you do not attend church regularly, or if you are a “ninja Christian” (one who slips in late and leaves early so you don’t have to talk to anyone), this is for you. You’re doing it wrong! Get involved. Be committed!