Listening to Wretched Radio during my shower tonight brought about some thinking about the topic of spiritual gifts. This past January I taught a Sunday School class about what it means to be the Body of Christ, and one of the topics we covered (briefly) was that of spiritual gifts. God gives believers spiritual gifts for the purpose of building up the body. That is, God gives Christians certain abilities that they are to use for the purpose of strengthening, encouraging, and building up other Christians. The purpose for this upbuilding is so that Christians can grow in holiness, and can unite in ministry, both in service to each other and in service to the world by means of preaching the gospel. During the class a question was brought up about how we can differentiate between spiritual gifts and natural abilities. My answer to this question was that spiritual gifts are those things which God gives his people for the reasons listed above, stated generally as being for the building up of the body. These can be differentiated from natural abilities, I argued, in that natural abilities become spiritual gifts when used for the purpose building up the body.
Todd Friel presented a similar approach, but with an important twist, and I think I like his approach better than the one I gave. He asserted that natural abilities don't necessarily become spiritual gifts when used for ministry in the church. Instead, the use of such abilities become a spiritual gift as they are used for ministry. Allow me to clarify.
Take music, for example: a person can develop a musical ability at a young age, even before conversion. This talent can be cultivated and grown over the years until that person is completely proficient in a particular instrument or type of music. Then, the person becomes a Christian and begins to use the talent within the context of the church and for the benefit and edification of members of the church. Is music this person's particular spiritual gift? We have to say no, because the person was "gifted" with music prior to conversion. Scripture teaches that spiritual gifts are given at the point of conversion, so in this case, the spiritual gift in question can't be music.
But, Todd Friel argues, the ability to use music in the church could perhaps (and I think probably is) the person's spiritual gift. There's a significant difference here. The person would be musically inclined even if he or she were never converted. The person's ability to use music for the building up of the body, however, can definitely be an ability that he or she doesn't have until conversion - until God has gifted it to him or her. In this sense, this person's spiritual gift wouldn't be music, but would be using music for ministry. This understanding holds when we consider people who are definitely musical but don't use their musical abilities for the edification of the church. It doesn't mean they're stinky musicians, or that they're disobedient in not using their musical skills for/in the church; it just means that their gift isn't to use their musical abilities for building up the body. God has gifted them with something else.
I think a lot of people struggle over what their spiritual gift is, and particularly when it might be related to something they've done or been good at their entire lives, like music. Maybe we just need to reframe the ways in which we look at those things that people are already doing in the church; maybe we just need to look at what people are doing in the context of how they're using it for the body. It might not be a matter of them gaining a completely new skill, but rather a shift in how they view their use of those talents God has already given them. I could see this as being rather freeing for people who can't seem to find their place in the church, or how they can plug in and serve others.
As I said earlier, I like this approach, and I think it's time to start thinking about spiritual gifts in this way.