[Babylon 5]

Nathan Mates' Christian Pages

Datafile: Gifts

By Nathan Mates

"Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms." - 1 Peter 4:10

When we come to know God, his Holy Spirit is already at work in us. "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him," [John 6:44] declared Jesus, and that drawing is done by the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Peter had also commented on this subject earlier at his first sermon: "Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call." [Acts 2:38-39] Romans 8:9-11 and 1 Corinthians 12:13 also point this basic fact out: that the Holy Spirit is present in those who've repented and believe.

Once we've come to God, it's not just a set of religious duties that we must perform, it's not just a continual putting to death of sin in our lives [Romans 8:13], God's also given us gifts that we can use to help further his Kingdom. Jesus himself talked of these gifts in one of his parables of God's work on this earth: "Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey." [Matthew 25:14-15; parable continues through v30]

Notice the phrase 'each according to his ability' in there-- God knows our conditions, our skills, and our abilities. Some get more than others; that's for God to decide. Also, because of that, some may get more than one talent to begin with; these gifts are not rationed out so that everyone gets only one talent. In the above, the word 'talent' is clarified to be of money-- a fairly sizeable piece of it to the audience. However, that word has come, over time, to mean 'skill or ability.' Is this a coincidence? Possibly, but by reading the entire parable of the talents, and more scripture (see below) I'd say that God's gifts are not limited to the monetary, but are present in all walks of life.

So, Jesus says that God hands out gifts. It's therefore useful to look over what the rest of the Bible says about gifts, compiling a list of all the things God has done. First off, the most important gift comes first from God: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." [Romans 7:23] Whatever you may think of any of the rest of these gifts, it's impossible in my mind to top eternal life with Jesus in heaven. While we may get glimpses of that now, we won't be able to fully comprehend the magnitude of this gift until we're there in heaven.

In going through this list of talents, remember Jesus's words that not everyone will receive every gift. So, don't feel discouraged if you don't see yourself as someone who fully has any of the gifts as they're listed-- you may find your strengths later on in this list, or I may have (accidentally) neglected to list a gift you have. This list is probably not complete; feel free to suggest other gifts if I neglected something.

Paul lists off many gifts throughout his letters; after eternal life as mentioned above, he continues on in that letter: "We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully." [Romans 12:6-8]

Prophesy, as mentioned first by Paul above, is a big gift. Basically, it means being personally called by God to speak for him to others, usually about present sins or future events. Moses was the first prophet, and there have been many more throughout the centuries since. [See my writing _Field Guide to Prophets_ for more information on this.] God's standards for this gifting are quite high-- one thing spoken not from him, or in favor of other Gods, and the death penalty was prescribed. [Deuteronomy 18:15-22] But, this gift is quite useful, as it allows God's plans and/or rebukes to be directly given to his people.

Next up in Paul's list is service, another highly useful gift, but unfortunately seen as below too many. This can take all sorts of forms, from helping out a cancer patient with their grocery shopping, to repainting people's houses, to moving furniture at church. In short, service can be summed up as "being asked to do something, and doing it." Unlike prophesying, this is a gift that everyone can participate in without waiting for any special revelation, without deeply studying the Word, without fear of reprisal. [Follow the law, and be courteous about it, and everything should go well.] Service is the giving of one's time, energy, and possibly resources to help others-- they don't have to be Christian, they don't have to ask, but it shows Godly character in putting others ahead of yourself. [Romans 12:3]

Next up on Paul's list above is teaching. Like the first two, it's a gift that Jesus demonstrated often during his ministry on earth. God's word is described as "pure spiritual milk" [1 Peter 2:2], and while teaching does dilute it by adding in the teacher's thoughts and commentary, it is necessary to instruct others as to God's word. A new Christian can receive teaching to quickly summarize God's words before they can read the word for themselves. Even Christians that have years of service to God under their belt also need to come and hear sermons on a regular basis so that they can hear God's word, and how it applies to their lives.

Like service, just about anyone can teach-- someone who's been a Christian for a day can teach someone who's been a Christian for minutes. It can also go in reverse; if you know something of God's word, and someone else knows less in that area, teaching helps raise up their knowledge of God's word. However, there are some who have God's gift of teaching, such as a number of Pastors I've known, who can write and deliver a good sermon weekly that instructs, challenges, and entertains. That's the gift of teaching present in full force.

After teaching, Paul once again lists a more 'common' gift-- encouragement. Like service, it doesn't take all that much skill to put this into action initially. Once you've received the joy (another gift to be detailed later) of the Lord at salvation [1 Peter 1:8], you can pass on that joy through encouraging others. Paul encourages a different church later to use this gift: "Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." [1 Thessalonians 5:11] Godly encouragements aren't just constructive criticism, they aren't some psychobabble designed to make one feel good, they're designed to help others see that their gifts are being used, and they should continue to use them.

Giving generously is the next gift Paul listed in Romans. I believe that this is giving generously on top of the required tithing. Everyone should be giving to God anyhow, and that's what the tithe is. But, there are those who've been blessed with monetary or physical riches in this world, and can see that others, less fortunate than them have a greater need for them. And so, a regular habit of giving away such gifts is established. That giving of oneself freely is not what this world would have one do. That's not natural to the human condition-- it makes no sense. But, in God's plan, some are gifted with this ability to act in such a godly fashion.

Another gift Paul lists that seems unfortunately rare is leadership. It's been noted in the secular world that there's an "80/20 rule" -- 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. And, many churches are the same way-- a small committed core does (through service and leadership) most of the work. Leadership is the force that stirs up others to accomplish a task too large for just one person to accomplish. Leadership sees future finished tasks as an answer to current needs, and provides the direction to get to that future state. Leaders invest of their time and energy in others so that the others want to do smaller tasks, accomplishing a larger goal. Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, Joshua was his successor, and then a series of judges and Kings ruled over the Israelites. In the new Testament, Peter was the leader of the 12 disciples.

Churches need this leadership-- merely printing in the bulletin that a church retreat will take place in a few weeks won't make the picnic happen. [Or a picnic, or a missions outreach, or a instructional class, or a worship event, or anything else.] Someone's got to arrange the retreat site, arrange speakers, food, publicity, parking, prayer, and all of the other details that go into any event. More importantly, churches need spiritual leadership-- those strong in the Lord who can see the lacking areas in the church, and plan out how to improve those areas. Spiritual leaders also seek God's plan for the church beyond the immediate, physical events like picnics, and strive to implement that as well.

To end off Paul's list of gifts in Romans, it is showing mercy cheerfully. In short, it is seeing another's need and showing compassion through care for them. This makes it like service, except that the receiver of this care may not need to ask for it. With service, things tend to be along the lines of hearing "Guys, we need these chairs stacked 8 high to help the Steward staff," and doing so. Mercy is hearing of a sick friend, and dropping by with a meal, unasked. Mercy is taking a meal to the homeless. Mercy is donating Christmas gifts to the poorer.

Paul continues this theme of spiritual gifts in a letter to the Corinthian church: "To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines." [1 Corinthians 12:8-11]

This is a mostly different list of gifts, and we can learn from it as well. Instead of mentioning the gift of teaching, we have two similar gifts to start with: wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge is the basic memory of the facts of God's word. Everyone can work on this gift to one level or another-- by memorizing specific scripture verses (e.g. John 3:16), and building up from there. Or, by reading the Bible enough that they know roughly where everything is, and can at least summarize most of the Bible in a hurry. There are other people where this gift of knowledge is really in full power-- they can quote large chunks of a book or the Bible (starting with either a location or a quote) at the drop of a hat. Some people know the entire genealogy of Jesus through both Joseph and Mary, and most of the other genealogies in the Bible as well. [For the record: I don't. Or should that be 'not yet'?] These people full of knowledge are the ones you want to have on your side in a Bible trivia contest.

On the other hand, the people full of wisdom are those that you take tough problems to, like King Solomon. [Example: 1 Kings 3:16-28] Wisdom is the application of knowledge in a practical sense to real-life situations. It's not just the knowledge of the facts of the Bible, it's knowing the guiding principles of action, and following them. James, the brother of Jesus, comments that all can receive this gift as well: "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." [James 1:5]

Jesus commented on the Pharisees lack of wisdom when chewing them out: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former." [Matthew 23:23] The Pharisees knew they had to tithe, but they'd missed the big picture of caring for those less fortunate than them.

Paul makes note that another gift we can receive is faith. So, what is faith? The Bible defines it as such: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." [Hebrews 11:1] Every Christian needs to have a measure of faith-- faith that despite not having seen Heaven, they'll end up there. Christians must have faith that God is ultimately in control of every situation [Romans 8:28], even when things seem bleak. But, like knowledge, there are some with far greater faith than others. Some have the bedrock of faith underpinning their every thought, word, and deed that God will pull them through. Some move to distant cities to serve God, carrying not much more than a spare change of clothes and the faith that God will supply their every need.

Another pair of gifts is mentioned by Paul: gifts of healing and miraculous powers. Healing should be fairly self-explanatory; they pray, someone gets healed. This is not a gift limited to only Jesus-- "He [Jesus] called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness." [Matthew 10:1]. The apostles also healed after Jesus's ascension [Acts 3:1-11, Acts 5:16, Acts 9:34, Acts 14:9]. Paul himself had healed many. [Acts 20:9-12, Acts 28:8] Prophets in the Old Testament had healed as well. [1 Kings 17:17-24]

In addition to miraculous healings, there's also a gift of miraculous powers. That's a very generic term for all of the things that can be done through God's power. Jesus walked on water. Elijah had prayed, and multiplied food centuries before [1 Kings 17:8-16]. Moses stretched out his hand, and the waters of the Red sea parted until the Egyptian army was ready to drown. [Exodus 14:21-31] Basically, while God wrote the book on physics and how this world works, he's also able to throw those rules out the window anytime he desires. Miraculous powers are the apparent violations of the normal to do God's work. Given that the Antichrist will try his best to deceive the elect with great signs and miracles [Matthew 24:24], and the Egyptian magicians' ability to duplicate some miracles [Exodus 7:8-18], not every miracle is from God, however.

Paul noted that these gifts of prophecy (see explanation above), healing and miraculous powers were given out just like the rest of the gifts. We have people today who are servants. We have leaders. We have knowledgeable and even some wise people about the Bible. Some would try and separate out the bigger gifts of prophecy, healing and miraculous powers as only applying to the early church, but there is no such mention of any time-limitation on gifts, and these gifts are mentioned in the same sentences as gifts that we do have today. These gifts are still present even today-- they're not as blatantly obvious, but in a healthy church, these gifts are present.

More could probably have these gifts, but look back to Jesus's words about the 10 talents-- 'each according to their ability.' "Big" gifts like these require much ability and godly character to manage, and that's something that develops after much time spent in prayer and searching for God. Too many people today simply seem to want gifts dropped into their lap, and while that's certainly within God's power, he does want those who'll seek out after him strongly, and stay with him despite not seeming to have big gifts right away. If more time was spent in prayer, fasting, and drawing close to God as the early church did, more of these gifts would be apparent today.

Paul continues on with more spiritual giftings in this 1 Corinthians passage, with the distinguishing between spirits. Just as there are good gifts, and powers of God, the devil has arranged a mockery of God's power and organization with evil spirits. Jesus himself talked of such things in passing various times, such as "When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, 'I will return to the house I left.' When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation." [Matthew 12:43-45]

As Jesus knew what he was talking about, as well as Paul, we must believe (by faith, if nothing else) that they were right in speaking of evil spirits. So, why is this gift of distinguishing between them useful? According to Jesus, only some can be driven out by prayer. [Mark 9:14-29] It's also useful when discerning spiritual problems in others to know if they've got a spirit of control, or of desolation, or anything else. It's just good practice to know exactly what you're up against in warfare, especially spiritual warfare. Thus, the ability to distinguish between spirits is quite useful-- someone else may be doing more of the fighting, but good intelligence on the target is indispensable.

Finally, Paul finishes off his 1 Corinthians list with speaking in tongues and interpreting tongues. This was an important enough issue that he had to clarify it some chapters later: "Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified." [1 Corinthians 14:1-5]

As noted by Paul above, speaking in tongues is speaking to God in a language (usually) not understandable by those around. It definitely seems cool to be around. But, as Paul continues, "I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue." [1 Corinthians 14:18-19; most of chapter 14 goes into this in more detail.] God loves to be glorified by those who love him, but while in church, Paul notes that it's better that people learn by hearing what they can understand, and be instructed by those who prophesy, translate tongues, or teachings in their native tongues. Thus, we should seek translators, prophets, and teachers for churches to best instruct others.

While the above expands on two passages of explicit gifts, there are many other things given by God to believers-- the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Once again, Paul has a list of several of these: "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." [Galatians 5:22-23]

Love, coming first, is an imperfect reflection of the love Jesus had for us in taking our sins and dying for them on the cross. As Paul said, "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." [1 Corinthians 13:4-7] Love is not just a happy feeling fueled by hormones, but the highest form of love -- 'agape' in Greek-- is a conscious act of the will. Feelings are what you use to decide what to eat for lunch. Love is a choice no matter how you feel, no matter how bad your day's been, no matter how much they may have just hurt you. Godly love is higher than that.

Once we have the knowledge of the forgiveness of our sins, and eternal life beyond that, joy enters the life of a Christian-- "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete." [John 15:11] Like love, the worldly definition of merely feeling good-- happiness-- is different from joy. Joy is a bedrock within one's soul, fueled by the knowledge of the good things promised and awaiting them. We may allow our joy to be dampened by times of grief, but it will never be stolen: "So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy." [John 16:22]

Also, from knowing of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, the turmoil in ourselves that comes from the unsaved's knowledge (even if subconscious) that they struggle against God subsides. The Bible comments on that: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." [Romans 1:20] In other words, everyone-- saved and unsaved-- knows that God exists. And so, if you don't know God, you are rebelling against him, and this rebellion leads to a lack of inner peace. Some look for peace in crystals, meditation, or psychobabble, but they can't find true peace in there. Only when you surrender to God and receive his grace will you have true peace in your mind.

This isn't to neglect the trials that can and will come to the Christian [1 Peter 1:6, 2 Timothy 3:12], but even through them we can have peace knowing that we've got a right relationship with God. When we do sin, we have the Holy Spirit to bring us back: "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." [2 Corinthians 7:10]

Christians also get an extra dosage of patience from the Holy Spirit. Once again, while the world's logic is "hurry up," God's is different: "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." [Psalm 46:10] Paul also commented on this subject later: "And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." [Philippians 4:7] We're to be patient with others in this world, and with our prayer requests ("God, I want this, and yesterday" is out). But, we're also not to be comfortable or too-patient with our spiritual condition. We should always be striving to be closer to God through reading his Word, thoughts, deeds, and more. That discomfort with our present condition and yearning to be more like Jesus usually isn't impatience (unless you're asking for more patience), and we should always seek to be closer to God.

Paul, at the risk of repeating himself, mentions kindness to the Galatians. This is pretty much the mercy he'd mentioned to the Romans, but from a slightly different perspective. We can (and should) be kind and merciful to all, even unbelievers. Some have the gift of exceptional mercy-- such as Mother Theresa. But, every believer can and should work for basic kindness to all. This may eventually upgrade itself into full-bloom mercy, but that's a matter between that person and God. We are to be kind to the poor, the widows, and the sick: "He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God." [Proverbs 14:31]

Like kindness, through the Holy Spirit, we can also develop the fruit of goodness. Once we have the basic knowledge of God's word, or at least the wisdom to recognize sin without having been explicitly told about a specific type of sin, we have the ability to resist it. Does that resisting (successful or not) make us good? No-- we still need the cleansing blood of Christ to cover all our sins. The true goodness comes from following this: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." [1 John 1:9] It's God's forgiveness and purification that we need, and that follows from true confession.

While we still must confess and be forgiven of the sins we do commit, even while as Christians, we have the ability to follow God's laws to a much greater success rate than before. And that's what characterizes the fruit of faithfulness in our lives. It's not merely the following of the outward laws, but also being faithful towards God in all of our thoughts, words and deeds that characterize true faithfulness. God gives us the ability (should we not crave his word enough) to faithfully read his word daily. God gives us the faithfulness to pray continually [1 Thessalonians 5:17]. God gives us the faithfulness to stay with him even when things may seem rough.

From the faithfulness in hanging out with God, we also can acquire some of his gentleness as well. God, being God, has infinite precision on his actions. He who spoke the universe into existence can undo such an action with similar effort. God can smite anything he chooses. God can also knock patiently on the heart, waiting for the door to be opened. [Revelation 3:20] While it's in God's power to seriously demolish anything he desires, we're not to acquire that characteristic of his. We're to strive for his gentleness towards others-- a byproduct of the love we must have. In being gentle, we demonstrate that we have the true love and power on our side. The world's logic is to punch out someone else (or worse). But, "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." [Romans 12:19-21]

To finish off the list in Galatians, Paul mentions that the Holy Spirit also gives us self-control. This is sometimes needed to have the gentleness with people who our flesh calls out saying they're unloveable. Self-control is also needed to keep away from temptation and sin. Self-control is also needed to choose to honor God with your time and energy (reading, praying, serving) rather than indulging the desires of the flesh. Self-control is the choice in agape love (the start of this list) to do the right thing, rather than what you desire.

Of the spiritual fruits, Paul summarized their importance as follows: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." [1 Corinthians 13:13]

While these lists of gifts have covered many areas so far, they're not complete. Another major New Testament figure, Peter, wrote of spiritual gifts we need to work on: "For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love." [2 Peter 1:5-7] Faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, and love have been already covered; perseverance is faithfulness in spite of adversity, and brotherly kindness is kindness and/or mercy.

Peter also had said earlier: "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen." [1 Peter 4:8-11] Once again, these words should not be new or surprising.

From Peter's list, there's godliness, which is quite simply the summation of the gifts. All gifts were shown perfectly in Jesus's ministry here on earth. Could Jesus prophesy [Matthew 24], serve [John 13:1-17], teach [Mark 1:22], encourage [Matthew 5:3-12], contribute to the needs of others [Matthew 17:27], leading [Matthew 4:19], show mercy [John 11:1-46], heal by the spirit [Mark 5:24-34], distinguish between spirits [Matthew 12:28]? Absolutely-- and these verses are just one example of each. Jesus's actions while ministering on earth had this basic pattern: preach, heal, pray, and instructing the disciples. Most of the gifts above fall into one of those categories of serving God through serving others.

Did Jesus have perfect love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Yes, even when it seems like things weren't that way: "Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. "It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'"" [Matthew 21:12-13] Jesus also ripped into the Pharisees with loud public denunciations [Matthew 23, others]. But, in doing so, he did it all out of a spirit of love-- Jesus wanted the people in the temple to worship God, not be ripped off. Jesus wanted the people to accept the grace of God, not legalism. Jesus had everyone's best interests in mind, even if he had to step on some people's toes in the process.

In acquiring these gifts and fruits of the spirit, we become more and more like God: "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." [2 Corinthians 3:18] Thus, Peter's mention of godliness is a byproduct of continually drawing closer to him.

There are many other gifts mentioned in the Bible, but not in any single explicit list. We have the gift of worshiping God-- which in some is in full bloom: musicians and composers. Some people (like me) have the gift of pressing 'play' on a CD player to get music. Some others are gifted enough to be full of music all the time, always creating it. There's the gift of having good skills to earn a living in the world. Children are also a gift from God: see Genesis 30:20. Some have the gifts of exceptional athletic ability.

A gift that shouldn't be overlooked is the gift of presence: "When Job's three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was." [Job 2:11-13] Job had gone through tremendous sufferings, and his friends first reaction was to simply be there, comforting him. They lacked the gifts of wisdom and instruction, so their opening of their mouths was definitely a step in the wrong direction.

There are undoubtably more gifts; James summarized them as follows: Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. [James 1:17]

Going back to the parable of the 10 Talents mentioned at the start, we see that what we start out with is not what we're stuck with: "The man who had received the five talents went at once and put his money to work and gained five more. So also, the one with the two talents gained two more." [Matthew 25:16-17] By exercising enough knowledge, you can gain wisdom. Exercise love, and you can gain patience. The basic principle here is simple: what do you have? How are you using it?

However, there's also words of warning to those who don't use what they've been given: in the parable of the 10 Talents, the servant who threw his talent into a hole in the ground-- quite literally refusing to use it-- was condemned for his lack of action. And, Jesus had commented on this subject as well: "Consider carefully what you hear," he continued. "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you--and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him." [Mark 4:24-25] Or, to use a modern idiom, Jesus said 'use it or lose it.' That's a sobering thought, that we may find ourselves lacking. But, like muscles (also a gift from God) that atrophy if in a cast too long, our gifts can become useless if not exercised.

So, from Jesus's own words, we see that what we've got at any one time, beyond salvation, is a matter of our ability, and how we've used the gifts given to us. If we serve God through our giftings, we may develop other giftings as well. If we are spiritual couch potatoes, indulging in the world, we'll lose what we have. The principle is simple, but it requires us all to daily seek to not be comfortable in the world, and use what God's given us to serve him. The rewards are astronomical for such things, but all comes down to your choice to serve God.

See more Christian writings by Nathan Mates at http://www.matesfamily.org/xtian/index.html