Q: What is a spiritual gift?

The haunting Beatle song, Eleanor Rigby, describes a reclusive woman whose task at church is to “pick up the rice where the wedding has been.” It’s not a glamorous position, but she has the talent of serving others and quietly helping for a festive occasion to be successful.

The Bible tells us that a spiritual gift is one chosen for us by the Holy Spirit, and provided “for the common good” of the Christian Church. Here’s a partial list found in I Corinthians 12:  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 the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another the ability to speak in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. Down in verse 28, Paul adds apostles and preachers and a wonderful catch-all kind of gift: those able to help others.

This practical passage of Scripture outlines several good principles. First, we’re all given at least one gift; no one is left out. Again, knowing us intimately, the Spirit himself personally chooses which gift is best suited to our talents, and also which gift is most needed by our local church at this particular time. Third, each assignment is a critical one; with a wide variety of gifts and people using them, the entire mosaic of needs will be filled. Fourth, we’re never to think that some gifts are more important than others and consider ourselves either superior or left out. Paul is almost witty in cheerfully observing that we can’t all be an eye or a hand – and that the body itself is not just one huge eye! But each “part” needs all the other “parts”; even small, usually unnoticed parts, like the fictional Miss Rigby, are important to the mission of the worldwide Christian church.

The parables of Jesus shed some more light on this exciting topic. The story of the talents (Matthew 25) praises the men who employ their spiritual gifts immediately. The minute the boss leaves, they get online with their broker. Likewise, as soon as we know how the Spirit has gifted us, we need to get to work right away and not waste precious months and years.

We also, once we have one gift, should seek to expand our talent base and try to hone two or three – all dedicated to God’s work. Thirdly, our gifts are really under the ownership and direction of the kind supervisor who has entrusted them to us. In this story of the three investors, it was the Master’s own money that hit Wall Street, not that of the three servants. So we can be bold and take prudent chances with the talents God has placed under our jurisdiction.

Try to get a glimpse of the entire, worldwide Body of Christ – two billion members strong – and each person is part of this divine, thriving, expanding, cooperating, innovative machine. Ah . . . the Body of Christ!