But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says,
‘When He ascended on high, he led captive a host of captives, and gave gifts to men’… And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” – Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-13
The custom of gift-giving (and getting!) in the celebration of Christ’s birth is of relatively recent origin. It has some basis in the gifts that the Magi brought to the Christ-child, an event which probably happened at least a month and a half after His birth. The wise men brought Jesus gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These valuable gifts would have been quite helpful to the holy family after they fled from Judea into Egypt and had to live there until Herod died.
There is also a connection of gift giving with the resurrection and ascension of Christ. We see it in the text quoted above. Paul, the Apostle, speaks of “Christ’s gift”, out of which we have all received a portion. Paul quotes from Psalm 68:18 where the Lord, after ascending “on high” and leading captive His captives, receives gifts from men. Paul turns this around when he applies it to Christ who gives gifts to men. Is this a contradiction? Not at all! It is all a wonderful flow of giving. It begins with Christ who descends to earth and gives Himself on the cross for our salvation. As He ascends to heaven, He takes captive those who held us captive, namely, Satan and his hosts of demons. Jesus said He came to bind and carry off the property of “the strong man” (i.e., Satan: Matthew 12:28-29).
We were Satan’s property and he held us captive until Christ came to free us. Ever since that time, more and more people have gratefully surrendered their lives to Christ as their Lord. To these surrendered souls, He has given gifts to use in the service of others. Put another way, Christ gave Himself for us. In gratitude, we give ourselves to Him. He then gives us back as gifts to others. We therefore become Christ’s gifts to the world. If you ever wanted to be a gift to the world, now you are, if you have given yourself to Christ!
We become Christ’s gift to others when we use the spiritual gifts He has given to us. Note the short list of gifts Paul enumerates: “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers…” Apostles, in the broadest sense, are what we would call “missionaries”, people called and gifted by God to take the gospel to peoples and cultures different than their own. Prophets, in the broadest sense, are those who speak to people on God’s behalf. Evangelists are those who win people to Christ and pastor-teachers shepherd and teach those who have been so won. Notice that the person is the gift. They are enabled by God to do something special to help others. Everyone who surrenders their lives to Christ receives one or more spiritual gifts that they are called to use to bless and help others. As such gifts are used rightly, the church grows in number, Christ-likeness and love.
There are several lists of spiritual gifts in the Bible, besides the one Paul gives in Ephesians 4:11. For instance, in Romans 12:6-8 we read, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” Paul here is not only listing some of the many possible spiritual gifts but indicating how they are to be rightly exercised.
We can misuse a spiritual gift by exercising it in a selfish or prideful way. Christ gives us spiritual gifts to bless and benefit others, not to exalt ourselves over others or take advantage of them. That is why Paul, after giving advice to some who had the supernatural gift of speaking in heavenly or earthly languages they had never learned, said, “And I show you a still more excellent way. If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:3) Spiritual gifts need to be exercised in a spirit of humility and love or, ironically, they will do nothing for us, however much good they may do others. Spiritual gifts also need to be exercised in such a way as glorifies God, not ourselves. Peter writes, “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 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) Our spiritual gifts should not be understood or promoted as though they were our native talents or acquired through personal efforts. They often do improve with experience or effort but only as we depend upon God’s wisdom, love and strength.
It is a blessing to us to exercise our spiritual gift or gifts but some people say, “I don’t have the gift of prophecy so I don’t need to speak publicly” or “I don’t have the gift of evangelism so I don’t need to share my faith with others.” The same can be said concerning the gifts of giving or of leadership or of hospitality, etc. The truth is, spiritual gifts are the ability to do especially well something that, at one time or another, we all should do. Those with the gift are given by God to inspire and instruct us who do not have their giftedness to do what it is our duty (and joy) to do in our more ordinary capacities. Billy Graham has the gift of evangelism but he always said that his role was to mobilize the whole church, every believer, to lead their friends, family and neighbors to Christ. We all have one or more spiritual gifts. Find out what they are, and use them to the glory of God and for the good of others!