Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6–8—NKJV)

The twelfth chapter of Romans is full of practical and crucial wisdom for the local church. It enjoins Christian grace, the band of brotherhood, spiritual progress for the body of Christ, and individual submission to the lordship of our Savior; all made visible in the harmony of the local body of Christ—your home church. It is a great chapter for church body life augmented by what every individual is designed to do within it.

It begins with a great call to self-dedicated, total submission to Jesus Christ (verses 1, 2). It is this profound understanding of personal debt to Christ that allows a sober evaluation of self-worth (verse 3). Any other assessment is prideful insanity, according to the text. The next two verses (4–5) express the relationship that God gives to each believer toward each other while playing a valuable part within the body of Christ. There is equality of membership but difference in function (i.e., mode of action), distinguishing among the members of the body of Christ.

This focus on function rather than specificity of gift is instructive for our understanding of the progressive revelation of gifts through the New Testament. Spiritual gifts start with great definition and perfect bestowal on the birth of the church at Pentecost at the outset of the Apostolic age (speaking in tongues, miracles; each form of gift designed to be a sign to Israel verifying the church as the work of God—1 Corinthians 1:22). As the Apostolic age unfolds, gifts (charisma) operate in the book of Acts within that construct. The exercise of charisma gifts are broadened and are highly regulated midway through the Apostolic age, useful in identifying the Word of God, as is seen in 1 Corinthians 12–14 and with the added anticipation that all such gifts will cease and die away. Then, as the Apostolic age comes to its conclusion, as the Apostles close out their ministry and progressive revelation unfolds in the rest of the New Testament, gifts take on more of today’s familiar, talent-oriented form in the rest of the church age—talents which must be practiced and exercised, as well as offices bestowed by the local church (Ephesians 4:11–12, 2 Timothy 1:6).

The functioning of the body is described in Romans 12:6–8, and the faithfulness of the brethren to each other is seen in 12:9–21. Like Acts 2:42, where the habits of the nascent church are described, the activity (function) of the local church is described with the talents practiced in verses 6–8. Prophecy is preaching, so defined in the context because it is proportioned (analogia, comparing point by point with something else) by “the faith” (the full body of revealed truth in the Word). Ministry is our word “deacon,” meaning “a servant in his activity”—the servant’s heart seen in works for others. Teaching is the function of maturity, using experiences to strengthen disciples. Exhorting is encouragement as in admonition, comforting, strengthening by coming alongside another. Giving is open-handed sharing since liberality means simplicity, mental honesty, openness of heart. Leading is to stand before in authority with the role of superintending with eager earnestness for the glory of God. Finally, merciful compassion and sympathy poured out to meet needs of others with amiable grace and ready cheerfulness. This is fitting behavior that arises from the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22) displayed in the corporate work and worship of the body of Christ. Now these are the gifts for which believers need to hone their skills. This is the commissioning, compassionate covenant of the local church as outlined in verses 9–21.

Every believer has within him the aid of the Holy Spirit ready to equip him to fill the function of one or more of these gifts within the body of Christ. Are you serving and utilizing your God-given talents? Trust and obey.