Paul mentions seven gifts and it is possible to divide them into two kinds, those connected to communicating the faith and those connected to practical expressions of Christian living.
The first gift that is mentioned is prophecy. This is probably a gift that was temporary in the sense that prophets belonged to the foundation of the church. The person who had this gift often passed on a message from God for the present. Even although they were given information in this way, a way that we know little about, their words had to be assessed (1 Cor. 14:29).
The second gift is serving and it looks as if this term covers a wide range of activities. Perhaps we are meant to observe through the mention of prophecy that all gifts need the Holy Spirit and through the mention of service that all gifts express our obedience to Jesus as Lord. If this suggestion is correct, then Paul is reminding the Romans that spirituality and service go together.
The third gift is that of teaching and this is a reference to the individuals who have the responsibility of teaching the doctrines of the faith. In today’s terminology, this is a reference to the pastor or to the minister. Of course, there can be more than one in a congregation, although it has become the general practice only to have one.
The fourth gift, exhortation or encouragement, indicates that there are other forms of teaching in a congregation in addition to that given by the pastor. Exhorters and encouragers could cover those who lead small groups or engage in teaching on a personal basis. They may not have the competence of the teacher to speak to everyone in the way that he does, yet they are sufficiently gifted to make an essential contribution to the life of the congregation. And exhortation and encouragement are always needed.
The fifth gift is that of contributing. It is likely that this gift is connected to a person with ample resources to share. Does Paul suggest that God leads some wealthy Christians to give in a sacrificial way when a particular need arises? The obvious example of this gift is Barnabas, and perhaps a picture of his old friend when through Paul’s mind when he mentioned this gift.
The sixth gift is leadership and here Paul probably has in mind the eldership of a congregation. Today, the word ‘leader’ is virtually meaningless because it is used in a variety of circumstances in which leadership is not an obvious feature. By definition a leader is an individual who people follow because they recognise his authority and trustworthiness. How will other Christians in a congregation recognise a leader of it? They will observe his zeal for Jesus and his kingdom.
The seventh gift mentioned by Paul is probably a reference to those who have the role of deacons in the congregation. A deacon provided practical help to needy people. It is obvious from Paul’s comment that a deacon should be a person marked by cheeriness. The role is a ministry of encouragement and an expression of brotherly love.
The list that Paul gives here is different from other lists given in the New Testament, perhaps a reminder that not all possible gifts have been mentioned. Yet as we think of them, we can see that the use of spiritual gifts is varied, valuable and vital. Paul says the gifts should be used, and the way to use them is by faith in God and by a focus on those areas of church life in which they can be most effective.
The presence of spiritual gifts is a reminder that each believer should be dedicated to serve God through the gift he has provided, should be depending on other believers to use the gifts they have been given, and should be determined to make the church as effective as possible.