From the outset of 1 Corinthians 12, the primary text on spiritual gifts, Paul does not actually use the word gifts. In v1, gifts is implied as the noun possibly being described by the adjective spiritual, as if Paul were saying “I don’t want you to be ignorant about those things or realities that take shape deep in our spirits”.
In vv2-3, Paul continues that, as former pagans, idolatrous influences were what had taken shape in their spirits. But since those idols were simply stone or wood, their spirits had just been responding to what was not actually calling or leading. It was incongruent, off-balanced living. In Christ, however, God’s living Spirit was now taking shape in theirs. In God’s Spirit, they had stepped into a life of congruence between who God was or what God was doing, and who they were now becoming. It is in the consistency of this congruent reality that special spiritual things, like cream rising to the top, begin to emerge.
When Paul eventually uses the word gifts in v4, its built on the root word for grace (charis) and the suffix used to indicate an end result (-ma); thus we have the word charisma, which here means an end result or expression of grace, or as sometimes interpreted, a grace-gift. One might even call these gifts “graces”. Given how our consumer culture conditions us to think of gifts as something we’re entitled to (Christmas/birthday lists) or as something we’re free to do with whatever we want, this aspect of grace helps keep our perception of giftings properly framed. This could shape our view of the gifts in at least two ways.
One, it clarifies these gifts are not ours to own. In vv4-7, Paul emphasizes four times that whatever the gift, the activity it enables, or function it serves, these gifts are rooted in, activated through, and governed by the Spirit. These gifts have their essence and being in and of the Spirit. They are His specialty, fashioned and given purpose in the depths of God’s personhood. They are functionary reflections of God’s Spirit. These graces of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing abilities, miracle working, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, and interpretations we receive are inherent and natural to God’s Spirit. While our spirits are specially enabled, they remain as expressions of the Spirit’s essence.
Two, by receiving in part what is the Spirit’s entirely, these grace-gifts are essentially loans. Since God’s freely given Grace possesses a nature that necessarily correlates with God’s holy nature, our receipt of this Grace comes with the condition that we preserve its holy nature in the way we maintain it. His Grace-in-us is thus partially expressed as loans, or giftings, we have been entrusted with so that, as with Jesus’ parable of the talents (Mt25), when it comes time to settle accounts with God, we will have shown ourselves faithful and fruitful trustees of His Grace.
The spiritual gifts, therefore, are the resulting expressions of the Grace God’s Spirit is enabling into our spirits. It is how we choose to physically express these expressions of God’s Spirit that will determine if they are be a gift that keeps on giving God’s Grace.