As I prepare to go more in-depth during July on this topic, I want to start the month by sharing a few scriptures that deal with the the concept itself - and make a very simple but important point about spiritual gifts of which I believe many people lose sight too often.
The first point when speaking of spiritual gifts (or the gifts of the Spirit) is that all of them are subordinate to "the gift of God". They are important in their own right, but they are not the end-all or ultimate goal of our spirituality. The ultimate goal, in terms of gifts, is summed up succinctly in the following verses:
For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. (Ephesians 4:7)
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. (I John 5:13)
While it is important to understand, recognize and exercise spiritual gifts, that effort must be secondary (and obviously subordinate to) the ultimate hope that fuels our faith in the gracious gift of eternal life that is ours without price. In other words, we can not let our desire to gain spiritual gifts blind us to the fact that we don't deserve them (that they truly are "gifts", not "wages") and that, when all is said and done, their existence in our or others' lives is not an indication of differing degrees of righteousness. That is not a small point, in my experience, as it is easy and "natural" to begin to be prideful and discriminatory toward others when seeking for spiritual gifts becomes almost an obsession and their existence becomes a marker of righteousness.
This foundation is explained very clearly in the following passage that talks more about the "hierarchy" of spiritual gifts - that explain which spiritual gift is the most important:
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. . . Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. . . And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (excerpts from I Corinthians 13)
This passage says to me that seeking for spiritual gifts actually can be damaging and thwart the purpose of our very existence, if we remain or become uncharitable in the process. If I die having never received any other spiritual gift but charity, I will die happy. If I receive other gifts, I will be grateful and thankful and feel blessed - but that will not be central to my joy and happiness. Receiving the gift of charity will.
Finally, I want to end with the following from our modern scriptures - a reminder of something that I believe is easy to forget in our almost obsessive drive to say we "know" all things:
For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby. To some it is given by the holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world. To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful. (Doctrine & Covenants 46:11-14)
I will write more about the implications of that passage next week, but the point I want to make explicitly as I start to examine various spiritual gifts this coming month is that I believe they are important - but I don't believe they are of paramount importance in and of themselves - and I don't believe there is a collective hierarchy of gifts outside of eternal life and charity. I believe that "pursuing" spiritual gifts is less important than "praying for and seeking" appropriate spiritual gifts to strengthen one's individual ministry - that receiving the "right" gift for one's own mission in life is more important than striving to obtain multiple gifts that might not include the one gift that would further God's work and glory the most through its receipt.
We forget sometimes that, at the heart of it all, it's not about us as much as it is about the family of God - and we tend too much to discuss spiritual gifts as if it actually is all about us. Not all spiritual gifts as given to all, even some of the ones we usually see as the most simple or fundamental; it's OK to not know or be able to do some things. The key is receiving, first and foremost (and perhaps exclusively), that one special gift that God wants to give you and me individually.