In 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (NIV), Paul explains that the distribution of the spiritual gifts is a sovereign decision of the Holy Spirit, who distributes the spiritual gifts as He sees fit:

4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

So far, this gives the impression that the believer has no say on the distribution and he/she is just a passive receiver of spiritual gifts.

However, in 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 (NIV) we read the following:

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

And also in 1 Corinthians 14:1 (NIV):

Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.

This gives me the impression that now the believer is no longer passive, but rather an active player in the distribution of spiritual gifts, by way of eagerly desiring them.

Question: To what extent is the Holy Spirit's distribution of spiritual gifts dependent on how eagerly we desire them? In principle, can a believer "unlock" any gift or even all the gifts of the Spirit by eagerly desiring them hard enough?

  • 1
    Answers in the answers, not the comments, please.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 4, 2021 at 2:03

5 Answers 5


Take a helpful analogy: a beginner tennis player learns and imitates graceful basic strokes of Roger Federer, like service, backhand and forehand; but then he also desires to learn more nuanced strokes of Roger, like, backhand slice, reverse and even twinner. The beauty of Roger's strokes just invites his desire to learn and imitate them, but if he does not fan the "fire" of this invitational desire, then nothing will happen and he will not learn the fullness of the beauty and grace of tennis movements.

Similarly, when a man sees a person full of the gifts of Holy Spirit, like the Scripture says about, e.g. Barnabas (Acts 11:24), he conceives an invitational desire to imitate those graceful features emanating from Barnabas' words, deeds and demeanour, incomparably more than Federer's movements can achieve on any tennis-lover, but if he does not fan this invitational desire and does not practice the acquisition of those features, they themselves will not be developed in him, for gifts of the Holy Spirit develop in us only in a free co-action, συνεργεία (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9), on our part, with the action of the grace. Thus, the possession of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is even not a possession, unless the possessor cultivates and increases those gifts by his free graceful initiative and efforts, for otherwise "even that will be taken from him, that he possesses" (Matthew 13:12).

Thus, in short, clear and unequivocal yes as to your question.


Vertically, the Spirit is in complete control.

1 Corinthians 12:11

All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

Only some verses later, horizontally, we see that man plays a part in 1 Corinthians 12:31

Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.

These two verses can be unified by Philippians 2:13

for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

The eager desire must come from God. Then the Spirit and the man work together for the same God's purpose. If a man just desires the great gifts from selfish ambition, the Spirit will not bless him for it.

In principle, can a believer "unlock" any gift or even all the gifts of the Spirit by eagerly desiring them hard enough?

No, not if it is based on selfish motives.

To what extent is the Holy Spirit's distribution of spiritual gifts dependent on how eagerly we desire them?

The initiative must come from God first. Man cannot demand it but God will work with man, even broken ones.


Humans after attaining wisdom (understanding language, logical reasoning & compassionate behavior) can become willing receptors for the Holy Spirit to manipulate their skill sets to improve the lives of others. - A human cannot manipulate the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will not manipulate a human for his/her own benefit. If a human humbly offers their skills to protect/save/restore the lives of orphans/widows/hungry/wounded for God's benefit, then the Holy Spirit will work through that person.

Mark 14:36 illustrates the most righteous human could not manipulate the Holy Spirit for his own self-preservation, but allowed himself to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit in order to fulfill God's will.

And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.”

Even inanimate bones of righteous humans cannot manipulate the Holy Spirit for self-resurrection, but the inanimate bones of a righteous soul can be used by the Holy Spirit to resurrect others. - Illustrated by 2 Kings 13:21 : "And as they were burying a man, behold, they saw a marauding band; and they threw the man into the grave of Elisha. And when the man touched the bones of Elisha he revived and stood up on his feet."

As YHWH lives חַי־יְהֹוָ֥ה - The Holy Spirit cannot be manipulated by humans to test God. YHWH chooses what to reveal to righteous humans who seek Him, but can choose to hide His Will from His prophets - illustrated by 2 Kings 4:27 : "and YHWH has concealed it from me and has not informed me".

Humans are not manipulated by God but molded by Him so the Holy Spirit can reveal (in His image) God's authority to conceive, give, take & restore life. - illustrated in 2 Kings 4:8-37.

Beyond scripture: Many human doctors & nurses have been willing to save a wounded person's life, but before the Holy Spirit can use their skill sets to restore their neighbors - God takes their neighbor's life. So - were the efforts of the Holy Spirit working through righteous humans filled with wisdom being blocked or disregarded to fulfill a greater purpose? no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. - Matthew 24:36

As children of God - all we can hope for is the opportunity to love our Father & our neighbor by glorifying our Father while serving our neighbors in need.


1 Cor 12:4 & 11 both clearly say that spiritual gifts are distributed by the will of, by the discretion of, and at the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and NOT humans.

Therefore, what are we to make of 1 Cor 12:31 and 14:1 which appear to encourage people to desire greater spiritual gifts.

In answering this question we musty be careful not to interfere with the absolute sovereign will of God and the responsibility of man. "God is sovereign and man is responsible."

Now a very basic principle: People do not use or appreciate that which they do not want. The problem with the original question is the tacit assumption that when people "desire" a spiritual gift, the desire is for oneself. This is grammatically possible but is not the prime focus here.

The verb translated "desire" here is ζηλόω (zéloó) means to be passionate or literally burn with zeal for something. Note the meaning allocated by BDAG, "be positively and intensely interesting in something, strive, desire, exert oneself earnestly, be dedicated, eg, 1 cor 12:31, 14:39, Gal 4:17"

In this case, the passion and zeal is for using the good spiritual gifts as manifest in the various members of the congregation, NOT to manipulate the Holy Spirit!

That is, if people are passionate about good spiritual gifts, then they will be received and used according to the Spirit's will. Conversely, if spiritual gifts are ignored or spurned, then any gifts given by the Spirit will be unused.

In 1 Cor 12:31 and 14:1 Paul is simply saying that we should be zealous (to use the English equivalent of the Greek word) about spiritual gifts, especially prophecy.

  • That's not a good translation of ζηλόω, which always includes a connotation of rivalry. See notion.so/aminus/d34760e1271f4de9b369bbd0593547df
    – fumanchu
    Jan 5, 2021 at 6:06
  • @fumanchu - I prefer the authority of BDAG which quotes: be positively and intensely interesting in something, strive desire, exert oneself earnestly, be dedicated, eg, 1 cor 12:31, 14:39, Gal 4:17, etc.
    – Dottard
    Jan 5, 2021 at 6:30

The answer is NO. Spiritual gifts do not depend on how much we desire. Instead, read carefully the subtle use of words from 1 Cor chapter 12-14, you will find Paul was actually telling the Corinthians eagerly desire the greater gifts - Faith, Hope and Love, and the greatest of these is Love. (1 Cor 13:13).

Why did Paul use his words so careful? On one hand he didn't want to discourage or start a conflict with the Corinthians, who thought the spiritual gifts were essential in their spiritual life. On the other hand, Paul knew their perception of spiritual gifts was wrong. The Corinthians had showed these problems;

  • Many of them competed the status of apostle, or prophet, or teacher (1 Cor 12:29)
  • Many of them claimed to have gift to heal, gift to other tongues, gift to interpret (1 Cor 12:30)

Paul told them there were things much greater than the above, they were Faith, Hope and Love and amongst these, Love is the greatest, for Paul continued said in 1 Cor 13:1-3, that spiritual gifts without Love was nothing;

1 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Surely Paul said there were different kinds of gifts, and the same Spirit distributes them. The gifts that Paul said did not confined to the spiritual gifts that the Corinthians focus on. For he said there is one body of Christ, and we are part of it (1 Cor 12:27), it meant the Church of Corinthian required disciples to work in different positions. If everyone were apostles, prophets or teachers, who were sitting at the benches? Who were going to talk first? Who were doing the serving? So if each one served right in their own position, the Church would shine so were they. On the contrary, everyone would suffer the failure.

Paul spoke specific to the gift of other tongues, if nobody could interpret it (implied fake tongue), it was worst than someone spoke five intelligible words (1 Cor 14:19)

Paul concluded in 1 Cor 14:12

So it is with you. Since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church.

It marks the true gift is those that can build up the church.

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