Prepare three gift boxes or gift bags that each contain the ingredients for cookies or cupcakes or some other treat. Ask three class members ahead of time to assist in the following role play. Make enough of the treats at home to share with the class members and hide them somewhere outside the classroom in a location known to the third class member.
You may also want to draw the timeline used in the section "Developing Spiritual Gifts" on the very top of the chalkboard before class.
Give a wrapped gift to each of three class members.
Class Member A does not even reach out to take the gift, but ignores you, walks away, and sits back down. Ask the class, "Have you ever been given a gift that you did not open? Can you even imagine leaving it there like that without even finding out what it is? Crazy!"
Class Member B takes the gift, opens it to see what it is, and expresses confusion about what it could be good for. She digs around in it, and says she doesn't know what to do with it; it looks like it's just a bunch of miscellaneous food staples. She thinks that's an odd sort of gift--not what she was expecting. She sets it down and walks away. Ask the class, "Have you ever been given a gift that you did not understand or appreciate?"
Class Member C opens the gift and is also confused about its purpose, but he returns to the giver (you) to thank you and ask what he should do with it. You whisper something in his ear, and he says, "Oh! That's a good idea!" and leaves the room with the gift.
In a moment, he returns with the prepared treats and passes them among the class members.
Ask the class, "Aren't you glad Class Member C accepted his gift, learned how to use it, and shared it with all of us!"
THREE WITNESSES OF THE SPIRITUAL GIFTS
About 55 years after Christ, the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Corinthians to correct errors in their congregation. He knew that there was an ever-present problem of disharmony between the Jews and the Greeks, and so he gave a marvelous written discourse telling the saints that God had wonderful spiritual gifts for them to share with each other, and he itemized some of those gifts, and encouraged the saints to seek them.
421 years after Christ, Moroni was the last righteous man alive on the American continent. He wandered to and fro, keeping himself and the priceless plates of scripture hidden from the wicked civilization around him. At one time, he thought he would soon be found and killed and so he buried the plates. But as time went on and he was still alive, he dug them up again and wrote a little more since there was still space on the last few. He knew that no one of his generation would ever read them. He knew that he was the last man on the threshold of the Great Apostacy, as it took place in America. He knew, also, that there would be a Restoration. And so he added The Book of Moroni, a handbook of instructions for the restoration of the true church on the earth. The very last thing Moroni included in his book was a list of the spiritual gifts that we must seek, and which God will give to us if we come unto him (Moroni 10). After that, he wrote the title page of the Book of Mormon on the very last leaf of gold, and buried the plates for good.
Paul and Moroni, having lived 300 years and half the world away from each other, never having been members of the same civilization, writing their scriptures in completely different languages, wrote the selfsame list of gifts. Obviously, they got these lists from the same Source, transcendant of time and place.
1831 years after Christ, in Kirtland, Ohio the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation on how to conduct church meetings and run church congregations. Guess what this revelation included? A list of spiritual gifts for which members of the congregation should seek (D&C 46). Since this was a revelation from God, it should not surprise us too much to find that it is the very same list as given to Paul in 55 A.D. and to Moroni in 421 A.D.
In the mouth of three witnesses, the Lord established his word.
VERIFICATIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS
Have the class open their scriptures to 1 Cor. 12:1-11, and take turns reading the verses aloud as you (or a class member) itemize the 9 gifts listed in the blackboard.
The purposes for having three witnesses are so that the witnesses can both verify and clarify each other. So let's look for verifications (which would appear as similarities) and clarifications (which would appear as differences) in Moroni's and Joseph Smith's lists.
Have one side of the class read Moroni 10:8-17, and the other side of the class read D&C 46:17-27. As they find something that is either the same as or in addition to Paul's list, have them raise their hand so you can check off the item already listed, or add it to the list.
If you want to clarify the gifts further, please refer to Elder Oaks' article, "Spiritual Gifts," in the September 1986 Ensign.
AN INFINITE NUMBER OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS
Elder Ashton expounded upon several other gifts: the gift to ponder, the gift to look to God for direction, the gift to hear and use the Small Voice, the gift to calm others, and the gift to care for others.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote, "Their purpose is to enlighten, encourage, and edify the faithful so that they will inherit peace in this life and be guided toward eternal life in the world to come...Faithful persons are expected to seek the gifts of the Spirit with all their hearts." After itemizing those listed in the scriptures, as we have done, he added, "And these are by no means all of the gifts. In the fullest sense, they are infinite in number and endless in their manifestations" (Mormon Doctrine, p. 314-315).
SPIRITUAL GIFTS MUST BE DEVELOPED
They are called gifts, because "they are freely available to all the obedient" (McConkie, p. 314), not because they do not require any effort on our part. Just like the gifts that members of our class received today, spiritual gifts do not come ready-made. We must thank the Lord for our gifts, ask Him how to use them, practice and develop them continuously, and share them with other, and He will give us more.
Joseph Smith had the marvelous spiritual gift of translation of an unknown language in order to give the world the gift of the Book of Mormon. He was given the gift of translation when he was given the plates, but he had to develop that gift. It is a fascinating and instructive example of the work required by the Lord of one who receives a spiritual gift. (Keep in mind, also, that Joseph was not able to work without interruption because of moves, work, persecution, etc.)
(This information comes from my personal notes taken during a BYU Campus Education Week lecture, given August 19, 1999 by Bruce Woolley, BYU professor, Notebook 4, p. 31. The same information can be found in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations 1820-1844, chapter 3, edited by John W. Welch.)
Draw a timeline on the chalkboard dating from September 1827 to June 1829, with individual months marked above the timeline. As you tell about each event below, mark an X on the timeline.
- 9-27-1827: Joseph Smith received the plates. For three months he almost daily dug them up and reburied them to keep them hidden from his enemies until he found a safe situation.
- 12-1827: For the next three months, he practiced translating, until he finally had some characters figured out.
- 2-1828: Martin Harris took the finished characters to Professor Charles Anthon in New York City for verification of the translation.
- 4-12-28: The translation began in earnest with Martin as the scribe. In two months and two days, the Book of Lehi was completed.
- 6-14-28: Martin Harris took the Book of Lehi (116 pages) to show his wife. They were stolen. The gift of translation was removed from Joseph Smith, as were the plates themselves and the Urim and Thummim.
- 9-22-28: After a three month period of repentance, all was restored to Joseph Smith, but there were no fruits to the effort so far. Joseph started back at ground zero re-developing and relearning the gift for six months (twice as long as before).
- 4-7-29: Oliver Cowdery began as scribe and translation once again began in earnest at the Book of 1 Nephi.
- 5-15-29: Mosiah 18:8-10 was reached, and in answer to prayer regarding the passage, John the Baptist appeared to Joseph and Oliver and they were baptized.
- 6-1-29: Joseph had moved to Fayette, NY and reached Ether 5 where he read about the importance of three witnesses, whereupon he prayed for witnesses to the Book of Mormon, and his prayer was answered.
- 6-11-29: The Book of Mormon was finished and the copyright was obtained. Joseph had translated the entire book in 60-65 days, a rate of 3,100 words per day! Although Oliver Cowdery had excellent penmanship, you can see from the photograph below that he had to write sloppily because of the great speed required as Joseph dictated.
Joseph Smith asked Oliver Cowdery to make him a copy. It took Oliver three times as long to copy it as it took for Joseph Smith to dictate it.
Seeing that Oliver Cowdery came into the process after Joseph had worked for months to learn it, we can understand why he thought he would be able to quickly translate when he asked for the opportunity, and why he quickly gave it up when he didn't immediately succeed. (See D&C 9.) He did better than Class Member A, who didn't even receive the gift, but he was like Class Member B, who didn't expect to have to work to produce the gift given her.
SPIRITUAL GIFTS DEVELOP CHARITY
Returning to Paul's itemization of the spiritual gifts in 1 Cor. 12, we see that he next expounded on the need church members have for each other's gifts.
"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ...
"If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?...And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be [lesser] are necessary...
"Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular...
"Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But [seek] earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way" (1 Cor. 12:12, 15, 21-22, 27, 29-31).
What is the "more excellent way?" It is explained immediately in Chapter 13. (Remember: Paul did not divide the chapters. It was all just one letter.) The spiritual gifts, he wrote, were nothing but a cacophany ("sounding brass or tinkling cymbal") if used without charity. No matter what great spiritual gift you may have, if you do not exercise it with the motivation of love, your gift is useless, it "profiteth you nothing." The purpose of the gifts is to serve each other, to knit us together. If it were not so, each of us would have been endowed with all of the gifts, so that we could be completely independent in our spiritual journey. But it is in the plan of God for us to need the gifts of others, as well as our own gifts. We are all "one body" with its "several parts." So never should we bemoan the fact that we have different gifts than someone else--it is meant to be that way. Our job is to seek out our own, and use them with charity.
So Paul gave us the very familiar and famous definition of what it means to exercise a spiritual gift with the pure love of Christ, Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians.
In addition to reading aloud this chapter in the King James Version, you may want to read some of the passages in the New International Version (available online at this link) or the New Revised Standard Version (available online at this link) for some helpful clarification of the Old English words.
For my personal interpretation of verse 8, please refer to "A Formula for Success" in a previous post.
RECOGNIZING OUR SPIRITUAL GIFTS
We must each take upon ourselves the lifelong challenge to find and develop our spiritual gifts for the benefit of others. How do we discover them? When we find that we have done something that has benefited someone, that is a clue that there is a gift there. We may find we possess the gift of friendship, the gift of awareness of other people's needs, the gift of singing, the gift of encouraging, the gift of teaching, the gift of testimony, the gift of understanding children, the gift of making others feel comfortable, the gift of being cheerful, the gift of thinking deeply, the gift of complimenting others, the gift of working hard, the gift of visualizing the beauty of a finished product, the gift of cleaning, the gift of cooking, the gift of listening, the gift of reading aloud, the gift of organizing...as Elder McConkie said, the number of spiritual gifts is infinite. And remember that we must all seek the gift to love others--all others--or our gifts are useless.
A beautiful way to end may be to ask class members to identify spiritual gifts they see others in the ward or branch as possessing. If you have a large class, just ask for volunteers. If you have a small class, go around the room identifying special traits of each class member (which you have prayed and thought about ahead of time) and encouraginging other class members to add their thoughts on each other. Doing it this way will ensure that no one will feel left out or like they are the last one chosen by their peers. If you're into handouts, you may want to prepare a little bookmark with "To Every One is Given a Gift by the Spirit of God" and the name of the student at the top, to which you can add the gifts identified in class, and give it to the individual to keep in their scriptures.