Formations 10.05.2014: Who Benefits from Gifted Education?

1 Corinthians 12:1-11

af24_1_100514_a_smWho benefits most from elementary-school gifted programs? According to a study from two economics professors, it isn’t the students with the highest IQs but those with more average IQs but high standardized test scores. This is especially true when those more average students come from disadvantaged backgrounds and are commonly excluded from gifted programs.

David Card of UC Berkeley and Laura Giuliano of the University of Miami conducted the study, considered one of only two studies evaluating the effects of gifted education. They collected data from elementary school students in a large, urban district in Florida.

Students are customarily admitted to gifted programs in the district because of their high IQ scores. To fill out empty seats, however, the district also admits students who scored at the top of their third-grade class in standardized tests. Card and Giuliano discovered that enrollment in a gifted class helped these students improve more in their standardized test scores than the other gifted students. In fact, they found the high-IQ students seemed to receive no benefit from the gifted class in terms of their standardized test performance.

Studies on gifted education programs tend to focus on advising how they should be run rather than evaluating their effectiveness. And evaluation can be difficult. Obtaining the relevant data can be expensive. Furthermore, it is hard to determine how much of a “gifted” child’s performance is due to natural abilities and how much to parents taking a more active role in their children’s education.

Card and Giuliano’s study suggests that we may need to develop new ways to identify those “gifted” who may have been overlooked because they don’t fit the template we have created.

I suspect Paul would agree. In 1 Corinthians 12, the Apostle nudges us to consider that there is more than one kind of “gifted.” He uses a number of expressions to explain spiritual gifts to the Corinthian believers. He calls them “gifts,” “ministries,” and “activities,” all granted and directed by God for the common good. He goes on to list some representative gifts (although others are discussed elsewhere).

Whether we’re talking about spiritual endowments or natural talents, everyone deserves to have their gifts recognized, nurtured, and celebrated.

Lydia Tuan, “Study by UC Berkeley Professor, Colleague Question Effects of Gifted Education,” The Daily Californian, 25 Sep 2014


• Do you know any “gifted” children? What special challenges do they face in or out of the classroom?
• Is there a difference between a spiritual gift and a natural talent or aptitude? Explain.
• How does our church recognize and celebrate the gifts of its members?
• How does our church nurture and cultivate gifts that are only beginning to emerge?

Reference Shelf


The idea of “spiritual gifts” is found only in the NT (though there are numerous instances in the OT where the Spirit of God empowers specific human beings for particular tasks, e.g., Judg 3:10) and especially in the writings of Paul. There are at least five lists of the various gifts found in the NT: Rom 12:6-8, 1 Cor 12:8-10, 1 Cor 12:28-30, Eph 4:7-13, and 1 Pet 4: 10-11. Since no two of these lists are identical, it is generally assumed that the lists are not intended to be definitive, but only to indicate the infinite numbers of gifts bestowed by God upon humankind….

Various Gk. terms underlie the expression “spiritual gifts” such as pneumatika and charismata. The former relates to things spiritual as these are manifested in public worship while the latter refers to all manifestations of God’s favor (grace) to humankind. Both are given by God through the Holy Spirit.

Scholars have debated for centuries whether these spiritual gifts were intended for the apostolic age only or whether they have an enduring and permanent place in the expression of Christianity in every age. The twentieth-century rise of neo-Pentecostal ism has prompted renewed discussion of this question.

Watson E. Mills, “Gifts of the Spirit,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 330–31.


This Spirit that began their 
lives as believers works
 within the church in a variety
 of ways. There are many different gifts, services, and
 workings in the church, but 
the same Spirit of God
 inspires them all (vv. 4-6).
 Paul’s emphasis is twofold:
 (1) There is a diversity of 
ways the Spirit works, but (2) 
there is only one and the
 same Spirit behind the diver
sity. Each person receives 
something individually from
the Spirit, but the purpose of these individual endowments or abilities is for the common good (v. 7). Paul will reiterate the emphasis on the common good later. Paul next lists, but not exhaustively, some of the different ways the Spirit works. At the top of the list in v. 8, Paul puts “word of wisdom” (logos sophias) and “word of knowledge” (logos gnoseos). Since Paul is not focused on the possession of wisdom and knowledge but on their communication, we should translate logos in each instance as “speech” rather than “word.” In his opening thanksgiving prayer, Paul noted in 1:5 that “in every way you were enriched in all speech (logos) and all knowledge (gnosis).” In much of chapters 1–4, Paul contrasted the wisdom of the world with God’s wisdom expressed in the cross of Christ. In 4:10, he sarcastically described the Corinthians as “wise.” At the top of his list, then, Paul places the two very attributes that the Corinthians have indicated they value most highly. The wisdom and knowledge that he lists here, however, are not of the same stripe as what they cherish. They are the wisdom and knowledge given by the Spirit. As he has indicated before, there are legitimate forms of both, but neither is cast in the mold of worldly attainment. As gifts of the Spirit, they do not give one a basis for personal boasting or glorying.

Coming next in Paul’s list (vv. 9-10b) are five manifestations of the Spirit that, for the most part, make evident contributions to the common good. These are the gift of healing, working of miracles, prophecy, and the discernment of spirits. The one that does not have an obvious community orientation is the first one named, faith. Since all believers have faith in some sense, then when Paul describes this faith as being apportioned to some, he must mean a special kind of faith. Most likely faith is named in this second tier because it is related to the other four….

Paul ends his preliminary discussion of manifestations of the Spirit by repeating his initial point that the same Spirit lies behind each. Different things may be given to different people, but it is the one Spirit that dispenses them all, in accordance with the Spirit’s choosing of who gets what. In Paul’s emphasis on the Spirit as the source of all things spiritual, we are reminded of 1 Corinthians 4:7: “If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?”

Robert Scott Nash, 1 Corinthians, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2009), 359–61.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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