Joseph Smith taught:
“These, then, are all gifts; they come from God; they are of God; they are all the gifts of the Holy Ghost; they are what Christ ascended into heaven to impart” (TPJS 245).
Which makes it pretty clear to my mind that we have no real understanding of what gifts of the spirit are or how they fit into the gospel. We tend to view them almost as nice gospel perks, not as what Christ ascended into heaven to impart. I am used to a Sunday School lesson on “gifts of the spirit” going something like this:
1) (optional) Read a scripture listing some gifts of the spirit
2) Observe that charity is a great gift
3) Make sure everyone feels good by starting a discussion on all the spiritual gifts not listed in the scriptures so everyone feels “validated”
4) Transition into a discussion which is really about individual talents.
Now nothing in that sounds like it is something which either required Christ to ascend into heaven or justifies the sacrifice of Christ’s death and resurrection and ascension into heaven.
Don’t get me wrong. I think the gifts are among us. But I think we live far beneath our privileges. We are not living as we would need to to enjoy what God desires to impart to us. We enjoy a trickle of it.
On the topic of talents, it is worth noting that what we call talents these days are not particularly discussed in the scriptures. Yes, learning what we can about many things is discussed. But that is different and at times in this dispensation the brethren have asked members not to waste their times on what we now call talents. At other times they have been asked to develop their talents. It has depended on the circumstances of the people.
But the crucial matters are always required of us. And spiritual gifts are actually one of the great matters apparently. At least, they are if “they are what Christ ascended into heaven to impart”.
I go back to Joseph Smith:
“But, said Mr. Sollars, ‘May I not repent and be baptized, and not pay any attention to dreams, visions, and other gifts of the Spirit?’ I replied: ‘Suppose I am traveling and am hungry, and meet with a man and tell him I am hungry, and he tells me to go yonder, there is a house of entertainment, go and knock, and you must conform to all the rules of the house, or you cannot satisfy your hunger; knock, call for food, sit down and eat;–and I go and knock, and ask for food, and sit down to the table, but do not eat, shall I satisfy my hunger? No. I must eat. The gifts are the food; and the graces of the Spirit are the gifts of the Spirit.'”
We do not see the gifts of the spirit in those terms because we are not enjoying them in their fullness. We have them. They are with us. But how many of us could have given Mr Sollars the same answer Joseph Smith did? I think very few, because we are not enjoying them in the way Joseph Smith describes. They are not the food and drink to us. By and large I think many of us may actually echo Mr Sollars own sentiments “May I not repent and be baptized, and not pay any attention to dreams, visions, and other gifts of the Spirit?”