Gifts of Knowledge

As we have already discovered, the spiritual gifts as enumerated in 1 Corinthians 12 describe a divine activity which intersects human activity so that the church, the Body of Christ, is built up.

The first spiritual gift mentioned by Paul is the word of wisdom. Wisdom has always been a quality given prominence in the Word of God.

Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.(Proverbs 4:7)

Since it is “supreme,” we can well understand why it is at the top of the spiritual gifts list. Wisdom is a kind of “foundational” gift because without wisdom, none of the other gifts can be exercised properly. Without wisdom, all the gifts are open to abuse.

There are really three spiritual gifts which involve the exercise of knowledge:

  • the word of wisdom;

  • the word of knowledge;

  • the gift of discernment.

All three of these spiritual gifts involve a supernatural insight beyond what is normal. There are those who teach that these three gifts are simply natural talents and abilities that God uses through the Holy Spirit so that a believer can better serve the Lord. While this notion sounds good, there is an insuperable challenge to it on the basis that we are dealing with “manifestations of the Holy Spirit,” not manifestations of talent.

To the onlooker, one manifesting these three “gifts of knowledge” may appear to be smart or deft at solving problems or just a good judge of character. However, we must never forget that abilities and talents are not prerequisites for any of the gifts. Paul makes this clear:

All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12:11)

Some believers like to think they continually walk in the word of wisdom or knowledge or discernment; that is these gifts are operating in their lives 24/7. This is not only bad theology, it’s a terribly arrogant attitude to have. Imagine thinking you can never be wrong or duped by anybody, anytime? In particular, we are dealing with the WORD of wisdom and the WORD of knowledge. This implies that these gifts manifest themselves at a given moment for a given situation. No believer is a reservoir of all wisdom and knowledge.


A. The word of wisdom and preaching

The word “wisdom” appears some 25 times in the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians, and it is always used in a form of contrast: the wisdom of man versus the wisdom of God. The spiritual gift of the word of wisdom is the wisdom of God working in man. The apostle Paul was undeniably a smart man; he had the best education and training a Hebrew man could have, and yet he preferred to lay aside all that human wisdom so that he could receive the supernatural wisdom of the Holy Spirit:

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power… (1 Corinthians 2:1—4)

Note that Paul stresses the active involvement of the Holy Spirit in his preaching. In fact, the most effective preaching is always done under the direction, unction, and revelation of the Holy Spirit. Only the Holy Spirit is capable of taking Spirit-empowered words and firmly planting them in the heart of one who needs to hear them. When preaching and teaching is given under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, it is unmistakable.

B. The word of wisdom and church leadership

Not only is the word of wisdom evident in preaching, it is also evident in church governance. In the normal, day-to-day operations of the church, problems will arise and ticklish situations will come to the fore that could do irreparable harm to the whole church. When this occurs, wisdom is called for.

It is tempting to try and solve every problem in the church with purely worldly means and expediency. Those solutions may not be questionable or harmful in any way, but we must always remember that the church is first and foremost a spiritual body, and that all practical problems have their root in the spirit world and must be dealt with spiritually.

The classic example of the word of wisdom being exercised among church leaders is found in Acts 6. The problem encountered involved the daily distribution of food to the widows of the newly founded church. It was a huge task, and it seemed to be a frustrating one:

It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:2—4)

Now, to you and me, that seems like a common sense solution: let the deacons of the church do that kind of work. However, we must remember that there were no such things as deacons at this point in history! The apostles did all the work; who’s to say that wasn’t supposed to be the way the Lord intended to be? The Holy Spirit, that’s who! And He manifested His wisdom through the apostles to provide a solution that everybody liked:

This proposal pleased the whole group. (verse 5)

Paul, the great evangelist who demonstrated the word of wisdom in his preaching and teaching, also demonstrated it in his practical work among the churches. Read what Peter wrote concerning Paul:

Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. (2 Peter 3:15)

C. The word of wisdom “on the spot”

Sometimes, God’s wisdom is needed in a moment’s notice. The situation may have nothing to do with a sermon or Bible teaching or a situation at church. Consider what Jesus told His disciples:

For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. (Luke 21:15)

Sometimes, the Holy Spirit will manifest the word of wisdom at the exact moment a believer needs something to say that will end an argument with a critic. When this happens—when a believer all of a sudden has the right thing to say at the right time, it’s definitely a move of the Spirit:

for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say. (Luke 12:12)


The Bible is silent as to the details of this spiritual gift beyond what Paul wrote to the Corinthians indicating that there is such a gift. We may not be certain as to the exact nature of the word of knowledge, but we may be certain that all knowledge rests in God. The purpose of this gift is to give its recipient a glimpse into God’s vast storehouse of supernatural knowledge.

The Bible contains examples of those to whom the Lord has revealed certain facts about people and circumstances hitherto unknown to them. We think about Jesus’ meeting with the woman at the well in Samaria and the woman caught in adultery. In both cases, our Lord knew all about them yet nobody clued Him in ahead of time.

It seems that this gift of the word of knowledge is meant to be manifested within the context of the church for the purpose of bringing something to the attention of an individual or individuals that will result in them drawing closer to the Lord. Very often the word of knowledge is manifested in the teaching ministry of an individual or individuals within the church. This divine knowledge helps guide the believer as he prays for those he doesn’t know, for example. That’s not to say that every teacher in the church manifests the word of knowledge all the time or that one who is not a teacher would never manifest it. The fact is, God will gift a believer with this gift so that the one or ones who hear him will instantly know that while a brother or sister may be talking, it’s really God who is speaking to their hearts.

It also seems that the word of knowledge and the word of wisdom frequently work hand-in-hand. In fact, this relationship between wisdom and knowledge is so close that it’s hard to differentiate between the two gifts. More than one scholar has made the observation that “wisdom is simply knowledge rightly applied.” Wisdom takes knowledge received from the Lord and applies it to the right person at the right time. This is a concept that baffles the intellectuals among us. A seminary educated and trained pastor, for example, may have the finest knowledge money can by, but without wisdom he may come off looking like an educated buffoon because he while he may be able to talk about complicated Biblical doctrines, he does not possess the wisdom to help his people apply them to their daily living. And on the other hand, a preacher who never received a formal theological education is able to preach “the deep things of God” because he has wisdom from God working with knowledge he has gleaned from studying the Word on his own.

This is not to say formal education is wrong or not to be desired. Naturally the ideal would be to pursue a good education but at the same to to cultivate the gifts of the Spirit. Paul is a good example of one who had the best education available and the gifts of the Spirit working. Peter is a good example of one who lacked formal education but was mightily anointed by the Holy Spirit. Both men did awesome things for the Kingdom as they yielded themselves to the Spirit.


A lot of Christians think they have this gift but really what they have a critical spirit that, rather than discerns, merely criticizes fellow believers. Note that this spiritual gift is called discerning of spirits, not of people.

The sole purpose of this gift is to act as a defense against deception. It enables the believer to distinguish between false teaching and Biblically sound teaching; between false teachers and true servants of the Lord. This is not some sort of psychic ability, but a supernatural gift being manifested by the Holy Spirit through a believer with the purpose of guarding not only that believer from false teaching, but the whole church. This is not “a hunch” or a “bad feeling” about something somebody said; it is a firm conviction that somebody is threatening the church with false teaching.

There are three obvious ways this gift works:

  • In observing what an individual does a believer with this gift can tell whether he is a false teacher or not. In Matthew 7:15—20, our Lord taught that a false prophet is known by his fruit, or his actions.

  • In observing whether or not a person exalts Jesus Christ as the Son of God and their Savior.

  • In observing whether or not a person’s teachings or testimony lines up with the Word of God.

There is one classic example of the gift of discernment being exercised by the apostle Paul. Once while he was in Philippi, a young lady was following him around as he preached, proclaiming in a loud voice that Paul was a man of God. That was true, but Paul knew in an instant that she was possessed by satanic spirit and promptly took action to shut her up and rid her of that evil spirit.

These three gifts: wisdom, knowledge, and discernment, are all gifts that reveal something to the individual. Some scholars like to call these gifts “revelation gifts.” That’s not a bad title.

(c)  2012 WitzEnd

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