It’s been a few weeks now since I posted my article on the gift of the word, or message, of wisdom. As I mentioned, we have been currently going through a series on the gifts of the Spirit from 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 at Cornerstone. This series should wrap up next Sunday.
If interested, the audio preaching-teaching sessions can be listened to or downloaded from our podcast or from iTunes.
In this article I want to focus in on the gift of the word, or message, of knowledge, which is referred to in 1 Cor 12:8 just after the message of wisdom.
What Is The Gift?
As I mentioned with the gift of the message of wisdom, the Greek could be more faithfully translated here as ‘message of knowledge’. Some might still prefer ‘word of knowledge’. The ESV translates as utterance of knowledge. Again, this is a small case of semantical preference.
Also, as I stated in my previous post, there is a connection worth noting between the message of knowledge and the message of wisdom. They don’t always work in tandem, but at times they do. In many cases, a message of wisdom can help with understanding how to practically apply a message of knowledge. And I think this might be why Paul places the two gifts of the message of wisdom and knowledge next to one another in 1 Cor 12:8.
Some General Thoughts on Wisdom & Knowledge
In a more general sense, we see the connection between God’s wisdom and knowledge in a passage such as this:
2 …so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col 2:2-3)
As I mentioned with the message of wisdom, Christ is our great source of wisdom, literally the wisdom of God Himself (see 1 Cor 1:24, 30). And, of course, Christ is also our great source of knowledge and it is those who are in Christ who receive true knowledge.
The word knowledge in the Greek is usually the word gnosis. While the word can refer to general knowledge, it could also be used to refer to special knowledge. This is where, later on in the 2nd century, the philosophical-religious view known as gnosticism arose and became a major problem in the early church (and throughout church history, even to today). The gnostics laid claim to very special knowledge that put them in a superior position to everyone else. They and they alone had this special and secret knowledge. Yet we find these words of Paul already challenging such notions:
1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God. (1 Cor 8:1-3)
Ultimately, true knowledge is about being ‘known by God’ rather than what we know ourselves. This is extremely important to remember in an information age where people tend to find their identity in how much they know and how much they can prove they know. (Boy, I have dealt with this one!)
Not only that, but the main characteristic of this knowledge is love. Try and meditate on the verses above. Such knowledge is to continue to grow and deepen in our walk with Christ, as Paul reminds us:
9 … since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. (Col 3:9-10)
Therefore, whenever the Spirit gives a specific message of knowledge, it is that we might ultimately be renewed in our knowledge of and understanding of the One who already intimately knows us.
Even more, for the one giving the message of knowledge, what is happening is that they are helping us ‘understand what God has freely given us’ (1 Cor 2:12). The speaker is not simply sharing out of life experience or from their general knowledge of the Bible. Rather, they have received from the Spirit specific revelatory knowledge given to edify the body of Christ. Paul said it this way to the Corinthian church:
This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. (1 Cor 2:13)
Now, I know for some, a red flag might come up that says, ‘This kind of specific Spirit-imparted knowledge and wisdom was only privy to the first apostles.’ While I believe they had a very special role in helping found and establish the church, even proclaiming and penning much of what we have in our New Testament canon, I do believe God had every desire for such Spirit-imparted knowledge and wisdom continue. Of course, that is the whole premise of continuationism.
Jesus still desires that the whole of his works continue in the whole of the body of Christ. What he began to do and teach (Acts 1:1) would be continued through the empowering of the Spirit amongst the body of Christ. That means us! And when you have seen these gifts enacted by the Spirit through Christ’s body, all to see the body edified and to see people drawn to Christ, it is truly stirring.
Getting Into Some of the Specifics
We must also note that the message of knowledge is not identical with prophecy. True, a message of knowledge is given by the Spirit of prophecy, and thus, it has a prophetic characteristic to it. But the message of knowledge and prophecy are to be distinguished. For this reason Paul spoke of the two separately in 1 Cor 12:8-10.
Let me also share a side note – I believe we must be careful in getting overly stringent in labelling each and every gift-service of God. Is that a prophecy? Is that a revelation? Is that a message of knowledge? Is that a message of wisdom? Was that simply an encouraging word? Though some of us (like myself) enjoy categorising and like to compartmentalise life, and such is not inherently wrong, we must not over-do this but rather be more gripped with simply serving one another in these gifts of the Spirit for the common good, whether we can label everything or not. For the most part, such will be easy. But sometimes we need reminding to guard against such.
Typically, a word, or message, of knowledge has been seen as Spirit-imparted knowledge of another person’s thoughts, circumstance or condition. Thus, you have examples of this with the Spirit-given knowledge of Nathan in regards to David’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah (see 2 Sam 12:1-14). The account starts off with, ‘The LORD sent Nathan to David…’ God had revealed, made known, this situation about David.
We also see this with Jesus and his knowledge of the situation of the Samaritan woman at the well (about her past marriages and current partner – see John 4:18). Though he was the divine Son, I believe Jesus had to rely on the Spirit as a true human being like us, meaning he didn’t walk around with a 100% download of all information about every person and subject. He was in constant dependence upon the Father. Here was a true example with a word of knowledge coming.
These two are more traditional examples of a ‘word of knowledge’, and these are two very true examples of such. Yet, I believe we must recognise that the message of knowledge is not only in regards to God revealing the thoughts, circumstances or condition of another person or situation. So let’s move on…
The Gift and Preaching/Teaching
Just as I pointed out that the message of wisdom could be active in the midst of sound Bible-teaching, so I believe that the message of knowledge could many times be active through different kinds of teaching-exposition of Scripture (whether in a shorter or longer context). I don’t mean that we identify an entire Bible exposition as a specific message of knowledge. But I can surely testify that God has given what I would identify as more direct insight and knowledge into His word by His Spirit during my preaching and teaching (or study of the Scripture). These ‘nuggets’ of knowledge and wisdom become a great breathe of life.
And this might be what Paul was getting at here:
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. (1 Cor 14:26)
I believe that, knowing the greater context of 1 Cor 14, this specific verse probably refers to more spontaneous activities of the Spirit, rather than prepared activities of our gatherings (though those are also helpful and good). Room should be given to God’s people for such activities. And here, we read that one of these activities is a ‘word of instruction’. Some translations have it as ‘teaching’ or ‘lesson’ (the Greek is didache). But it seems quite likely that this is connected to an instructive, maybe spontaneous, Spirit-manifested message of knowledge. Again, not necessarily a whole sermon. And, in this context, this is most likely referring to something different from what we call the ‘sermon’ today.
But shouldn’t all teaching be Spirit directed?
Of course. In all of our life, we are relying on the Spirit’s direction, wisdom and knowledge. But, just as we saw the Spirit-manifestation of the message of wisdom is distinguishable from wisdom through life experience and a full expositional sermon on Scripture, so I believe Paul distinguishes the same with a message of knowledge.
Please do know that I am not trying to uphold a gnostic understanding of wisdom or knowledge, seeing it as some super-ethereal knowledge that no one else can attain but an elite group. Such is unacceptable. We are all one body in Christ with differing gifts, and for those used in either a message of wisdom or message of knowledge, we must stay humble knowing that:
All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Cor 12:11)
But we must recognise that this gift is both needed and distinguishable from what we might note as regular Bible study, teaching and preaching.
Therefore, to end, I might summarise a message of knowledge as this: a Spirit-directed statement or teaching that imparts knowledge from God or about God.
If you are interested, I put below the links to both my audio teachings on the message of wisdom and the message of knowledge.
Message of Wisdom (download here)
Message of Knowledge (download here)