THE GIFT OF WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE
By Pastor Glenn Pease
When Abraham Lincoln was a young lawyer in Springfield, he was approached by a man of wealth, who wanted to hire him to collect a debt. It seems that the poor man who owed him the two dollars and fifty cents denied the debt and refused to pay. Lincoln did not like the job, but after much persuasion he agreed to take it if the man would pay his fee of ten dollars in cash. The client readily produced the ten dollars. Lincoln then went to the poor man and gave him five dollars of the money on condition that he would immediately pay the alleged debt. He agreed and did so. The rich man was delighted with the quick results he got from his lawyer. Lincoln made five dollars easy money, and the poor man was two fifty to the good instead of two fifty in debt.
Lincoln had the ability to take a case of conflict and turn it into a blessing for all concerned. This is one of the primary purposes of the gift of wisdom in the body of Christ. Paul scolds the Corinthians for going to law against one another. He says in 6:5, "Can it be that there is no man among you wise enough to decide between members of the brotherhood?" Paul implies that every body of believers should have someone with the gift of wisdom adequate to settle disputes among members. This gifted person would always settle the dispute in a way far superior to a secular judge.
The first major conflict that developed in the early church had to do with the Greek complaint that their widows were being neglected. The Hebrew Christians were in a majority, and they were showing favoritism to their own widows and neglecting the widows of the minority. How did the 12 Apostles handle this dispute? We read in Acts 6:3, "Pick out from among you 7 men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom." This was the beginning of the office of deacons in the church. We see that wisdom is the gift essential for those who are trouble-shooters and peacemakers in the body. By means of this gift the Holy Spirit can add oil where friction threatens to break down the smooth operation of the body.
If you want to go deeper in your service to Christ, earnestly desire that God would give you wisdom. Wisdom will make you a peacemaker in the body. It will enable you to give words of counsel to your fellow Christians in conflict. It will enable you to give an answer to the world for the faith that is within you. Wisdom is one of the higher gifts because it ministers to all in love. It is a hard gift to abuse and use in a wrong way, and, therefore, we are to desire it earnestly.
Now lets look at the gift of knowledge. Most authors dealing with the gifts tend to underestimate the working of the Holy Spirit. They limited this gift of knowledge to a supernatural receiving of information that cannot be learned by human study. This is clearly one aspect of the gift of knowledge, but to stop there is to make this gift such a rare specimen that it is almost as extinct as the dodo bird. Paul did not even list this gift along with those that are possessed by just a few, and so we are justified in assuming that this is one of the gifts available to all members in varying degrees. The highest degree is on the level of the miraculous, but there are numerous gifts of knowledge on levels below that.
We will almost always miss out on something that God has for us if we try to limit the Holy Spirit, and fail to stress His love for infinite variety. Dr. Criswell, who was pastor of First Baptist in Dallas, stated a foundational truth when he said, "We all have differing gifts and differing degrees of the same gifts." This is especially true as we study the gift of knowledge. It covers such a wide variety of experiences that no translation can express them all. It is of interest to note how the Living Bible selects the most down to earth and least supernatural aspect of the gift. It translates, "Someone else may be especially good at studying and teaching..." this is portraying the gift almost on the level of a natural talent, and some are critical of this, but the fact is, the gift of knowledge covers both the knowledge that comes direct from God, and that which comes indirectly through the study of resources.
How do we know this for sure? It is because God used both in producing the Bible for His people, which is the greatest product of the gift of knowledge in the world. We read in Jer. 1:9, "Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, behold, I have put my words in your mouth." The prophecies of Jeremiah were given to him directly by God. He did not have to study. On the other hand, God used Luke to write inspired Scripture as well, but Luke was a gifted scholar, and the Holy Spirit inspired him to produce his Gospel through research. Luke introduces his Gospel, as the Living Bible expresses it in Luke 1:2-3, "Several biographies of Christ have already been written using as their source material the reports circulating among us from the early disciples and other eye witnesses. However, it occurred to me that it would be well to recheck all these accounts from the first to the last and after thorough investigation to pass this summery onto you."
Luke was not less inspired than Jeremiah, but Jeremiah never cracked a book, while Luke studied many and interviewed eyewitnesses before he recorded the Word for the body. Both had the gift of knowledge, for both are part of that which is Scripture inspired of God, which is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and instruction in righteousness. Beware of any attempt to limit the Holy Spirit to a level too high or too low. He plays all the notes in the music of life, and that means all of us, and not just the super brilliant Christians, should be excited about this gift.
We should be excited because all of us can have this gift, but also because it is vital to the understanding of how all of the other gifts are to be used for the glory of God and the good of the body. The problem in Corinth, and the problems with the gifts today, all revolve around the lack of the gift of knowledge. Paul scolds the Corinthians in chapter two for being unspiritual and behaving just like ordinary men. This was especially disturbing because the mind of Christ was available to them. They could have known how to avoid all of their problems, for God made it clear by the ministry of the Holy Spirit, who searches even the depths of God. Paul writes in 2:12-13, "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit." The Bible is itself the greatest example of the gifts of wisdom and knowledge.
The degree to which we grasp what the Spirit is saying to us through Paul's instruction is the degree to which we ourselves possess the gift of knowledge. Paul received this knowledge direct from God, but you and I receive it by study, thought, meditation and listening. The end result is the same in that we possess the mind of Christ and know what is that good, acceptable and perfect will of God concerning the gifts. Knowledge makes all of the gifts a blessing, but ignorance can lead to some of them becoming a burden.
Paul received this gift for the sake of the body that the problems of the Corinthians might be solved, and that the same problems be avoided by other churches all through history. We see then how the gifts of wisdom and knowledge go hand in hand as instruments for resolving conflict in the body. When these two gifts are eagerly sought and allowed to function the church labors in unity and harmony, and all is done in order. Whenever friction and division dominate a church, as they did in Corinth, you can be sure that those responsible are guilty of ignorance, and the Spirit has been quenched in the area of wisdom and knowledge. On the other hand, if you and I as members of the body grasp what Paul is teaching we will be part of the answer rather than part of the problem.
Looking at degrees again we can see that all members of the body can have the gift of knowledge. They must have it to know what God wants them to know, but some can know it and understand it so well that they can teach it to others. And so the gift of knowledge in a high degree is essential to one who has the gift of teaching. The non-teacher can possess the same knowledge, but they may lack the ability to effectively communicate that knowledge to others. The gift of knowledge is a part of almost all of the other gifts, and so it is a foundation gift from which all must start in seeking to discover and develop any of the other gifts.
Quite often in Scripture the gift of knowledge, like the gift of wisdom, is a specific enlightenment on a particular problem. For example, when Jesus asked, "Who do men say that I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ the Son of the Living God." Jesus then said in Matt. 16:17, "Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonas! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." Peter had received a direct insight into the nature of Christ. This does not mean that Peter had all the right answers for everything from then on. It was many years after Pentecost before Peter received another special gift of knowledge and understood for the first time that God is no respecter of persons, but loves the Gentiles equally with the Jews. We see then that Peter as an Apostle and teacher, and as an author of Scripture, who had the gift of knowledge, still received specific gifts of insight from time to time. Even those with the gift of knowledge do not know everything, but like Paul, they see through a glass darkly on many of the mysteries of life. Even the gifted person only knows in part, and so they must live by faith and not by sight.
Peter learned that God is no respecter of persons by direct revelation. You and I learn it by studying the Word. Peter's original gift was far more supernatural then any gift we might have, but our enlightenment from the Word is no less a gift of the Spirit. Those who do not have the Spirit cannot understand the truth of God. When we come to know the mind of Christ either directly or from the Word it is a divine discloser of knowledge and not a product of human reasoning. The more highly gifted impart knowledge to the body, and other members of the body need only a lesser gift to grasp what has been given.
The differing degrees of this gift help us to understand how we can reconcile the idea that the gifts are given by the Holy Spirit, and at the same time we are to earnestly seek them. There is no way we can cause God to give us direct insight and information. This is His sovereign choice. But there is something we can do to make ourselves prepared instruments for insight. We can study to show ourselves approved unto to God. We can expose our minds to the Word, and be open to the enlightenment of the Spirit. I prayed earnestly for this gift at age 18 and God granted me a love for the Word that has compelled me to study it ever since. None of my knowledge has come like that of Jeremiah, but all has come like that gained by Dr. Luke. It is less supernatural, but no less the gift of the Spirit. Paul urges us all to earnestly desire the highest gifts, and two of them are the gifts of wisdom and knowledge.
One Sunday afternoon a private airplane took off and crashed. The pilot and his family were killed. The Federal Aviation Association came and spent hours checking the wreckage. They concluded that the pilot had attempted a maneuver the plane was not built to do. More knowledge could have saved him and his family. What you don't know won't hurt you is a saying based on ignorance, for the fact is, what you don't know can kill you. Knowledge is essential to the health of any life, and the life of the body of Christ is no exception. The church needs people with knowledge in order to be effective. That is why the promotion of Bible Study is ceaseless in the body. Every member needs to know God's Word better. We need to be a people who are aware of our ignorance and are ever asking questions about why things are as they are.
Dr. M. Scott Peck in his book Further Along The Road Less Traveled says that he made a great medical discovery a decade after he finished medical school. He writes, "I discovered that we know hardly anything about medicine." He says that doctors do not know why people get most diseases, and they don't know why certain medicines work on some and not on others. He goes on to say that science does not know what makes the laws of nature work as they do. There are now many things modern man knows so little about, and the key to progress is people who ask why? Mentally healthy people have a taste for mystery and they are forever asking why things work as they do.
The spiritual journey is also a quest for truth that compels us to ask why. There is so much we don't know, and we must be asking why, and really want to know, in order to grow. He is saying that life is full of mystery because God wants us to be mystified, for this stimulates curiosity and leads man to discover more and more of the truth. He writes again, "In my practice, my patience would sometimes say to me, not in a psychotic but in an ordinary existential way, "Gee, Dr. Peck, I'm so confused," and I would say, "That's wonderful!" And they would say, "What do you mean? It's awful." And I would say, "No, no, it means that you're blessed." And they would say, "What? It feels terrible. How can I be blessed? And I would say, "You know, when Jesus gave His big sermon, the first words out of His mouth were: 'Blessed are the poor in spirit.'" There are a number of ways to translate "Poor in spirit," but on an intellectual level, the best translation is "confused." Blessed are the confused. If you ask why Jesus might have said that, then I must point out to you that confusion leads to a search for clarification and with that search comes a great deal of learning."
Dr. Os Guiness says we cannot always know why about a lot of things in this life, but we can keep on seeking to know why, and meanwhile trust in the God who knows why. He knows the meaning of that which is meaningless to us, and we need not fear to be persistent in asking why until we discover some answers. Job could not find any answer that made sense to him. His friends had answers that he knew were wrong. All he could do is say, "Though he slay me yet will I trust him." Job sought for answers to his why, but meanwhile he trusted that God knew why and the end result was that he was right. God did know why, and Job was rewarded for trusting him when he didn't have an answer. God did not condemn him for asking why and seeking for answers because God wanted him to seek in order to reveal how little man really knows about why things are as they are in this world of so much suffering.
The gift of knowledge is for everyone to some degree, and to some in a great degree. The body of Christ needs to be intelligent in order to get anywhere in fulfilling the purpose of God. A body without brains may serve a purpose in a museum, but it is not an asset in the kingdom of God. But as important as this gift is, even at its highest level it is of no ultimate value without love. In chapter 13 verse 2 Paul writes, "If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. Lack of love spoils all the gifts. You can be a know it all and still not be an asset to the body if your knowledge makes you proud and unloving.
The church needs gifted people, but the number one need for every church is for loving people. A loving person who hasn't discovered their gift is more precious than one who is multi-gifted but unloving. This makes it clear then that the dividing of the intellect and emotions is meaningless. They are one, or they are nothing. You can't be a brain without a heart. The knowing person has to be a loving person or his knowing is of no value. Knowing this is one of the most precious gems that every Christian is to gain by their gift of knowledge. When you know that no gift is of value without love, you have arrived at a high level of the gift of knowledge.
Tell a starving man that he needs food and explain the digestion system and he will probably not be very grateful for your profound insights and knowledge of the body. He would be grateful, however, if you could give him something to eat. The gift of knowledge in that context will not be as effective, as would be an act of love in sharing some food with him. It may be that knowledge will help him after he is fed, but until his basic need is met he will not be impressed with any knowledge. Every gift has its place, but when it is out of place it is like a nose on the bottom of your foot. It will be a pain, and it will hinder rather than help. Love is always appropriate, but it takes the gift of knowledge to know when other gifts are appropriate. May God bless us all with more and more of these gifts of wisdom and knowledge.