The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit Series
The Word Gifts
Tue, 16 Jul 2013 - 11:01 AM CST
Part 2 in a series on Spiritual Gifts In the Church Today
By Douglas A. Oss
This installment of the series will focus on the two “word” gifts found in 1 Corinthians 12:8 — “word of wisdom” (sophia) and “word of knowledge” (gnosis).
Definition Of Word Gifts
Word of wisdom and word of knowledge are usually defined in one of two basic senses. In one sense, they are defined as gifts of instruction and are nonmiraculous in nature.1 These are gifts of natural ability used to speak with insight (sophia) to a particular situation or with information (gnosis) obtained through study and experience. In view here is, for example, the ministry of a Bible teacher who is empowered by the Spirit and whose abilities are consecrated to service in the church.
In another sense, these gifts are miraculous in nature and based on special revelation from the Spirit apart from ordinary means.2 They are spontaneous manifestations of the Holy Spirit in a worship context. Word of wisdom (logos sophias) supernaturally enables an individual to speak with God-given insight or divine perspective in resolving some situation in the church. Word of knowledge (logos gnoseos) provides factual information about a situation or individual in the church that was not acquired through ordinary means. This revelatory view has some overlap with the gift of prophecy. Moreover, it is possible that word of wisdom and word of knowledge are intended to operate in tandem. Knowledge alone puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1), but applied with wisdom, it will encourage.
First Corinthians 12:8 is the only place these gifts are mentioned. The nearest language we have is the “spirit of wisdom and understanding” (e.g., Isaiah 11:2; Ephesians 1:17). So, any conclusion we draw is of necessity not firm. Wisdom from God is, however, one of the preeminent characteristics of a spiritual person (e.g., Proverbs 4:7; 1 Corinthians 2:6–16). Note that Paul, who first mentions gifts related to wisdom, sets the wisdom from God in stark contrast to human wisdom (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18–2:16).
The scriptural context seems to indicate that the gifts in the list are spontaneously given by the Spirit when the congregation is gathered for corporate worship. This does not rule out an instructive function, neither does it rule out miraculously imparted insight or information that is used to address previously irresolvable or hidden issues.3 In my opinion, the instruction of 1 Corinthians 12 indicates that the word gifts are more probably supernatural impartations of insight and information for the common good of the people of God at worship.
Since no absolute conclusion can be drawn concerning the nature of these gifts, it is best to remain focused on their broader function and purpose. Whether instructive, revelatory, or both, the manifestation of the Spirit in these gifts fits the teaching of Scripture.
Contribution of Word Gifts To Ministry
Word gifts have specific benefits in the context of ministry.
• Word of wisdom often provides guidance in the application of other gifts, such as prophecy and knowledge.
• Words of wisdom and knowledge can direct a minister in how to pray for an individual.
• When individuals or groups are confronted with difficult situations, these gifts can help the minister encourage and build faith as he or she uses the divinely imparted insight to speak to specific needs.4
• In prayer ministry, God has often used a word of knowledge or wisdom to bring repentance. These matters are best handled quietly around the altars or in private settings — the public calling out of supposed individual sin does not follow the biblical teaching of first approaching a brother or sister privately. Nevertheless, when individuals receive a word from the minister who had no way of knowing through ordinary means, many are suddenly broken and humbled before God — their spirits open to receive forgiveness, healing, and renewal from the Lord.
God chooses surrendered lives for manifestations of His power. In the context of ministry, the exercise of word gifts will be fully effective only when they occur through ministers who maintain a prayerful, intimate, and right relationship with Him.
When the Spirit does use us in the exercise of word gifts, the information may come in several different ways:
• Through a vision or dream (sometimes visible only to our spirit);
• Through hearing God’s voice (again sometimes only in our spirit);
• Through feeling what the other person is feeling (whether physical or spiritual);
• Through sensing the Spirit’s power coming on us as a signal that God wants us to minister to someone who is present.5
Words of wisdom and knowledge should be encouraged in a corporate worship setting, especially if an experienced person can be consulted as a safeguard against unwise use of spiritual gifts. When a word is given publicly, it will build faith and will fit with what the Spirit is already doing in the worship service. A word from God will never destroy, tear down, or leave the congregation wondering how it is supposed to fit. Even when a word focuses on repentance, God does not condemn; He calls.
Receipt of Word Gifts
The same principles apply to receiving any of the gifts of the Spirit.
1. The gifts of the Spirit are distributed sovereignly by God according to His own will (1 Corinthians 12:11).
2. We are exhorted to seek and desire spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1) with proper motivation, so that God may be glorified through us and His church may be encouraged.
3. Only God gives gifts. But He may accomplish this through the laying on of hands by an anointed person(s) (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6).
4. When we simply trust in God and engage in ministry, we can receive the gifts we need for the task at hand, even if the particular enduement is temporary.
There is divine mystery concerning whom God chooses for His anointing in any particular ministry. The single most important principle to remember in receiving gifts is this: Give up all things pertaining to self and surrender in obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. Only then can God do everything He wants through us.
We have observed how word gifts function in both private and public settings and how they might effectively be exercised in both. Encourage people in these gifts and pastor gifted people with a shepherd’s touch. Words of wisdom and knowledge will build up the flock with increasing faith and witness.
Douglas A. Oss, Ph.D. is professor at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri.
1. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994) 1080–88.
2. Donald Gee, Concerning Spiritual Gifts rev. ed. (Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1972) 30; David Pytches, Spiritual Gifts in the Local Church (Minneapolis, Minn.: Bethany House, 1985) 92–108.
3. Grudem, 1081ff.; Pytches, 92–108.
4. Pytches, 96–97.
5. Gee, 31–41; Pytches, 106–107.