By Pastor Glenn Pease
A little Protestant boy came walking into his house with a big black eye. His mother said, "Where on earth did you get that shiner?" He said, "The O'Reilly kids hung it on me." "Why" she asked? He replied, "Well, I was over at their house making some cracks about the Pope." His mother said, "Certainly you knew the O'Reilly's were Catholic?" "Sure I did," said the boy, "But I didn't know the Pope was."
Here was a little body that had to suffer unnecessarily because he lacked, at this stage in his life, both wisdom and knowledge. The body of Christ has also suffered much in history because it lacked these gifts. The Corinthians were doing and saying things that hurt other members of the body because they were more concerned about their individual gifts then about the health of the whole body. This self-centered attitude has been a common problem in the body of Christ right from the start. The 12 Apostles argued among themselves as to which of them was the greatest.
The spirit of individualistic striving for self-glory has been a major problem in the church all through history. The harm this has caused the body has been unnecessary suffering, however, for the Holy Spirit gave the Apostle Paul the gifts of wisdom and knowledge, and by means of these gifts has communicated in these very chapters we are studying all that is necessary for any local church to overcome the problems that come with the gifts. The strife, envy, and jealously of Christians can all be overcome if they will listen to the wisdom of what Paul says here.
The first gift that Paul mentions is that of wisdom, and the second is that of knowledge. These are first because without them all of the other gifts can be used foolishly and in ignorance. Paul began this chapter by telling them, "I would not have you to be ignorant." The only cure for that is knowledge, and so Paul is exercising is gift as he writes these words. When you read and study these chapters you are benefiting from the gifts of wisdom and knowledge that Paul had for the benefit of the whole body of Christ. Paul did not receive these gifts for his own sake, but for the sake of the body. He was not having a problem himself that demanded that he have this knowledge. It was the body that was having the problem, and he was gifted to meet that need of the body. He is an excellent illustration of the fact that the gifts are not for the one who has them, but they are for the whole body. Solomon had the gift of wisdom, but he went astray himself. Nevertheless, his wisdom is recorded for the benefit of all God's people. The gift was not just for Solomon, but for the guidance of all the people of God.
The gifts can be abused and hurt the body because the Holy Spirit gives gifts just as we do. If I give you a gift, I let go of it, and it is no longer mine. If I keep what I give you and control it myself, I have not really given it to you. If I truly give you something, you then have the responsibility for its use. If I give a child a knife, he can go and cut off the tail of the cat, or he can whittle out a wooden toy for his brother or sister. He can do fun things with a target, or he can do harmful things like throwing it into the garage door. My intention in giving it was that it be always used for good, and never for foolishness. But once it is given the choice is up to the one who has received it. This explains how something good given to us by God can still be used in a harmful way. That is why God gives us an owner's manual. He made the body of Christ, and He knows how the gifts are to be used to benefit the body.
We have the Bible as our owner's manual to guide us in the proper use of the gifts. In it we have the guidelines for living, and the prescriptions of the Great Physician that are needed to cure the ills we develop when we fail to follow these guidelines. Every time we study the Bible we are benefiting from the gift of wisdom. Before we look at the gift of wisdom let me share with you an outline that classified these 9 gifts that Paul refers to in verse 8 to 10. There are many different ways these have been classified, but the one I like best is this three-fold classification.
A. THE DISCERNING GIFTS. Deals with intellect and knowing.
3. Discernment of spirits.
B. THE DYNAMIC GIFTS. Deals with the will and doing.
C. THE DECLARATIVE GIFTS. Deals with emotions and speaking.
3. Interpretation of tongues.
These gifts cover all aspects of the life of the body. You have covered the intellect, the emotions, and the will. Under these basic categories there may be many other gifts. And keep in mind that they are not isolated from each other, but work in interrelated harmony. The first gift we want to look at is that of wisdom.
The first thing we need to do is to show how this gift differs from the gift of knowledge. Ideally they go together just as tongues and the gift of interpretation of tongues. In 14:13 Paul tells the tongue speaker to pray for the power to interpret. Without interpretation the tongues are of no value in church, and Paul goes on to say that if no one has the gift of interpretation the tongue speaker is to remain quiet in church. In other words, some gifts are not able to stand alone. Those who say all the gifts are always available to the church are being optimistic beyond what Paul says. Paul makes it clear that some gifts may not always be available. This fits wisdom and knowledge as well. The two go hand in hand and depend upon each other. Knowledge digs out the facts and come up with biblical truths and principles, but wisdom puts this knowledge to work. Wisdom has to do with the practical application of knowledge.
The medical researcher spends months and years in his lab seeking to discover how various chemicals affect the body. When he discovers something that helps the body fight a disease, he does not doing anything about it. He goes on to another task of research. His job is to gain knowledge. Other men take that knowledge and produce a drug and distribute it. The doctor then has the task of wisdom, which is seeing that the discovery gets applied in real bodies. He did not discover, develop, or distribute the medicine, but he is the one who sees that it gets applied to where it is useful.
In the body of Christ you have those with the gift of knowledge who spend their lives doing research in the Greek and Hebrew, and in all of history to discover truth. Then those with the gift of wisdom take what they discover and seek to apply it to practical everyday living. This is the task of the preacher and teacher. Knowledge alone is not enough without wisdom. What good is anything if you don't know what to do with it? Knowledge of Bible truth must be applied in life to be of value, and knowing how to apply it is wisdom. All Christians need the gift of wisdom. Jesus said we were to wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Paul prays for all Christians in Eph. 1:17 that God may give them the spirit of wisdom. He tells the Colossians to let the word dwell in them richly in all wisdom, and to walk in wisdom toward them that are without. James 1:5 says, "If any of you lack wisdom let him ask of God." These are just a few of the many references to the need of wisdom by all believers. The same word is used in all cases, and it is the word Sophia, which means skill or wisdom.
This very valuable and essential gift is not just for an isolated member here and there. This is to be a common gift in the body of Christ with every member having it to some degree. Are there then degrees in the gifts? Very clearly is this the case. Just as there are varieties of gifts, so there are varieties of degrees of each of the gifts. No two people with the gift of knowledge have just the same knowledge, and just the same amount of knowledge. Just as one gifted singer may be better than another gifted singer, so it is with wisdom. Jesus increased in wisdom, and He was filled with the Holy Spirit at all times. He grew in degrees of wisdom, and so do all believers. Paul obviously had more wisdom than those in Corinth who had the gift of wisdom, for they were not solving the problems he wrote these chapters to solve. Paul had a high degree of wisdom. He also had a greater capacity for the least of the gifts. He says in 14:18, "I thank God that I speak in tongues more than you all." But he goes on to say that he has the wisdom not to waste his time and everybody else's by speaking in tongues in church. Paul knew how to use the gift as a private means of devotion, and not ever create a problem for anyone else. There are definite degrees in the gifts, and especially the wisdom. The gift of wisdom is what helps us use the other gifts in a positive way.
Charismatic authors tend to see this gift as a temporary rather than a permanent gift. They stress that it is a sudden enlightenment of the Holy Spirit for the solving of some difficult and perplexing problem. This is a true evaluation of how the gift often works in the body. Solomon's wisdom in solving the dispute of the two mothers over the baby is a good example of this gift in a uniquely high degree. Similar is the story of the two men in the church who were in conflict over how to divide a piece of land fairly. The land had been given to both of them. a gifted member of the church had a word of wisdom for them. He suggested that one of them divide the land in two equal parts as he saw fit, and then let the second man get first choice as to which half he wanted. You can see how this simple word of wisdom would guarantee the satisfaction of both men.
The gift of wisdom may be given to any member of the body who needs it in a crisis situation. Jesus said to His disciples that they would be dragged before governors and kings, and He said in Matt. 10:19-20, "When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you." Here is a case where the gift is not permanent, but comes to them in the hour of crisis so that they are able to speak in wisdom.
Herman Riffel, a Baptist pastor for 20 years who has traveled over the world giving lectures on the gifts of the Spirit, tells of his experience of this gift in his book Christian Maturity. He had an assignment to speak in another county to 200 Christian leaders who were well trained in their own field. He had to speak twice a day for 10 days on a subject that could be very controversial. He had always been a man of careful preparation, but this time the Lord gave him no freedom to prepare even an outline. He went and spoke with great liberty and freedom, and out of what he said he later formed his own outline for future presentation of the material. This one time experience he felt was the operation of the gift of wisdom. He says that this same wisdom may come to a mother who does not know which way to turn in a critical point in the training of her children.
There may be an issue of conflict in a business meeting where Christians just cannot agree on which direction to go. In the heat of debate one member may share an insight into the problem that suddenly brings all minds into harmony and agreement, and the issue becomes resolved. That is the gift of wisdom. I see this gift in operation in my life with Lavonne. I share my problem with her, and if I am caught in a bind and do not see how I can resolve it, I let her know what the issue is. She will suddenly see the solution and say, "Why don't you do such and such," and I am amazed, for I have far more education, but she sees the solution in a moment and gives me the wisdom that I could not see. This is why communication is so important in the body as well as in marriage. People tend to think that because they are the one who knows all about the situation that they should have the answer. But it is not so, for the Holy Spirit may give the wisdom to some other member of the body. We under estimate people because we forget that any member of the body may have the gift of wisdom at any one time.
Wisdom is so practical because it is able to prevent problems that develop over the other gifts. Envy and jealously is the problem the Corinthians had, and this has been a problem all through history. James felt it too and says in James 3:16, "For where jealously and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice." But then he says in verse 17, "But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits..." James is saying the same thing as Paul is saying to the Corinthians. All things in the church must be done decently and in order. All of the conflicts over gifts can only be solved by a proper exercise of the higher gifts such as wisdom. This is the gift Paul is exercising in the writing of these chapters. Wisdom is the key to overcoming all of the conflicts in the body that result because Christians are still plagued with a fallen human nature.
In the first conflict of the early church where the Greeks were complaining that their widows were being neglected by the Hebrew Christians who showed favoritism to their own widows, the conflict was resolved through men of wisdom. Acts 6:3 says, "Pick out from among you 7 men of good repute, full of the spirit and of wisdom..." The gift of wisdom is essential for anyone who is trying to solve problems of conflict. This gift is a key to good counseling for family and marriage conflicts. We see that this gift may come upon any member in a crisis, or it can be an abiding gift in those members whose role in the body is that of maintaining peace, order, and harmony. It is the antidote to the spirit of strife that enters into all human relationships. This is one of the gifts that every member of the body is to seek for and to possess to some degree. Every Christian is to develop the mind of Christ in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.