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God’s Word for You

1 Corinthians 12:7-8 The message of knowledge, the message of wisdom

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, May 8, 2023

7 For the common good, each person is given a manifestation of the Spirit. 8 Through the Spirit, one person is given the message of wisdom. The same Spirit provides the message of knowledge to another person.

Even if someone doesn’t understand the elitist attitude that some of the Corinthians must have had in order for Paul to have to spell things out the way he does, this verse is helpful and wonderful, thanks to Paul’s patient style.

Which Christians are given spiritual gifts? “Each person,” Paul answers. Spiritual gifts aren’t for a select few, but for every single Christian. There is no Christian who is given no gift at all. Maybe I have only one, and maybe you have four or five, but we each have at least one, whatever it may be.

Are these gifts some kind of augmentation of our own natural abilities? No; not necessarily. These gifts are each “a manifestation of the Spirit.” The word “manifestation” is “proclamation” in 2 Corinthians 4:2, but here it seems to be more of a display, a disclosure of everything that the Holy Spirit has. To one person he gives one thing, to another he gives another.

Might we choose the gift that the Spirit offers? No. The verb is quite clearly passive: “each person is given.” God decides what each of us will have, and we should learn to use it as well as we possibly can.

Is it okay to use such a gift for a purpose outside the one that the Spirit had in mind? We should not use our gifts for our own personal reasons. He gave them to us “for the good,” which we translate “the common good,” and not for our own purposes. As Professor Toppe says, “These separatist, cliquish people needed to be reminded that their gifts were not intended for personal or group prestige; they were to serve ‘the common good.’”

In verse 8, Paul begins to list some spiritual gifts. The list isn’t complete, for surely there would need to be dozens, hundreds, or more categories to list them all, and many that are unique to a certain time in history.

The first two are the message (or logos, “word”) of wisdom and the message (again, logos) of knowledge. How different are these from one another? Both must include a deep and thorough knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. But some who are brimming over with knowledge about the Scriptures don’t always know how to present it in such a way that it’s helpful to others. Such teachers might suffer from the familiar sleep-inducing drone that makes them difficult to listen to, or from a rambling style that’s difficult to follow. Others impart their knowledge like a firehose, too fast, too much, and too energetic to listen to for very long. Sometimes the temptation to include the trivia of study in the public address of the sermon can earn such a man a nickname among his members, and his reputation may suffer even if he learns to correct himself. When we receive a call to another congregation, we sometimes think about such things—could I start over somewhere else where the people will not know about the mistakes of my younger years?

Then there is wisdom. Wisdom involves more than facts. Wisdom is often coupled with understanding: “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established” (Proverbs 24:3). Wisdom is the gift of seeing the way that Scripture interprets Scripture; the way passages that coming from different parts of the Bible relate one to the other, and a deep understanding of how to apply the word of God to the life of sinful mankind.

We should not turn the page on this verse without a caution about a way that it is sometimes misused. Bellarmine, the great opponent to the gospel in the days of the Council of Trent, wanted to separate faith from knowledge of any kind, using this verse (12:8) as also 13:2 (“a faith that can move mountains”) as two of his chief proof texts. “The apostle” (so the claim went) “distinguishes faith and knowledge, consequently, knowledge is not a part of faith.” In fact, Bellarmine said: “Faith is distinguished from knowledge and is defined rather as ignorance.” But this passage is not describing saving faith, but a faith that can work miracles as a special gift. A lack of wisdom fails to take the Scriptures in their context.

Whatever gifts we have, we have been given by the Holy Spirit for the good of the church. There is more to learn about these gifts, but the point will remain the same: the common good. The church is a marvelous and complex community, a machine of constantly moving parts. We all have a role to play. Everyone can’t do everything, but whatever we can do is for the good of all, the good of God’s holy church, and a part of God’s glorious plan.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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