Knowledge is Power: Understanding the Gifts of the Spirit (I Corinthians 12)
Right now there is someone reading this blog wearing Spiderman pajamas and bunny slippers and eating a snack consisting of pretzels, nacho cheese, popcorn, and chocolate syrup. Sound plausible? Maybe. But what if I was exactly right? What if my description was so exact that the person described dropped his nachocolate popcoretzel on his lap in awe of this revelation? Other than observing the three second rule, this person would probably read everything I said afterwards as God’s truth. This is the purpose of the spiritual gift called The Message of Knowledge.
1 Corinthians 12:7-8 “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit”
These are the first of nine gifts of the Spirit listed in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. The list is not exhaustive (there are other lists in his letters) and it is difficult to define them because Paul does not describe them. Some of the gifts go hand in hand with each other as is the case with The Message of Knowledge and The Message of Wisdom.
The Corinthians’ thirst for knowledge was insatiable. By listing these two manifestations first, Paul was making it clear that real knowledge and wisdom only comes from God. This gift is not general knowledge, but supernatural knowledge that also “builds up the church” (I Corinthians 14:12) and causes unbelievers to exclaim “God is really among you!” (14:25).
The message of knowledge is not to be confused with human efforts to obtain knowledge. If someone discovers it by googling it, gossip, or figuring it out from available physical or verbal cues, then it is not a Message of Knowledge. Gordon Fee defines it as “factual information that could not otherwise have been known without the Spirit’s aid.” (NICNT, 1987, p.593) Jesus models this gift in John 4:18 when He tells the Samaritan woman, “The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” Jesus had just arrived in town so he couldn’t have gotten such information from her fellow townspeople. The woman’s hands were full with a water jar so she couldn’t have been carrying five wedding albums. Other than by the Holy Spirit’s aid, Jesus could not have known about her husbands. Rather than judging her, Jesus shows Himself to her as The Messiah using a message of knowledge.
In the same way, God manifests (or shows) Himself to us. Though they are often referred to as gifts, notice Paul calls each of the nine “manifestations” of the spirit. In other words, God uses each of these to show Himself more clearly and prove that He is indeed “really among you.” God does this in spectacular fashion or else it would only be a “manifestation” to a select few.
The timing of the message is key. If I tell you that your brother was in a car accident, but that happened ten years ago, then it is not relevant information. God is always relevant! Anthony Thiselton proclaims that it is “for such a moment” (NIGTC, 2000, p. 943). In other words, God speaks a message of knowledge when it is most needed to get the listener’s attention and help them in their need. That is where I believe the Message of Wisdom comes into play. Jesus didn’t merely tell the woman at the well that she had five husbands; He pointed her to Himself, the only One who could give her a new life free from shame. The message of knowledge (the revelation of her five husbands) got her attention and helped show her He was a prophet (John 4:19); the message of wisdom (the revelation that He is the Messiah in 4:26) got her heart and helped show her that He is the “Savior of the world” (4:42).
Knowledge is given upmost importance in today’s culture as well. Al Gore’s invention of the internet helped make obtaining information convenient and accessible to most people inAmerica. (I know Al Gore did not invent the internet; he only invented Global Warming.)
Now many of us have Ipads, Iphones, and Isingingtelegrams to get instant news, gossip, and information about anything our hearts desire. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with having those things, but often we use them first to obtain knowledge rather than praying and listening for an answer from God. Whether during conversations, sermons, or even reading a blog, if we open our ears I believe that God will give us a message of knowledge and wisdom when we need it most.
Now get those Spiderman pajamas into the washing machine before the stain sets in.