Gift of knowledge and wisdom

This next gift at times will work in conjunction with the word of knowledge. Sometimes all you need is a direct word of knowledge from the Holy Spirit and it will completely solve the problem or dilemma you are dealing with.

However, there will be other times that a word of knowledge will not be quite enough to solve the problem. This is where you will now need a word of wisdom. A word of wisdom will give you the ability to be able to properly apply the knowledge that you may already have on a particular situation.

In our article, “Seeking After the Knowledge of God,” we explain to you the difference between knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. For instance, if someone gives you a car manual that will show you how to rebuild a car engine, that manual will give you all of the actual knowledge you will need to learn how to do it. But all of that knowledge will not do you any good unless you first understand what you are reading.

If you can understand what you are reading, then the next and final step will be to have the actual wisdom to be able to actually rebuild a car engine out in your garage once you try and do it. All of that knowledge from the car manual, and all of that understanding of that knowledge will do you no good in real life if you do not have the wisdom to be able to apply that knowledge to a real life working situation.

This is why we all need words of wisdom from the Holy Spirit in our daily life, so we will know how to handle more complex types of problems or issues that can occur at a moment’s notice in our daily lives.

Here are some specific examples where we could receive words of wisdom direct from the Holy Spirit:

  1. You have just found out that your spouse has been cheating on you. You will now need God’s wisdom on exactly how to handle this crisis.
  2. Your boss has just given you a new tough assignment and you are not sure on how to get the job properly done. You will now need God’s knowledge and wisdom on how to get this new assignment successfully completed.
  3. Your finances have spiraled out of control and you will now need God’s guidance and wisdom on how to keep yourself out of bankruptcy.
  4. You have just been named in an unjust lawsuit and you will now need God’s wisdom on how to properly handle it.

As you can see, there are literally an infinite number of possibilities where you will need God’s wisdom to get you safely though the problem or dilemma you are now having to face.

Again, since our own human intelligence is so imperfect and so limited in its ability to apply real wisdom to handle and solve some of life’s real tough problems, we all need the wisdom of God flowing through our lives on a regular basis so we can handle and overcome many of life’s adversities that can get thrown our way at any time.

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There are different kinds of knowledge, and according to your comment that “wisdom is applied knowledge,” I infer that your definition of knowledge might be

Information that is not yet applied to a situation (for example).

If I’m correct, then I think you’re on the right track. Knowledge IS information, and when it comes to spiritual gifts, God is able to give information to the possessor of this gift either prior to the information becoming a fact or at the very moment the word of knowledge is given.

The Gift of Knowledge

The gift of knowledge might be revealed, for example, when a believer tells another believer,

“God is going to heal you of _____________.”

You can fill in the blank, above, with the word cancer, or diabetes, or panic attacks, or whatever infirmity you care to name. The imparter of this utterance could be thousands of miles away from a given situation–one in which a missionary who is in danger of being kidnapped by terrorists, for example. During a time of prayer, the person with the gift of knowledge says to himself, “God is going to prevent missionary Jones from being kidnapped.”

If the gift is genuine, not only will missionary Jones not be kidnapped, but the person who uttered that knowledge might have the joy of telling that missionary the “good news” a day (or a week, or a year!) later, and the missionary may (though not necessarily) recount to the glory of God how the deliverance came about!

To be sure, there is wisdom involved in the speaking of knowledge, but that wisdom originates in God, and the speaker of that word of knowledge is but a channel for a supernatural, God-imparted word of knowledge. The “test” for whether this gift is legitimate, of course, is if the word of knowledge turns out to be true! (At this point, I will not dare to venture into how this gift can be perverted whenever Satan seeks to insert his counterfeit word of knowledge into a situation, though I’m sure it does happen on occasion. I will suggest, however, that a person with the gift of wisdom could potentially discern such a satanic counterfeit and expose it for what it is.)

The Word of Wisdom

Now to the word, or utterance, of wisdom. The speaker of wisdom can look at a situation which already exists–say, for example, whether or not a local assembly of Christians should seek to plant a sister church, and takes the knowledge he or she has gleaned from God’s revealed will and word in the Bible, and applies it to the situation at hand.

If all goes well, the congregation heeds that word of wisdom and it is confirmed by a unanimity among the entire congregation. Situations are at times far from ideal, however. In other words, wisdom imparted is not always wisdom applied!

In conclusion, whether we’re talking about the utterance of knowledge or of wisdom, the source and imparter of the gift is God’s Holy Spirit. We His children who are privileged to be indwelt by His Spirit are merely the recipients of His gifts. Moreover, we can also be filled with His Holy Spirit, and when communicating His will and word we are but God’s mouthpieces, much like the prophets of old.

“For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit . . .. these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”

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As you may recall, there are seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Piety, Fortitude and Fear of the Lord. Most Catholics cannot define them well in any sort of articulate way. This is due to poor catechesis but also to the fact that modern English has tended to use several of these terms interchangeably, almost as synonyms, though they are distinct theologically. There are also secular usages of these terms that have no correspondence to how we mean them theologically. To indicate intellectual understanding of something,  a person in modern English may say, “I know” or they may say “I understand.” To most modern Anglophones this is a distinction without a difference.  To speak of someone as being of great intelligence, a contemporary English speaker might say, “He has great understanding” or “He is a wise man” or yet again, “He is possessed of great knowledge.” Here too most would not think of these as dramatically different sentences. There are shades of meaning in calling a man wise versus smart or knowledgeable but most modern speakers are losing what those shades of difference actually are.

For all these reasons (poor catechesis, secular misuse  and evolving language) Catholics have a hard time distinguishing between Knowledge, Wisdom and Understanding. Let’s try to repair some of the damage.

First, some distinctions:

  1. We are discussing here the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. As such they are given to the baptized and strengthened in confirmed. They exist only in the Christian per se. A man may be said to be knowledgeable in the repair of a car or in the stock market, but we are not referring to the Gift of Knowledge given by the Holy Spirit in this case, only to worldly knowledge. A woman may be said to be wise in the ways of the world. But again, we are not referring to the Gift of Wisdom given by the Holy Spirit when we speak in this way. A man may be said to understand Spanish, but we are not speaking of the Gift of Understanding given by the Holy Spirit when we speak in this way. Hence, there are worldly counterparts to these words which do not conform to the theological meaning of these realities.
  2. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are supernaturaland thus they transcend the ordinary powers of the soul or the human person in general. They are infused by God and no soul could ever acquire them on its own. In these senses they are different from the virtues which can be acquired naturally and can be moved or actuated by man himself. In the caseof the Gifts, God is the unique mover and cause. Man is only the instrumental cause. Thus the acts which proceed from the gifts are materially human but  formally divine just as the melody an artist plays on the harp is materially from the harp but formally from the musician who plays it. That the soul reacts or responds preserves freedom and merit but the soul merely seconds the divine action and can not take the initiative.
  3. Wisdom and knowledge are distinguished according to their objects. Wisdom pertains to God and the things of God. Knowledge pertains to created things and how they relate to our final end.
  4. Understanding too, meant here as the Gift of Understanding has a rather specific focus: It penetrates revealed truth to grasp its fullest meaning. Hence one may understand Spanish, but we are not referring to the Gift of Understanding in speaking this way. To grasp the purpose, meaning and implications of the redemption wrought by Jesus Christ would be a more proper usage of this word in terms of the Gift of Understanding.

OK, How about some Definitions. Incidentally, these definitions are gleaned from the Summa and also substantially from Fr. Antonio Royo Marin O.P. in his Book,  The Great Unknown, The Holy Ghost and His Gifts

  1. The Gift of Knowledge is a supernatural habit infused by God through which the human intellect, under the illuminating action of the Holy Spirit, judges rightly concerning created things as ordained to the supernatural end. Notice that it is a habit. That is,  it does not come and go. But like all habits, it can and does grow in depth and breadth. Grace builds on nature,  and as one matures and gains experience the Gift can and does make use of these human qualities. Because the gift is supernatural it is not a matter of human or philosophical knowledge deduced by natural reason. In other words you don’t go to school to get this gift. However, it is not unrelated to human development which school can provide. But this is not its origin. There are plenty of learned and humanly smart people who do not manifest the Gift of Knowledge. This can be due to a lack of faith or to resistance caused by weak faith and sin. By the Gift of Knowledge the human intellect apprehends and judges created things by a certain divine instinct. The individual does not proceed by laborious reasoning but judges rightly concerning all created things by a kind of superior gift that gives an intuitive impulse. I have underlined “created things” because this essentially distinguishes knowledge from wisdom (which pertains to Divine, rather than created things). Notice that the Gift is especially oriented to created things insofar as they pertain to our ultimate end. Now created things tend either toward our supernatural end or away from it and the Gift of Knowledge helps us to judge rightly in this respect. Looked at another way, the Gift of Knowledge helps us to apply the teachings of our faith to the living of daily life, the proper usage of material creation, knowing the proper utility and value of things as well as their dangers and misuses. By it we are able to determine well what conforms to faith and what does not. We are able to make use of creation in a proper way with necessary detachment and proper appreciation for what is truly good.
  2. The Gift of Wisdom is a supernatural habit, inseparable from charity, by which we judge rightly concerning God and divine things under the special instinct of the Holy Spirit who makes us taste these things by a certain intuition  and sympathy. In other words The truths of God begin to resonate with us and we begin to instinctively love what God loves, will  what God wills. What he is and wills makes great sense to us. His teachings clarify and make sense. We see things increasingly from God’s point of view through this supernatural gift. The thinking of the world increasingly seems as folly and appreciation of God’s Wisdom magnifies. More and more thorough this gift the human person desires to be in union only with God and His ways. By this gift the world is defeated and its folly clearly perceived. Our love of neighbor is also perfected by it since the Gift of Wisdom helps us to see and thus love others more and more as God sees and loves them. Since this is a gift,  it cannot be learned or acquired. But, as with the Gift of Knowledge, one’s study of Scripture and Tradition can help dispose one for the growth of the Gift which can and does make use of what is humanly supplied. Grace builds on nature.
  3. The Gift of Understanding is a supernatural habit, infused by God with sanctifying Grace, by which the human intellect, under the illuminating action of the Holy Spirit, is made apt for a penetrating intuition of revealed truths, and even of natural truths so far as they are related to the supernatural end. It enables the believer to penetrate into the depths of revealed truth and deduce later by discursive thinking the conclusions implicit conclusions contained in these truths. It discloses the hidden meaning of Sacred Scripture. It reveals to us the spiritual realities that are under sensible realities and so that the smallest religious ceremonies carry tremendous significance.  It makes us see causes through their effects simply and intuitively. This gives a profound appreciation for God’s providence.

This song says, “Take My Life and Let it Be Consecrated Lord to Thee.” It goes on to consecrate the whole person to Christ, including the intellect and will. As such it is an invitation for the Seven Gifts to come fully alive.

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In the list of spiritual gifts included in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul listed the “word of wisdom” and “word of knowledge.” What are these gifts?

First, very little is directly mentioned regarding these two spiritual gifts. Paul simply listed them and moved into a different discussion. As a result, there is much debate regarding the details of these two spiritual gifts.

Second, the idea of the “word of” wisdom and knowledge appears to indicate these gifts were associated with information a person would share with others. In other words, the word of wisdom was not about how much a person could learn, but in communicating this information with others in appropriate and helpful ways.

Third, wisdom likely included the communication of spiritual truth related to the gospel. First Corinthians 2:6-7 shares, “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.”

Fourth, both of these gifts were related to helping build up the body of Christ. Wisdom and knowledge were given to share, not merely for personal fulfillment.

Though uncertain, perhaps these two gifts were associated with leaders of the church who shared words of wisdom and knowledge to help others grow in Christ. This would have been especially important during the early stage of the church during which the New Testament Scriptures had not yet been completed.

In contrast with the practice found in some charismatic congregations, these two gifts do not indicate direct revelation or prophecy from God. In fact, these gifts were given to communicate God’s truth, not to reveal new, unknown truth that would add to or take away from Scripture.

Because these two gifts include much uncertainty regarding intended meaning and application, it is also uncertain regarding their continuance in the church today. However, it is clear that today’s church needs people who are wise and knowledgeable regarding God’s truth who can communicate this information to others.

Related Truth: What spiritual gifts does the Bible mention? Can you give me a survey of the spiritual gifts?What is my spiritual gift?Are the miraculous gifts of the Spirit still active?What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?What is the role of the Holy Spirit? How is the Holy Spirit active in our lives today?

Return to:
Truth about the Holy Spirit

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