Summary: The gifts of the Holy Spirit are given primarily for the common good, and primarily so that we can be His witnesses.
This section of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church is about unity in diversity, serving the common good together, and being instruments of God’s grace by His Spirit at work to heal, to teach and to build up. The overall message is that God is in control. It is His church not yours or mine; and they are always His gifts for the common good, gifts given for service. He gives them as He determines (12:11), and he gives them primarily for the benefit of others! Too often people talk about, “My gift, my ministry, my vision.” It is a dangerous path to start on, because verse 7 is clear: “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (12:7).
What gifts has the Lord given to us? I believe He has given us all of the gifts! Are we using His gifts for the common good? Or are we – like the disobedient servant in one of Jesus’s parables – are we burying the gifts and not putting them to use?
The Holy Spirit is not a theory. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Holy Trinity, living in perfect community with the Father and the Son. So what follows is not theory. This is present day reality to be experienced among us for the common good. The Holy Spirit is to be made manifest, seen, heard, and experienced at work in every Christian for the common good. Hence we pray, “Come Holy Spirit!”
When the Archdeacon sends me money towards a family holiday I’m not meant to put it in a savings account for a rainy day, or to spend it on expensive aftershave. No. It is to be used for the common good - for the family; and so it is with gifts of the Spirit. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom (12:8). You know in our 21st century world of Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia and instant news and information there is lots and lots of opinion, fact, fiction, gossip and spin available for us to consume; …what’s often lacking is wisdom. Holy Spirit wisdom!
The Greek phrase is ‘logos sophias’. It means a word of wisdom. It can be spoken by someone (e.g. Phil Hylton) who has learned (Proverbs 3: 5-6) to lean not on their own understanding, but to live in the fear of the Lord; but we need to be clear that a word of wisdom – or indeed any gift - is not given as a reward for how good a Christian someone is or is not. No. It is God’s wisdom to unravel a confused situation or to shed light. Solomon was given such wisdom when two women came to him claiming to be the mother of a baby. Solomon ordered the baby be divided and half given to each; but the natural mother insisted the baby be given to the other - thus revealing her to be the genuine mother. Solomon received a word of wisdom for the common good; but Solomon was not indispensable; and neither are we! Jesus, only Jesus, is Lord of the church and the head of the body.
To another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit (12:8): The phrase is ‘logos gnoseos’.
It literally means ‘word of knowledge’; and Paul’s use of the word gnoseos is important because a Corinthian heresy was the belief that special knowledge, gnosis, was available to those who achieve certain higher levels of study or devotion; but Paul is having none of that. Wisdom, knowledge, faith, miraculous powers, prophecy, & speaking in tongues are gifts of the Spirit given as He determines for the common good. They are not rewards for length of service or quality of life – although our openness to use these gifts is important. In short, there is no place for either superiority or inferiority in the church.
The Spirit gives a word of knowledge with the aim of Jesus being or becoming Lord of someone’s life. The word is a fact or a piece of information that could not otherwise have been known. So If the Spirit gives me a word of knowledge for someone, it is given so that person knows God is on their case. He knows them, cares for them and wants the best for them.
Jesus had a word of knowledge (John 4) for the woman at the well; as did Peter when dealing with Ananias and Sapphira; and as with all gifts this must be used in humility and in love. See 1 Corinthians 13. The greatest gift is love; and if the Spirit gives a word of knowledge that is sensitive information it must be used lovingly. Jesus got it right 100% of the time but I don’t and we won’t. So handle with love and care!