BY DAVID K. BERNARD
The first gift listed in I Corinthians 12 is “the word of wisdom.” The Greek word for “wisdom” here is the standard one, sophia. “Wisdom” means “understanding of what is true, right, or lasting; insight; . . . common sense; good judgment.” Knowledge is an understanding of facts, but wisdom is an understanding of how to use facts to make good decisions. Wisdom involves insight, judgment,
God does not impart all His wisdom but a “word,” or a portion, of wisdom. The Greek for “word” here is logos, which typically refers to thought or utterance. The gift of “the word of wisdom” does not bestow
infallibility or divine guidance in all matters, but it relates to a specific decision or need.
Based on the words of I Corinthians 12:8 as well as the entire context of I Corinthians 12-14, we can define “the word of wisdom” as the supernatural gift of a portion of divine insight, judgment, or
guidance for a particular need.
God has worked miraculously throughout human history, and therefore we can find parallels to the gifts of the Spirit in the Old Testament and in the Gospels. Since the gifts of I Corinthians 12 are given to New Testament believers, who are baptized with the Holy Spirit, we can expect to find specific instances of them in the Book of Acts and the Epistles.
We find an example of the word of wisdom in the story of the apostle Paul’s voyage to Rome as a prisoner. Although Paul was not a professional sailor, the Lord revealed to him that it was unwise to
sail further, and he communicated this message to the Roman centurion in charge of him, the helmsman, and the owner of the ship. “Now when much time had been spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was already over, Paul advised them, saying, ‘Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives”‘ (Acts 27:9-10, NKJV).
The professionals, however, concluded that it was safe to sail, and the south wind began to blow softly, seemingly confirming their opinion. They ignored Paul’s words and set sail. Soon they encountered
a violent tempest in which they lost both the cargo and the ship. They would have lost their lives also except for the intervention of God and the further advice of Paul.
In this account, human understanding, experience, and observation said it was safe to sail, and Paul had no expertise or human reason to think otherwise. Yet by divine wisdom, Paul knew it was dangerous to
go. God gave him supernatural guidance apart from human judgment. Even though the centurion ignored Paul’s advice initially, the word of wisdom gave him such credibility in light of later events that in the end everyone did heed his instructions for the preservation of their lives.
Another instance of the word of wisdom is when the Holy Spirit guided Paul and his coworkers in their missionary endeavors. The Spirit forbade them to go to Asia or Bithynia at that time; then God gave Paul a vision of someone from Macedonia asking for help. The missionary party concluded that God wanted them to go to Macedonia. (See acts 16:6-10.)
In 1976, while my father was a missionary in South Korea, some opponents of the church sought to have him expelled from the country, the church organization dissolved, and the assets awarded to them. They
falsely accused him to the government of plotting to assassinate the president. At that time the country was strictly controlled by a military dictatorship and lived under constant threat of attack by community North Korea. Acts of espionage were common, and once a team of North Korean commandos almost reached the president’s house before being discovered and killed in downtown gun battles. In 1974 a
communist agent killed the president’s wife in a failed attempt to assassinate him. There was also considerable unrest due to domestic political opposition. In that environment, the South Korea Central
Intelligence Agency took this allegation very seriously. Indeed the president was later assassinated.
My father was scheduled to preach soon at the first world conference of the United Pentecostal Church International, to be held in Jerusalem. In prayer, however, he felt impressed by the Holy Spirit not to go, so he canceled his travel plans.
Afterwards, the Korean CIA conducted an extensive investigation, which included the brutal interrogation of some students of the Bible college where my father was president. Eventually the minister of justice called my father into his office and notified him of the outcome. The government knew of my father’s planned trip, he said, and initially decided that the easiest solution to the problem was to deny him reentry to Korea after the trip. They did not want to create an international incident by expelling him, but they did not want him to remain in the country as a potential threat. Since he did not take the trip, they were forced to investigate, and their investigation revealed that his accusers were liars.
My father had no human way of knowing these plans and no human reason to cancel his trip. Yet God granted him divine guidance, and as a result the crisis was resolved. The plan of the conspirators was
In my own life, I have felt specific direction from God on a number of occasions. In 1981, I obtained ministerial license; graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, Texas; married;
and moved to Jackson, Mississippi, to begin teaching at Jackson College of Ministries. As my wife and I left Austin, I told her I felt impressed that someday we would come back to Austin to work for the
Lord. Over the years, we carried a burden for the city, and I was approached on four occasions about ministerial positions there: to start a daughter work, to be assistant pastor, and to be pastor of two
different churches. In 1986 we seriously contemplated starting a new church there, consulting with family, friends, spiritual leaders, the sectional presbyter, and the district superintendent. All human signs were encouraging, yet we did not feel positive direction from the Lord, so we did not go.
In 1991, our burden intensified. Once again, we began praying, seeking counsel, and gathering necessary information. As my wife and I prayed together on December 31, the Spirit of God came upon us. I asked
God to fulfill Romans 8:26 in our lives: “For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (NKJV). Immediately, I felt as if a heavy weight pressed down upon my chest, almost as if I were drowning, and I began to sob and to speak forcefully in tongues. We knew God had answered our prayer and would soon give us direction. Two days later, on January 2, 1992, in prayer my wife and I both felt a strong sense of victory and a confirmation that we were to make plans immediately to begin a new church in Austin. After approval by the district board, we went.
In retrospect, the timing could not have been better. Unknown to us, about the same time we moved to Austin several families also moved there who were to become building blocks of our new church, including a family who had received the Holy Spirit in the charismatic movement and one who was holding prayer meetings in their home. In the late 1980s, Austin suffered a severe economic decline, but in the early 1990s it began an unprecedented boom. We were able to buy a home and land for a
church just before real estate prices skyrocketed. In two years, our land was worth almost double the purchase price. Humanly speaking, we could not have anticipated, planned, or orchestrated these and many other events to bring our church to its present level of growth and revival, but God gave us supernatural direction at the right time.
This article has been excerpted from Spiritual Gifts, published by Word Aflame Press.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY THE PENTECOSTAL HERALD, APRIL 2001, PAGES 8, 9. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.