Paul said that God works in His church, His people, through a variety of means. And that in spite of the variety of ways that God makes Himself manifest there is always a unity that binds the different manifestations of His work together. He now enumerates several of the more common gifts as examples of how this unity in diversity works. His list is not complete, but it is significant. There are other gifts that God gives to His people. In fact, all of what we call talents and abilities are gifts of God. While we don't want to limit God's gifts to these few that Paul mentions here, neither do we want to discount the importance of those listed.
1 Corinthians 12:8 distinguishes two important gifts: the ability to speak words of wisdom and words of knowledge. It is important to notice the difference between wisdom and knowledge. They are related, yet distinct. Wisdom is the Greek word sophia. However, Paul does not have the Gnostic goddess Sophia in mind. Paul is not teaching Gnosticism, though that is what Gnostics think he is doing. Rather, Paul uses the word in its generic meaning. According to Webster the word (wisdom) means the right use or exercise of knowledge; the choice of laudable ends, and the choice of the best means to accomplish those ends.
Knowledge, on the other hand, is more akin to science and the gathering of information and facts in order to understand how things work. As Paul uses these two words here, knowledge has to do with understanding how the world works, and wisdom has to do with using that knowledge in the service of God, according to Scripture.
How do we know that Paul is talking about the use of wisdom and knowledge in relation to God and not in a more generic sense? Because he said that they are "given through the Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:8). The Spirit is the vehicle of their delivery to the hearts and minds of Christians. Wisdom and knowledge are gifts of the Spirit that are manifest in the words (logos) of His people.
Of course the word logos means more than mere words. It also means the structure and energy that shapes and gives meaning to words. John wrote, "In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:1-3).
Logos is the root of the English word logic. From all this we see that the gifts of wisdom and knowledge make sense of the world and of God's Word -- Scripture. We know that the correct understanding of Scripture requires personal regeneration because it requires the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to directly lead and guide the spirit of each Christian. And the same thing is true with regard to knowledge of the world. Regeneration is necessary in order to understand the world correctly, from God's perspective, from a biblical perspective -- the only true perspective. And again, the only true perspective always comes "according to the same Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:8).
There is unity and corroboration between everything that comes from God. There is unity in the Scriptures, unity of doctrine (teaching), unity of purpose. But this unity is not a "cookie-cutter" type of unity. Rather, there is a great diversity of gifts, many different manifestations of the Spirit, a diversity of thoughts and ideas, different ways of doing things. But the diversity, the differences, are always trumped by the unity of the Godhead. And our best understanding of that unity is shaped by our understanding of the Trinity -- one, yet three; three, yet one; all pulling in the same direction, all working toward or with the same purpose.
In 1 Corinthians 12:9-10 Paul lists other gifts that are subsumed under the unity of the Spirit: faith, healing (note the comma -- not faith healing), miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues and interpretation of tongues. Let's consider each one in turn.
Faith First is faith (pistis). The Greek word is defined as persuasion, credence and/or moral conviction (of religious truth, or the truthfulness of God or a religious teacher), and especially reliance upon Christ for salvation. We might better understand this gift as faithfulness, being loyal and steadfast. But it is not generic loyalty, it is loyalty to Jesus Christ. Nor is it generic steadfastness, it is steadfastness to God's truth in Scripture.
Faith is related to our perseverance in Christ and God's preservation of His people. Being faithful is not simply a matter of believing and trusting in Christ, but believing rightly, correctly -- that is to say, not believing falsely. It is both a commitment to being truthful and loyalty to God's truth. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). This gift is by grace and through faith, as are all God's gifts. And that means that all of the other gifts stand on or issue from the gift of faith or faithfulness to Jesus Christ as a foundation and/or source.
Healing Second on Paul's list is healing. The Greek literally means cure. There are two Greek words that are translated as healing in the New Testament. The most common is therapeuo, the root of the English word therapy and literally means to wait upon. We can think of it as a kind of nursing.
The other word (iama) is used only here and in Acts 4:22, "For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old." It refers to the healing of the lame beggar in Acts 3.2 This healing provides a fascinating story of a social outcast who was reintegrated into the community as a result of his healing by Peter. Note several things about this healing: 1) Peter did it, 2) upon being healed the beggar, "stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God" (Acts 3:8), 3) his presence in the Temple amazed and upset the congregation, 4) Peter used the disturbance as an opportunity to preach, and 5) "as they (Peter and John) were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them" (Acts 4:1-3).
Clearly, the healing indicated by this particular word had an effect or an impact on more than the man who was healed. It affected the whole community. It revealed the bankruptcy of the Old Testament Temple culture, revealed Jesus Christ as the source of the miracle that healed the lame beggar, and resulted in the beggar's reintegration into society -- the new culture of the New Testament church. All of this is to say that the gift of healing that Paul identifies here has a holistic character that includes much more than the physical restoration of one person's health. The healing Paul had in mind was a cultural healing or restoration.
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