God's or Man's? A look at Wisdom and Knowledge
At first glance, it’s hard to see why knowledge and wisdom would be considered two different spiritual gifts. After all, the words are often used rather interchangeably in the English language. Despite this, there is still a difference most people are aware of when you ask them to stop for a moment and consider the differences between them. If you do a quick google search for quotes about the difference between knowledge and wisdom, you’ll find all sorts of attempts to put words around the concept. Here are a few of my favorite examples:
- Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting in a fruit salad. ~ Miles Kington
- To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day. ~ Lao Tse
- Knowledge without application is simply knowledge. Applying the knowledge of one’s life is wisdom – and that is the ultimate virtue. ~Kasi Kaye Iliopoulous
- Knowledge is being aware of what you can do. Wisdom is knowing when not to do it.
Curiosity is the beginning of knowledge, but understanding is the beginning of wisdom. ~ Debasish Mridha
- Science is organized knowledge. Wisdom is organized life. ~Immanuel Kant
- Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life. ~Eleanor Roosevelt
- Knowledge comes from learning. Wisdom comes from living. ~ Anthony Douglas Williams
- Learning is a matter of gathering knowledge; wisdom is applying that knowledge. ~Roopleen
- Knowledge is realizing that the street is one way. Wisdom is looking both directions anyway.
If you are someone who knows there is a difference and yet struggles to describe that difference, take heart. You are not alone. Philosophers, theologians, and many others from countless walks of life have strived to find ways to easily the nuanced differences between wisdom and knowledge. For me, this helps me understand why they are considered two different and distinct spiritual gifts in Scripture. If even in the secular world we find some importance in making a distinction, how much more must it be important to have the distinction made in the spiritual realm when it comes to our faith?! So let’s dive into what the differences between knowledge and wisdom are when it comes to spiritual gifts.
The Greek word used here is “sophia” and Paul has quite a few things to say about how people are to understand the “sophia” of God. Particularly in 1 Corinthians 1:18-24, Paul clearly explains that God’s wisdom is not the same as earthly wisdom. A crucified Messiah, a Messiah who failed to overthrow the Roman government, was seen by many first century Jews as a false Messiah. For them, power was defined so primarily in terms of this world that they failed to see how God’s power, a power unable to be defined or measured in any earthly terms, could be greater than the power they saw embodied by their government and rulers.
The wisdom of God is not based on earthly, practical knowledge but on the reality of Jesus’ death on the cross paying the price to redeem all of mankind, past, present, and future so that humanity can once again be in direct relationship with the Creator God of the universe simple by accepting and acknowledging Jesus’ sacrifice. This wisdom might come from studying Scripture, learning how to read the original Greek and Hebrew, diving into commentaries and books written by biblical scholars but a graduate level degree in theology will not guarantee you have the gift of wisdom.
The spiritual gift of wisdom is the ability to discern the mysteries of God because they are uniquely able to engage the world as Christ would embrace the world. To have this gift means you are someone who is able to understand and speak biblical truth in a way that helps others apply that truth to the situations of daily life. To have this gift means you are able to explain scripture in a way which helps yourself and others, in practical ways, live a holy life.
When talking about the spiritual gift of knowledge, Paul uses the word “gnosis” as he draws a distinction between the knowledge of God and the knowledge the world has to offer. Paul teaches that true knowledge, God’s knowledge, does not make one’s personal importance or stature the primary focus. Instead, it makes God’s love for others its primary purpose. It comes not from classroom study but through acceptance of the Gospel and recognition of God’s great gift of forgiveness.
Someone who has the spiritual gift of knowledge understands the deep things of God and the mysteries of His Word with an insight which could only come by revelation from God. As an example, I can’t help but remember a memorial video which was put together reflecting on the life and ministry of singer/songwriter Rich Mullins after his untimely death in the late 1990’s. One of the people he had worked with for many years said that Rich had a way of stepping right up to the very edge of the abyss which was the mystery of God and then pulling himself back and writing a song which conveyed what he had seen and experienced. And the songs he would write would resonate with and engage the rest of us who struggled to find the courage to step that close to the abyss.
That’s just a very brief, very introductory explanation of these two gifts. If you feel you may have one of these gifts, I encourage you to dive deeper into understanding them and how they contribute to building up the Body of Christ worldwide. Similarly, if you see these gifts in someone you know, encourage them to fully embrace them and seek out how God is calling them to use them in the Church.
- Consider the quotes and sayings at the start of this post. Which ones resonate most with you? Do you feel like any of them would apply in explaining the difference between these two spiritual gifts?
- How would you explain the difference between earthly wisdom and knowledge and the wisdom and knowledge of God? In what areas of life do you find yourself relying on or elevating earthly wisdom or knowledge in your life?
- If you have traveled in charismatic circles at all, you have likely heard these gifts talked about alongside the gift of prophecy. I found this article from “Got Questions” helpful in explaining the charismatic approach and the red flags to be aware of when traveling in these circles.