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In our first two studies in this series we dealt with the word charisma and its meaning in general. I think it would be good just to spend a minute in recapitulation or review. We said that the word charisma is connected with the root Greek word charis, which means grace. And that charisma means “grace made specific, effective, manifest.” Grace in some particular manifestation or form that we can name it and call it this or that. But, the thing behind it, the thing that makes it possible is always the grace of God through Jesus Christ administered by the Holy Spirit but experienced in human lives. This is what charisma means, grace made specific, effective, manifest.
We did, as a matter of interest, find 25 examples in various passages of the New Testament where the word charisma is used. I’ll just go through those 25 examples so that we’ll have a basis to move on into the present study. We found it used of the following things. Righteousness, eternal life, the five ministry gifts mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, the nine spiritual gifts which are the ones we are proposing to study mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10, practical service or deaconship, exhorting, giving, ruling, showing mercy, helps, governments (or as we call it, steerings), celibacy and miraculous intervention of God. So the gifts of the Holy Spirit as they’re commonly called, which we are going to begin to study specifically this evening, these gifts of the Holy Spirit are one species in the total genus which is called charisma.
We said that the distinguishing feature that marks out this particular species from the others is contained in the word manifestations which is the word that’s used in 1 Corinthians 12:7 where these gifts are introduced. They are manifestations of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit Himself is invisible, we cannot perceive Him with the senses but dwelling within a believer He operates through that believer in ways that we can perceive with our senses. The apostle Paul actually lists nine specific manifestations of the Holy Spirit which are also called the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Let’s turn now to 1 Corinthians 12 and look at the passage where Paul gives this list. Beginning then at verse 7:
“But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: but all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.”
You’ll notice there in verse 7 the key word “the manifestation of the Spirit.” And then notice that Paul says it is given to every man to profit withal. Where we read “every man” that is somewhat Elizabethan English. A better, modern translation would be “to each one.” And, of course, it is referring only to believers; this is not referring to unbelievers. To each believer the manifestation of the Holy Spirit is given to profit withal, for a useful, practical profitable purpose. As I heard a brother in the Lord say just the other day, “The gifts of the Holy Spirit are not toys, they’re tools. They are to do a useful, practical job.”
Then notice again, verse 11, “But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.” In modern English, “dividing to each one individually as He will.” So you see that Paul begins and ends this list by reminding us that as believers each one of us is entitled to his own specific manifestation of the Holy Spirit in his life. Manifestation or manifestations. Paul doesn’t suggest that God is rationing us to one, but each believer in Christ, if he lives in his inheritance, is entitled to enjoy the manifestations of the Holy Spirit in his life. It is not the will of God for any believer to be without these manifestations. Paul says most emphatically they are given to each one individually. Any believer that is living without these manifestations of the Holy Spirit is living below the level of God’s provision for his life.
Again, it is important to emphasize that these gifts are all supernatural. None of them could be explained merely by natural talent or education or ability. Wisdom is not the kind of wisdom that comes from spending 15 years in college and having three degrees. It’s wisdom that’s given supernaturally by the Holy Spirit.
Likewise with knowledge. Healing is not the type of healing that’s ministered by the physician or the surgeon—though we respect that and are grateful for it—but this is supernatural healing. It is most important to understand every one of these gifts is on a supernatural level.
Of course, the reason why some believers don’t have these manifestations is they have never taken this vital step out of the natural into the supernatural. I believe, myself, the doorway out of the natural into the supernatural is the baptism in the Holy Spirit with the miraculous manifestation of speaking in another tongue. Once you’ve entered into the realm of the supernatural it is the will of God that you should continue to function in that realm.
The picture given in the New Testament of Christianity as it was launched is a supernatural way of life. If you’d like to check that, I did it once this way. I read through the book of Acts, which has 28 chapters, and is the only historical record we have in Scripture of how the early church functioned. I tried to find out what would happen if I removed all references to the manifestly supernatural. Do you know what I discovered? Not one chapter would be left intact. It is impossible to take away the supernatural and to speak about New Testament Christianity because New Testament Christianity was absolutely permeated with the supernatural. I believe the reason was that for the New Testament Christian the baptism in the Holy Spirit, speaking with another tongue, was a norm. It wasn’t a goal to be achieved at the end of so many years of righteous living, it was the gateway into normal Christian living.
And the writer of 1 Corinthians and other writers in the New Testament always assume that the Christians to whom they write have had this experience. We could compare the word of Peter. If you have enough fingers to spare, keep them in 1 Corinthians 12 because we’ll be going back there in a moment but turn to 1 Peter 4:10.
“As every man hath received the gift ...”
But actually, in Greek it is “a gift” and the word is charisma, the same word we’re looking at.
“... even so minister the same to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”
There’s two things to notice there. First of all, that Peter, like Paul, assumes that every Christian will have received some of these gifts. And having received them will then be in a position to minister by them to other believers.
Secondly, Peter, like Paul, joins this word “gift,” charisma, “grace gift,” with the word grace. As you’ll see, “as every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” In the Greek there is a definite play upon the word charisma and charis. As I said earlier in these studies, it’s only as we receive and exercise these gifts that we make known to the world, to the universe, the manifold grace of God. God’s grace is manifested through the church by the grace gifts which He gives us as we exercise them.
So, if we fail to receive an exercise these gifts we are not showing God’s grace in its fullness and its many-sided character the way that God intends that we should. We are failing God, we’re not the advertisement, we’re not the testimony for God that we should be. It is the will of God that every believer manifest the supernatural grace of God in one or more forms in his life. Peter and Paul are in perfect agreement in this that every believer is entitled to and should have his distinctive manifestations and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
So, as we study this together I do hope that no one will think about it as something remote from a bygone age or something that’s reserved for a few spiritual giants or something that only is needed by preachers or missionaries in foreign lands or something like that. This is not the picture the New Testament gives. The New Testament pictures it as part of the normal equipment for normal Christian living.
Let’s go back to 1 Corinthians 12 and I would like to give you a more literal translation of these gifts before we begin to study them in something of detail. I’ve said before this is “the Prince Version.” It has happened that someone has come up to me and said, “Can I buy that?” I say, “Alas, no, it just comes out of my mind, it isn’t in print.” I will say that I have had the privilege of studying Greek since I was ten years old and I studied it continuously for about sixteen years. I’m qualified to teach it at university level. That doesn’t mean everything I say is necessarily right, but at least I’m not entirely ignorant and I’m not trying to put forward anything obscure or complicated, I’m just trying to make the translation more literal and possibly a little more up to date.
We’ll go through the list as given in 1 Corinthians 12:8–10.
“For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom.”
But there’s no “the.” So I say “a” word of wisdom.
Likewise, in the second part of the verse “the word of knowledge” but there’s no “the.” It’s “a” word of knowledge.
Verse 9, “to another faith.” There’s no change there, it is faith.
The second part of verse 9 it says, in the King James, “gifts of healing.” But, actually, both parts are plural and this is rather important. It’s “gifts of healings.” Plural.
Likewise in verse 10 where the King James says “working of miracles” it is literally “workings of miracles.” Both parts are plural.
“Prophecy” does not need to be changed. “Discerning of spirits,” again, both parts are plural. “Discernings of spirits.”
And then, the next one, “divers kinds of tongues.” A lot of people today in modern English are stumbled by the word “divers.” But it just means “diverse or various”—various kinds of tongues.
And lastly, “to another the interpretation of tongues.”
What I want to point out, and I’ve done it in the outline by underlining the plurals, is how many pairs of plurals there are.
Number four, gifts of healings. Number five, workings of miracles. Number seven, discernings of spirits. Number eight, kinds of tongues.
This is no accident, there’s truth contained in the fact that these are in pairs of plurals, which we shall explore in due course. Just for the time being, bear it in mind.
If you’ve added it up you find that there are nine distinct manifestations listed there by Paul. It has often been done by expositors long before me that these nine manifestations are divided up simply for purpose of easy reference and classification into three groups, each group containing three manifestations or gifts. This is by no means new; various Bible teachers have done it before. Nor am I suggesting that it’s absolutely the only way you can view these gifts, but I think it is a convenience and it helps us to understand them a little more clearly. So, I’ve divided them up under the three headings of revelation, power and vocal.
The gifts of revelation, I think, are clear when we stop to consider. A word of wisdom, a word of knowledge, discernings of spirits. They are revelatory gifts; they convey revelation which without them we could not receive in any other way.
The gifts of power—you might think of a better classification—but they’re the gifts that get things done. They could also be called the dramatic gifts; they’re the gifts that really arrest people’s attention. We have three: faith, gifts of healings, workings of miracles.
And then there are three gifts which I call vocal for the reason that they must of necessity operate through human vocal organs. This is tongues, interpretation, and prophecy.
We’re going to begin with the gifts of revelation. That is, as I’ve said already, a word of wisdom, a word of knowledge, discernings of spirits.
Before we go into the study of any one of these gifts I think it’s worthwhile to spend a moment considering the difference between wisdom and knowledge. There are many different forms of wisdom. When I was a professional philosopher I thought I was occupied with wisdom. I can only say one thing about it, it was intensely confusing! The more I confuse people the more clever they thought I was—and probably the more clever I thought I was, too. If you want real concentrated confusion just go to philosophy because that’s where you’ll find it.
When I found the Lord Jesus Christ and dedicated my life to teaching and preaching the Word of God I discovered God’s idea of wisdom is very different. God’s wisdom is very simple, practical and to the point. I want to say one thing, it’s always practical. You see, you can read the philosopher Kant if you ever want to. He’s written some sentences that extend for more than two pages without a period. If you want to study Karl Marx ... I had as a friend the most brilliant scholar at Eton—and that is probably the most brilliant scholar in Britain. And when he tried to read Marx’s Das Kapital he had to tie a wet towel around his head. I just don’t know where Communists get their doctrine from but I guarantee it isn’t from wading through Marx’s Das Kapital because there are few people that could ever go into that and come out again.
The wisdom of God is completely different. It’s not confusing, it’s simple. It’s not remote, it’s down to earth, it’s practical. Much of it is stated in words of one syllable. A most fascinating thing to study is teachings of Jesus as recorded in the King James Version which is only a version. He only used in all His recorded teachings, only once do you find a word of more than four syllables. That word, if you want to know, is regeneration. The only five syllable word that Jesus ever used. And much of His teaching is in words of one syllable about things like lamps, oil, light, sheep, fish and so on. Life, death, love, hate, kill, make alive. It’s quite amazing, and yet almost all history would concur the fact that no man ever spoke like this man Jesus. This is a totally different kind of wisdom.
I must say, for my part, I love the wisdom of the Bible. I love the writings of wisdom. Of all the books that could be called writings of wisdom, I suppose we would turn to the writings of the wisest man, according to the Bible, of all ages who was Solomon. For my part, I must say particularly I delight in the book of Proverbs. I don’t know how others find it, but to me it’s a never ceasing source of delight and inspiration. No matter how many times you read that when you read it the next time you say, “Why did I never see that before?” However, I want to turn now to one of the other books of Solomon which is very little read by many believers and that’s Ecclesiastes. I think in Ecclesiastes Solomon really sums up the nature of wisdom. It’s in Ecclesiastes 10:10. If you don’t know quite where to find it, it’s between Proverbs and the Song of Solomon. The three books of Solomon are Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. Ecclesiastes actually means “the preacher,” that’s the meaning of that rather complicated word which is not in the original. Ecclesiastes 10:10, here’s one of these pithy sayings. And, it relates to the nature of wisdom.
“If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.”
That sums up the nature of wisdom, it is profitable or useful to direct. Wisdom is directive. Knowledge is informative. Knowledge conveys to us facts; wisdom actually, really, tells us what to do with the facts.
I’ll show you in a little while they’re closely related one to another. Let’s look at these words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 10:10 for a moment because they’re really very, very vivid. “If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength.” This to me always refers to an axe and cutting down a tree, because I have such a vivid personal memory of trying to cut down a tree with an axe. That was when we used to live in southwest India in my parent’s home. Every now and then I’d get a spurt of enthusiasm, ask my father if there was something I could do to clean up the garden. One day he said there’s a tree going down there on the bank of the little stream that needs cutting down. I went off and fetched the axe and started to hew away at this tree. After about 30 minutes’ energy, the tree stood defiant and all I’d done was get blisters on my hands and very sweaty. Along came the gardener and he looked at me with a kind of smile of pity. He went off and sharpened the axe, returned and kind of cocked his eye at the tree and looked at the point and gave it about four blows with the axe and it came down. I’ve always remembered that. I made two mistakes. First of all, I was using a blunt axe. Secondly, I wasn’t hitting the tree in the right place.
When I became a preacher I came to see that many times I was guilty of the same thing in my preaching. Sometimes preachers use blunt axes and sometimes even when they have a sharp axe they’re not hitting the tree in the right place.
I remember particularly an occasion in the early 1960s when I’d preached in an Assembly of God church in the United States and had a week of rather successful meetings. I was invited to preach in a Pentecostal church in Canada and I’m ashamed to say I thought to myself, “The same series of messages will do. Why should I find any more?” So I went through the same series of messages basically—of course, with some changes—for the week and plowed away. There were no results. Nothing. It was just like hitting a brick wall. The last day, do you know what I discovered? I discovered that some years previously there’d been a tremendous rift in that church, they’d had a dispute about something that had happened and the people on the right side never spoke to the people on the left. Actually, neither in church nor out of church. They wouldn’t talk to one another even if they met in the street.
Well, the prophet Elijah could have come from heaven and preached to them and nothing would happen until they got reconciled to one another. It was the basis. And, had I waited on God and been guided by the Holy Spirit, I’m sure that God would have given me that type of message. But all I did was stand there and hew away for a week with a blunt axe, never got the tree down, got a lot of blisters on my hands. However, I learned the hard way.
So, in the spiritual, remember: sharpen the axe and let the Lord show you where to direct your blows. I’ve seen this. Many times when I’m led by the Holy Spirit I’ll say things and I say to myself, “What did I say that for?” But sure enough, it gets the tree down. In fact, it’s happened quite often that people have come up to me afterwards almost indignant or disturbed and said, “Do you remember saying that?” I say, “No, I don’t remember saying that. I didn’t intend to say it.” They say, “Well, that’s the thing that spoke to me.” I have to acknowledge many times I have no mental remembrance of ever saying that particular thing but the Holy Spirit gave it to me.
So, wisdom is directive. It shows us where, how, when. It’s the type of question that is answered by wisdom. As I said, wisdom and knowledge cannot be separated into completely distinct categories, they’re closely related. You see, in all these things we are not seeking to draw hard and fast lines between one and the other. It’s like, for instance, the colors of the rainbow. One of the lists I learned at school and I’ve never been able to forget is violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red. Seven colors of the rainbow. If you check, I’m sure you’ll find I’m right. Well, it’s perfectly permissible to acknowledge violet, indigo and blue. But you look at the rainbow, there’s not one single point where you can say violet ends and indigo begins or indigo ends and blue begins. So, it’s quite permissible to acknowledge there’s a color violet, a color indigo, a color blue. But, nevertheless, you cannot make an absolutely hard and fast distinction or draw a line of separation; they shade off into one another.
The same is true about these gifts and the other related things that we’re talking about. It’s perfectly genuine to speak about wisdom and about knowledge but there are points where they meet. There are points where you would say, “Was that a word of wisdom or was that a word of knowledge?” You don’t have to bother too much but basically, knowledge gives us facts and you might say that wisdom shows us what to do about those facts.
Now, if you have all the wisdom in the world but you have no facts, you can’t do much about it. On the other hand, if you know all the facts, unless you have wisdom you’re likely to do the wrong thing even knowing the facts. I think this is beautifully summed up in another statement by Solomon in Proverbs 15:2:
“The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness.”
Notice the tongue of the wise useth knowledge but useth it aright. Many, many people have knowledge but they don’t use it aright. I don’t know whether you have acquaintances like that but I can think of one or two people who know a whole lot of things but always say them at the wrong time. Usually, instead of being edifying they’re boring. They’re trying to impress you with how much they know but the time and the way of presenting it is out of place. They have knowledge but they don’t have wisdom. Having said that by way of introduction, I’d like to deal now specifically with the gift, a word of wisdom. I have there in your outline where you see in the left hand side 1. A word of wisdom. I’ve tried to give a suggested definition of this gift. God has all wisdom. But, fortunately for you and me He doesn’t dump it all on us in one go because it would completely submerge us. A word of wisdom is a tiny portion of God’s total wisdom supernaturally imparted by the Holy Spirit. It’s imparted by the Holy Spirit in a way that we couldn’t get it for ourselves. If I could get something for myself by natural means then the Holy Spirit wouldn’t need to give me it. But, these gifts are given by supernatural means because the results are not available by natural means.
This gift, as I understand it, is only operated under God’s control. This is very important and I want to point this out in relation to each of the gifts. As I see it, the three gifts of revelation and the three gifts of power are operated under God’s control. Whereas, the three vocal gifts are different. In a certain measure, the control of them is transferred to the believer. We’ll deal with this when we come to them. But as far as I know and speaking from experience, both of my own and of others, no one can have a word of wisdom at will by just deciding that he wants one. It is given sovereignly by God when it is needed and when God sees fit.
On the other hand, if you have a particular job in life or you face a particular type situation maybe in your home where your own wisdom is not sufficient, then you are entitled to go to God and ask Him for practical, every day wisdom. This normally will not come in the form of a word of wisdom, it will just come by the gradual illumination of your mind and it will help you to do a better job—whatever you’re doing—than you would be able to do without it. I always maintain that a Christian who’s baptized in the Holy Spirit should be more efficient at his employment than he was before he received the baptism. If he was a good teacher before he should be a better teacher after. If a lady was a good nurse before she should be a better nurse after. Because, we have the Holy Spirit to help us.
And so, in James 1:5 God gives us this promise through His Word that if at any time we lack wisdom we only have to ask for it and He will give it. But normally this will not come in the form of a supernatural word of wisdom. James 1:5, this is a very precious promise.
“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
So, if you lack wisdom in your daily life for legitimate tasks and responsibilities, you ask and the assurance is: it will be given you. You see, the Bible has not one good word to say about foolishness. God doesn’t want us to be foolish. And, He doesn’t want us to be fooled, either. The Bible condemns drunkenness much less severely, in my opinion, than it condemns foolishness. So, God has made provision that we do not need to be foolish. Sometimes this provision comes with a word of wisdom.
Now, I want to go through certain specific examples from Scripture where I see this gift was in operation, the kind of way it was used and the kind of results that it produced. I want to begin with the ministry of Jesus. Let me say this, that I believe Jesus was the perfect ministry. In Him you find the five ministry gifts perfectly demonstrated. He was the perfect apostle, the perfect prophet, the perfect evangelist, the perfect shepherd, the perfect teacher. Also, as He operated these ministries in Him were demonstrated to their perfection the various supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. I’ll begin in each case with the ministry of Jesus and then move on to examples from the early church.
Turning to Luke 5:4–10. We will not necessarily read each passage at length but we’ll pick out the essential features.
“Now when he [Jesus] had left off speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught [a catch of fish]. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ [feet], saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: and so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.”
This is obviously supernatural. Here is a carpenter telling a fisherman where to put down his nets and when. Peter was a fisherman and he made his living at it, which is a sufficient proof that he wasn’t too bad a fisherman. He’d fished all night at a place and caught nothing. Jesus had been preaching there in the early morning and now at the end of His message He said, “Now, Simon, launch out and let down your nets.” Well, Peter said, “Lord, this isn’t the time of day to fish. Besides, we fished here and there wasn’t a single thing.” Jesus said, “You go on and do it.” I want you to notice what Peter said. He said, “At thy word I will let down.” Jesus had given him a word of divine, directive wisdom. When they did, they got so many fish the net brake and when they called their partners they even couldn’t get the fish into both boats.
Now I want you to notice this produced tremendous conviction and this is one of the features. Peter fell down at Jesus’ knees and said, “Lord, depart from me; I am a sinful man.” I have seen the gifts of a word of wisdom and a word of knowledge produce like conviction today. The sudden realization that God knows everything, that there’s nothing hid from Him, can break down the stubborn, proud heart of a sinner in a most remarkable way.
You see, this has a spiritual application because immediately after this Jesus said, “Fear not, from now on you’re not going to catch fish, you’re going to catch men.” If Jesus could give them directive wisdom as fishermen to catch fish, how much more were they going to need directive wisdom from Him when they began to preach to catch souls? So, here we see a very vital and important illustration of a word of wisdom, direction as to how and where to fish. It applies, of course, as to how and where to preach the gospel.
Notice it was this demonstration of His supernatural wisdom that made them willing to leave all and follow Him. They must have felt within themselves that if this man has the answers that way, it’s safe to follow Him. It’s immediately after that that it says, “They forsook all, and followed him.”
I’ve summed it up in your outline by saying the result there was conviction.
Now let’s turn to Matthew 21:1–7. I’m going to deal with these quite briefly. This is the story of Jesus’ triumphal ride into Jerusalem on an ass and an ass’ colt. It says that when they got to the summit of the Mount of Olives in Matthew 21:2:
“[Jesus said] unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me. And if any man say aught unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them, and straightway he will send them. All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass. And the disciples went, and did as Jesus commanded them, and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set him thereon.”
One important thing to see about this is it was done in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The prophecy, if you want to know the reference, is Zechariah 9:9, which is quoted there in Matthew 21:5. Jesus, through the word and by the Spirit, knew God’s program for that day. He knew what was to come next. He knew that there was to be an ass and an ass’ colt for Him to ride on. Then, by the revelation of the Holy Spirit He knew where they were. He said, “Go into the village over against you, you’ll find an ass with her foal tied. If anybody says anything say, ‘The Lord has need of them.’” They did it and it worked.
Now, most people wouldn’t allow you to take an ass and a foal away and just say, “The Lord has need of them.” But, this was divine, directive wisdom. God had prepared the heart. And, it was very, very practical. Let me emphasize that it arose out of a knowledge of Scripture. It’s very important to see that the knowledge of Scripture is basic in these gifts.
Then in Acts 6 we have in the early church a very urgent, practical problem solved by a word of wisdom. Acts 6 relates a dispute, which was in danger of dividing the early church into those who were of Jewish origin and those who were Greeks. The Scripture says it means Gentiles that had come into Judaism as proselytes. We read from verse 1:
“And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. [I wish more preachers would see that today!] Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”
That is the first priority in spiritual things, is prayer and ministry of the Word. The practical is important, but it is secondary and it is not God’s will that those who are called to the ministry of the Word and prayer should get sidetracked into these practical obligations. So, the Holy Spirit gave those men the word of wisdom. What are we to do? You stay with your ministry, but look out from amongst the congregation, by their choice, seven men whom we may appoint over this business. And it says in verse 5:
“And the saying pleased the whole multitude: ...”
This is one of the things that are conspicuous. When a word of wisdom is given, God’s people immediately say, “That’s it; that solves the problem. This is what we have to do.” It solves disputes and quandaries and problems and brings unanimity.
So, they chose seven men. And, it says in verse 7:
“And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly...”
That would not have happened if they hadn’t solved that practical problem because there would have been division and frustration, jealousy and the moving of God’s Spirit would have been hindered. It was a practical problem but it had important spiritual consequences. It was solved by a word of wisdom.
Going on into Acts 8 we have an incident in the ministry of Philip who is called Philip the evangelist. This, in the spiritual, is very close to the example of Jesus telling the apostles where to fish in the natural. It’s just exactly parallel. Just looking at three verses there, Acts 8:26–29.
“And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south [in modern Hebrew the Negev] unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, was returning, and sitting in his chariot readings Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?”
Philip was in the midst of a tremendous move of God in the city of Samaria. Great multitudes of people had been converted, many miracles and wonders and signs had taken place and suddenly comes an angel with a message, “Go down on the road to Gaza, which is desert.” No congregation, no one to preach to. What’s the purpose? Philip was obedient. Then, on the way he caught up with this eunuch, a top government official from the country of Ethiopia who’d been up to Jerusalem, a devout Jewish proselyte, to worship who was going back and he was reading Esaias. Now, in amongst the Palestinian Arabs till this day they always read out loud, even if they’re only by themselves. They don’t read under their breath, they read out loud. That’s what he was doing, sitting reading.
The Holy Spirit says, “Go and join yourself to this chariot.” Divine direction. God by this direction got into the one person that he wanted him to reach. When he got up, why, the whole thing was prepared and the man was just longing to know the answer to what he was reading. He was reading in the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, the great prophecy about the atonement of Jesus and he didn’t know the answer.
A lady whom I know quite well that I will not mention by name was in Atlanta airport last summer. She saw a young man whom we would perhaps have categorized as a hippie, wearing rather vivid colored clothes. I think they were purple. She was sitting and he was sitting in the airport, both waiting to go somewhere. She got the strongest urge to say to him what Philip said to the eunuch, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” She fought this urge for quite awhile and thought, This is nonsense, it couldn’t be. Eventually she yielded to the Holy Spirit and said to him, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” He wasn’t reading anything at the moment. But, it got them into conversation. Do you know what? He had run away from home—he lived somewhere up in New England—his parents were wealthy and respectable people. He got desperately desirous to find the meaning of life, to find something real that wasn’t phony, wasn’t superficial. He got in with a group of hippies and went through the various things that so often they go through. He decided he wasn’t getting anywhere and went out and lived somewhere in the bush with practically nothing but the barest essentials of life for a period and took with him nothing but the New Testament.
But, when he was out there reading the New Testament though he was sincerely desirous of finding the truth, he couldn’t really find out what it was all about. When this lady said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” he opened up and he began to tell her all about his struggle to understand the New Testament. Though he had not yet understood—and she was able to explain to him briefly—the plan of salvation, merely reading the New Testament made such an impact on him that he decided he must go home and be reconciled to his parents. So, the only clean clothes he had were these purple clothes. There he was in Atlanta airport with his purple clothes waiting to catch a plane back to New England and trying to find the meaning of life, having struggled with the New Testament. This lady walked up to him and said, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”
It really was just like in the book of Acts. You see, the result was the same, an open heart. Out of all the people in Atlanta airport there was one person that needed to be approached at that moment. How could anybody in the natural know who it was? No one could. But by this directive word of wisdom, that lady got the right man.
In Acts 10 we have another example and I think you’ll see—and I haven’t chosen it especially this way—how much this gift is used to direct the servants of the Lord in their ministry, in their preaching, where to go and when. Acts 10:9–16. Cornelius in the city of Caesarea had had a visitation from an angel which told him to send men to Joppa for Simon Peter. While the men were on the way, Peter got very hungry, went up to the rooftop and while he was waiting for them to prepare food had this vision which we’ll read briefly.
On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: and he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, and saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. This was done thrice; and the vessel was received up again into heaven.
Almost immediately after that he was going to be directed much against his own natural will and inclination, background and training to go to the house of a Gentile and bring him the message of the gospel. A little later on, you’ll see what he says when he walked into the house. He says in verse 28 as soon as he walked into the house:
“Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, to come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.”
Here was the result of the direction. And, as you know, while he was still speaking the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard him, they were all baptized in the Holy Spirit before he ever had time to tell them the seven steps to receiving the baptism, they had received it! The result was a tremendous, new addition to the church of Jesus Christ. But the wisdom that directed it was given through this supernatural word of wisdom in the form of a vision on the rooftop.
There’s two other examples in the book of Acts I’d like to look at; I think we’ll just be able to do them both. In Acts 15 the whole church in Jerusalem came together on a very critical problem which was, What were they to do with the Gentile converts that were beginning to flood into the church? Paul and Barnabas had been out on their first missionary journey, had seen wonderful results, God had worked with them supernaturally, there had been many miracles, wonders and healings. But when they came back to Jerusalem with this report, some of the Orthodox Jews who were believers in Jesus Christ, but Pharisees by background, said, “You can’t admit these Gentiles this way. If they want to become Christians they’ve got to come under the Law of Moses, be circumcised, and then they can believe in the Messiah.” This was a very vital decision: how were they to treat the Gentile converts that were coming into the church.
First of all, they heard Peter, and he reminded them of what had happened when he was directed to the house of Cornelius, how God had supernaturally directed him to this Gentile home. Then in verse 12 it says:
“Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.”
In other words, they said, “God has borne supernatural testimony to this ministry and you cannot resist what God has been doing.” I want to point out to you that the Jews respect miracles. It says “the Jews require a sign.” And they do, they still do and they always will do—and they’ve got a right to do so because God always bears supernatural testimony to His Word if it’s fully in His will.
However, this did not settle the question. Then in verse 13:
“After they [Barnabas and Paul] had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon [Peter] hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.”
Notice that James, who was going to come out with a directive word of wisdom, based it on a knowledge of Old Testament Scripture. It is so important to see that this always goes hand in hand with a knowledge of the Word. He was quoting a passage from the prophet Amos, chapter 9, verses 11 and 12.
Then we come to verse 19, James comes out with his recommendation or decision.
“Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: but we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.”
Four simple requirements. You find in verse 22 this brought complete unanimity.
“Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company [with this message].”
And you read a little further on, verse 28, the message was this:
“For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; that ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication ...”
Notice, it’s fantastic. There must have been many thousands of Jewish believers gathered. It says “the whole church.” And they came to complete unanimity. A Jewish friend of mine once said, “If you have two Jews you have an argument and if you have three you have a revolution!” Consider the number of Jews present and they were bitterly opposed about this matter. One party wasn’t going to give way in any account. And yet, the divine, directive word of wisdom comes and settles it. There’s peace, calm, unanimity and progress. You read the rest of the chapter, the gospel moved on victoriously. Here is a clear example of how important it is.
Let’s take one further example in Acts 16:6–10. This is taken from what is called Paul’s second missionary journey. He and Silas were on their way. They’d gone into what we would call today Asia Minor. They’d covered the area that Barnabas and Paul had covered in their first missionary journey and they were wondering where to go on from there. We’ll read this passage.
“When they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia...”
Isn’t that remarkable! The Holy Ghost said don’t go to Asia. As they were heading, Asia was left.
They tried to go left and the Holy Spirit said no.
“After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia [that would be right]: but the Spirit suffered them not.”
It didn’t allow them. Isn’t that remarkable! Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” Here they were trying to go to the province of Asia, which is on the coast of Asia Minor, and the Holy Spirit said no. They thought they’d go on the southern shore of the Black Sea and the Holy Spirit said no. Well, what were they to do? So, they went on northwest.
“And they passing by Mysia came down to Troas [or Troy]. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.”
God showed them where they were to go. They went over to Macedonia and saw a tremendous move of God. Why? Because they were directed, the door was open, the hearts were open, the way was prepared for them.
Notice that they had to be sufficiently obedient to accept “No” twice and it took quite awhile to get to Troy. All that time they were walking in blind faith. Then came the vision. Macedonia. This was the first time that the gospel was ever transferred from Asia Minor to Europe proper. If you look back over nineteen centuries of church history you’ll realize it was one of the most critical transitions made in the history of the church. Paul and Silas could never have had any idea what church history was going to unfold in the next 19 centuries. But, in actual fact, the one place where the gospel was preserved and from which ultimately was sent forth again in missionary enterprise was Europe. The Holy Spirit knew that and He directed them.
It’s very interesting—this is the last thing I want to point out in closing this study—that later on Paul went to Asia to the city of Ephesus, which is the chief city of Asia, and had possibly the greatest and most dramatic results in his total ministry. And yet, at this time the Holy Spirit said no. We come to another vital thing, timing is essential. It’s not, “Am I to go to Asia?” No, but, “Not yet.”
And again, I have to say on the mission field I have seen thousands of dollars wasted and precious lives frustrated by people being at the right place in the wrong time. They knock at closed doors and write home about frustrations. Why? Because of a lack of divine directive wisdom.
“Turn back—I think we’ve got a moment—to Ecclesiastes 3 and let me show you that that wise man Solomon had grasped this and reveals it to us. A right and a wrong time for everything. Ecclesiastes 3, I don’t know that I’ll read all the verses but it says: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up ...; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance...”
You say, Is it right to dance? It depends on the time. Is it right to build? It depends on the time. Do we break down or do we build up? It depends on the time. Do we pluck or do we plant? It depends on the time. You cannot say absolutely yes or absolutely no. The time factor is decisive.
Who reveals the right time? The Holy Spirit. And one main way that He does this is by the directive word of wisdom.
Notice therefore that the word of wisdom is associated with the knowledge of Scripture and that commonly, when it’s manifested in accordance with the will of God, it produces these results: conviction, unanimity, progress, open hearts, and open doors.