“For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:8).
The Amplified Bible reads thus: “To one is given in and through the (Holy) Spirit [the power to speak] a message of wisdom, and to another [the power to express] a word of knowledge and understanding according to the same (Holy) Spirit.”
So what is a “word of knowledge”? It is knowledge received from the Holy Spirit that enables us to minister more effectively to the needs of people; to know and understand situations, circumstances, strategies of the Enemy. It enables us to know how to speak in those situations with a knowledge that can disarm, open-up, bring answers, healing and understanding.
It’s one of the nine Gifts of the Holy Spirit which we read of in 1 Corinthians12:1-11. All these gifts are of the Holy Spirit, and are Spirit-inspired. They are supernatural in nature, to help the Spirit-filled believer to bring the presence and reality of the Living Christ into a situation.
John Wimber defined it thus: “This is the supernatural revelation of fact about a person or situation, which is not learned through the efforts of the natural mind, but is a fragment of knowledge freely given by God, disclosing the truth which the Spirit wishes to be made known concerning a particular person or situation.”
The Bible is filled with examples of this gift in operation. Have a look, for example, at John 4:4-42 (especially vv15-19), when Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman. Jesus brings great change into her life through a Word of Knowledge: “Jesus said unto her, Go, call your husband and come back here. The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, You have well said, I have no husband: For you have had five husbands; and the man you are living with right now is not your husband . . . The woman said unto Him, Sir, I perceive (“see”) that You are a prophet.”
The first Christians of the book of Acts frequently operated in this gift. This is how Peter exposed the sin of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). Another Ananias was led to participate in the conversion of Saul through a specific word of knowledge (Acts 9:1-31, especially Verse10-18). Philip was given the word to jump on an Ethiopian’s chariot and initiate a conversation (in Acts 8:26-40). Peter received a word of knowledge to help him break his bigotry against Gentiles (Acts10:9–17 and Acts11:2-19), and Cornelius (as an almost-believer!) was given insider information to find Peter in the first place (Acts 10:1-8)! The leaders at Antioch had a word of Knowledge that Barnabas and Paul were to be separated for the work of God (Acts 13:1-4).
There are many other examples, but that’s enough to set the scene. Words of knowledge further the kingdom, develop existing situations and create opportunities for the Holy Spirit to operate.
So how does the gift operate? Paul began his discussion (1 Cor 12:1) by saying,”Now, concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant.” He is saying: You need to understand this fully! The Amplified Bible translates that last phrase, “I do not want you to be misinformed.” So first, perhaps, we simply need to avoid misinformation. Some, for example, have the idea that to “operate” or “function” in the gifts means that we do nothing, whilst God speaks through us, overpowering our will and using us like puppets. But this isn’t true. God never violates our will.
However, to flow in the gifts, we must be willing and available to obey the Holy Spirit. We must be teachable, humble and obedient. This means that in response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we will be willing to be accountable, and open to correction. It means that we are “earnestly desiring” to operate in the gifts of the Spirit. It means that we are sensitive to God and can recognise when He speaks. It means that we sense God’s timing as to when to make that information known. It means that we know how to minister that “word” in an edifying way. It means being willing to accept any fine-tuning, teaching and correction from those over us in the Lord and also to take responsibility for what effects the Word of Knowledge might produce.
Sometimes, before a meeting even begins, you might have a sense that a particular person is going to arrive shortly, and that they have a particular need. Sometimes when you’re praying for someone, a piece of information will just pop into your mind. You learn to distinguish between your own imagination and the prompting of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes when you’re preaching, a particular verse will be highlighted in your mind –even a word that seems off-topic or irrelevant. You learn to respond to those words calmly, allowing them space. In my experience, those are the very words that may provide emotional or spiritual breakthrough, or form keys that unlock strongholds. And many times those words are associated with people sitting right there and then, as the Holy Spirit prompts the preacher who is alert to listen.
This is often quite powerful. “He (The Holy Spirit) shall bring to your remembrance whatsoever I (Jesus) have said unto you” (John 14:26). When we knew the Bible well, the Holy Spirit will prompt the recognition of a certain passage for a specific person at just the right time.
Sometimes, when you come to pray for someone, the Holy Spirit will touch your eyes and you look at that person in a totally new way. Your prior acquaintance or lack of it isn’t the point: you are operating in obedient faith, alert to what the Spirit is saying.
Rodney Francis wrote: “I have discovered we can use our spiritual eyes to receive Words of Knowledge for others. This can happen when we look at a person with our natural eyes and yet, at the same time, we can “see” with our spiritual eyes and receive information from the Holy Spirit for that person.”
It is often useful, when a congregation is praying in small groups, to encourage people to ask the Holy Spirit to open their own hearts to the needs of the others in their group. This sometimes brings a real openness to the gift of the word of knowledge. We learn together to “speak the truth in love” and to work closely together in a way that edifies and does not condemn or criticise. Ponder the impressions you receive. Write them down and weigh them up. Is the Spirit saying something specific that should be shared? Will this “knowledge” further the kingdom, develop existing situations and create opportunities for the Holy Spirit to operate?
We learn to listen in two ways: we listen to God, and we learn to listen in love to the heartbeat of the one with whom we are praying. And sometimes the word is spoken loud and clear, like a huge advertising hoarding. More often, however, it’s “the still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12), like an insistent whisper.
God speaks “in many and various ways” (Hebrews 1:1). Sometimes you will see a word written as if on a badge on someone’s lapel (“Hurt,” “broken,” “wounded”). Once I had a vision of the person going through a terrible personal loss twelve years previously. The Spirit was showing me how to pray. Many times people will receive “pictures” in times of prayer without knowing much about the meaning of those pictures. But the Spirit knows.
So it is clear that the word of knowledge often combines with other gifts so that ministry can proceed. Almost always, I will also need a Word of Wisdom, a Discerning of Spirits, a Gift of Faith and a Gift of Prophecy. When the gifts are allowed to flow in public meetings, they help to inspire and release others to function. The gifts are given to help the whole Body of Christ to release the reality of the presence of Jesus in the midst (Revelation 19:10). Ministry should not be confined to, nor even dominated by, the Pastor(s) and Elders, or by a “select few.”
The gifts are for every Spirit-filled believer to exercise to “the edification, exhortation and comfort” of the Body (1 Corinthians 14:3).
The operation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit should not be a “hit and miss” affair if we are willing to learn and grow in the ways of the Lord. Always seek to “sharpen” the gifts . . . to be as accurate as possible . . . to the glory of God, and the edifying of the Church.
As noted above, the Word of Wisdom is often used alongside a Word of Knowledge. When God gives a Word of Knowledge to a person, it is important to know what to do with this gift. How do we apply it?
There are four choices we have, as to what to do when we receive a Word of Knowledge, and we need to ask ourselves, “What is the best and right thing to do with this knowledge?”
- Is the Word of Knowledge you have received for your own prayer purposes only?
- Is it to be shared with the local church oversight first?
- Is it for private sharing with the individual concerned? (Keeping in mind you must be accountable to your Church Leadership — they should know what is going on).
- Is it for sharing in an edifying way in a public meeting? To speak out Words of Knowledge in public meetings, they must be done in such a way that the individual concerned, and the meeting as a whole, is edified.
If there is any doubt about the knowledge received, or what you should do with it, check with your Church Pastor, Elders, or Leadership. Run it past them and let them advise you what to do. That way you are ministering under the guidance, safety and counsel of your spiritual covering (and every one of us needs spiritual covering and accountability when we are ministering in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit – none of us are to be a “law” unto ourselves).
Just stay humble, loving and teachable and learn to listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.