A Word of Wisdom from the Spirit

By Mark D. Roberts

May 7, 2024

The Gift of Wisdom

Scripture — 1 Corinthians 12:4-8 (NRSV)

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit . . .


The Holy Spirit gives wisdom in a variety of ways. One of these is what the Bible calls “a word of wisdom.” In challenging situations when divine wisdom is badly needed, the Spirit often supplies that wisdom through the words of someone attentive to the Spirit’s guidance. This happens, not just in church, but in all the places where we need God’s wisdom, including our workplaces.

Today’s devotion is part of the series The Gift of Wisdom.


In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I focused on the notion of “spiritual wisdom,” explaining that this is wisdom given to us by the Spirit of God.

The Spirit helps us to be wise in a variety of different ways. For one thing, the Spirit who inspired the writing of Scripture helps us understand this inspired writing so that we might know and live by God’s truth. At other times the Spirit helps us to reflect on our lives. The wisdom we gain from experience is a result, not just of our own effort, but also of that of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, as the Spirit forms us to be more like Christ, our minds and hearts will be filled with Christ-like wisdom.

1 Corinthians 12 reveals another way the Holy Spirit enables us to be wise. This chapter was written by the Apostle Paul to address a significant problem in the Corinthian church. Certain congregants put great value on some expressions of spiritual power (speaking in tongues, for example), while minimizing other expressions (such as prophesying). This led to pride among those who exercised the prized gifts and division because the prideful ones looked down on those who lacked such gifts.

In response to the problem in Corinth, Paul begins by saying “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4). God activates all spiritual expressions (including the less spectacular ones) in all Christians (not just the few). Moreover, manifestations of the Spirit are given, not primarily for the benefit of the individual, but for “the common good” (12:7).

To illustrate his basic point, Paul describes the functioning of a variety of gifts of the Spirit, beginning in this way: “To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit . . .” (12:8). In today’s devotion, we’re most interested in what the NRSV calls “the utterance of wisdom.” Clearly, this points to one of the ways the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom.

What is “the utterance of wisdom”? The Greek underlying this English phrase is logos sophias, which literally means “a word of wisdom” (not “the word of wisdom”). The most obvious sense of this language would point to the Holy Spirit giving someone something wise to say at a particular moment. “A word of wisdom” isn’t so much a long-term ability to be wise as it is a momentary infusion of wisdom from the Spirit.

In my experience, usually when the Holy Spirit speaks a word of wisdom it is done unspectacularly. Someone says something that is especially wise and those of us who hear it think, “Oh, that was exactly right.” We don’t tend to think, “Oh, that was a miraculous gift from the Spirit.”

But I have also witnessed occasions when the Spirit has given a word of wisdom more dramatically. I think, for example, of a difficult discussion I was having with my elders at Irvine Presbyterian Church. We were dealing with a tricky issue, one about which people had strongly contradictory thoughts and feelings. The more we talked – well, argued – the more we seemed to be stuck in our division.

Then, one of our elders, whom I’ll call Tom, spoke up. He didn’t claim divine inspiration for what he was about to say. Rather, he spoke with quiet conviction. As Tom talked, I could sense a dramatic change in the feel of the room. Pulses were slowing down. Blood pressures were lowering. We were listening attentively rather than rushing to compose our contrary responses. When Tom finished speaking, we were all quiet for several seconds because we sensed that we were on holy ground. It was clear to all that the Holy Spirit had given Tom what 1 Corinthians calls “a word of wisdom.”

I believe God regularly gives words of wisdom even though we may not recognize their divine origin. And, let me be clear, words of wisdom don’t come only in the context of church gatherings. The Spirit gives these gifts of wisdom in workplaces, boardrooms, city halls, family meetings, press conferences, classrooms, and so many other settings.

For example, I know a woman I’ll call Nina who was in the midst of a highly challenging and contentious business negotiation. For a while, it seemed as if the whole enterprise was about to fail. But Nina was praying silently for God’s wisdom. Suddenly that wisdom came, though it wasn’t what Nina was expecting. She sensed that God wanted her organization to lose on a couple of negotiating points, ones that were of particular concern to the other organization. When she checked this out with her colleagues, they thought she was seriously misguided. But Nina had the authority to do what she believed the Spirit led her to do. And so she did just that, sharing her word of wisdom with the other side. This unexpected shift in the negotiation changed the tenor of the conversation and led to a positive result.

Of course, it doesn’t always turn out this way. When we pass on a word of wisdom from the Spirit, sometimes we are denied, defeated, or derided. We follow the Spirit’s guidance not because the result is guaranteed but because we seek to be faithful, stewarding well the words of wisdom granted to us by the Holy Spirit. We do this, not for our personal benefit, but for, as Paul says, “the common good” (12:7).


Can you think of a time when someone shared what seemed to be a word of wisdom from God’s Spirit? If so, what was it? What happened?

When you’re facing a difficult decision in your daily work, how often do you ask God for wisdom? If you do so often, why? If you do so rarely, why?

In what aspects of your life are you in need of God’s wisdom today?


Talk with a trusted friend or your small group about their experiences of words of wisdom from the Holy Spirit.


Gracious God, once again we thank you for your gifts to us. Today, we thank you in particular for the gift of wisdom that comes in words. Thank you for giving us words to guide our lives, our work, our decisions, and our discipleship.

Today, O Lord, I ask for words of wisdom from you, not for my sake, but for the sake of the people entrusted to my care. And, also for the sake of your kingdom and glory. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Spiritual Gifts in Community (1 Corinthians 12:1–14:40).

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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