I recently read about a young woman’s experience running into a beloved Sunday School teacher she’d had as a child. As her heart swelled with fondness and gratitude for this woman’s ministry in her life, she opined that it’s the relationships, not the instruction that matters.
While I rejoiced in the relationship this woman had with her teacher and the way it inspired her to teach her own students, I was saddened that she downplayed the lessons. Religious instruction matters very much. The epistles are replete with warnings about wrong doctrine and correction thereof. Yet relationships are important, too. They help flesh out the truth and get it from the head to the heart.
I’ve heard the acquiring of Biblical knowledge downplayed because “Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth,” according to I Corinthians 8:1. That’s an example of ripping a verse out of its context and not couching it in the overall setting of the whole Bible. Yes, the Bible warns us against becoming proud of our knowledge, but it doesn’t discourage us from gaining knowledge.
Creation reveals knowledge of God’s existence, wisdom and ways. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” Psalm 19:1-2.
God was angry with Job’s friends because they had not spoken what was right about Him.
God asked Job, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?“
Job was comforted by the truth of knowing that his “Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.”
The psalmist asks, ‘Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” Psalm 25:4-5
The psalmist urges people to “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching,” including “the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” – information about Him as a means to knowing Him – and to pass that knowledge down to the next generations.
The first few verses of Proverbs say that Solomon gave them, “to know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels.” By contrast, later in the chapter it says fools hate knowledge.
Paul prayed for people who had “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:1).
See how many times in 1 Corinthians 6 Paul says, “Do you not know…?”
Paul told Timothy to “Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called ‘knowledge'” (1 Timothy 6:20).
Peter tells us to supplement our faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, and other qualities.
That’s just a small sampling of passages that talk about knowledge. If we also look at passages that talk about leaching and learning, we see that God places great value on them.
I have also heard the argument that it is more important to know by experience than to just know facts: for instance, it is better to spend time interacting with a person than just learning about them. It’s true that many of those passages about knowledge are referring to this experiential type of knowledge. But isn’t it also true that in getting to know someone you learn facts about them, their likes, dislikes, preferences, etc.? Years ago I saw a comical card for a wife from a husband depicting various domestic scenes. I don’t remember the exact wording, but the gist of it was, “I may not do A, B, and C that you want me to, and I may do D, E, and F that you don’t want me to, but I sure do love you, honey!” But living with an utter disregard for a wife’s preferences is not a manifestation of love. If husbands are to dwell with their wives according to knowledge, how much more should God’s people seek to know what pleases and displeases Him?
God has given us His Word, among other reasons, that we may know Him. We learn about Him that we might think of Him correctly and know how to please Him. Yes, just learning facts about Him is not sufficient and doesn’t take the place of knowing Him. But knowing Him without learning His Word makes for a shallow relationship.
It’s true that knowledge can “puff up” with pride, but rather than avoiding gaining knowledge, we need to remind ourselves that “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2), and we need to remind ourselves that the purpose of gaining knowledge is to better know the Lord and serve Him and others.
It’s true that if we have all knowledge, but have not love, we are nothing. But that doesn’t mean we abandon knowledge. That verse also says “if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” We obviously don’t abandon faith. But we use knowledge and exercise faith in love.
We do have to be careful to keep things in balance and not become like the Pharisees, who were all academic knowledge and no heart and soul. We shouldn’t stop with just learning facts about God or think of knowledge as an end in itself, but we should acquire knowledge of God through His Word in order to learn to know Him better, to get to know Him experientially, and to show love to His people, our spiritual family, in a way that builds them up in truth, and to answer those who would pervert or distort the faith. Like Paul, we pray that our “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9) and that we might “[increase] in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10b).
That their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:2-3