The Scriptures are replete with verses that emphasize how the believer must be characterized first and foremost by love. Love is essential and preeminent! A close second to love is the believer’s lifetime pursuit of knowledge. In fact, Proverbs calls those who are lacking in knowledge simpletons, whereas those who have knowledge are called wise.
A public servant can be neither unloving nor a simpleton if he wants to be a good witness for Christ, as well as be effective in office. This study will seek to develop and further enhance the importance of the pursuit of knowledge in the life of the believer.
Read on, my friends,
The primacy of love over knowledge is underscored in 1 Corinthians 13:1, wherein the great apostle states, If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Elsewhere, in 1 Corinthians 8:1b (NKJV), Paul concludes similarly. In comparing knowledge to love, he states knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. For sure, knowledge as a personal pursuit should take a back seat to the priority of love. Loving our Savior and loving others must be the primary pursuits of the believer’s life. But having stated that rationale, we cannot conclude that to be in a constant pursuit of knowledge deems a person to be unloving.
II. THE FALSE DICHOTOMY BETWEEN LOVE AND KNOWLEDGE
An important clarification is in order relative to the tension between love and knowledge: in stating the preeminence of love over knowledge, to assert that someone who is knowledgeable and in the pursuit of knowledge is therefore somehow less than loving is improper. To diminish the importance of knowledge relative to spiritual maturity in favor of only being loving is to do a public servant a great disservice.
In fact, I was recently with someone who said he thought that one of America’s greatest theologically conservative seminaries was more of a “cemetery” than a “seminary.” Such thinking serves to make the point that this tragic mindset is ever-increasing in American Christianity today. To illustrate this point metaphorically:
Can you say that someone who eats an enormous breakfast each morning is an overeater when he is preparing to compete in the Tour de France?
In a spiritual sense, the mental preparedness, the gaining of knowledge, is quite essential for any important kingdom assignment, such as serving Christ in city, county, state, or national government. In fact, nutrition is a prerequisite for performing with excellence. So don’t be misled by those who would have you diminish your pursuit of knowledge, especially knowledge of God’s ways per His Word! The believer in office, or any citizen for that matter, can be both knowledgeable and loving at the same time. Those who pursue knowledge are not necessarily unloving; to say otherwise is to propagate a false dichotomy.
III. THE UNDERLYING MOTIVES OF GAINING KNOWLEDGE
The appropriateness or otherwise sinfulness of the pursuit of knowledge depends largely on motives. As previously stated from 1 Corinthians 8:1, knowledge can puff up, meaning it can be the pursuit of a proud heart in order to appear superior. However, as stated in the previous point, knowledge can be equivalent to preparedness.
In the book of Proverbs, the word knowledge appears 40 times and is always related to and descriptive of a wise person.
Proverbs 1:22 states in this regard:
“How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing, and fools hate knowledge?”
In Proverbs 1:28-29, knowledge is directly related to finding God:
“Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but they will not find me, because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord.”
These passages are but two of the many that characterize the pursuit of knowledge in a positive light. Accordingly, the underlying motive for gaining knowledge is often a determinative factor as to whether or not it is a holy pursuit. If we possess the right spirit of glorifying God, building His kingdom, winning the lost to Christ, and being a preserver and illuminator in culture, then our quest for knowledge is undoubtedly a wonderful pursuit that is both God-honoring and God-blessed!
IV. SPIRITUAL GROWTH IS DEPENDENT ON KNOWLEDGE
Perhaps the most powerful way to illustrate the point being made here—that the Bible teaches that our faith in Christ must be cognitive as well as loving—is to examine the three biblically identified stages of the believer’s spiritual growth as listed in 1 John 2:12-14. What is contained in this passage illustrates the proposition that knowledge is extremely important to the Christian’s life and growth in Christ! In fact, without the pursuit of biblical knowledge, there will be no maturation in Christ. Carefully observe how each of the following stages of spiritual growth is dependent on knowledge:
A. SUMMARY OVERVIEW OF 1 JOHN 2:12-14
12I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. 14I have written to you, children, because you know the Father. I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
The following chart is an attempt to sort out the twice repeated, three distinct stages of spiritual maturity as delineated by the Apostle John in this passage. Observe what titles John places on each: little children, fathers, and young men. Think of John’s communication style here to be similar to someone’s painting a wall with two separate coats in order to obtain the desired outcome:
In John’s biblical analogy of physical maturation to spiritual maturation, the Greek words used to describe the believers’ stages of growth are not intended to relate to their physical age, but rather to their spiritual maturity. Again, keep in mind the overall point for delving into this exercise: each of these stages of spiritual growth relates to and are dependent on knowledge! With this foundation in mind, look more closely at each of the three stages:
B. LITTLE CHILDREN OF THE FAITH
Little children are saved, but they only possess a rudimentary understanding of God: “Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so!” accurately depicts their very minimalistic level of understanding of salvation. Children possess limited biblical knowledge. Nonetheless, they possess enough biblical knowledge to be genuinely saved as compared to an unsaved person who does not possess this saving knowledge.
Satan can and often does wreak havoc on little children because they have little knowledge of his wiles.
Christian cults often target little children in the faith because they are tenderhearted toward spiritual matters but very naive. Ephesians 4:14 is descriptive and admonishing to infant believers:
As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.
Spiritual babes, this passage states, should not remain in such a state of infancy. They should not remain naive or unknowledgeable of the winds, trickery, and craftiness that have the potential to make them highly unstable as newborn babes in Christ. In opposition to those who say that knowledge in the life of the believer is unimportant or of lesser importance, this passage points to the opposite: Scripture says knowledge is absolutely critical to spiritual maturity!
C. YOUNG MEN OF THE FAITH
Young men are those who, while not yet having walked with God over a longer period of time and gotten to know Him (as is the case with a father who has experienced the truths of His Word firsthand), do know sound doctrine (in contrast to the child of the faith). Young men are strong against sin and error because the word of God abides in them, which is synonymous with having knowledge of His Word. Per the descriptors given of a young man in this passage, this believer, via his knowledge, has overcome the deceitfulness of the evil one.
D. FATHER OF THE FAITH
The father of the faith is the one John depicts as the most spiritually mature; he has a deep, abiding knowledge of the eternal God. John twice states that he knows Him. This descriptor is commensurate with Philippians 3:10, wherein the Apostle Paul states regarding himself (as a father of the faith), that I may know Him.… Accordingly, the following is true:
The height of spiritual maturity is to know God in His fullness via His Word, as well as the firsthand knowledge of having personally experienced the truths of His Word in our lives.
V. SUMMARY OF THE THREE STAGES OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH
All three of the aforementioned stages of spiritual growth are related to commensurate knowledge. The point again, that which makes this passage worth mentioning at length, is that one can only become a father in the faith and have profound intimacy with God by first becoming a believer, who herein is termed a little child in the faith. The little child then grows to become a young man by being strong in the Word, which implies obtaining knowledge. From this vantage point he becomes a father in the faith. Proverbs 22:17b is a fitting summation: apply your mind to my knowledge.
Herein lies the biblical case for the noble pursuit of knowledge: in a nutshell, knowledge is tantamount to spiritual maturation and God’s glorification! Biblical and vocational knowledge is extremely important, foundational, and critical in the life of every believer and especially those who serve in leadership. Proverbs 3:3 states very fittingly that both knowledge and love are essential to the life of the believer:
Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.
Accordingly and importantly relative to spiritual growth, don’t let anyone lead you into thinking that the Christian life does not include a hearty pursuit of knowledge—as if the pursuit of mastering God’s Word is less than spiritual. No!