Wisdom, Knowledge, Service: Take Your Place in the Kingdom of God
- Friday, November 16, 2007
“Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can govern this people of yours, which is so great?” (2 Chronicles 1:10)
Nurturing and advancing a biblical worldview requires a great many things, but none more than the two things Solomon sought from the Lord—wisdom and knowledge. David’s son inherited a huge worldview challenge—to rule Israel so that the goodness of God would flourish among His people in every area of life and every city of the land. Who, he wondered aloud to God, was sufficient for such a task? Who is sufficient for ruling even his own life according to the broad demands and exceeding great and precious promises of the revelation of God?
As Solomon felt helpless before the calling God had set for him, so we all must feel at times as we contemplate the calling to nurture and advance the biblical worldview within our own spheres of influence. We shall need much wisdom and knowledge from the Lord if we are to know success in this effort. Solomon can help us in learning to acquire and use these precious commodities, for unless we understand the distinct nature of wisdom and knowledge, how they are to be gained, and to what ends we must put them, we may not expect the Lord to bless our pursuit of them, nor our efforts in biblical worldview living.
Knowledge: The Prerequisite of Wisdom
What’s the difference between wisdom and knowledge? Clearly, the two are intimately related. In fact, it is impossible to separate them. One cannot be said truly to know something until the wisdom that knowledge engenders begins to be in evidence. Nor can one practice wisdom without the requisite knowledge and information that requires. There is an ineradicable overlap between knowledge and wisdom, and this, at the very least, demands that we not separate the two, or try to gain the one without the other, but that, like Solomon, we seek the two of them as part and parcel of one another and together integral to fulfilling our worldview calling. But first we must make sure we understand what we’re seeking.
Let’s begin with knowledge. The nature of knowledge would seem to be fairly straightforward: knowledge is what someone knows. But that’s not entirely true, and concerning this we may make three observations. First, the very idea of knowledge assumes that things have an identity by which they can be known. That is, we assume, in presuming to know something, that it already exists as something possessing a distinct identity which, to know, is to acquire knowledge of the thing. Nothing is a simply neutral thing. Everything has an identity, and this is especially so when we consider that everything that is has its origins in the mind of God, who is the Creator and Sustainer of all things. Things are what God says they are. Solomon understood this and, in the Book of Ecclesiastes, he distinguished between knowing things apart from God—which he referred to by the phrase, “under the sun”—and knowing things according to God—which Solomon meant by the phrase, “under the heavens.”
To know something according to its merely temporal and material existence—“under the sun”—is vanity and feeding on the wind. Trying to know things apart from God, Solomon insisted to his son, does not result in true knowledge at all, but merely half-truth, disappointment, and frustration. To know something truly, Solomon explained, you must see it according to the divine perspective, from God’s point of view, as He, the Maker and Sustainer of all things, intends it should be known.
So, in the first place, to know anything truly we must establish some link, some identity, between the thing we are seeking to know and the God who made and sustains it. Only from His point of view will we be able to approach true knowledge of anything. Information gained about anything apart from God may be true, at least to an extent, but this will be in spite of the perspective of the knower rather than because of it. Further, such knowledge of anything runs the distinct danger of being misunderstood and put to uses for which God never intended the thing.
Second, Solomon tells us that we must be prepared, in our search for true knowledge, to be content with only partial knowledge. We cannot, he insisted (Ecclesiastes 3:11), know anything exhaustively or completely. We cannot see things with the perfect mind of God, but only with a reflection of that mind, a mind informed by the worldview of Scripture and the counsel of the Spirit of God. Paul says we see things in this life darkly, as in a mirror; full, complete, and entirely true knowledge must wait for the day when we are glorified in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 13:12).
This does not mean that we can’t truly know. We can, but only in degrees of truthfulness and completeness. So we must always be seeking to “upgrade” our knowledge of anything, and be open to other perspectives, insights, and ways of thinking about familiar knowledge of anything and everything, if only to offer a critique of those views when compared with our Biblical perspective.
However—and this is the third point, already mentioned—even though we cannot know exhaustively, we can know truly, as Solomon indicates throughout Ecclesiastes. The knowledge we gain concerning anything whatsoever will be true to the extent we are able to establish the link between that thing and the design of God to glorify Himself in all the things He has made. Moreover, the true knowledge we have of anything can always be improved; therefore, we should be always involved in seeking more and better knowledge of everything, always, of course, from the perspective of “under the heavens.”
This, in fact, is what Solomon sought to do. Having prayed for knowledge, and been assured by God that he would possess it, Solomon set out to acquire knowledge, as he says in Ecclesiastes 1:13, by applying himself diligently to the task of seeking and searching out by wisdom all things that are and are done “under the heavens.” He set a course of study for himself, in other words, devoting himself to the investigation of God’s Law, keen observations on the creation, on culture matters, and on the ways of human conscience and conduct. All the observations he made and studies he pursued he referred to God’s self-revelation in Scripture, in order to gain the divine perspective on such things.
The Book of Proverbs is a wonderful collection of just a small portion of the true knowledge Solomon gained through his labors. True knowledge, knowledge that is becoming more and more complete, doesn’t come easily. Solomon said that God has made this a “difficult task” and has appointed it to us so that we might fulfill the purposes of His Kingdom (Ecclesiastes 1:13).
Wisdom: The Fruit of Knowledge
This brings us to wisdom, which is the fruit of true knowledge. Solomon said he tested all his studies and observations “by wisdom” (Ecclesiastes 1:13). That is, he would only allow himself to conclude that he had learned something—that he had come to true knowledge of anything—when it led to wisdom in his life. Wisdom, or “skill in living,” relates to following the spiritual and moral code of God, increasing in love for Him and for our neighbor, and seeking to do all things in such a way as to bring honor and glory to God. We can know that we know something truly when it leads us to greater love for God and neighbor, and when, by the use of that knowledge, we bring honor to God. This is wisdom, as Proverbs and Ecclesiastes make abundantly clear. In order to gain wisdom we must pursue knowledge. But we can only be sure that we have come to know something truly, albeit incompletely, when what we know produces wisdom in our lives. Knowledge is the prerequisite of wisdom; wisdom is the fruit of true knowledge.
But both wisdom and knowledge come from the Lord. Both begin in the fear of God (Proverbs 1:7; Psalm 111:10); without fear of God—that reverent awe and respect that lead to love and obedience—we can’t hope to increase in knowledge and wisdom. And both come from the Lord, who gives them, as with Solomon, in response to our prayers. So that unless our quest for knowledge and wisdom is suffused with prayer, bathed with prayer, pursued and reviewed in prayer, we cannot hope to gain these precious commodities with anything more than a mere modicum of success.
Knowledge, Wisdom, and Service
But we should also note that Solomon’s desire for knowledge and wisdom was entirely selfless. He sought neither fame nor wealth by becoming knowledgeable and wise; rather, he sought the ability to judge the people of Israel well, according to the Law and promises of God. He sought the progress of God’s rule among His people and before the eyes of all the nations. Solomon understood that knowledge is not an end in itself, nor is wisdom. Rather, these good gifts of God, these essential components for biblical worldview living, are to be received from God for the purpose of serving others. If we seek them for any other end—to impress others, or gain some personal advantage—we forfeit the richer blessings God might otherwise bestow. All our studies and all the practical ways we seek to become wise must be to the end of serving others as God Himself would do were He among us as King. In fact, He is King, not among us, but rather, over us, and He accomplishes His holy, righteous, and good rule (Romans 7:12), a rule of righteousness, peace, and joy in His Spirit (Romans 14:17), through faithful servants, like Solomon, who seek from Him knowledge and wisdom to serve others in love.
All of which is to say that biblical worldview requires the kind of knowledge that comes from earnest, devoted study, together with the wisdom that proves that knowledge out in love for God and men. These we must earn in the study and on our knees, pleading with God for the gifts He alone can give. And biblical worldview proves the truth of the knowledge it claims in the wisdom for loving well that knowledge engenders.
So as we take up the further study of biblical worldview, let us never lose sight of these five things: First, such study is difficult and time-consuming. It pleases God that it should be so; nothing easily gained is worth much anyway. Second, such knowledge is only true to the extent that it finds its identity in the eternal purposes and plan of God. Third, all the knowledge we gain in all our study is only ever partly true; our knowledge is always incomplete and can always be improved. Thus, we must commit to lives of perpetual study and review if we would improve the knowledge God grants us. Forth, such knowledge proves its truthfulness in wise and loving worship and service. And, finally, without prayer we shall not be able to acquire the knowledge and wisdom we seek for biblical worldview living.
There will always be more to know and more wisdom to gain for worshiping God and loving others. The challenge to us is to make the time for study and prayer, so that we, like Solomon, might be used in service to others, for the greater glory of God.
How are you presently pursuing growing in knowledge and wisdom? Is your prayer life sufficient to ensure that you will always increase in these commodities?
T. M. Moore is dean of the Centurions Program of the Wilberforce Forum and principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He is the author or editor of 20 books, and has contributed chapters to four others. His essays, reviews, articles, papers, and poetry have appeared in dozens of national and international journals, and on a wide range of websites. His most recent books are The Ailbe Psalter and The Ground for Christian Ethics (Waxed Tablet), and Culture Matters (Brazos). He and his wife and editor, Susie, make their home in Concord, Tenn.
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