“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge… but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2 ESV)
In the Garden of Eden, the devil tempted Eve with the forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Upon eating that fruit, the ancient Serpent promised, she would receive special knowledge and become like God. Suddenly Eve, formerly so intent on obeying God, was enticed by the marvellous possibilities laid out before her and forgot that God is the Giver of every good gift. Doubting God’s goodness and the sufficiency of His love for her, she sought the promised new experience- self-fulfilment through knowledge. How deceived she was, as she soon found out! Eating that fruit brought nakedness, shame, fear, sin, death and separation from God.
“So I decided to discern the benefit of wisdom and knowledge… I concluded that even this endeavour is like trying to chase the wind!” (Ecclesiastes 1:17 NET). Solomon, the wisest of men, likewise, discovered the vanity and emptiness of intellectual pursuits that exclude God. Blessed with superior intelligence, wealth and leisure beyond the lot of most humans, he learnt through bitter experience that the greatest of human achievements, in the end, fail to bring true satisfaction. For too often, we seek even things that are good and noble for wrong reasons- envy and rivalry, for example- “I saw that all labour and all skillful work is due to a man’s jealousy of his friend” (Ecclesiastes 4:4 HCSB).
Yet, the scriptures describe wisdom and learning as desirable, rather than inimical for human flourishing. Consider the following scripture verses-
“By wisdom the LORD founded the earth; by understanding he created the heavens” (Proverbs 3:9 NLT). “Wisdom is supreme. Get wisdom. Yes, though it costs all your possessions, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7 NHEB). “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 KJ2000).
These scriptures acknowledge the creative power of godly wisdom and exhort us to eagerly seek it. Studying and learning the Bible, for example, build spiritual resilience. There is no virtue in ignorance and far too many Christians are led astray by their lack of understanding of scriptures. However, if the quest for knowledge, whether worldly or spiritual, is driven by pride and selfish ambition, the end result will be marred, as Eve learnt. Consider the impact of scientists who use their knowledge and skill to develop ever more destructive bombs. Their achievements- which might bring wealth and success in this life- will neither promote human welfare nor bring them honour before the Judgement Seat of God.
Worse, what happens when believers pursue spiritual gifts- prophetic powers and the knowledge of mysteries- out of a desire for power, worldly acclaim or material gain? Even a superficial knowledge of divine ‘mysteries’ will cause them to grow proud, and pride is a fertile soil for deceptions to take root. Pride caused the fall of Lucifer, and scripture warns us that all who yield to pride will meet the same end unless they repent. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 NIV). “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
Christian leaders who are puffed up by their own understanding will employ their learning in ways that hinder rather than advance the gospel. All of us in church circles have heard of Christian congregations being split up by possibly well meaning, but spiritually immature Christians, who rely on their personal charisma and supposed knowledge to influence others into accepting new and untested ideas. They refuse to submit to their leaders; and lacking in spiritual discernment, they force people to choose sides in needless arguments. The church soon becomes embroiled in pointless disputes as many, especially newer Christians are won over to their side of the debate. Instead of being ‘nurtured by the pure milk’ of the gospel, these believers and those who imitate them grow arrogant, lukewarm, unloving, bitter and quarrelsome; holding to forms of legalistic righteousness devoid of grace and power.
As Paul explained in Romans 14, while Christian morality and core beliefs ought never to be compromised, there are a whole host of situations where believers are free to decide for themselves based on their individual consciences. As I wrote on another blog-
“It is possible for Christians to hold a wide spectrum of opinion on [what are called] ‘indifferent’ matters. Some, for example, might believe the chapel to be sanctified space set apart to honour God in worship, and therefore to be used only for religious activities, while others might say, ‘This is just a room- there is nothing special about it’. One view is not necessarily superior to the other in God’s sight. The important thing for us Christians is not to break the unity of the Spirit over non-essentials. It offends God when we judge someone who thinks differently in these things, because He sees that they mean to honour Him in what they do. We must leave all judgment in such matters to God, for only He can do it perfectly.”
Yet, how many churches have splintered during the course of history over relatively trivial matters that have no bearing on salvation and are of no value as far as spiritual growth is concerned. Silence on ‘disputable’ matters is often the way of wisdom and of love. So Paul advised Romans on the best way to handle such issues- “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification… So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God” (Romans 14:22 NIV).
Solomon, having carefully investigated the value of wisdom and knowledge towards human well being concluded that, “There is no end to the making of many books, and much study is exhausting to the body. Having heard everything, I have reached this conclusion: Fear God and keep his commandments, because this is the whole duty of man. For God will evaluate every deed, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:12-14 NET).
To avoid the pitfalls of vain knowledge, we should seek love before understanding, and carefully evaluate the potential impact of what we teach on others. Will our arguments, valid though they may be, cause another believer to act rashly or unjustly, or produce disharmony within the body of Christ? Then all such knowledge and arguments are best kept to ourselves. Ayone who is wise in his own eyes distances himself from God, and the knowledge of which he is so proud is partial and deficient, because it is disconnected from God, who is the fount of all wisdom. The final result of such knowledge is feeble and ugly, incapable of achieving any goodZ “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know… (1 Corinthians 8:2-3 NIV).
In order to exercise godly wisdom in our conversation and actions, we must prayerfully empty ourselves of pride and selfish ambition, and pursue love in all we say and do. Let us “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3 NIV). There is a hierarchy of priorities in these matters; in the Bible we are commanded to seek 1. God, 2. His kingdom and righteousness, 3. Peace, 4. Love, and then, 5. Wisdom- in that order.
How does one find wisdom? If anyone lacks wisdom, James instructs, let him ask the Father who gives liberally without finding fault” (James 1:5). The Holy Spirit will reveal to us more of the nature of Christ, who has become for us “wisdom from God” (1 Corinthians 1:30). “The wisdom from above”, which the Father imparts to us, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (Ephesians 3:17 ESV). Here is the key to wisdom- when we compare the above verses with 1 Corinthians 13, we find that wisdom is remarkably similar to love in all its characteristics- it is indeed love’s identical twin, and where you find one you will find the other. So seek only to grow in love, and wisdom will inevitably follow.
Father, we pray that we will grow in love and wisdom, so that we may be a blessing to others and live lives that are pleasing to You. In Jesus’ name.