Knowledge is good, but without having the wisdom to apply that knowledge in love, we can be nothing more than a walking Bible dictionary.
Grow in Grace and Knowledge
It’s not too hard to find someone who is a Mr.-know-it-all. That’s a hard person to be around, isn’t it? Who wants to talk to someone who frequently says, “I knew that,” instead of, “That’s interesting?” The Apostle Peter teaches us that we are to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord (2 Pet 3:18), and in “knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness” (2 Pet 1:6), so it’s not wrong to grow in biblical knowledge. The problem comes when people with biblical knowledge use their knowledge to become everyone’s teacher. If they believe someone is wrong, they’re quick to point it out, and that’s good to a point, because no one wants to have a misunderstanding of the Scriptures, but when it becomes a matter of “force feeding” someone knowledge instead of trying to show them from Scripture that they’re wrong, it can make the person be filled with pride. Rather than sitting down and studying the Word, the know-it-all ends up cramming their teaching down the other person’s throat… whether they want it or not. This type of person seems to be closed to correction and doesn’t ever consider the possibility that they might be wrong. In fact, many can’t even conceive of being wrong, and that is where the problem lies.
Knowledge Puffs Up
I love telling the church that “Part of my sermon today will be perfect…the part where I read out of the Bible.” My part? Not so much. I must rely on the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit for proper understanding, and not what I think. I must place the difficult passages against similar Scriptures that might give me more clarity on the subject. When I learn something new, I can hardly wait to share it, but I have to keep in mind, it can puff me or make me too prideful. When knowledge begins to accumulate, it’s easy to have an overestimation of one’s own self wroth. It reminds me of the Tetraodontidae family, of which the puffer fish and porcupine fish are included. These fish are analytical to the idea that Biblical knowledge without loving and humble application of that knowledge can easily puff us up and poison our fellowship with others. Our opinions about ourselves can become over-inflated and disproportionate to what is the reality is. The Tetraodontidae are the second most poisonous vertebrate in the known world, obviously highly toxic to humans. Their unique and distinctive natural defenses have the ability to inflate rapidly and produce a powerful neurotoxin called tetrodotixon into their internal organs. These toxins can be lethal to anything that attacks them or even touches them, so most species have learned to stay away. So it is with many who become puffed up by knowledge.
God Resists the Proud
The Apostle Paul warned that “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1b), so “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Cor 8:3). That is a very humbling statement. Humility for a teacher is vital. The proverbial portion of the verse, “knowledge puffs up,” is rarely echoed in the corridors of our churches, but it should be. Paul’s statement is not a subtle rebuke of a believer who has seemingly fallen in love with learning, but about others correcting or chastising those who know less than they do. Learning brings forth knowledge and knowledge can potentially bring forth arrogance. The Christian’s duty is not simply head knowledge, which sounds impersonal and academic, but to know God better, and most importantly, with applications of that knowledge in love. Otherwise, we can simply become a walking-talking Bible dictionary that is purely academic.
I have a mentor, and even though I’m in my mid-60’s, I am still learning from this man. I still love learning new things and clarifying biblical doctrines or my understanding of them. The point is, we are never too old to learn new things, and never so knowledgeable that we cannot face correction from others and admit the possibility that we could be wrong. I’ve been wrong many times, but my mentor, a retired pastor (due to disability) loves me enough to tell me the truth…to point out my errors, and to show me from Scripture where I was wrong. The day I believe I can’t learn anything, may be the day God is finished with me. Even in nature, everything that is not growing is dying. The Bible is so rich that it’s humanly inexhaustible, but if our knowledge does not build up our brother or sister, then it is good for nothing. The Apostle Paul writes, “if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2). Paul says that we should esteem others better than ourselves, however, the risk of having great knowledge is that it can make us esteem ourselves better than others, just the opposite of what we’re commanded to do (Phil 2:3), so we can easily look down on others. Don’t get Paul wrong. He is not trying to discourage us from growing, but encouraging us to grow in knowledge, but the application of that knowledge should be in love (as in building others up). If I only pass on knowledge without love to my children and grandchildren, they may use that knowledge, but not in love, but rather in “brow beating” those who know less.
You can have great knowledge, but great knowledge can be used to hurt others. Those who invented lethal weapons had knowledge, but there was no love involved. Do you know someone who is so full of themselves that they almost always disagree with what you say? Do they even consider the possibility that they could be wrong? Sometimes they’re reaction to correction is like a porcupine fish or a puffer fish. When these fish are threatened, they self-inflate, and can poisonous anyone they come in contact with, however, God resists every prideful person and gives His grace only to the humble (James 4:6), so continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, but don’t let that knowledge make you feel superior and look down on others. I must admit I’ve done that. I have learned a lot in my many years, not just in seminary, but from experience, but I still have so very, very much to learn that I will still be learning up until the day the Lord returns or He calls me home. And that means I can be wrong…just like all of us. That’s okay. I can learn from that.
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is a writer at Christian Quotes and also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.