Knowledge: The Furnishings
“Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.” (Luke 11:52)
In Proverbs 24:3-4 three main ideas are compared to a house. Wisdom is the construction of a house; understanding is the foundation; and, knowledge is furnishings in the finished house. Knowledge is the comprehension of facts. It fills our minds with pleasant and useful things.
In childhood, we begin the process of learning facts. We go to school to learn our numbers, letters, and history. Often times we wondered why it was necessary to learn that Columbus sailed in 1492 or that “a +b = b + a”, but as we age those seemingly useless facts become useful in certain situations. Just as a builder must have material on hand before he can construct a home, we need facts before we apply wisdom to our lives.
Moral instruction must begin with knowledge of basic facts. Children begin life with no knowledge of good or evil (Deuteronomy 1:39). As with Adam and Eve, we start life innocent.
God is the source of our knowledge (I Samuel 2:3; Psalm 94:10). He teaches us knowledge through the word he has given us. When we respect God, we take on the proper attitude to learn. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7).
The books of Proverbs was written to teach its readers. “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding, to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion – a wise man will hear and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel, to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles.” (Proverbs 1:1-6). God doesn’t want ignorant followers.
Some people hate knowledge. They don’t want to be bothered with facts. We call these people “fools.” “How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge” (Proverbs 1:22). They do not want to learn (Proverbs 1:7).
Knowledge must be learned before you need it. If we put it off, it will not be available when our lives depend on it. “Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, because you disdained all my counsel, and would have none of my rebuke, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes, when your terror comes like a storm, and your destruction comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call on 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, they would have none of my counsel and despised my every rebuke. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their own fancies” (Proverbs 1:24-31). Solomon warns of the regret of those caught in the trap of prostitution, “You mourn at last, when your flesh and your body are consumed, and say: ‘How I have hated instruction, and my heart despised correction! I have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined my ear to those who instructed me! I was on the verge of total ruin, in the midst of the assembly and congregation’” (Proverbs 5:11-14).
We have all met people who go through the motion of learning, but nothing manages to stick in their minds. Such people are prime meat for false teachers. “For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:6-7). A person who doesn’t remember the truth will easily accept a falsehood. A person who can’t remember yesterday’s discussion will not catch tomorrow’s inconsistency.
The Israelites were told the good they should do, “but they refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear. Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the law and the words which the LORD of hosts had sent by His Spirit through the former prophets. Thus great wrath came from the LORD of hosts”(Zechariah 7:11-12, see also II Chronicles 36:16). Many people are only willing to listen to things that satisfy their own desires (II Timothy 4:3-4). Because they do not have a love for truth, even when it hurts, they are easily deceived by error (II Thessalonians 2:10-12).
Knowledge Isn’t Perfect
We must be careful not to think that knowledge is all that anyone ever needs. “For in much wisdom is much grief, And he who increases knowledge increases sorrow” (Ecclesiastes 1:18). It is a fact that each of us sins, but that knowledge doesn’t solve the problem – it simply announces that the problem exists. The more we learn, the more we see the problems with which we are faced. However, the knowledge of a problem is not, in itself, a solution. Some problems cannot be fixed, and the number of problems in this world doesn’t have an upper limit (Ecclesiastes 1:15). Concentrating on these facts can lead to a miserable existence. Why bother doing anything? It is enough to make a man retreat into a self-made shell.
The collection of facts can also lead a person into pride. “We know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (I Corinthians 8:1). It is so easy to slip into thinking we know everything there is to know – at least about the subjects we have studied. As Paul warns, “And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.” (I Corinthians 8:2). In other words, if you think you know it all, you haven’t even begun to truly study the matter. Knowledge also doesn’t bring sympathy toward those who have yet to learn. Too often we think that if we know something, then everyone should know the same thing. We must always keep in mind that people need opportunities to learn (I Peter 2:1-2).
The Bible warns us that we cannot know all there is to know. “And further, my son, be admonished by these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). A person who tries to learn everything will simply wear himself out.
Jesus gave the church the gift of teachers. “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Ephesians 4:11-14). Knowledge brings stability to the church.
While Jesus gave men in the church the duty to teach, they need students who will learn. A wise man knows there is ever more than he can learn (Proverbs 1:5). “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still twiser; teach a just man, and he will increase in learning” (Proverbs 9:9). What does justice or righteousness have to do with learning? You see, the wicked do not see any advantage in learning from God, so they reject his ways (Job 21:14-15). They may be willing to learn, but they have no desire to learn from God.
Learning will not take place unless there is respect for the teacher (Proverbs 1:7). Jesus’s teachings were rejected because his audience did not desire to follow God (John 8:45-47). Paul told the Thessalonians, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.” (I Thessalonians 5:12-13).
Students must also have a love for the topic they are learning. Paul warned that some would be deceived and perish, “because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved”(II Thessalonians 2:10). That love for truth will carry us when the things we learn show us how wrong we have been. What learning would there be if all we learned was that we were right? To gain knowledge, we must be willing to accept the rebuke of the truth toward our shortcomings. “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1).
Learning is not a passive activity. Students cannot sit back as teachers shovel facts into empty skulls. “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth“ (II Timothy 2:15). Both the student and the teacher should “give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. ... Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all” (I Timothy 4:13,15).
The Gift of Knowledge
Among the charismatic denominations, the idea that a person must expend effort to gain knowledge is repugnant. Instead, they will cite verses, such as I John 2:20-21, “But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth.” In their minds, every Christian receives the Holy Spirit and knowledge of all the truth. To say you need to learn is to say you aren’t really a Christian.
What John is referring to here is a gift of knowledge from the Spirit of God, the same gift mentioned by Paul in I Corinthians 12:8. Paul’s statements in I Corinthians 12 about the gifts of the Spirit is important because Paul points out that every Christian did not receive every gift of the Spirit. “For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills” (I Corinthians 12:8-11). It is a mistake to argue that every Christian receives every gift. In fact, some Christians received no gifts at all, yet the lack of a spiritual gift did not make these people any less a Christian.
Even for those who received the gift of knowledge, it was not a gift of complete knowledge. Paul said that their knowledge was partial (I Corinthians 13:9). He also argued that the gifts, including the gift of knowledge, would be going away (I Corinthians 13:8-10). The ending of the gifts would come when the thing that is perfect arrives. Some try to apply this to Jesus, but I Corinthians 13:10 is written in the neuter – it refers to a thing and not a person. Also, he is not talking about something which becomes perfect, but something that is already perfect but has not yet arrived. James 1:25 calls Christ’s law the perfect law of liberty. While Christ’s law is perfect, it took a period of about 50 years for the apostles to record that law. Until that time, the gifts of the Spirit served as a partial substitute for the early Christians.
If you look at the context of John’s letter, you will find that he was warning his brethren that false teachers (antichrists) were arising from among the ranks of Christians (I John 2:18-19). John is telling these Christians that they should be able to determine who is of the truth and who is not by the gift of knowledge the Spirit has given them (I John 2:20-21). “These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him” (I John 2:26-27). There should have been no need for John to write and remind them, but it appears they were neglecting to use the gifts God had given them. Much of John’s letter contains criteria to use to determine who is of God and who is of Satan.
We have books without number. More is being written, taught, and learned now than ever before in any age of the world; and yet all the education a man can get into his head could not save his soul, unless he knows and obeys the truths of the Bible. A man may be able to master half the languages of the world; he may have read books till he is a walking encyclopedia; he may be acquainted with the stars of heaven, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, the cedars of Lebanon; yea, he may be able to discourse upon the great secrets of earth, air, fire, and water, and still be lost for remaining ignorant of the Bible.
Chemistry never silenced a guilty conscience, mathematics never healed a broken heart, philosophy cannot give hope in death, natural theology gives no hope of a resurrection. All these are good and useful for earth and time, but they never did and never can raise man above earth’s level. So a man may be ignorant in those things, and yet, by the knowledge of that one Book – of one science – reach a home in heaven with God. We can get to heaven without money, health, learning, or friends, but not without the Bible.
Life of Knowles Shaw, William Baxter, 1879, p. 128
While we do not have the special gift of knowledge from the Spirit, we do have the Spirit’s gift of a recorded knowledge – our Bibles. By learning our Bibles we can know all things, just as the early Christians did directly. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17). By studying the Scriptures we can apply the same tests John told Christians of his day to use to determine who is of God and who is against God.
1) Why is learning facts important?
2) Can knowledge save?
3) How can we avoid letting knowledge make us prideful?
4) What attitudes are needed to gain knowledge?