October 7, 2014.
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(II Peter 1:5-8)
As we continue our journey though the Christian virtues, we have established that we must have a faith by which to apply these virtues and a diligent commitment to them if we are going to see them incorporated into our lives. Yesterday we talked about what is often termed the first virtue, moral excellence. I will ask this question, even though moral excellence is somewhat hard to measure. Did you apply moral excellence to your activities and actions yesterday? After all, isn’t that the point of this exercise? I believe the virtues are about doing something, putting practical words of wisdom into action.
Today we get to talk about one of what I think is the most important aspects of anything you do in life, especially when it comes to spirituality, and that is knowledge. Once we have moral excellence, we are to supplement this with knowledge. This makes sense as the two go hand in hand. How can you know what moral excellence is without knowledge? Without knowing the standard? We talked a little yesterday about an innate moral law, where people everywhere have some sense of right and wrong. I believe this is the starting point of moral excellence, but it can’t stop there.
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”
(II Timothy 2:15)
This is a favorite passage of many where Paul is writing to the young evangelist Timothy to encourage him in his leadership. In older translations you might see “study to show yourself approved.” Whereas I suppose we could take this just as a command and apply what Paul told Timothy to do in our lives, I think that would be missing the point. I think we must understand why knowledge is so important in order to appreciate it.
The first point is rather simply. We are to be knowledgeable in the word of God because it is the word of truth. When you don’t understand the truth, you will often teach error. Error and truth cannot mix. Notice how Paul words the last part of his statement to Timothy: “accurately handling the word of truth.” Now, if there is an accurate way to handle the word of truth, does that not imply that there is an inaccurate way of handling the word of truth? So many times have I heard, “well, as long as we all love Christ, it doesn’t really matter what we believe or disagree on.” Is that true? Can truth be divided?
In practicality, I am well aware that we are not all going to agree on everything. We have different perspectives, different tastes and different cultures. However, I do believe that the major points of truth that are clearly laid out in the word of God need to be agreed upon. Would you agree that to be a Christian, you must believe in Christ? Then why would we not need to agree on what that means? Would you agree that to be a Christian, you must die to your former life of sin? If not, why does the word of God say this as truth? Doesn’t it matter?
I think this is where the importance of knowledge comes into play. Often our disagreements stem from one common denominator: a lack of knowledge. I don’t say that to be rude. We often disagree simply because we haven’t studied it in the word of God but rather have formed our own opinions about one thing or another through our experiences and what other people have told us. Listening and learning from people is not a bad thing, but it can become a bad thing when this is the main way you form your ideas on what is right and wrong. Christianity is not something that you or I get to decide what it is. It is a worldview of following the will of the Father. Notice, it is His will that we follow and not our own.
Paul writes to the church in Rome in regards to his people, the Jews, and how they have stumbled to not embrace the Christ that had so long been promised to them. I think it is interesting what he says in the beginning of chapter 10:
“Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.”
We see here that the Jews had a passion for serving God. Paul would know, being formally of the strictest sect himself. But it was not according to knowledge. Is knowledge important? It certainly seems to be the case in this example. Why? Without knowledge, the passion and zeal they had for God was not enough. Without knowledge, they were unable to submit to the will of God, but rather went about establishing their own righteousness. Paul writes this in agony. He weeps for his people and ever prays that they will come to the knowledge of the Christ. Without knowledge, how can you know the will of God? Paul makes this point earlier in his letter as he is talking about the purpose of the law:
“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in mecoveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”
We could not know sin unless we were told what sin was. Unless we had the knowledge of sin. Remember way back in the garden of eden there was placed a tree of knowledge of good and evil from which the man was told not to eat. When Adam and Eve did eat the fruit, they immediately say that they were naked. They were granted the knowledge that told them what sin was. (As a side note, I contend that there was a very limited knowledge of sin before the fall, or at least the knowledge of one thing that was right or wrong, and that was to eat of the tree. Perhaps I’ll expand on this at another time)
I think we all understand, at least at some level, the importance of knowledge. The bible is full of teachings on wisdom and knowledge and the importance thereof. I think the problem comes when we try to apply this to our lives. Sometimes we simply don’t think we have what it takes to really study the word of God. We don’t think we have enough time or talent, or if we want to, we often get entangled with the cares of this world and our busy schedules to where we simply forget to plug it in. This is a frightening realization. When you stand before the judgement seat of Christ, what is going to be more important, the chores you had to do every day to further your career or personal life, or the knowledge you gained about eternity? Somehow I don’t think “I just didn’t have time…” is going to be a valid excuse. Perhaps I’m wrong, but you would be hard pressed to prove to me otherwise. And this is why we struggle so much with our faith in this culture I believe. Listen to what Paul says:
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”
Another favorite verse of many, but notice what it is saying. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. How do we get more faith? The word of Christ! Would not the opposite be true? How do you lose faith? Not listening to the word of Christ. Not studying. Growing apart from the word. I believe this is responsible for much of the spiritual sickness that is present in our world today. Bibles have been replaces by mega-preachers and the word of truth by subjective feelings that an individual has about this or that. The absolute standard has been removed simply because the knowledge is waning. I don’t even think it is necessarily because people don’t want to follow the standard of Christ. I think many do. But without knowledge of the truth, this is impossible.
So that is the challenge then. Add to your virtue knowledge. Sit down with the good word today. Read something in the bible you’ve never personally read before. If you have read it through, start with a book and see if you can get the overall points the author is trying to make. Don’t just read, but study. Make connections. Gain knowledge. With this knowledge, your spiritual life will come alive. With this understanding, your relationship with Christ will grow deeper. You will be blessed because of it. It may be hard at first, but I encourage you to keep on going. It will be worth it in the end.
There is one caveat that I must add to knowledge. Paul makes the point to the Corinthian church that gaining knowledge has a tendency to elicit pride (ref. I Cor. 1:8). We must be carful to obtain pure knowledge without being puffed up by it. This will become more clear when we get to the final virtue.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
Fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
Suggested Daily Reading: Proverbs 1-3, Romans 10.
The Lord guide you into wisdom.