I have a friend who, by the time of this posting, will have finished her dissertation defense. By God’s grace, I’ll be in that spot in about a month. After people complete their defense, they are the proud owners of an infinitesimal amount of knowledge in a section of a section of a section of a sliver of the knowledge pie. Their dissertation goes on the shelf of a library somewhere and will barely ever be referenced again (in most cases). (I have a friend who said he was considering putting a $20 bill into his dissertation just to see if anyone would ever take it off the shelf and thumb through it.)
Knowledge is an interesting thing. Some people crave it; others run away from it. We don’t want to be too “heady” and lose the heart, or so we say. At the same time, we are supposed to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind (Matt 22:37). We hear that knowledge puffs up (1 Cor 8:1) so we might wonder if there is any use for knowledge and growing in knowledge. I find at least two ways to keep knowledge from puffing up . . .
Knowledge helps the believer to serve others—and is thus a demonstration of love. Further, knowledge can be seen as an act of worship. Of course knowledge can be taken the wrong way—as something secretive and earned. However, the right understanding of knowledge would never allow for it to be something that became a stumbling block.
Serving Others: The knowledge that puffs up in 1 Corinthians 8:1 is impartial—it got stuck at a certain level of understanding. This type of knowledge was not complete because it had not fully applied to the situation. In 1 Corinthians 8, people were stumbling over meat sacrificed to idols—Paul tells them that they need to understand the entire situation. Knowledge fully-applied says, “I won’t cause you to stumble so I won’t eat this meat”—such knowledge is an expression of love. Inappropriately-applied knowledge says, “I cannot believe you don’t understand this!” That’s the type of knowledge that puffs up—it claims to be wise but it isn’t wise. It feigns love. Not so when knowledge is gained and applied for the cause of Christ.
True knowledge exists for serving others, not ourselves. It wants to see others advance—it does not seek its own advancement.
Worshipping God: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov 1:7). Clearly, knowledge is not a bad thing. As we grow in knowledge of God, God’s world, and God’s ways, we are learning even further how to revere him. Such knowledge is humble. Worship is a response to the revelation that we have received from God (most specifically in Jesus). Growth in knowledge is an act of worship. As we grow in knowledge, we are able to uniquely reflect our God.
Pursuing true knowledge is an act of worship.
Some folks pursue knowledge in academic settings. Not everyone does that and not everyone should. It is true that growth in knowledge can lead to arrogance, self-centeredness, and general disdain for people who aren’t as “learned.” However, such knowledge isn’t focused on honoring God or our fellow brothers and sisters, and it certainly does not belong in the church.
An inappropriate response to the misuse of knowledge is to not pursue it at all—to say, “Away with you, knowledge! I have no need.” We all have a need to grow in knowledge. What we need, though, is to use it the right way—in the worship of God and in service to the world around us.
[For a more detailed treatment on the 1 Corinthians passage, see this article.]