Who You Need to Know
Who You Need to Know
We lived in Oxford for three years. I was training for ordination in the Church of England and studying for a degree in Theology at Oxford University. One of the things we noticed while we were there was that, compared to London, Oxford seemed to be relatively non-materialistic. People, on the whole, were not impressed by wealth. Success was measured differently.
The people in Oxford tended to be more impressed by brains than by money or beauty. Success was measured in starred firsts, distinctions, PhDs, professorships and published works. It made me wonder whether intelligence and ‘knowledge’ could be as much a false god as money and wealth.
Knowledge is, on the whole, good. The facts are your friends. Education is good – reading, learning and discovering are all good activities. However, as Lord Byron wrote, ‘The Tree of Knowledge is not that of Life.’ We need to see ‘knowledge’ in perspective. Our knowledge is very limited. The more we know, the more we realise how little we know. God is our creator and he alone knows everything.
There are also different types of knowledge, and they are not all equally valuable. In French, there are two different words for ‘to know’. One (savoir) means to know a fact, the other (connaître) means to know a person. God is more interested in us knowing people than facts. The most important knowledge of all is knowing God and being known by him. Even this is not the end though. It is never enough simply to have knowledge – you must also have love.
The most important knowledge is knowledge of GodPsalm 95:1-11
The psalmist begins with a call to worship, praise and thanksgiving (vv.1–2). We worship, not because we necessarily feel like it, nor because things are going well. In fact, sometimes we worship in spite of difficult circumstances and hard times.
Neither do we worship because it necessarily makes us feel good. Although often we feel the need to worship for spiritual refreshment.
Rather we see in this psalm that we worship God because of who he is:
‘For the Lord is the great God,
the great King above all gods…
Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care’ (vv.3–7).
The psalmist reminds the people of what they know of God. This is the most important kind of knowledge – knowledge of God.
In the context of worship, God often speaks to us. It is not just that God has spoken in the past. God speaks today. The psalmist says, ‘Today if you hear his voice…’ (v.7b).
In this psalm, we also see another important kind of knowledge. God says that people go astray because they have ‘not known my ways’ (v.10). Knowing and following God’s ways is key to living life as God intended.
Lord, I kneel before you today and worship you. Thank you that you know me and I can know you. As I hear your voice today, help me not to harden my heart and go astray. May I know your ways and follow them and enter your rest.
What matters most is not knowledge but love1 Corinthians 7:36-8:13
Although knowledge is a good thing, it has inherent dangers. It can lead to pride and a ‘know-it-all’ superiority. ‘Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up’ (8:1b).
Knowledge is not in itself a bad thing. It’s been said that ‘Knowledge is like underwear – it is useful to have, but not necessary to show it off!’ Instead of trying to impress others with what you know, always try to encourage and build other people up in love.
Knowledge can so often lead to pride and arrogance: ‘Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know’ (v.2). What really matters in life is loving God and living a life of love: ‘But whoever loves God is known by God’ (v.3).
As Eugene Peterson translates, ‘We sometimes tend to think we know all we need to know in answer to these kinds of questions – but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. We never really know enough until we recognise that God alone knows it all’ (vv.1b–3, MSG).
Paul uses the example of ‘food sacrificed to idols’ (vv.1,4). A person with knowledge knows that it is fine to eat food sacrificed to idols because the idols are nothing: ‘There is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live’ (v.6).
‘But not everyone knows this’ (v.7a). Some people’s consciences are weak. By eating food sacrificed to idols in front of someone who feels this is wrong, we may lead them astray. What matters is not our superior knowledge, but our love for others: ‘But knowing isn’t everything. If it becomes everything, some people end up as know-it-alls who treat others as know-nothings. Real knowledge isn’t that insensitive’ (v.7b, MSG).
Love recognises that ‘Christ gave up his life for that person... When you hurt your friend, you hurt Christ’ (vv.11–12, MSG). Paul writes, ‘Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall’ (v.13).
Love is more important than knowledge. When God measures a person, he puts the tape round the heart, not the head. It is no good just knowing lots about God; get to know him and let him fill you with love for him and for others. In other words, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Lord, thank you that, although the danger of knowledge is that it puffs up, love always builds up. Help me to do everything out of love for you and love for others.
Seek knowledge but know its limitationsEcclesiastes 7:1-9:12
Wisdom and knowledge go hand in hand in the book of Ecclesiastes. Wisdom and knowledge are basically good things:
‘Wisdom, like an inheritance, is a good thing and benefits those who see the sun’ (7:11).
‘Wisdom puts more strength in one wise person than ten strong men give to a city’ (v.19, MSG).
‘There’s nothing better than being wise,
Knowing how to interpret the meaning of life.
Wisdom puts light in the eyes,
And gives gentleness to words and manners’ (8:1, MSG).
An example of wisdom is that wise people keep their temper under control: ‘Don’t be quick to fly off the handle. Anger boomerangs’ (7:9, MSG).
But, the writer of Ecclesiastes recognises the limits of wisdom and knowledge. First, however much wisdom and knowledge we have, we cannot really discover anything about the future (v.14). Second, there is a danger in being ‘over-wise’. It is possible to have an unhealthy appetite for knowledge that is divorced from God, and so becomes a form of pride:
‘When I determined to load up on wisdom and examine everything taking place on earth, I realised that if you keep your eyes open day and night without even blinking, you’ll still never figure out the meaning of what God is doing on this earth. Search as hard as you like, you’re not going to make sense of it. No matter how smart you are, you won’t get to the bottom of it’ (vv.16–17, MSG).
However wise, rich and powerful a person may be, ‘no one has power over when death comes’ (v.8). ‘Life leads to death. That’s it’ (9:3, MSG). We never know when our lives will end. ‘People do not know when their hour will come’ (v.12).
God alone knows everything. In comparison to him our wisdom and knowledge is very limited. Ultimately we are ‘in God’s hands’ (9:1). We should enjoy life and make the most of our time here. Seize life!... God takes pleasure in your pleasure!... Relish life with the spouse you love each and every day of your precarious life. Each day is God’s gift... Make the most of each one!’ (vv.7,9, MSG).
‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might’ (v.10a). Don’t waste your life, make the most of every moment and opportunity.
Jesus said, ‘This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’ (John 17:3). This is the most important knowledge you can ever have. It starts now and goes on into eternity. This knowledge puts every other kind of knowledge in the right perspective.
Lord, thank you that knowing you is the beginning of wisdom. Help me to make the most of every opportunity in life – to do whatever I do with all my might. And help me to do it all in love.
‘The sea is his, for he made it...’
I have a healthy respect (bordering on fear) for the sea. Whenever I am in a boat or swimming in the sea, I say this verse to myself.
Verse of the Day
‘Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up’ (1 Corinthians 8:1b).
Lord Byron, Manfred: A Dramatic Poem, 1816–17.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.