Living in the information age, we have access to a world of knowledge at our fingertips. Have a question? Just type it in the search engine and in a fraction of a second you will have thousands of answers. In fact, Google has had so many questions that it will self-populate the most common questions that start with the words you are typing, until you find your question. Gone are the days of digging through an encyclopedia, difficult research, racking your brain for that tidbit of trivia, we carry the world in our pockets.
With more and more instantly available, we commit less to memory. Our brains are amazing parts of our body which we can discipline to remember facts, habits and random things, but with alarm clocks, google and pictures all available in our pockets, we are losing the sense of urgency and need to commit things to memory. That being said, we still typically have a respect for smart people and those who know a lot. We still value education, critical thinking skills and furthering progress. However, we expect humility. Our pluralistic, individualistic egotism demands that no one exercise authority over us, or exemplify arrogance. When we feel threatened, we often quote a verse from the Bible:
Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.
– 1 Cor 8.1-3
Our defense assumes two things: Firstly it assumes that these things are mutually exclusive: you choose either knowledge or love. The one who has no knowledge is the one who loves. If you fill yourself up with knowledge you become incapable of loving. “You might know a lot, but I love people” is our self-edification. Secondly, it assumes that knowledge is bad, and one who knows a lot is incapable of edifying someone else. We like to make excuses for ourselves, particularly in the Church.
“God knows my heart, I don’t have to go to Church today.”
“My faith is between me and God, I do not have to talk to others about it.”
“I do not know a lot of Scripture, but I know the heart of God.”
We show up faithfully for work. We understand the expectations on us and we fulfill them if we want to keep our jobs and excel. We complete the assignments given at school because we know if we are late turning in a paper there will be consequences to our grade. We are accountable to a myriad of activities and events in our lives, but we shrug off God and church as though it did not matter. And we justify our ignorance and lack of prayer and time with Him by abusing the Scripture.
Does knowledge puff up? Yes. It can. The Bible says it. We have all experienced it. But let me ask you a question. Do you think that God spent thousands of years working through His prophets, His people, His disciples and His very own son to write a compilation of books that tell the fully story of redemption, the history of the world, the plan of salvation for us to write off under the false banner of humility? Do you think that God revealed Himself, His character, His work for us to just ignore? Absolutely not! God did all of that so that His sheep would know Him and love Him.
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”
– John 10.27
If we do not learn the character of God, we will not know when we hear His voice. And we cannot learn the character and will of God without knowing the Scriptures. Period. If you want to know God, you must know the Scriptures.
Does knowing the Bible inside and out make it impossible for one to love? No. Knowledge does not make one incapable of love. True knowledge, particularly that of God and Scripture, will humble the student. The more we read the Scriptures, the more we realize we do not know and never will know. The more we read the Scriptures, the more we realize our sinfulness, our rebellion, our need for a Savior. It builds humility.
This passage is a warning. There is a tendency within humanity to prove and justify ourselves. Instead of submitting to God and His standards, we judge ourselves against one another. If our sin is less than others that we know, we think we are doing pretty well in life. If we know more than others we think we have attained a status and become arrogant, lording over those peons under us. Knowledge is simply the accumulation of facts and reasoning skills. It, in and of itself, is morally neutral. How we respond to it is where the danger lies. Without the intervention of the Holy Spirit, knowledge makes people arrogant, but with the leadership of the Holy Spirit, knowledge makes one wise. It knows the human condition, it understands that none of us can please God on our own, it applies the Biblical truths through love to serve others and push them on to know and love God more. It edifies others.
“…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”
– Heb 10.24
God wants us to know Him. He gave us an entire book so that we could know Him better. He places the Holy Spirit within us to reveal truths about Him in our own lives and test them against the Scripture. Knowledge is a good thing. It is a great thing. When we learn the facts and history of the things that God has said and done, we can know and love Him. You cannot love someone that you do not know. But we must rely on the Holy Spirit to apply that knowledge and turn it into wisdom.
I minored in Religious Studies at Indiana University. All of the professors who taught my courses on Christianity were not Christians. They had a lot of knowledge! They knew the Bible better than I did. They could quote verses, they could show how theologians would defend doctrine, and they could recite Biblical history. But the Holy Spirit did not reign in their lives to apply this knowledge into wisdom and love. That is the wisdom that puffs up. Let us not throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Let us learn to love as God loves, by learning how He loves! And let us remember the admonition of Paul, that even when we think we have learned something, there is so much more to learn!