If it costs all you have to acquire, gain understanding. (Proverbs 4:7b)
Complexity of descriptive words for a single idea reveals practical knowledge of the subject. Professional baseball players, for example, have more than twenty different kinds of pitches. And designers have a whole array of different colors. Where most of us just describes things in terms of red, blue, or yellow, they can break these down into countless shades.
So in Proverbs, the inspired author described wisdom with a variety of words, showing the many facets and nuances: enlightenment, instruction, discipline, insight, prudence, counsel, teaching, commandments, wisdom, understanding, knowledge, words, sayings, the paths of justice, the ways of good men, and even such ideas as correction, rebuke, and reproof.
In the West at least, we tend to make divisions today in our thinking where the culture of the Bible did not. For example, we tend to separate wisdom, that is understanding a circumstance, from knowledge, or being able to act wisely. We also separate heart, emphasizing our subjective emotions, from mind, emphasizing our objective thoughts. But the cultures of the Bible did not do so. To understand included the knowledge of how to act, and the heart and mind were inseparably connected. One idea was connected to another.
The fool hates knowledge. The wise loves knowledge. The fool cuts off God from his heart and mind. The wise takes God into his heart, into his affections and his thoughts, and submits to His authority. It is the love for God and the submission to His authority that directs everything else in our lives. The wise begin with the assumption that understanding is gained through submission to God.
The Abuse of Knowledge
Someone will inevitably object that we must be careful in our submission to any person, for many will abuse us and twist the truth. If we blindly submit to anyone, soon they will bring us under their influence, “under their spell,” and lead us down the wrong path.
But this was common in the Bible’s world as well. The Canaanite nations, for example, were notorious for their harsh enslavement of their own people, even to the point of sacrificing children on fiery altars to their gods. But the inspired knowledge of God’s wisdom stood out strongly against this backdrop of paganism.
And in the Mediterranean New Testament world, with its many different schools of philosophy, the love of God in Christ and the transformation of the believers mind and heart by the Spirit was a sharp contrast from the culture. And grace in the gospel stood just as strongly against the twisted legalism of the Pharisaical teaching of the Jewish people.
The Purity of the Biblical Stream of Wisdom
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). The Bible begins with the understand that confusion begins in the human heart itself. We are not “blank slates” that are written upon, but sin passes to each generation and we each need a special work of God in our hearts to begin with. The “fear of God” means the inner thought of the heart, the thought we think that only we and God know of, that respects and submits to God. That simple faith that makes us look up and respect God, and to even fear Him for we know that we must give an account to Him, is life changing.
It is our pride and our lusts, our own selfish agendas, as well as our fears, that prohibit true knowledge from taking root. Stubbornness must be uprooted and a submissive spirit to God must be present if true soul learning will will take place. This is what the Bible calls “conversion” or a change of heart, and it comes about through repentance and faith.
But when we repent and believe, God wipes away the tears and sets our feet upon a rock. “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining brighter and brighter until midday” (Prov. 4:18). He becomes our heavenly Father who loves and leads us. We live in hope because we live in God. He is always teaching and leading and enlightening us.
A Personal Testimony
I have to confess that when I was in my thirties I thought that by the time I turned fifty years old I would enter into a stage of utter wisdom and knowledge. I can say that I was wiser at fifty than I was at thirty – that would be true – but now at almost 70 years of age I am a bit disappointed that I am still not further along in knowledge and wisdom.
But I believe that is the reality of true wisdom and of godly insight, that we are always growing and each day and each year have more insight into how much more we need to learn. Feeling or thinking that one has arrived, that we are perfect and have no need for further instruction, this would be the height of blind arrogance and pride, a sign of utter foolishness. So we are always growing and maturing as long as we are on earth.
So all life long we must seek after knowledge with our whole heart, even if it costs all we have. The Christian life is, after all, a life lived in God’s power for God’s purpose of redemption.