In middle school, I hung out with a group that was very diverse in every way, many of whom I still have contact with today. We had almost all of our classes together and our own section of the cafeteria at lunch time. We sat in the same section of class too, and we liked to pass notes.
One day, my friends were quiet and there was a note on my desk. You know the type—intricately folded with the stussy ‘S’ on it. It was a pretty long note, but it boiled down to this: “We feel like you’re a ‘know-it-all’ and you think you’re smarter than us.”
My initial thought was a smug “I am smarter than you” (I wasn’t) but I don’t think I actually said that out loud. We patched things up, remained friends, and I’ve been on a journey to love people more than I love knowledge ever since.
To read and learn things takes no sacrifice, no discomfort, no love from me beyond the love of learning. People, however, are a challenge. I love a lot of people, but loving those who are vastly different from me is a feat. When I’m picking out a book, I can choose only what I like and leave all the rest behind. When I’m creating something, I can mull over the details and make it be exactly how I want it to be. I can’t exactly do that with people. It’s so much easier to crack open a book than to crack open a person’s heart and seek to understand them. As I’ve learned, grown, and come to a knowledge of God, loving people began to take a different shape.
The idea that I had to love people more than I love knowledge developed as I learned what it meant to be a follower of Christ, but it wasn’t always that way. Middle school was also the beginning stages of my non-believer status. I did enough research to intellectually reject Christianity by 8th grade and made sure my Myspace profile listed me as Agnostic, just incase my fellow 13-year-olds were wondering where I stood. I switched back and forth between Agnostic and Atheist for the duration of middle school, mostly gave it a rest in high school, and didn’t reconsider my belief system much again until it was time for college.
Love, Logic, and Apologetics
One of my college roommates and best friends rededicated her life to Christ and I thought she was insane. Christ, as in Christianity? No, thanks. In spite of my disdain for it and its members, Christianity wasn’t actually something I had studied at length, despite going to church regularly as a child. I didn’t know much about it, and as I’ve said, I liked knowing things. In the next few months, because of curiosity and what I didn’t know at the time was a work beginning in my heart, I was open to the idea of God, willing to attend a campus ministry’s events (but still not a church—oh no, that’s where I thought the hypocrites were), and started researching Christian apologetics.
I naturally love logic and academics so I tend to like the facts, not feelings. I needed to know why I now believed in the God of the Bible. I’d later find the facts I was looking for to support my faith, but that knowing them wouldn’t be enough to live out the mission of God. People who win Bible trivia can easily be the most unloving, and that shouldn’t be. I didn’t want to be one of them.
I’d come to progressively realize at this point in my life (and revisit in my present life) that knowing things about God isn’t the same as knowing God. Knowing God’s Word isn’t the same as loving the author of the Word. Having enough knowledge about God to win debates and not let anyone say I don’t know what I believe isn’t the love that God is or the love that His disciples are commanded to display. And if I’m not careful—if we’re all not careful—we’ll see that a love for knowledge about God and His Word doesn’t automatically translate to a love for Him and for His people.
The Best of the Best Knowledge
In the Bible, the word used for “know” or “knowledge” encompasses not only learning and understanding, but to will and to experience. Don’t get me wrong—the Bible places a high value on studying and obtaining knowledge (Proverbs 2:6, Proverbs 1:22, Proverbs 18:15, Psalm 119:11, and more). We’re the ones who can make it about how much we know, turning theology into idolatry.
Having knowledge of God and not just about Him is the most important knowledge we can have. It’s not only to acknowledge His existence, but to live for the riches of His wisdom (Romans 11:33, Colossians 2:2-3). The knowledge of God is deep, infinite, and absolute. Helping someone “get” God isn’t an intellectual happening only. God transforms and satisfies our hearts, not just our longing for reasoning.
I read Grace Walk by Steve McVey and liked the way he put it:
The time came when the process moved from the theological and academic realm into practical experience. Head knowledge wasn’t enough to experience victory. Just like a man who understands the Gospel intellectually and then finally receives Christ, so I came to the place where learned truths became living truths to me. (emphasis mine)
Gifts, Grace, etc.
I know that not everyone agrees on whether non-spiritual online tests have the ability to discover spiritual gifts, but that’s not what I’m discussing today. I’ve taken a couple tests for a couple reasons and “knowledge” was in my top three results. I mention this to say that even a spiritual gift of knowledge isn’t for personal use only. The gift of knowledge is to be used to communicate the truth of God, to teach, to edify the Church. It’s a ministry opportunity. It’s a chance to appreciate God and point people to Him, which is to love them.
In 1 Corinthians 13:2, Paul wrote, “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (emphasis mine)
For me, knowledge is easy. But being in Christ isn’t all about what I know or don’t know, but Who I know. This life and pursuit of God isn’t about what I’m studying, but how I love. If I read every Christian book that was ever written but have not love, I am nothing. If I know what the Bible says about grace but can’t bring myself to show it towards another person, I am nothing. If I can explain the recapitulation theory of atonement but have not love, I am nothing. If I memorize Scripture all day but it doesn’t move my heart to love my neighbor as Christ commanded, I am nothing. And to truly know God and know His Word is to sacrificially, non-intellectually, indiscriminately love His people.