Knowledge and Obedience

I am writing this blog as a reminder to myself, but I also hope that it inspires and edifies others.

God has given us His word in 66 inspired books.  In these books, we can learn the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27, ESV).  We can spend our entire lives reading and re-reading the Bible, and we will never exhaust its riches.  We constantly grow in knowledge of who God is, what He has done for us, and how we are to live.  The more we read, memorize, meditate, and study, the more questions we usually have.  The more we learn, the more we want to know.  We are finite creatures attempting to understand that which is infinite.  In other words, we will never understand it all.  Rather than being depressing, it should be invigorating.  For all eternity, we will continue to grow in our understanding of who God is without ever being bored or finally knowing it all. (Thanks to Randy Alcorn and his teaching for insights in this matter.)

Maybe we are still trying to grasp how God can be sovereign over the world while people have freedom and responsibility.  Maybe we are wresting with God’s omniscience and people’s freedom.  Maybe it is an issue with the study of eschatology (the last things).  Maybe it is a question of cessationism or continuationism when it comes to the gifts of the Spirit, especially the sign gifts.  We could think of topics for quite a while before slowing down.

The real issue is not one of having all the answers, although we should always be pursuing them.  The real issue is not how much we have learned, although we should constantly be learning about God.

The most important issue is this: What are we doing with what we already know?  Are we obeying and applying the knowledge that we already have?

The reason we learn is not so that we can merely have more knowledge.  The reason we learn about God is so that we can know how better to relate to Him, obey Him, and apply what we know.   (And here is where I start preaching to myself.)

James 3:1 tells us that “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (ESV)  We know that teaching the Bible is good, and that there are pastors, teachers, and evangelists, so why the warning?  Because, in theory, teachers know more, therefore they will be held to a higher standard.  I believe we can expand out from this to apply to people in general. After all, if we are trying to obey the commission to make disciples, then we are passing on the knowledge we have in some form.  If we are raising children, we are doing the same.  In some sense, we all teach, even though we may not all be considered teachers. The more we know, the more we will be held accountable for.

This should not be taken as a warning against learning, however.  It is not in our benefit to remain infants in learning.  The author of Hebrews corrects his audience because “[they] need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.” (Hebrews 5:12b-13, ESV).  What is interesting is one of the ways that those who are mature are described.  The mature are “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (5:14)  One of the ways they learned was by “constant practice” in applying what they knew.

We are also encouraged to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving [ourselves].” (James 1:22, ESV)  In all of our reading and studying and memorizing, how much are we focused on obeying and doing?  If we are not, we are deceiving ourselves.  If we are merely learning but not doing, we are lying to ourselves if we think we are growing in Christ. Ouch.

Rather than using all of our energy focusing on the large things, as important as they are, what are we doing with the “small things” (although the supposed small things are often where we struggle the most in terms of obedience)?  It’s not the unclear things that should bother us.  The clear things are enough to keep us working until we go to be with Christ.  Let’s look at just a sampling.  (Again, I am writing for myself, and these all apply to me.)

“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20, ESV)  How are we doing here?  I think some of us have memorized this incorrectly and switched the words “slow” and “quick.”  We are slow to listen to others, but quick to speak our minds and quick to get angry.  The word is very clear, however, regarding anger (see Matthew 5:21-22).  Are we working on getting rid of our anger, by God’s grace?

Here’s another clear teaching.  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4, ESV).  Just to make clear that this is all-encompassing, Paul says it twice back to back.  Rejoice…rejoice.  Are we rejoicing always?  Are we constantly joyful in Christ?  Again, there is nothing ambiguous about this teaching.  We don’t have to search the Greek for some deeper meaning. How are we doing at obeying this?

What about this one?  “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” (Philippians 2:14, ESV)  Again, the verse is clear.  It doesn’t say to do most things without grumbling.  It says to do all things without grumbling.  It’s a comprehensive command. Even if we are outwardly cooperative, are we grumbling and disputing inwardly?

I would be willing to bet that the list of things we do understand in Scripture outweighs the list of things we don’t.  We know the “golden rule.” We have read how husbands and wives are supposed to relate to teach other in Ephesians 5.  We have read how fathers (and by extension both parents) are to relate to their children in Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3.

Are we living these things out?  Are we growing to be more like Christ in these areas through God’s grace, yes, but through our working actively to obey as well (see Philippians 2:12-13)?  We will be held accountable for what we do with what we know (by the people of the world who are watching and by God).

Again, we should continue learning.  I think learning theology increases our love of God and our ability to grow closer to Him in our lives.  But we need to pay as much attention (if not more) to whether we are obeying what we already know.  That will cause us to “shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15)


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