It is one thing to know about the Lord but another thing to know Him personally. It is one thing to acquire human wisdom, knowledge and understanding and another thing to gain godly wisdom, knowledge and understanding. Paul prayed for those in Ephesus that the Lord might grant them the spirit of wisdom, knowledge and revelation in the knowledge of Him (Ephesians. 1:17). He also prayed for their understanding, that they might know what the hope of their calling is (Ephesians 1:18).
Knowledge and wisdom are related but not synonymous. Wisdom is the skilful application of knowledge and someone that is wise, lives wisely, rather than merely possessing useful knowledge. Again, someone can learn something by rote but that does not mean they understand it. Basic knowledge is required to understand something and to put that into practice through wise living. Godly wisdom is not the same as human centred philosophies that only contain the veneer of spiritual wisdom.
Human wisdom, knowledge and understanding
The various branches of Gnosticism prided themselves on a so called deeper esoteric and secretive knowledge apparently only understood by the spiritual elite. For the most part, the spiritual dimension was considered virtuous and the physical aspect undesirable and merely a shell before the spirit was liberated from the body, leading to the two unhealthy opposite extremes of debauchery or asceticism. Some would be lovers of themselves and unashamedly engaged in immorality and ever learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:1-7).
We face the same problems today where people study endlessly to acquire knowledge and may even teach ethics. Their dichotomised view of humanity means that godly wisdom, which is the skilful application of knowledge lived in accordance with biblical teaching is considered merely abstract. A professor of ethics may impress the class with their pious teachings, yet if the students knew their professor outside the class, they might be shocked by their contradictory lifestyle. That means they may feel entitled to live as they please leading to a society bereft of a genuine moral compass regarding the sanctity of life, sexual ethics and freedom of speech.
Some delve into kabbalah at a superficial level or as a passing spiritual fad, whilst others study in earnest with such effort that they end up losing their mind in the process. This is an attempt to access mystical knowledge, though extreme gematria, the ten sefirot and departure away from the peshat, remez and drash with excessive emphasis on the sod. This is the opposite of grammatical historical exegesis and the principle of reading Scripture as a whole, comparing Scripture with Scripture and allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture.
Many universities teach theological courses that contain scarce amounts of the above but rather scepticism, higher criticism and the philosophy of man. This is reflected in study Bibles and literature that undertake cut and paste job approaches such as the documentary hypothesis (theory of four source authors for the Torah JEPD theory) or attempt to redate biblical books since the prophetic content is considered too accurate. Even in some Bible Colleges I have heard lecturers bemoaning undergrads having a superficial knowledge, let alone understanding of the Scriptures.
Godly wisdom, knowledge and understanding
To know God we must know something of His word since His word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path and Yeshua (Jesus) is the way, the truth and the life (Psalm 119:105; John 14:6). It is impossible to behave wisely in a godly sense without knowledge of the Lord. Hosea 4:6 tells us “My people are destroyed through lack of knowledge”. The call to repentance included, “Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord” (Hosea 6:3). Also, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of both knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). Moreover, the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10b).
How can we acquire knowledge of the Lord? By reading and studying the Bible and asking the Lord to aid our understanding and to give us revelation of Him by the Holy Spirit. Additionally listening to sermons and reading trusted resources that are in line with Scripture. That enables us to learn about the Lord’s ways, what is important in terms of spiritual priorities and using Scripture as a set of precedents that may be applied in many situations both for our good but more importantly to please the Lord.
God desires that we both know Him and understand Him (Jeremiah 9:24). At times we use the expressions that so and so “knows someone” or another person “understands someone”. We can know something about someone but we may still lack insight and understanding to know not simply what they do, but why they do what they do? If you study someone and consider their motives from the perspective of their worldview, not simply what they do, you will begin to understand them. This requires effort that we would utilise if we were studying any other subject in earnest, or getting to know someone that we especially value. Nonetheless we need to earnestly pray and seek the Lord’s help in this. Thankfully if we desire wisdom, we can ask the Lord to grant us wisdom and He will do so liberally (James 1:5).
How does human wisdom differ from godly wisdom?
Solomon answers that question emphatically in Ecclesiastes contrasting the myriad of human reasonings (under the sun) with godly wisdom (under heaven). Godly wisdom contains an eternal perspective with a biblical worldview and with eternity in view which differs markedly with human wisdom that is both temporal, merely on the level of human derived philosophy and is ultimately meaningless. Hence there is nothing new “under the sun” but our focus should be on remembering our Creator, fearing God and keeping His commandments. If our ‘wisdom’ does not involve loving and serving God and others then it is useless, since that is the purpose of acquiring knowledge, wisdom and understanding. We are made by God for God and therefore we should seek to know God and glorify Him in all we do.
Lastly, we need the revelation of God through His Spirit which cannot be achieved merely through human reason, adapted Greek philosophy, Gnosticism or Kabballah. The Psalmist asks the Lord to open His eyes that he may behold wonderful things from His law (Psalm 119:18). If we seek the Lord with all our heart, we will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). But we need to seek Him through the Scriptures, praying to Him and by His Holy Spirit, not through the channels of human centred philosophy.
When we willingly recognise our inadequacy and dependency upon the Lord, we will inevitably and humbly pray like Paul prayed, for the spirit of wisdom and knowledge in the revelation of Him and God will grant that to us. That will enable the believer to grow spiritually and is an essential outworking of the sanctification of the believer. The believer will also pray for and exhort others to grow in the same way too for the edification of the body and so that the Lord may be glorified.