“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;” (Philippians 3:10)
I love to study Scripture and to mine the deeper treasures buried in God’s Word. It has always been a challenge for me to read the Bible all the way through in a year because I cannot just “read” the Bible. I find myself getting stuck on a passage and reaching for my Young’s Concordance, or Strong’s Dictionary to get the full meaning of a word or a phrase or to find other related passages on that verse or topic. Sometimes, I refer to commentaries to see how men like Calvin, Henry, Spurgeon, Criswell, Morris, etc. reflected on the same passage. I cannot just “read” the Bible. In fact, I would say that in my lifetime, I have read the Bible through – cover to cover – only about four times.
For my efforts, I have gained considerable knowledge about the Bible. I imagine that I can recite, in paraphrase, the entire Book. When I hear Scripture quoted, I can guess at least from what book of the Bible the quote comes. Sometimes I can even guess the book and chapter and quite often, especially for commonly quoted passages, the book, chapter, and verse.
I do not say this to brag, because there are many that are gifted far beyond me in Scripture knowledge. I know and admire pastors and teachers with the ability to, on a moment’s notice, stand up and expound on a passage complete with cross references and illustrations. That is impressive to me.
But there is danger in striving for knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Indeed, the first temptation foisted upon man included the desire for knowledge. “Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Genesis 3:5-6, emphasis added).
Bertrand Russell once said, “There is much pleasure to be gained from useless knowledge,” and that is true. Certainly in the secular realm, but also in the sacred, the accumulation of great amounts of knowledge serves only to produce educated fools (and I use the word in the biblical sense: Psalm 14:1; 53:1). Even when the strife for knowledge is well-intentioned in seeking to learn more about God and His Word, the end result can be a vacuous collection of facts that serves only to stroke the possessor’s ego. In that case, as Thomas Jefferson said, “He who knows nothing is closer to the truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors.”
What good is knowing about God without knowing God? The truth is that the knowledge about God is ubiquitous, “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20). Here the saint and the sinner are on equal footing, and, while Thomas Jefferson was not speaking on spiritual matters, the adage holds true. Even those who claim to know nothing about God are closer to the truth than those who have filled their minds with “book learning” and placed their trust in what they “know.”
I don’t say this to downplay or discourage education – especially religious education – but rather to stress that the object of our desire to gain knowledge should be as Paul said, “to know Him” not just to know about Him. A ThD is a noble goal, but it is not a requirement for knowing God. If the focus is right, God makes this promise: “And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the LORD: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart” (Jeremiah 24:7, emphasis added). “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Psalm 37:4). If our desire is “to know Him,” God promises: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
When I was in the secular labor force it was a common saying that “It’s not what you know, but who you know that matters.” That is a rather cynical perspective for someone clawing his way to the top, but for those who seek a far superior goal, it is a word of hope. “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10). That is my desire. What about you?