Mind over matter. Faith over intellect. Wisdom over knowledge. We’re convinced that the alternative is better: that one of these is better than the other. But Paul says that knowledge is a gift. It’s not something to be set aside when you start believing, but incorporated.
Intellect itself convinces us that some people are more gifted with knowledge than others. We’ve been in classes with these people, and we all know the stories of the most gifted among them (e.g., Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison). But Paul is talking about a different kind of knowledge. It’s not just one about facts and numbers. (Although the type of people gifted with the type of knowledge Paul is referring to would likely be good with that as well. )
Earlier in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul defines what he means by “knowledge,” or more aptly how the knowledge he is referring to defers from other kinds of knowledge in its purpose.
Knowledge is about enriching others. Its about the testimony of Christ among us. Intellect for intellect’s sake is a wasteful endeavor. (I’ll resist the urge to rant about the higher education system here, and the urge to rant about the problems with curriculum and teaching methods of many Biblical Studies and Theological Studies programs.)
In Graeco-Roman culture, knowledge was the basis of achieving not only higher status but (more often than not) a higher level of spirituality. This would later in church history, only about a generation after Paul, become a major issue. A religion, known today as Gnosticism (from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis), would creep in that synchronized the ideas of Graeco-Roman culture with Christianity. They would exploit grace and make Christianity about knowledge instead of experience. Rather Christianity being about a constant living relationship with Jesus (and the salvation He brings through His death and resurrection for us), it would become about simply saying the right words and knowing the right things. Gnosticism was very popular, because it was easy and exciting, but that didn’t make it true.
This religious movement, in all its diverse forms, would produce works like the Gospel of Judas and the Gospel of Thomas. These fictional works, written in the epic of people that had previously died, would claim special knowledge about the workings of Jesus with His disciples, and that salvation comes through ascension to the special intellectual level they proposed.
Does Gnosticism sound like a familiar form of Christianity? That’s because it is. It’s rampant in our churches today: “If I say I believe (and I confirm it in my mind), I can do what I want through grace and God will still bless me with salvation (and other things).” It’s not usually proposed this way, but faith without actions is what’s often being preached. This type of faith is the type Jesus condemned, not confirmed, because its not faith at all. It’s admitting truth. Admission without action is useless.
Jesus didn’t come to save through knowledge. But he also didn’t come to do away with knowledge. The lack of real knowledge about the biblical text is what allows for gnostic-like religion to continue in our churches today. If we knew what Jesus really said, and really believed, for ourselves, this problem would be minor or perhaps even absent.
Paul is proposing that we emphasize and acknowledge people with the gift of knowledge of God and His workings. Yet, this is one of the many things in our churches today that is downplayed, and it’s to our detriment.
We need people with knowledge (most of which likely hold the spiritual office of teacher). Without them, we will lose our way.
How can your church cultivate knowledge, and especially emphasize the needs for those with it to speak to others about it regularly?
Join the movement. Be the first to know. Sign up for updates here.