“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance.” (ESV)
I read a devotion a few weeks ago on the book of Proverbs from Tim Keller that I appreciated greatly. He made this observation: You can have knowledge without wisdom. Many people do. But you cannot have wisdom without knowledge. Wisdom comes only from the careful application of diligent learning.
Consider for a moment the first part of that–knowledge without wisdom. That is unfortunately incredibly common in our culture. Although the cultural tide is beginning to shift a bit, for many years there has been a concerted effort to encourage every single student to go to a four-year college or university and obtain a degree. This is the key, we have been told, to a lifetime of career success. The stories we are told to celebrate most are of students from very difficult, low-education backgrounds who rise above their circumstances and go to college.
The result of this has been an incredible increase in the number of students attending college after high school. Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all. For many of these students it has no doubt been a very good thing. In the past few years, though, we are seeing the other side of this emphasis. Thousands of students who couldn’t afford and probably didn’t need it to find their way into a meaningful, successful career took out huge loans to struggle their way to obtaining a degree in some field where there are few jobs and who now are saddled with enormous debts and jobs entirely unrelated to their educational background that are both devoid of meaning and not lucrative enough to allow them to live and pay back their debts. These are the victims of a culture that has encouraged knowledge for its own sake.
Knowledge without careful application that is framed in by solid ethics and theology is ultimately of very little benefit to anyone. It may lead to great technological advances, but even those for their own sake can prove more harmful than good over the course of time without the proper guardrails in place.
That all being said, we are called to love God with all our minds, which means learning and knowledge are indeed valuable. We should strive to learn everything we can about the world and its workings. But, this should never be for its own sake. Our learning should be carefully directed toward application within a framework of honoring God with both what we know and what we do with what we know that will lead over time to growth in wisdom.
Let me put that another way: Wisdom is a worthwhile call. The Scriptures call us to wisdom over and over again. Wisdom, however, requires the accumulation of knowledge that is then carefully applied along God-honoring lines. Thus, to honor God with wisdom, we must dedicate ourselves to learning.
So, learn everything you can about as much as you can for as long as you can. But as you do, look for ways to apply that knowledge to honor God with what you know. Out of this effort will come wisdom, which is the prize you are really seeking. And along the way, don’t forget that the most important thing to know and the single greatest source of wisdom are the Scriptures. Therefore, make learning them your chief goal.