Knowledge is acquired information leading to understanding that should result in application. It sounds technical, but those are the basic three parts of knowledge. We learn something, try to better understand it and hopefully use it for our betterment or the betterment of others. It sounds bookish and static, but it really isn’t. Put another way, we obtain knowledge, figure out how it relates to other things and learn to apply it.
It sounds like cooking. We must “know” what the right ingredients are, “know” how to put the ingredients together, then follow the cooking instructions until we get the intended results —a tasty meal. Information, understanding and application all lead to the capacity for deeper knowledge.
However, knowledge is never static, and I might even use my cooking illustration to demonstrate my point. I am not a chef. I am not very good at cooking anything beyond soup and ramen. Even there, I have proven that soup is burnable. I know some things about food and could certainly follow directions because of my “knowledge” (acquired information leading to understanding on how to cook might help me make a dish). I also know that a master chef is able to take the same ingredients and make a better dish than I am able to make. In fact, one famous chef responded to his interviewer’s question —“How long did it take you to become a master chef?” — with: “I do not yet consider myself to have mastered the craft.” Cooking is not static because the knowledge required to do it right is not static.
At first glance, knowledge seems to be easily attained and once applied is fully grasped. After all, it is acquiring information leading to understanding resulting in the ability to apply it. Therefore, once I learn it, I know it. It sounds like taking a hill, planting a flag and proving conquest. But knowledge is anything but immobile and easily completed.
The Bible reminds us that Jesus, the very Son of God, “grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people” (Luke 2:52 NLT). I know that wisdom has more discernment to it than knowledge, but they are sister concepts. If Jesus grew in wisdom or knowledge, we certainly must. If Jesus grew in its application, we certainly must.
Only the arrogant say they know God fully and cannot learn more about Him. It is only the arrogant who believe they know all they need to know about themselves, their motives, weaknesses and potential.
If the master chef believes there is more to learn to master the craft, the Christian should certainly understand that growing in knowledge as a disciple requires an even deeper commitment to lifelong learning. A mature disciple knows they need to continue to grow in their discipleship. An immature disciple believes they know enough.
I remember playing golf with a member of a church I pastored many years ago. As I spoke with Dan about how he was doing in his walk with God, I asked about his time in the Word and prayer. His response surprised me. He said, “I don’t read my Bible very much or pray much at all. I was told that I would be held accountable to live in accordance with what I know, so I have made an effort to limit what I know.” I appreciated his honesty but was horrified by his logic and self-limitation. He was admitting a commitment to immaturity and stunted growth.
The mature disciple is the only kind of disciple to make disciples as Jesus commanded us to do (Matthew 28:18–20). They are growing, so they are worth following and learning from. Healthy disciples are increasing their knowledge of God, His will, themselves, the world around them, and the things that lead to obedience. Paul noted that we should grow in discernment so that we might, among other things, know what pleases God and grow in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:9-10).
How do we grow in this kind of knowledge so that our spiritual life is not static and our appeal and value to others is not cliché and shallow? First, prayer must not only be for the purpose of helping and healing, but knowing and discerning God’s will and applying it. We simply must desire to know God more and understand His will in order to apply it.
Second, we should read God’s Word not only to gather information but to discern how to live an obedient life. We read the Word to know God and how to live to please Him. That is one of the reasons the growing believer will always be a learning believer with a heart to explore the depth and wisdom of God.
Third, we must be an astute student of people, culture and our surroundings. We should never come to the place where we think we know it all about any of these. There is much to learn for our benefit and for the benefit of others. Mature disciples are always attuned to their surroundings and able to understand and meet needs that are invisible to the less discerning. The Apostle Paul was an astute observer of the people, their beliefs and practices in every place he visited. That was part of his success. We should learn from his example.
Keep growing in knowledge. Gather information that leads to better and deeper understanding. But don’t forget that knowledge only grows when we apply what we are learning. Keep practicing what you know to be true and then go deeper.
Bishop Matthew Thomas has been an active part of the Free Methodist Church since 1979. His ministry roles have included serving as a pastor, church planter, missionary and superintendent.