Arie den Hartog is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
As another season of school and church activities have started, it is well for us to remember the profound truth set forth by the inspired King Solomon in the book of Proverbs; “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction,” Proverbs 1:7. Great opportunities are once again before us: to increase in knowledge and understanding. In our modern-day world one needs a good education. More and more almost every available occupation requires this. Even after a man has started his career, it is necessary to get further training and retraining. The world is moving at a very fast pace. Change happens very rapidly. It is possible to spend half a life time studying for a career only to find out afterward that it has become obsolete. Many today are getting more and more advanced degrees, also among the members of the church. As we increase in education and learning, usually vistas of opportunity are open to us. The well-educated often get better jobs and have great power to gain wealth and influence in the world. The highly educated man is respected in society and listened to by many. Education can be a great good for the Christian. It is a great good when the Christian uses his learning for the glory of God and in the service of the church of Jesus Christ.
There is another kind of learning: of knowledge and wisdom. This is the knowledge and wisdom of the truth of the Word of God, of the doctrines of Scripture. We live in a highly educated society with many men and women of great learning. Sad to say, however, among those there are few who are steeped in the knowledge of the Word of God. Ours is an age of superficiality and dullness as far as the knowledge of the deep mysteries of the Word of God. Men are satisfied with little knowledge of God. God’s people are destroyed for lack of knowledge and understanding. Few in our day are thoroughly equipped with the knowledge of the Scriptures that are “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” II Timothy 3:16. False doctrine and apostasy abounds in the churches. Few are able to defend the truth of the Word of God against the subtle attacks of Satan and his heretics.
Knowledge, we said, is good; or rather it can be good for the Christian when it is used rightly. We live in the age of knowledge, sometimes referred to as the age of the explosion of knowledge. The great knowledge of man has enabled him to do great things. Think of the wonders of modern day technology, computers, space programs and modern medicine. But for the ungodly man knowledge puffs up. It makes him wise in his own conceit. The knowledge of the natural man only increases his ungodliness. Through his knowledge he more and more imagines that he is the lord and master of his own life. Through his knowledge he becomes rich and powerful, but in it all he forgets God. Through his knowledge he imagines that he has the answer for all things. He devises great theories to “explain” the origin of the world while he rejects the truth of the Creator God and the clear testimony of His creation that is found in His Word, the Bible. Through his knowledge man imagines that he can control the universe, direct the course of history and control the destiny of man. But in all of this, while professing himself to be wise, man becomes a fool. The fool has said in his heart: “There is no God.” As Christians, we see also in the great increase of the knowledge of the natural man the rise of the power of antichrist. We see the fulfillment of the prophesies of Scripture.
There is a “danger” in the increase of knowledge. This danger is that man by nature has a proneness to depart from the living God and from the fear of God. The lie of the devil comes to manifestation as man increases in knowledge. He more and more imagines that there is no God, and that he is god himself. He imagines that religion is silly, only for the ignorant and foolish. He imagines that he himself is “enlightened.” There is for the natural man according to his imagination no such thing as absolute morality. He can live according to what is right in his own eyes and what is pleasing to him. There is no God of judgment. Therefore man can live as immorally as he pleases. He will of course through his “great wisdom” seek to devise ways to escape the awful consequences of sin and immorality. All the expertise of modern medicine must be marshalled to find a cure for AIDS, a cure which will at the same time allow man to live in the pleasure of the lust of sin. This is the philosophy of the world’s education. The Christian must be on guard for this, and be thoroughly equipped with the Word of God to stand against this philosophy. As the Christian increases in knowledge, he needs to be careful of his own sinful nature, lest pride arise in him, and he, too, through pride exalt himself before God and forget the Lord. Much of our advanced education must be acquired in the world’s schools, colleges, and universities. There is a great danger in this. Are we ready and equipped to stand against the world’s philosophy that totally dominates and controls all the instruction given at these places of instruction? The devil works very hard at the schools and universities of our land. Can we stand against him and all of his subtle lies?
Therefore we need to remember again and again that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. The fear of the Lord is the great principle, the root and foundation of all true knowledge. The Lord is the creator of the universe and all that it contains. All human learning is essentially the study of God’s creation and the order He has made in it. Only the Spirit-filled Christian has the enlightened understanding to know this. God is great and glorious. He is sovereign and holy. His greatness and wisdom are displayed in all of His creation. Therefore, as the Christian increases in his knowledge and understanding of the world which God has made, he must grow in fear and awe before the greatness of God. All increase of knowledge and understanding must be accompanied by increase in fear and reverence before God. We must pray for this. The more we study the wonders of God’s creation, the more in the spirit of true humility we see our own smallness and dependence upon God. With fear and trembling we serve before Him, realizing that in ourselves we can do nothing. God is holy. He is the judge of all men. He alone is the absolute standard of what is good and evil, what is right and true. Never in our great learning must we imagine that we can ourselves determine what is right and true. Never must we imagine that through learning we become “enlightened” in the way that the world imagines, so that the law of God becomes less serious to us, and we can devise a “morality” which is more according to our pleasure and pride. God always remains infinitely greater in knowledge and wisdom than man. In all our learning we need to pray constantly for “childlike” faith to know our complete dependence upon God as the source of all knowledge and wisdom.
Earlier we intimated that there is a different kind of knowledge than that which we learn in the secular schools and universities. It is not of course true that there are two kinds of knowledge. All knowledge is one. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all knowledge. Centrally God has revealed the true knowledge in His Holy Word, the Bible, and in the face of His Son Jesus Christ. The more we grow in knowledge the more we need to search out God’s revelation in the Bible. It is a tragic irony that in the age when so many “Christians” are so well educated, there is so little knowledge of the Word of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures. As the members of the church are busy with keeping up with advancing their secular education, they often neglect the study of the Word of God. Somehow they imagine that they no longer have as great a need for the preaching of the Word. So it happens that even sometimes members of our own churches move away to attend schools far too distant from our churches to be able to attend worship services and to take an active part in the life of the church. This is a great evil that will have sad consequences. In the midst of our increasing complex society, where knowledge is increasing so rapidly, there is an urgent need for the knowledge of the Word of God. The more the world’s knowledge increases, the more the vain philosophies of the world will abound. As Christians, we need the truth and wisdom of God to discern the times in which we live and to stand against the tides of worldly and devilish philosophy. The urgency of this should drive us to attend Bible studies with our fellow saints and to spend much time in personal study of the word of God.
All our knowledge and wisdom will be good for us only if we use it rightly. As Christians we are servants of the Lord. To whom much is given much is required. The simple Christian with no advanced degree is greater than the highly educated, if the former knows more of the Scriptures, and faithfully and humbly serves the Lord. God has not given us the opportunity to get an advanced education merely so that we might make ourselves rich and famous in the eyes of the world. How shall we serve the Lord with all that He has given to us? This a fearful question that must be prayerfully and earnestly considered. Pious platitudes alone about living to the glory of God are not sufficient. This must be real and evident in our lives. Is it?