Based on Psalm 8, Proverbs 8, Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15
Pastor and spiritual writer, Leonard Sweet, in his book, “AquaChurch” tells the following story about biblical knowledge versus wisdom. He writes, “…The prince of Grenada, an heir to the Spanish crown, was sentenced to life in solitary confinement in Madrid’s ancient prison. The dreadful, dirty, and dreary nature of the place earned it the name, ‘The Place of the Skull.’ Everyone knew that once you were in, you would never come out alive. The prince was given one book to read the entire time: the Bible.
With only one book to read, he read it hundreds and hundreds of times. The book became his constant companion. After 33 years of imprisonment, he died. When they came to clean out his cell, they found some notes he had written using nails to mark the soft stone of the prison walls. The notations were of this sort: Psalm 118:8 is the middle verse of the Bible; Ezra 7:21 contains all the letters of the alphabet except the letter J; the ninth verse of the eighth chapter of Esther is the longest verse in the Bible; no word or name more than six syllables can be found in the Bible.
This individual spent 33 years of his life studying what some have described as the greatest book of all time. Yet he could only glean trivia. From all we know, he never made any religious or spiritual commitment to Christ. He simply became an expert at Bible trivia….”
The passages of scripture that we have heard today point us to a very different experience of the Bible, one that seeks gaining wisdom (in other words…applied knowledge) as the outcome of our discipleship and study. Whether it is the Psalmist who marvels that our Creator God has time for us; or the writer of Proverbs, the Gospel of John and the Apostle Paul all reflecting on how important it is to apply the knowledge contained in the Bible for our salvation. Before we go farther, let us go to God asking for God’s grace to allow us to tap into God’s ever-present wisdom and then apply it to our lives and our world…
The Psalmist and the writer of Proverbs both speak of the majesty of God and in awe of what God has created. The song lyrics drip with wonder as they recount the great deeds of God accomplished through God’s great love for the created. The verses from Proverbs speak of the presence of Lady Wisdom (aka the Holy Spirit) – whom God created at the beginning of all things. She is calling to all – out of her delight for the human race – to believe in her and to follow her guidance and thus gain applied knowledge.
Paul has just written extensively about the faith of Abraham being what conferred his righteousness and justification upon him and all who share his faith in God. We who share the faith of Abraham are thus justified by this – not by any rules or laws, but simply by our faith in what Abraham saw and believed. We are made guiltless (i.e., justified) of our sins against God through the faith in our Lord Jesus the Christ and his promises and interventions on our behalf. When we apply the knowledge of Jesus in our suffering and to the suffering in the world around us, then we will realize the hope that cannot and does not disappoint.
Jesus, speaking his final teachings to the Disciples tells them that there is more to come, but they do not have the capacity to understand it at this moment. They will need the power and wisdom of the Advocate, Paraclete, Lady Wisdom, to be able to apply what they have learned to living life in a new way. This applied knowledge – this wisdom, will lead them forward in the name of the Christ do accomplish more than He did.
There are many people in our world, religious professionals and dedicated laity, who have memorized and can quote scripture on command. They are skilled at having the perfect quote at the perfect time. However, I find that they tend to “cherry pick” their favorite subjects or interpret the scripture in ways that may not be true to the context of the verse. Case-in-point is the oft quoted partial verse from John 8:32 “the truth will set you free”. In our day and age, this snippet is often employed when someone believes they have the “truth” for whatever they are arguing, and they support it by quoting scripture. However, the full quote and context from that section of the Gospel according to John starts long before verse 32 as Jesus is speaking to a gathering in the treasury of the temple. From verse 31 Jesus is quoted as saying, “…to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free’….” Note that the applied knowledge here is to those who believe in Jesus and continue in his word – both belief and word will lead them to emancipating truth.
The truth that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are continually trying to lead us to is not the ability to quote scripture, but rather to live it in our lives and times. Spiritual writer, John Ortberg, in his book entitled, “The Life You Always Wanted”, has this to say about our interaction with the Bible: “…The goal is not for us to get through the Scriptures. The goal is to get the Scriptures through us. Some churches give people the idea that the only way to transformation is knowledge. There is an assumption that as people’s knowledge of the Bible rises, their level of spiritual maturity rises with it… Knowledge about the Bible is an indispensable good. But knowledge does not by itself lead to spiritual transformation. When Paul urged the Christians at Rome to ‘be transformed by the renewing of your minds,’ he was thinking of far more than just the acquisition of information. ‘Mind’ refers to a whole range of perceiving, understanding, valuing, and feeling that in turn determines the way we live…While knowledge is vital and should be prized, it also poses some dangers. It often demolishes humility. The sobriquet ‘know-it-all’ is never used as a compliment. The Bible itself contains some warnings: ‘Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.’ Both human experience and the Bible teach that increased knowledge – even knowledge of the Scriptures – does not automatically produce transformed people….”
In order to move our way along the path of salvation (aka growing into the mind and heart of Jesus) we must live the teachings of the Bible. It is not enough to have read the Bible a number of times – we must allow the transformative power of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace to form us into the people God needs us to be. When we are being transformed by God’s love, then we see all people and all of Creation in the way that God sees them. We sing with the Psalmist about the greatness of God and with awe that such a great deity would still want to be with us and value us – just slightly lower than the angels. We understand ourselves as beloved children of a perfectly loving parent – a parent that forgives us our sins and our hubris and continues in relationship with us. Applied knowledge, wisdom, is what we pledge to do across our lives as we seek to grow into a faithful disciple of Jesus the Christ. May God’s grace through Lady Wisdom lead us onward to transformation. Amen and amen!