A Lifetime of Learning

Proverbs 8:1-11

1 Does not wisdom call out?
    Does not understanding raise her voice?
At the highest point along the way,
    where the paths meet, she takes her stand;
beside the gate leading into the city,
    at the entrance, she cries aloud:
“To you, O people, I call out;
    I raise my voice to all mankind.
You who are simple, gain prudence;
    you who are foolish, set your hearts on it.
Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say;
    I open my lips to speak what is right.
My mouth speaks what is true,
    for my lips detest wickedness.
All the words of my mouth are just;
    none of them is crooked or perverse.
To the discerning all of them are right;
    they are upright to those who have found knowledge.
10 Choose my instruction instead of silver,
    knowledge rather than choice gold,
11 for wisdom is more precious than rubies,
    and nothing you desire can compare with her.

 

            Bobby Johnson was still in bed and the time was getting close for him to leave for the first day of school. Mrs. Johnson threw open the bedroom door and called out, “You need to get up and get ready for school. You don’t want to be late on the first day!”

            Bobby replied, “I don’t want to go. The kids there don’t like me, the teachers there don’t like me. And I don’t like them either. Give me one good reason I should go!”

            Mrs. Johnson replied, “Because your 52 years old and you are the teacher.”

            I have enjoyed opening the windows and allowing the cool night air to enter into my home as I sleep over the last couple of weeks as the temperatures are significantly cooler than they had been. With the windows open I can also hear the hum of diesel engines outside of my house twice a day. And those diesel engines belong to large, yellow buses that take the children of my neighborhood away in the morning and bring them back in the afternoon. All of this points to one logical conclusion: school is back in session.

            I am excited about the back-to-school season for several reasons. One, I am very thankful for the cooler weather that comes in autumn after that hot, hot summer. And two, I am excited to be taking a class myself this year. I am taking a course at UVa this fall in their department of religious studies. It has been four years since I have been in the classroom; I graduated from seminary in 2008.

I am taking this class for credit as something that we call “continuing education.” Many professionals have to take courses of some kind for continuing education credits. My wife needs a number of continuing education credits every year to keep up her license. Teachers are required to attend seminars and some denominations require their pastors to take continuing education courses as well. Our denomination does not require this, so why would I put myself through the pain of taking another class? Because I believe that learning is very important. And I find that I learn best in a classroom setting with deadlines and the accountability of teachers and other students.

            However, I realize that not everyone learns in the same way. Some people learn best through experience. They learn by getting their hands dirty, sweating, and digging in. Other people learn best by listening. I recently found something called iTunes U, where you can download lectures and watch or listen to them on your computer. Some people prefer to learn face-to-face, perhaps sitting down with a friend over a cup of coffee. Some like to learn by watching television, the news or a documentary. Others prefer to learn by reading the newspaper, either a hard copy or online. And there are even some people who prefer the time-tested method of going to the library and reading books.

            We all learn differently. There is no right way and there is no wrong way to learn. It is also likely that we will all learn through a variety of methods. And it isn’t important how we learn. What is important is that we learn. I am committing to a lifetime of learning, and I hope that you will as well.

            Our scripture for this morning is from Proverbs chapter 8. This entire chapter seems to be focused on gaining wisdom. Verse 5 says, “You who are simple, gain prudence; you who are foolish, set your hearts on it.” That is pretty straight forward. Gain prudence, gain knowledge. It is a good thing to have more of.

            If we jump down to verse 10 we find that we are to choose instruction over silver and knowledge rather than gold because wisdom is even more valuable than rubies.

In the book of 1 Kings, chapter 3, we find the story of a new king by the name of Solomon. Solomon is said to have followed the teachings of his father, David, and walked in the ways of the Lord. Solomon offered 1,000 burnt offerings as he began his rule over Israel and this pleased God. So God offered Solomon whatever he desired. Solomon’s response can be found in verse 9, “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

            The Bible then goes on to call this “wisdom.” I believe that it is important to differentiate between wisdom and knowledge. Knowledge is the ability to spew out facts or numbers about something. Someone that is able to memorize a lot of things is likely going to be pretty knowledgeable. They are the people that do well on standardized tests and in the classroom. But knowledge is not the same thing as wisdom.

            Knowledge alone can be a dangerous thing. 1 Corinthians 8:1 says that knowledge puffs up. Knowledge can make you conceited and a bit arrogant. We all have met those “know it all’s” that have an answer to every question. Perhaps you are that kind of person. But knowledge alone should never be our goal in learning.

            The difference between knowledge and wisdom is that wisdom includes discernment. If you look at Solomon’s request from God again, you will see that he never uses the word wisdom. He asks for a discerning heart. I would propose the equation: Wisdom=Knowledge + Discernment. Wisdom is knowing what to do with knowledge.

            Or another way to look at wisdom is to go back to the original Hebrew text. The Hebrew word for wisdom is chokmah, which literally means “skill.” You can have all of the knowledge in the world and not know what to do with it. You can read every cookbook ever written, read every book about rebuilding an engine, or every book about soccer. But just reading the book isn’t going to guarantee that you can make a rack of lamb, overhaul your Cady, or perform a bicycle kick. Knowledge is a good thing, but without the skill of knowing how to use it, you don’t have wisdom.

            So by now you might be wondering, wisdom in what? What area are we to be seeking wisdom in? I think the first thing that we should be seeking wisdom of would be wisdom of God. As Christians, we should be seeking to gain more wisdom of God every day for the rest of your life. You might be 98 years old, but there is always more that you can learn.

            We gain wisdom about God just like we gain any other wisdom. Like I said earlier, we gain it through a number of methods. Some of us will gain more by reading our Bibles and reading spiritual books. Others will learn the most by listening to sermons and teachings. Some of us believe that interacting with other people and with God’s creation itself is a great way to learn. Some will prefer to talk directly with God through prayer. We often call these things “Spiritual Disciplines.” There is no wrong way to learn about God. There might be better ways, perhaps more efficient ways, but if you are gaining in your wisdom about God, that it is a good thing.

            Again, I feel that it is important to emphasize the difference between wisdom and knowledge. All of those Spiritual Disciplines are good. But if we don’t practice our skill they remain nothing but knowledge. For instance, if I read the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, I will learn that Jesus expects us to care for the poor. But if I don’t actually do it, I only have knowledge of God’s will for my life. Doing it is something else entirely.

            This is something that I worry about because I believe that I am as guilty of it as anyone else. I love to study theology, listening to podcasts and reading books. But all of the knowledge in the world is useless if I don’t actually us it. I can read my Bible or a theology book and believe in Jesus. But Jesus doesn’t want us to stop at the point where we have knowledge of him. He wants disciples, not just believers.

            So what else should we be gaining wisdom about? There is a lot of stuff out there that we can gain knowledge and wisdom about that do not necessarily seem to pertain to Christianity. How many of you like puppies? Who doesn’t like puppies? You know, you could learn a lot about puppies if you wanted to. You could learn what to feed them, how to groom them, the various breeds of puppies, and much, much more. Puppies seem to be a very secular topic to me. Secular simply means non-spiritual. When the Bible encourages us to learn and gain wisdom, does this include secular things like puppies?

            I believe that there is no such thing as secular topics or secular items. I believe that all things are spiritual because all things were made by God and can point us back to the Creator.

            Allow me to explain. I had to take a series of Biology classes in college. And if you take Biology 101, you start with what we might call “The basics.” As it turns out, the basics can be pretty challenging (can I get an amen?).  Basic Biology 101 teaches you about things like cells. All living things, like puppies, are made up of microscopic cells. Biology then tells us how cells multiply and reproduce, how they grow, and their composition. By the end of Bio 101, you think that you have things pretty well figured out. You no longer see a puppy, it is a series of microscopic cells working together. Then you take the next course in Biology. And you take all of those things that you were supposed to have learned and you complicate them significantly. In Biology 101 you learn that cells are living organisms, breathing, processing food and energy. But in the next class you learn how that happens. You learn about the Krebs Cycle, which is also called tricarboxylic acid cycle, which is why I call it the Krebs Cycle. And that’s where I stopped taking Biology classes because I couldn’t remember the Krebs Cycle. But there are people that keep going deeper and deeper, taking the Krebs Cycle and breaking it down further and further until they get down to things so small that we could never see it, not even with the strongest microscopes in the world.

            I remember sitting in my Biology class, trying to understand the complexities of the Krebs Cycle, and I remember thinking to myself, “How could anyone ever doubt the existence of God? How could they know this stuff, and attribute it to chance?”

            I don’t believe that there is such a thing as secular learning. All learning that doesn’t lead us directly away from God can lead us to God.

            Most of us enjoy music. What makes us like music? What makes one kind of music better than another? Music is a series of notes arranged in a specific way with different rhythms and different tones. These notes are sometimes accompanied by the human voice. All of this must be perceived by the ear, which can only hear because musical instruments and our vocal cords move air which then travels to our ears, which converts this vibration to something we call sound. How our brains take vibrating air and convert it to music notes is way beyond my understanding. Oh yes, our God did that.

            If our learning isn’t pointing us directly away from God, I believe it can lead us to God.

            What about art? Every color in the spectrum is present in sunlight and the light we get from light bulbs. Some of this light then bounces off objects, while absorbing portions of the light. What light bounces off the object then enters our eye and our eyes see colors, shapes, and textures. Art is the practice of organizing objects, colors and textures in a way that reflects a certain spectrum of light back to our eyes in a pleasing way.

            If our learning isn’t pointing us directly away from God, I believe it can lead us to God.

            What about physics? If the earth was a little bit bigger, the earth’s gravity would be so strong that we would be pulled against the surface, unable to move. If the earth was smaller, we would have a different orbit, further away from the sun, and we would freeze to death. If the earth spun faster on its axis, we would fly off the earth. I think that this all points us back to God!

            We are called to seek wisdom. The Bible doesn’t specify that this wisdom is always about God, but I believe that if we have eyes to see, we will see our Creator’s hand in everything around us. So I encourage everyone here today to learn something new every day. As long is something isn’t directly opposite of God, I believe it will point us to God.

            But don’t just stop with knowledge. Knowledge without discernment puffs up. We need that discernment, that skill that comes from using the knowledge that we have received.

            As the children and the teachers return to school it is my prayer that you will all gain in knowledge and wisdom. Learn your mathematics, learn your history, learn your biology, and learn your fine arts. All of these things can point us back to our God if we approach them with a discerning heart and mind. Make a habit of learning about God and putting that knowledge to work for the kingdom. In doing so we will find true wisdom.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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