The worldly knowledge that can corrupt our hearts
Our desire for greater knowledge can lead us to sin. In fact, it is the first temptation listed in the Bible. Satan appealed to Eve’s intellectual curiousity and lured her to do what God had forbidden her to do; to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Over the centuries, mankind has sought to flourish intellectually apart from God. People have pursued alternative types of wisdom in the form of academic, esoteric or occult knowledge. How can we ensure we are not deceived as Eve was?
Genesis 3:4-6 ESV But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
To start with, God has given us some guidelines for God-centred wisdom.
- Does it uphold a healthy fear and reverence of God? | Proverbs 1:7 ESV The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.
- Does it promote a humble attitude? | 1 Peter 3:8-9 ESV Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.
- Does it esteem love? | 1 Corinthians 13:2 ESV And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
- Does it avoid godless, foolish debates? | 1 Timothy 6:20 ESV Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.
Worldly wisdom, on the other hand, will entice us to neglect God, elevate ourselves, and create division. Here are a few examples.
1. Philosophy as teachings of truth
Philosophy is based on the intellectual study of life’s fundamental questions, such as “Why do we exist?” or “What is consciousness?” The study of philosophy helps its students develop critical thinking skills required to justify certain positions on important issues. These skills are to be desired, in so far as we use it to critically test teachings for falsehood and respectfully present our faith with a well thought out defence.
1 Peter 3:15 ESV But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
It becomes dangerous when we use it to analyse God’s Word as if it were a piece of philosophical writing or become so influenced by a philosopher’s thinking processes and teachings that they subconsciously become our “ways” too. The Bible explicitly warns us against being captivated with wise-sounding philosophies that are at the end, empty and devoid of God’s spiritual truths. Every philosopher is limited by his or her life experiences and could be following a spirit of error, rather than the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth.
Colossians 2:8 NLT Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.
I John 4:5 ESV We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
2. Spiritual powers
Perhaps the most overtly corrupting form of wisdom is occult knowledge. Sorcery, fengshui, mindfulness, trances, hypnotism, séances, astrology, witchcraft, horoscopes, black magic, and new age teachings fall into this category.
When people search for answers based on their own understanding or some invisible “force”, they have opened themselves up for Satan’s influence. The devil will step into any gap where we have not invited God into and deceive us with enchanting (false) signs and wonders.
Proverbs 3:5 ESV Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 NIV The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
God will not reward any venture that leads us to Satan. He has made it clear that He will make fools of anyone who seeks divination or spiritual knowledge outside of God.
Isaiah 44:24-25 ESV Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: “I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself, who frustrates the signs of liars and makes fools of diviners, who turns wise men back and makes their knowledge foolish,
3. Closed or secretive groups
Underground associations, secret societies, members-only clubs, and fraternities can give us a false sense of significance. We reject others who don’t “qualify” to share our secret knowledge or privileges.
We decide who is worthy to be “one of us,” forgetting that God is inclusive, not exclusive. None of us is worthy to be part of Jesus’ eternal Kingdom. Yet He died for us – all of whom are equally unworthy – so as to make us worthy if we believe in and follow Him. Moreover, there is no secret we can hide from God. No word, thought and deed, whether good or evil, ever escapes God’s notice. Everything will be disclosed one day and judged by Jesus Christ.
Colossians 1:12-14 ESV …the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Ecclesiastes 12:14 ESV For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
4. The academic study of theology
Academic theology is defined as the “critical study of the nature of the divine” usually taught as a scholastic discipline in universities and seminaries.
While diving deep into God’s Word is to be commended, we need to guard our attitudes as we do so. Jesus pointed out that we can study all about God critically (head knowledge) but come no closer to knowing God intimately as our Heavenly Father (personal knowledge.) When we pursue the knowledge of God through intellectual wisdom, there is the danger that we can end up “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.”
John 5:39-40,42-44 ESV You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
2 Timothy 3:5-7 ESV having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are … always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.
Let us resist treating the Bible merely as a book for intellectual discourse or use our biblical knowledge to puff ourselves up.
1 Corinthians 8:1-2 ESV … we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.
Instead, we are called to study God’s Word for His one-on-one guidance, instruction, comfort, and conviction to us. It is one of the ways God speaks to us directly through His Spirit. This is different from searching the Scriptures purely academically; analysing, dissecting, and debating the Bible, relying merely on our natural abilities. The Bible shows us that the “natural man” who relies on human wisdom will not understand spiritual revelations behind God’s Word. To truly grasp the deeper truths in God’s Word, we need to first submit our hearts to God’s Spirit, who is our true Teacher and Instructor. The Holy Spirit is the One who will “open our minds” to understand the Scriptures.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
1 Corinthians 2:14 NIV The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.
Luke 24:45 ESV Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,
Seek the highest knowledge – to know God personally
God has blessed mankind with the capacity for higher knowledge and the desire to seek greater meaning in life. God gave this to us as a “homing signal” so we would seek and return to our Creator, the Highest Power and Authority in this universe, and grow in His wisdom. This is the higher knowledge and wisdom that followers of Jesus are called to pursue, to know God’s will and follow Him accordingly.
Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”
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