One end time prophecy runs through my mind every time I travel to the airport, or pick up a newspaper and read the latest advance in information technology. "But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase" (Daniel 12:4).
Anyone who travels by air has to marvel at the mass of people traveling to every corner of the world every day of the week. Travel by air has lost its luster-missed flights, delayed flights, canceled flights, overbooked flights—it's a way of life. "Many shall run to and fro."
What about knowledge? IBM announced recently that it had developed technology that would allow the storage of the equivalent of over 1,200 average-length novels on one square inch of hard disk space. My sons entered the computer age less than 20 years ago with a Commodore 64 with 64K of memory. Today's multimedia personal computers are sold with 32 megabytes of RAM—500 times as much memory. Today's home computers, commonly advertised in the local computer store flyer, can come with information storage capacities 100,000 times greater than the lowly Commodore 64! "And knowledge shall increase."
Daniel's words didn't comment on whether this phenomenon was good or bad, only that it would be the state of things at the end time.
Man's Desire for Knowledge
Man seems to have been created with an indiscriminate desire to know, and then given the challenge by God of channeling that desire as one of the character-building opportunities of life. God placed in the midst of the garden of Eden a tree which would impart knowledge—good and evil knowledge. You cannot help but wonder if its placement in the garden was to test man. After all, did not God say, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17)?
Even a warning that eating of the tree would be fatal did not deter Eve, and later Adam, from taking its fruit. Why? Well, as the supermarket tabloid says, "Inquiring minds want to know." "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food [I cannot help but interject that she was surrounded by trees filled with fruit that was 'good for food'], that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate" (Genesis 3:6, emphasis mine). It is interesting to note that God never said the tree would make one wise, only that it was a tree of knowledge of good and evil. There is quite a difference.
Knowledge Not Equal to Wisdom
Solomon observed that an increase of knowledge was synonymous with an increase of sorrow (Ecclesiastes 1:18). I can attest to that as can most of you. Show me a man who has been in the slaughter of military battle who would not delight in the erasure of that "knowledge" from his mind. I have learned and seen things in my years of pastoral counseling that I would much rather not know. At best they have added sorrow to my life, just as Solomon predicted.
If you follow the course of man's experience and God's instruction, you will find that knowledge comes in a poor third place to two greater acquisitions—understanding and wisdom (Proverbs 4:5,7; 16:16). All of us have seen someone somewhere that seems to be a walking encyclopedia, yet hasn't the common sense necessary to live a balanced and productive life, or the skills to get along with people. Raw academic knowledge, apart from understanding or wisdom, is of questionable value.
In studying the Bible I often go to God's instruction to ancient Israel in their forty year training period in the wilderness. Here God schooled a people who had not been a people in how to become a godly nation, representing Him honorably when they entered the land He was to give them. God's words to Israel during this time period are often foundational, expressing the spirit or intent of His instruction to man.
Notice the words God inspired Moses to speak to Israel in Deuteronomy 4:5-6: "Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'" The law of God is our wisdom and understanding. God's law defines conduct toward God and man, thereby giving instruction on how to use knowledge wisely.
David wrote in Psalm 111:10, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments." You will notice its praise is not for those who "know" (in the sense we use the term today) His commandments, but those who "do" His commandments. Knowing the way of God does not impart wisdom; doing the way of God imparts wisdom. This is so simple, yet so few grasp it!
What Is the Evidence of True Wisdom?
Knowledge is made evident by the outpouring of information. Watch one of the television quiz shows following the evening news. Here you will see an endless parade of men and women who have knowledge, proven by their quick answers to a wide range of questions.
How is wisdom made evident?
We have seen it once by direct statement (Psalm 111:10) and once by inference (Deuteronomy 4:5-6). We saw that doing the laws of God and living His teachings is wisdom. Have you ever considered that at times knowledge and wisdom actually war against each other? Sometimes a man or woman can be so consumed with their own pride in what they know that they become foolish. Paul spoke to this fact in more that one of his letters (Romans 1:21-22, I Corinthians 1:20-27, 3:18-19).
Wisdom is manifest not only in the doing of God's ways, but in a spirit or attitude of mind. By the days of Paul, and probably as a result of reading the words of men like Moses and Solomon, those who wished to appear righteous had learned how to ape godly wisdom. Paul spent the better part of his writing to the church at Corinth letting them know he was not coming to them with this spirit of feigned wisdom.
The Wisdom of a Christian
The book of James contains one of the most profound descriptions of wisdom seen in New Testament teaching. It appears at the end of the chapter dealing with the control of the tongue. Through the tongue we transmit knowledge-good and evil, as has happened since the days of our parents Adam and Eve. James observes, "With it [the tongue] we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so" (James 3:9-10).
Following his comments about the tongue, James describes true wisdom: "Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom" (James 3:13). Notice that practice, not knowledge, is still the true yardstick of godly wisdom.
James contrasts this with the wisdom of carnality, the antithesis of godly wisdom. This mock wisdom is identified by its fruits also, but its fruits stand in stark contrast to those of godly wisdom. "But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic" (James 3:14-15).
It is important in all of this to remember that the context of James 3 is rooted in "knowledge." The chapter begins with a well known verse: "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment" (James 3:1). This chapter is a treatise on imparting knowledge-teaching, talking. It proceeds from identifying the persons (those who wish to impart knowledge, i.e., teachers) to the action (the use of the tongue and the uncontrollability of this disseminator of knowledge). James then moves from those who impart knowledge, and the vehicle by which they impart knowledge, to wisdom. His message is that you may be full of words which display your knowledge, but your manner and conduct will display whether you have true godly wisdom or just an imitation.
James saw certain fruits proving the existence of godly wisdom. "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" (James 3:17). Interestingly, Paul saw many of these same fruits as proving the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
It is interesting in an end time world where men are running to and fro, and knowledge is expanding at an unbelievable rate, that the true godly wisdom as described by patriarch and apostle is in painfully short supply as evidenced by practice and conduct.
James ended his comments on godly wisdom with the words of the last verse of James 3: "Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." May we demonstrate both godly wisdom and true knowledge by the conduct of our lives.