By / Apr 23

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

-Proverbs 1:7

In our first post of this series on thinking biblically about faith, work, and economics, we suggested five tools, or mental models, that should shape and support our thinking and decision-making, as well as help us build a holistic biblical worldview. By using these tools, we can take biblical principles and apply them to various situations that we encounter in our daily lives.

We have looked at the first two, “personal vision” and “gifts and talents,” now we want to turn to the third tool, “wisdom and knowledge.”

At first glance, it seems that the authors of the Bible use the words “wisdom,” “knowledge,” and a third term, “understanding,” almost interchangeably. A closer examination shows a difference in the way the three terms are used. This difference is very important for our understanding of this third mental model of “wisdom and knowledge.”

Simply put, these gifts as they are called in the Bible are defined as:

• Knowledge – the facts (Proverbs 9:10Proverbs 18:15Colossians 2:81 Timothy 2:4).

• Understanding – ability to translate meaning from the facts (Psalm 119:130Proverbs 3:5-7,18:2Philippians 1:9-10).

• Wisdom – knowing what to do next, given an understanding of the facts and circumstances (Ecclesiastes 8:1James 3:17).

Those with knowledge are able to collect, remember, and access information. But, it is possible to have knowledge and lack understanding and wisdom. Someone might have the facts, but not know what they mean or what to do next.

Those with understanding are able to extract the meaning out of information. They “see through” the facts to the dynamics of what, how, and why. Understanding is a lens which brings the facts into crisp focus and produces principles.

Those with wisdom know which principle to apply in a given context. Understanding without wisdom can appear contradictory (Proverbs 26:4-5). For example, the statement, “He who hesitates is lost,” is true, but so is the idea that “haste makes waste.” Which principle to use depends on the context. Those with wisdom know what actions to take next. They do the right thing in the given situation. In contrast, there are many who have great knowledge and understanding but who consistently do the wrong thing.

Charles Spurgeon once wrote,

Wisdom is the right use of knowledge. To know is not to be wise. Many men know a great deal, and are all the greater fools for it. There is no fool so great a fool as a knowing fool. But to know how to use knowledge is to have wisdom.

The following table may help you visualize the difference between these three terms:






What to Do Next











In any given situation, God rarely gives all three gifts to any one person. We need to cooperate and assist each other with our particular gift in order to accomplish what God has called us to do, especially in our vocational work.

This is what economists call the “knowledge problem.” No one person or group can have absolute knowledge or know all the facts, though we are all supposed to work towards developing and acquiring knowledge, wisdom, and understanding in our lives. God is the only one who does not have a knowledge problem.

We will return to the interplay between these three terms— “knowledge,” “understanding,” and “wisdom”—in a later post. But first let’s look closer at this idea of knowledge.

The New Testament word “disciple” literally means “a learner.” Christians are called to a careful study of the Bible. This will help us acquire the knowledge that we need in order to do what God has call us to do. Jesus said,

If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free (John 8:31–32).

R.C. Sproul writes in one daily devotional that,

Our Lord calls for a continued application of the mind to His Word. A disciple does not dabble in learning. He makes the pursuit of an understanding of God’s Word a chief business of his life.

It is clear that Christians are to study God’s word to learn his revealed knowledge (wisdom and understanding can also be learned from Scripture, too). But are there other places to seek knowledge as well? I will answer that question in my next post.


Five tools for thinking biblically about faith, work and economics

Why is personal vision important?

Discovering your personal vision

Why I Am Not A Plumber

Gifts, Talents, and Virtues

Putting Virtue into Practice, Part 1

Putting Virtue Into Practice, Part 2

This article originally appeared on the website of the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics.

By / Apr 22

Here we are again. It’s Earth Day and, if you’re anything like me, I suspect you wrestle with how to make some sense of the day. Chances are we’re not about to go out on a Greenpeace expedition or going to retrofit our cars to run off used cooking oil. But does the gospel have anything to say to how Christians think about the environment? We see twin pitfalls. On the one hand, we must reject any worldview that idolizes the creation and fails to worship the Creator. On the other hand, we must reject a miniaturized Christianity that implies that King Jesus makes no demand on how we steward his creation.

First, God made us to care deeply about the entire created order. On the sixth day, God finished his work of creation by forming man in His own image. Part of this image-bearing identity was inextricably linked to the first man’s charge to exercise “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Gen. 1:26).

Moses also points out that prior to man the created order was incomplete because “there was no man to work the ground” (Gen. 2:5). After forming Adam, God then placed him in the garden “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Before sin ever entered the world, God made humanity to exercise care for the earth, to cultivate it, and care for it.

While secularized forms of environmentalism seem to suggest otherwise, the Christian story understands that it’s not presence of human beings per se that are the problem with the created order, as if to suggest that everything else would be better off without us. Instead, Scripture is quite clear. Humankind was created and placed in the Garden in large part to care for and to steward the creation. Presumably, Adam and Eve’s righteous labor would have yielded fruitfulness and blessing for flora and fauna alike!

In part, that is why we experience such joy at seeing the earth give up its fruits.

We can’t all be skilled gardeners, but we experience something of the joy of our first parents when we find pleasure in cultivating the earth, when we delight in seeing new crops sprout up and give of their fruit for our own provision. God made us that way. And it is good and right for us to care for the earth and exercise a godly dominion over it. We don’t abuse it, but neither do we worship it. Instead, the Christian worldview liberates us to delight in and care for nature, but also to recognize that it is all a gift and a signal, pointing us to the Creator himself.

Second, the entire created order has been deeply affected by the fall. This becomes evident immediately after Adam and Eve’s sin. In fact, God pronounces a curse that involves the earth. The ground itself is now cursed because of that primal sin such that it will now be cultivated with difficulty, even bringing forth “thorns and thistles” (Gen. 3:18).

The Apostle Paul understood the pervasiveness of sin, extending its devastating reach even into the created order. He even described it as a “groaning together” because of its “bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:21-22). So we shouldn’t be surprised to conclude that the earth has been profoundly affected—even at the subatomic level!—by the fall. Our theology of sin and the fall must be appropriately large enough (and biblical) to make sense of what we observe. Not one molecule has escaped the lethal and corrupting effects of the fall. And if that’s the case, then we have a renewed ancient way of interpreting the ecological destruction, degradation, and disaster we see around us.

We can be tempted to so compartmentalize our human existence that we fail to recognize just how far-reaching and devastating sin has been in the cosmos. That first sin in the garden had ramifications for everything in the creation. In other words, the problem of ecological degradation is far worse than we realize. And the secular worldview falls short of understanding just how bad things really are. Water and air contaminants, unsustainable farming practices, and strip mining certainly do have damaging effects. But they’re just symptomatic of a more insidious and devastating reality–sin has damaged and corrupted everything. And if the problem is that much more profound, the solution will have to be much more than government policies, changed behaviors, or new technologies. None of those can remedy the core problem.

Third, in the “already not yet” Christians should promote a biblical vision for caring for the created order.

So how does the gospel animate our care for creation? Or does it at all? Clearly it must. We are not materialists, concluding that all the “stuff” around us is all there is and is just to be used as we see best. Christians recognize that this world has been fashioned by God himself and that it exists to bring glory to him. We confess with the Church throughout the ages that the incarnate God-man, the second Adam, walked on this earth, lived a perfect life, and died a substitutionary death to provide atonement for all who would believe. And we recognize that Jesus Christ’s saving work is about the redemption of a blood-bought people for God’s own possession. But that has implications not just for spiritual realities. Instead, the gospel changes everything.

Perhaps one of the closest parallels is how we think about money. The world tells us that if you have it, you can spend it (never mind the debt crisis). Even in the church, this can seep into the way we think about our finances. “I’ve earned it and saved it, so it’s mine to spend as I wish,” we conclude. But the Christian worldview recognizes that we are merely stewards of our financial resources, that they have been entrusted to us by God to use for His glory. So just because it’s in our bank account doesn’t mean we aren’t called to steward it.

In similar fashion, Christians must be careful of failing to see their ongoing responsibility as stewards of the natural resources God has entrusted to us. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean it’s best for us to slash it, burn it, drill it, or mine it. Instead, we start from the foundational question: what would glorify the Creator? Christians can and will disagree on a whole host of policy questions in this area, but we should all agree that our starting point must be God-centered.

Fourth, Jesus will one day consummate his Kingdom and the entire cosmos will be renewed.

The gospel frees us from worshiping the creation and gives us a renewed vision for our role as God’s image bearers who exercise loving dominion. But it also propels our vision forward. Jesus Christ has conquered sin and death and is indeed sitting at the right hand of the Father as king over the cosmos. But we look around us and see a world that still seems very much under the curse of Genesis 3.

But throughout the Bible, God continually promised a coming day when he would create a “new heavens and a new earth.” Isaiah prophesied of this long ago, declaring the word of the Lord and making clear that God’s salvific purposes for his people would also be linked to a new created order, one that would not just be a recovery of Eden, but would even surpass that original perfection (Isaiah 65:17-25).

The New Testament continues this expectation. The Apostle Peter wrote that this new heavens and new earth will be one “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 2:13). The vision is perhaps at its clearest in John’s Revelation. He now saw what had been prophesied by Isaiah: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1). And what is distinctive about this new order? God makes his full and perfect dwelling among his people. His presence is now full and comprehensive, driving away suffering and death, grief and pain, “for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

Just like Kermit said, it’s not easy being green. But the gospel reminds us that the path of Christian discipleship never is. Perhaps Earth Day can be a helpful day for us as followers of Christ to give thanks for God’s power, mercy, and skill as the Creator. Perhaps it can prompt us to self-evaluation to explore ways in which we have been shaped more by the culture than the gospel. And perhaps most significantly, it can prompt us to praise God for his work of redemption in Jesus Christ.

Matthew J. Hall is vice president of academic services at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, Kentucky)