Knowing the Trouble with Knowledge

By Rob Tims

I toured multiple college campuses as a junior and senior in high school.

Baylor? Too Texan.

Clemson? Too big.

Samford? Too close to home.

There were simply so many things to consider in choosing where to go to college that I became paralyzed, incapable of joyfully and confidently making a choice.

That’s when my parents offered this wise bit of advice: College is more about a pedigree than degree. Their point was that the people I chose to be with would be more influential in my life than the facts I learned in my pursuit of a degree. Not that the facts weren’t important–but my pursuit of the facts shouldn’t hinder my being with the kind of people I needed to be with.

This was liberating wisdom for a first-born bent on choosing a university based on its academic standards (also funny when you consider I graduated with a B-minus GPA). Before this advice, I was concerned more with the facts: the truths I would learn and then use to advance in the world. But armed with this counsel, I became more concerned with the kind of person I would become than the stuff that I would know. What I might know still mattered, but who I was would matter more.

In an age fixated with data and information, it’s easy to conclude that what one knows is more important than who one is. Or worse, believe that what one knows is who one is.

Yet this is a common temptation for Christians, especially new or young Christians, growing in their faith. Whether they hear it explicitly from a pastor or teacher, or personally arrive at this conclusion based on observation, they that more knowledge equals more maturity.

But knowledge is only a part of maturing in Christ. “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Paul might have said, “A degree in spiritual matters is helpful, but it’s the pedigree that truly matters.” What we know (“knowledge”) is not nearly as important as how we live with others (“love”).

Ironically, you can’t miss this truth as you read through the Bible. Times and time again, the Scriptures instruct us on how to relate to others, Christians and non-Christians alike. That is, they teach us how to love. “Love one another” (John 13:34). “Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). “Submit to one another” (Ephesians 5:21). “Forgive each other” (Colossians 3:13). “Encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). These are a mere sample of the multiple passages that emphasize practicing the facts we learn with people we experience life with.

It’s fascinating, isn’t it? The Scriptures do indeed encourage knowledge, but they push maturity beyond what we know to how we apply that knowledge in our relationships. We don’t really know as much about God and the Bible as we might think if our knowledge doesn’t flesh itself out in our relationships with others. They challenge us to not to earn a spiritual degree, but a pedigree.

Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author ofSouthern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.

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