Peacock in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Knowing more doesn’t mean you’re always right

Have you ever been in a situation where you had to teach somebody something? Maybe at work or at school or even on a project at home? Have you experienced that brief moment of excitement where you grasp the fact that you know something someone else doesn’t?

Maybe it’s just me. But I like that feeling. Just being honest. There’s something really empowering about realizing that you have knowledge other people don’t.

But just because you know something others don’t doesn’t necessarily make you smarter or more powerful. It just means you’ve had different life experiences that have allowed you to learn things others may not have been exposed to. Knowing more than someone else doesn’t make you superior. It just means you have something to teach.

Peacock in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Peacock in the sun at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Philippians 2:3-5.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

As a child, I loved Bible trivia and sword drills. I loved being able to show people that I knew all the books of the Bible, that I had memorized big passages, that I could hold my ground in nearly scriptural discussion. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with any of those things. We need to know the Bible. We need to know what it says and what it means and how it applies to our lives.

But so often that sort of knowledge becomes a competition where people who have a proclivity for retaining that type of information excel. And it’s not a competition. It shouldn’t be.

I’m not knocking sword drills. I’m knocking the attitude behind them.

I’ve seen too many new believers who couldn’t find the Book of Amos to save their life–but they have a better grip on God’s grace than any sword drill skills could provide. Which is more important?

I guess I’m just thinking about teaching today because I’m approaching a day where I’m going to have some teaching moments. And when it comes to teaching–especially when I’m teaching writing–my tendency is to think I know all the answers. I’ve been writing for a long time, and I have specific opinions about how it should be done. And that’s great. But that doesn’t mean my way is the only way. That doesn’t mean the people I have to teach are wrong.

Writing is funny like that.

The best teachers in my life haven’t treated me like a dummy. The people I’ve learned the most from in my life have treated me as an equal, as someone searching for answers, just like them. And that’s the kind of teacher I want to be.

I have so many friends who are teachers, and I have so much respect for what they do and how they do it. Nowadays, teaching is a thankless job. I appreciate all that our country’s teachers do to help their students succeed when all the odds are against them.

The best teachers aren’t teaching to do themselves a favor. Teachers teach because they’re putting the needs of their students above themselves. That’s where I want to be, not just in teaching but in life.

Are you facing a situation today where you have to teach somebody something? If so, remember to be humble about it. Just because you had the privilege to learn it doesn’t mean you know more than the person you’re teaching. They may know more than you do about something else, and you wouldn’t appreciate it if they talk down to you.

The funny thing about teachers who are humble is that they are always learning. They never think they’ve learned it all. They’re always willing and open to learn something new.

Be humble about teaching others what you know. You’ll be surprised. Who knows? You might learn more from your students than you teach them.

Living wisely isn’t just for Gandalf

Today’s verse is Titus 2:2.

2 Teach the older men to exercise self-control, to be worthy of respect, and to live wisely. They must have sound faith and be filled with love and patience.

This is a good verse and very true, but I’m not an old man. So I kept reading to verse 3:

3 Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not slander others or be heavy drinkers.[a] Instead, they should teach others what is good.

But I’m not an old woman either. By this point I realized that this is one of those passages that is directed specifically at certain people and I just needed to keep reading and I’d find the one that applied to me. I found it in verses 4-5:

4 These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, 5 to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes,[b] to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God.

So, then, just for grins, I wanted to see what he had to say to the young men, which I found in verse 6.

 6 In the same way, encourage the young men to live wisely.

Okay. Do you see a pattern here? Live wisely. Live wisely. Live wisely. The old women are specifically told to live wisely, but they’re instructed to teach the young women to live wisely, which means it’s something they need to do anyway.

What does it mean to live a life of wisdom? What does it mean to make the wise choice? What is wisdom anyway? It’s one of those crazy virtues people associate with old men and long beards. Like Gandalf from Lord of the Rings or the old knight from the temple in the Canyon of the Crescent Moon from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (“You have chosen wisely!”)., my old standby for looking up the definitions of words, says that wisdom is: “the quality or state of being wise; knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action; sagacity, discernment, or insight.”

Wisdom is knowing the right thing to do and deciding to do it. Even a secular definition of wisdom can’t be separated from truth and justice. Even an online dictionary realizes that there’s a difference between just knowing something and being wise.

I always use William Cowper’s poem, “The Difference between Knowledge and Wisdom,” whenever I’m talking about wisdom because it’s such an amazing example of what it really means to be wise.

Knowledge and wisdom, far from being one,
Have oft times no connection. Knowledge dwells
In heads replete with thoughts of other men;
Wisdom in minds attentive to their own.
Knowledge, a rude unprofitable mass,
The mere materials, with which wisdom builds,
Till smoothed and squared and filled to its place,
Does not encumber whom it seems to enrich.
Knowledge is proud, that he has learned so much;
Wisdom is humble, that he knows no more.

–William Cowper

I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about where wisdom comes from because I’ve beaten that horse to death. (Whoever picks the verses of the day at must have decided to do a week about teaching.) But what really touched me about the verses this morning is the fact that no matter what age we are, we’re supposed to live with wisdom.

Granted, it’s not the first instruction for everyone. The old men are to exercise self-control. Old women are to live in a way that honors God, like not drinking heavily. Young women need to learn first to love their husbands and children. And it’s the young men who are instructed first (and only) to live wisely. But if you think about it, all of those things are a part of living wisely anyway.

Wisdom is one of those things you can’t get through life without, and it’s one of those virtues that you can’t get enough of. Solomon had his choice of riches, fame or wisdom, and he asked God for wisdom and in return was given riches and fame (and then summarily screwed up his life, but that’s another story). You can’t ever get too much wisdom. It’s not like knowledge, where I do believe you can get so much education and training that you start to look at yourself like you’re an accomplished person because you have an alphabet of letters after your name. But that’s knowledge. Not wisdom.

We all need wisdom. And we all need to live wisely. And the only place anyone is going to get wisdom is from Scripture, which also happens to be a good source for knowledge too.

Psalm 111:10 says, “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true wisdom. All who obey his commandments will grow in wisdom. Praise him forever!”

Want to be wise? Want to live wisely? Learn Scripture. Because the Bible will tell you what is true and right and God will help you have the strength to do what is true and right. And it doesn’t matter if you’re as old as Gandalf the Gray or as young as Junie B. Jones, you’ll live a wise life.

And because I already referenced most of Titus 2, I’m going to end with verses 12-13 on this Friday of the first week of September 2011.

We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God, 13 while we look forward with hope to that wonderful day when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed.