I am sorry to admit that for a lot of years I was not a very serious student. I was not a serious student in high school or college. I had four semesters of Greek in college, and for each of the first three semesters I received a grade of D-. My final semester I received a D. My professor was Dr. Henry Webb, a great teacher, and I probably frustrated him since I wasn’t a very motivated student. At the end of my final semester of Greek I thanked Dr. Webb for giving me a D, saying Dr. Webb, I appreciate the D you gave me in Greek. I know that was a gift. Dr. Webb replied, Oh no, you earned that D, but those D minuses were gifts.
Knowledge has not always been my specialty, unfortunately.
Last week we studied the spiritual gift of wisdom. In that message I spoke about wisdom as a way of life. This morning, as we continue our study of spiritual gifts, we come to the gift of knowledge.
In comparing wisdom and knowledge last week, I said knowledge is a collection of facts and information, which is probably the primary way we would define knowledge. Knowledge means we know a lot of stuff. Knowledge is important, no doubt about it. In this day and age, a quality education and the accumulation of knowledge is of critical importance.
I believe it’s important to know as much as we can about Scripture and theology and the history of the church. But when we speak of knowledge as a spiritual gift, we are talking not so much about having a lot of information in our minds as we are talking about the way we think. Jesus said we ought to love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37 and Luke 10:27).
Wisdom deals with how we live, but knowledge deals with how we think.
Whether we know it or not, and whether we want to admit it or not, our thinking is not as independent as we often believe. Our thinking is shaped and molded by a combination of influences, and the aim of the gospel is not only to transform how we live, but to transform how we think, because how we live is in direct relation to how we think.
This morning I want to offer three areas where faith should reshape the way we think –
1. The way we think about God.
2. The way we think about others.
3. The way we think about ourselves.
1. The way we think about God.
I was watching a TV program a few years ago that featured about four or five people discussing various topics and the discussion turned to God, and specifically, what is God like? One of the guests described how she perceived of God and another guest turned angrily to her and berated her for believing she could describe God. No one can really describe what God is like. But then, concluding his outburst, he said, God is in here (pointing to his heart). How does one denounce another person for describing God while describing God in the process?
You can’t contain God in language, and that is why Jesus is central to our faith. Jesus is God incarnate, as one of us, as a real flesh and blood person. The way we think about God was forever changed because of Jesus.
The heart of our faith is Jesus. It gives us not something, but someone, to point to and say that’s what God is like.
Jesus often found himself in conflict with the religious leaders of his day because he presented an image of God that they could not accept. The image of God presented by Jesus was in conflict with the commonly presented image that God was a stern judge, distant and cold in his dealings with humanity. Jesus presented God’s grace and unconditional love.
2. The way we think about others.
I’ve decided to give up something – I no longer read the comments on web pages. Do you ever read some of those? Wow, there are some people with some real issues out there! You can post a comment about loving kittens and people bring out the knives to chop you up!
As much as Jesus was criticized for the image of God he presented, he was criticized more harshly for the way he dealt with others. Jesus dealt with others by loving them, regardless of who they were. The religious leaders of the time were very exclusive, and refused to relate to many people. In contrast, Jesus embraced any and all who crossed his path.
His love and acceptance of people was scandalous to those who wanted to pick and choose who was worthy of God’s love. It is this characteristic of Jesus that remains so well known, in particularly by those who are outside of the church. While many people view the church as full of people who are judgmental, they see Jesus as one who is loving and free of judgmentalism.
Central to the ministry of Jesus was the completely radical love and acceptance of people – even enemies. We have heard the verse about loving our enemies and turning the other cheek so often that it’s easy for those words to lose their impact.
In his essay The Burden of the Gospels, Wendell Berry tells the story of Dirk Willems, a Mennonite who lived in Holland in the 16th century. In 1569 Willems was under a death sentence as a heretic and was fleeing from arrest, pursued by a "thief-catcher." As they ran across a frozen body of water, the thief-catcher broke through the ice. Without help, he would have drowned. What did Dirk Willems do then?
Was the thief-catcher an enemy merely to be hated, or was he a neighbor to be loved as one loves oneself? Was he an enemy whom one must love in order to be a child of God? Was he "one of the least of these my brethren"?
What Dirk Willems did was turn back, put out his hands to his pursuer and save his life. The thief-catcher, who then of course wanted to let his rescuer go, was forced to arrest him. Dirk Willems was brought to trial, sentenced and burned to death by a "lingering fire."
3. The Way We Think About Ourselves.
When people come to me for counseling, I always tell them a few things as we begin. One of the first things I say is that I am by no means a professional counselor. Counseling is not my gift, so I try to remember to listen as much as possible. I often find myself talking too much, and then I remind myself – Dave, be quiet and listen. I am not revealing anything about any counseling sessions, so don’t anyone worry about where I am going with this; I’m simply going to make an observation. What I observe over and over when I listen to people is this – it’s not really the circumstances that are so hard for people to overcome. People deal with a lot of difficult circumstances – heartbreaking circumstances. Those circumstances come and go, but what is difficult is what those circumstances do to the way people think about themselves. The circumstances leave a residue of defeat that can be imbedded incredibly deep in the heart. It causes people to think they will never again be successful, or loved, or happy. They hear a voice deep in their minds that convinces them they don’t deserve any blessings in their lives, and they live bound by those beliefs.
Jesus, so often in his ministry, reached out to those who needed to think differently about themselves. Zaccheus, rejected by an entire community, but embraced by Jesus, and taught that he could be someone with so much to give. The woman taken in adultery – we don’t even know her name – still shaking at the fear of being stoned to death, when Jesus reached out to her and said “where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. Imagine the power of that moment.
Some people cannot accept the gift of love and grace. Some, perhaps because of their upbringing, believe they are not worthy of the love and grace of God. A demanding and demeaning parent may have instilled the idea that God has a similar personality, and convince them that nothing they do would make them loved by God.
Paul writes in Romans 12:2 do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind – allow God to renew your mind, and thus your life, today.