At Work & Theology 101

Get Wisdom, Get Understanding—And Share It with One Another

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Albert Einstein once said, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”

So, Mr. Einstein, what’s the difference between knowing and understanding? What about wisdom?

Whatever his response would have been, the authors of the Bible speak a lot about these ideas. Interestingly, they seem to use the words “knowledge,” “understanding,” and “wisdom,” almost interchangeably. But a closer examination shows a key difference in the way the three terms are used. This difference is very important as it applies to our work and spiritual growth.

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

Those with knowledge are able to collect, remember, and access information. 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 the “what,” “how,” and “why.” Understanding is a lens that 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 (Prov. 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:

Knowledge

Understanding

Wisdom

Facts

Meaning

What to Do Next

Information

Principles

Application

Memory

Reason

Action

Scholars

Teachers

Practitioners

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 toward developing and acquiring knowledge, wisdom, and understanding in our lives. God is the only one who does not have a knowledge problem.

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 we need in order to do what God has called 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 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. With the teaching of the Holy Spirit, wisdom and understanding can also come from scripture, too.

Editor’s Note: Learn more about applying knowledge and understanding in wise decision-making every day, Be Fruitful and Multiply: Why Economics is Necessary for Making God-Pleasing Decisions.

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