Original Posting At https://jacobjuncker.wordpress.com/2018/09/01/the-beginning-of-knowledge/
These thoughts were offered at Franklin United Methodist Church on Sunday, August 26, 2018. This message was based upon a reading from Proverbs 1:7-19. This is message is part of a Back to School series based upon the first chapter of Proverbs.
I have developed a handout to accompany this teaching and, hopefully, further the discussion in your home or small group. You can download it here.
I proudly display it in my office. In Franklin, approximately 96% of people enrolled will get one. Approximately 9 out of 10 adults have already gotten one. To say that receiving a high school diploma is common is an understatement; and, yet, I proudly hang mine on the wall of my office. I think it would have made my grandfather proud.
My grandfather made it to middle school, but never completed it. In his adult life, he was a successful business owner with his brothers, but he never received much by way of a formal education. Nevertheless, it was important for him to make sure that his children were given more educational opportunities. All of his children—my father, his brother and sisters—completed high school. All of their children—me, my sister, and my cousins –completed college with a bachelor’s degree. Each successive generation on my father’s side has attained higher levels of academic achievement than the one before it; so, I hang my diploma in my office as a reminder of how far my family has come in just three generations. Nearly every adult in the United States has one, but my grandfather did not.
The importance of getting an education was instilled into me. Its value, I was taught, was in its ability to open doors to higher levels of status and opportunity. A good education could lead, I was a told, to a good paying job wherever I wanted to live. Learning and educational attainment were directly linked with economic and social prosperity—even though my grandfather was a living example of that idea’s antithesis.
What’s the value of education? Why is it so important (or not)?
Proverbs argues—and it is a proper challenge, I think, in our time—that knowledge is beneficial and important insofar as it is rooted in love and service to God.
The beginning of knowledge, claims Proverbs, is fear of the Lord. No doubt that word, fear, may raise some concern. To what extent should we fear God? Is God scary? What does it mean to fear God?
Deuteronomy 10:12-13 (New Revised Standard Version, Emphasis added) are helpful in understanding what is meant by “fear.”
What does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees…for your own well-being.
Fear of the Lord isn’t about being scared, rather it’s about humble obedience to God. Psalm 34:7-14 describes the way the relationship works:
On the divine side, the Lord protects and provides for those who fear God (vv.7-9). On the human side, those who fear God pursue moral good and shun evil (vv.13-14). This in turn produces enjoyment of life (v.12). In sum, the fear of [the Lord] is not just worship…but religion in the comprehensive sense of life in its entirety devoted to God’s service. Here, all human activities are undertaken in light of God’s presence and purposes in the world (see Psalm 90; 139; Matt 28:16-20).
Our learning and our doing—all of life—is meant to move us and the world into closer relationship with God and one another.
The beginning of knowledge is found in relating, loving and serving God; and, the consummation of knowledge, is God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
Please do not misunderstand what I—and what I think Proverbs is advocating for. This is not a diminishing of the pursuit of knowledge. It is a recognition that the most important thing one should know is that they are loved by God and called to love others.
Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa, described theology—the knowledge of God—as the “queen of the sciences.” What I think I he may have meant by that is that it is in knowing God that we are inspired to know and understand God’s creation. Our pursuit of the knowledge of God should drive us to understand mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, astronomy, and all other fields of study.
The most important thing you should know is that you are loved by God and God has called you to love.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Learning who God is and how God loves us leads us into humble service—it initiates a life-long quest to know God and God’s love for the world.
The lingering, rhetorical question for us this morning is: how will we use the knowledge we’ve acquired (and the knowledge we have yet to acquire) to help ourselves and others understand God’s love and God’s call to love? How will you use the knowledge you have yet to learn (and the knowledge you have already learned) to help others understand the height and width, the depth and breadth of God’s love for them and the world?
Until all know what is most important—the love of God and the call to love—wisdom will continue to cry out, begging to be heard (which is where we will pick up in Proverbs 1 next week).
 Raymond C. Van Leeuwen, commentary on Proverbs 1:7 in The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997), vol. V, p33.