In my view, Christian education in the local church is about imparting divine wisdom and knowledge in the context of rich relationships and community. I was recently reading Proverbs 4:1-13 and was struck by how much the culture we live and minister in discourages the church’s mission of passing on the heritage of godly wisdom and knowledge intact to the next generation.
Yet I think this passage gives us a lot to think about as we engage in the work of Christian education in the local church. And it’s interesting to me that many scholars think that this passage is using “father and son” language as a euphemism for teacher and student. I believe this passage has a wonderful application to the ministry of the Sunday school and other Christian education ministries in the local church.
1 Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, And give attention to know understanding; 2 For I give you good doctrine: Do not forsake my law. 3 When I was my father’s son, Tender and the only one in the sight of my mother, 4 He also taught me, and said to me: “Let your heart retain my words; Keep my commands, and live. 5 Get wisdom! Get understanding! Do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth. 6 Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you; Love her, and she will keep you. 7 Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. 8 Exalt her, and she will promote you; She will bring you honor, when you embrace her. 9 She will place on your head an ornament of grace; A crown of glory she will deliver to you.” 10 Hear, my son, and receive my sayings, And the years of your life will be many. 11 I have taught you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in right paths. 12 When you walk, your steps will not be hindered, And when you run, you will not stumble. 13 Take firm hold of instruction, do not let go; Keep her, for she is your life.
For the next several posts, I want my readers to think about two principles from this passage that need to be at the heart of our congregations’ Christian education ministries: that we need to be (1) serious and (2) intentional about imparting divine wisdom and knowledge in the context of the church’s educational ministry.
Being Serious about Wisdom and Knowledge
In Proverbs 4, the author is telling us to seek wisdom and knowledge diligently with our minds, to treasure it deeply with our hearts, and to live it out vibrantly in our lives.
This is talking about getting to know God, and what he values, and how his kingdom rule extends over our world. When we apply our minds to this task, it will transform our hearts and change the way we live.
All throughout the Proverbs, divine knowledge and wisdom are seen not just as knowable facts that are separated from human experience. We see this dynamic in verse 1: The “father’s instruction” is all about teaching. And teaching and learning is about knowledge—things we learn with our minds. But the word implies loving direction, even correction or chastisement. It’s not just a lecturer giving out facts. It’s the image of a father who cares deeply about how this knowledge lodges itself in his children.
But then, in that same verse, the father tells his sons to “know understanding.” This is talking about knowledge—the intellectual dimension of our lives. It’s talking about what we perceive with our minds.
The most recurrent theme in Proverbs, as it is in this passage, is that wisdom and knowledge are intricately intertwined. Knowledge without wisdom can be reduced to bare facts that have no impact on how we feel or how we live our lives moment-by-moment.
But wisdom is never divorced from knowledge. Wisdom—for each of us at various levels and in different ways of understanding—must be wed with knowledge. That’s why, as John Stott reminds us in his wonderful little book: Your Mind Matters.
We’ve got to strive to engage in the discipleship of the mind, especially in this complex age we live in. We must let people know—believers and non-believers alike—that we do not check our minds at the door when we enter the church. Yet we’ve got to keep reminding ourselves that discipleship of the mind is a spiritual discipline that radically affects our heart and our behavior.
I agree with Stott! We need more knowledge. We’ve been very successful in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century at forging a “Christianity-lite” that’s very satisfied not to go deep, not to engage in the intellectual side of spiritual disciplines, not to engage in the discipleship of the mind. Yet as Stott, and the Apostle Paul, reminded us over and over again, if we don’t attend to the mind on a deeper level, we will deprive future generations of the ability to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, and churches will ultimately fail in their mission to perpetuate the gospel.
I’m worried about the over-emphasis in our culture on experience at the expense of deep, hard thinking about the things of God. If we’re going to sustain the faith in all its enduring wonder and vibrancy into the next generation, then we must produce a generation of thinking Christians, steeped in ancient Christian wisdom.