The wiser a man becomes, the more ignorant he knows himself to be. All of us come to a certain point in life–usually when we are younger–when we feel that all wisdom is ours and there is just nothing more to learn. Then we turn a corner and discover that our store of knowledge is just a little puddle on the shore, and that a vast and deep ocean lies before us. It’s good for us to remember the simple statement that the apostle Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 13: “For we know in part.” There is a blessing in not knowing it all!
“For we know in part.” Paul makes that statement in his famous poem on love. He wrote to a group of people who boasted in their knowledge. Unfortunately, they didn’t have love; and so they used their knowledge to tear down and not to build up. “Knowledge puffs up,” Paul warned them, “but love builds up.” Then he reminded them that they really didn’t know as much as they thought they knew: “For we know in part.”
When you and I realize the truth of this statement, it will bring some very practical benefits to our lives. For one thing, it will keep us humble; and humility is an important factor in a happy, holy life. All of us know people who never admit their ignorance. For some reason, they think they have to know everything and be able to explain every puzzle of life or solve every problem. Well, I feel sorry for them; because the Bible says, “We know in part.” I don’t have to act like God. I don’t have to explain the mysteries of the universe or untangle the troubles of the world. There are questions I can’t answer and there are mysteries I can’t explain, because I know in part.
Now, this doesn’t mean that we should close our minds and stop learning. Quite the opposite is true. There are many things God hasn’t revealed to us, but there are many more things that He has revealed, and we should delve into these things and learn all we can. But it does us good while we study to pause and remind ourselves that we know in part.
Knowledge mixed with pride leads to tyranny and persecution, but knowledge mixed with humility generates a wonderful power for good. The fact that we know in part ought to make us easier to live with. It ought to deliver us from useless arguments about minor matters. It ought to mellow our convictions so that we can disagree without being disagreeable.
You see, the person who admits his ignorance is the one who ends up learning the most. It was Paul’s pride of learning that kept him ignorant of God’s simple plan of salvation. God literally had to knock Paul down–He had to humble him–before He could teach Paul the truth. And then, after Paul had experienced so many wonderful blessings, including being taken to the third heaven, God had to give Paul a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble. Humility is the secret of wisdom, and humility comes when you and I realize that we know in part.
There is a second result: the blessing of kindness toward others. The next time you are tempted to judge someone severely, remember what Paul wrote: “For we know in part.”
As a pastor, I have had to be reminded of this often. More than once I have wrongfully passed judgment on another Christian with out really knowing all the facts; and, I must confess, more than once I have had to confess it to God and to those involved. How quick we are to judge! We know perfectly well that “man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart”; yet we jump to conclusions and pass judgment anyway. We know that Jesus warned us, “Judge not that ye not be judged,” but we go ahead and announce the verdict.
You and I don’t really know what goes on in the heart of the other person. Perhaps if we know his burdens at home–or his problems at work–or the physical pain he has to bear–I’m sure we would be more charitable and less critical. I recall with shame an experience I had in one of the churches I pastored. One of our Sunday school teachers was not at all faithful to the services of the church, although he was always present to teach his class. I said something severe about him to our superintendent, and he wisely replied: “Pastor, you’ve been here only a short time. You haven’t had opportunity to visit in his home. Make a visit, then pass judgment.”
Well, I made a visit, and my heart was broken. That man had an invalid child at home–a case so pitiful it would break your heart. Now, instead of criticizing that man, I admire him as one of the best Christians I know. I was able to love him and accept him and work with him because I better understood the burdens that he bore. The French have a proverb, “If we knew all, we would forgive all.” That may not be totally true; but it does remind us to be slow to judge, because we know in part.
The blessing of humility–the blessing of kindness toward others: here are two practical benefits from admitting that we don’t know it all. But there is a third benefit, one that has helped me over many a rugged road in life, and it’s this: when you realize that you know in part, you are better able to accept the burdens and disappointments of life.
Romans 8:28 doesn’t say, “And we see all things working together for good.” No, it says, “And we know that all things are working together for good”–we know it whether we see it or not!
Many a person has wrecked his life on the rocks of disappointment, only to discover later that those same rocks could have been used as stepping-stones to greater things. Perhaps life has taken a turn for the worse for you, and you’re wondering if God really cares. As you look the situation over, it seems pretty impossible, and maybe you’re ready to call it quits. My friend, listen to me: we know in part. You don’t see the whole picture now, and you may not see it a week from now or a year from now. But God sees it. And if you could only see the total picture as He sees it, you would shout for joy instead of weeping in sorrow.
“We know in part;” and because we do, we’re not going to give up when life becomes difficult. Like Job, we will say, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” We will join with Paul and shout, “All things are working together for good!” With the choirs of heaven, we will sing: “Hallelujah–for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!”
Someone has compared life to a medical prescription. The pharmacist mixes the ingredients and produces the medicine that will help you get well. If you took those ingredients separately, or if you changed the proportions, you might do irreparable damage, or even cause death. God knows how to mix the ingredients of life. We know in part, but God knows fully and completely. And one day, when we see Jesus Christ, God will show us the whole picture. Then we’ll understand the meaning of the so-called tragedies of life.
Quite frankly, I’m glad that we know in part. I’m not so sure I want to know what lies at the next bend in the road. God knows the future, and that is security enough for me. God does not have to give me reasons or explanations or previews, because He has already given me promises; and His promises cover every problem of life. Jesus said to Peter, “What I do, thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.” Today, we know in part; but the day will come when we will know even as we are known–and I’m willing to wait. Never doubt in the darkness what God has told you in the light. Rest on His promises, and all will be well.
Copyright, Warren W. Wiersbe
This material originally appeared in Songs in the Night.
Not to be reproduced or copied without permission of 2ProphetU.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).