The Knowledge - Understanding - Wisdom Dynamic
The world is enamored of knowledge, too often pursuing it for its own sake. Knowledge, however, is only the beginning. Pursuing its understanding and wisdom is needed to complete the process and bring confidence to our application. Understanding how to view the relationships between knowledge, understanding, and wisdom is a good starting point.
The Classic View
Here, we see a vertical relationship in which we ascend from basic knowledge, passing through understanding on our journey to the highest level, wisdom. We understand this view as a linear progression, one where we begin with information which matures into understanding of the information, which in turn matures into wisdom.
Isaiah 11:2 tells us that Knowledge, Understanding, and Wisdom are among the seven spirits of God. For many years, I viewed the relationship between these three spirits as a ladder with knowledge on the bottom (foundation), understanding in the middle (information maturing), and wisdom at the top (the result of highest forms of processing, revelation, and counsel).
There is nothing wrong with this view. I believe it is accurate as far as it goes. It correctly depicts the pursuit of the maturing of knowledge. I say pursuit because it doesn’t just happen organically. One must desire to uncover the understanding and wisdom of a matter, which will require diligence in investigation, testing, and proving. That is all good, and often these activities are the engines of revelation. God doesn’t (usually) just drop an apple of revelation into our lap. We must tend the orchard, place the ladder, and climb it before we can reach to pick the apple. To shift metaphors, we must do the work of building a pathway to the gateway before we can actually step through the gateway and into revelation.
We like the linear progression view in part, I think, because it fits our way of thinking. There is a rationality to the progression. There is a foundation, an intermediate waypoint, and then the zenith. It makes perfect sense.
So, it’s all good. But I think there is also another way of viewing the relationships between these three spirits which also makes perfect sense.
A Different View
Isiah 11:2 lists seven spirits of the LORD: The Spirit of the LORD, wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and the Fear of the LORD, in that order. I am not sure that the sequencing here carries any great meaning, but I am also not sure it doesn’t. It is interesting, however, that the spirits of wisdom and understanding are placed side by side as this portends how they are often observed. We see the two operating in concert with each other throughout scripture, and it is clear there is a special relationship between them (see 1 Kings 4:29, 7:14; Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 2:1-2, 6, 10:13, 16:16, 23:23; Colossians 1:9; James 3:13, etc.). Wisdom and Understanding operate as a pair, not remote from Knowledge but in closer relationship. Where does this leave Knowledge?
In one sense, the relationship shared by Wisdom and Understanding elevates Knowledge. In this different view, wisdom and understanding function as an arc, combining their characteristics and functions to result in perfected understanding which is multiplied in force when deployed as wisdom. When this occurs, we don’t just have the kernel of knowledge that is the starting point of the progression, we possess the full knowledge of its matured understanding, wisdom, the discernment these bring to us, and their power of action.
Having this kind of knowledge is a game changer for us as we walk out our daily lives. It strengthens our faith and belief, and allows us to function with great confidence. I think the analogy for us to keep in mind is Christ. How could he do the things he did? How could he calm the seas, raise the dead, turn water to wine, and feed five thousand with mere morsels? Yes, he is God, but he was operating as a human when he did these things. He had the advantage, however, of a heavenly perspective. He had already seen these things there and knew they were real. He could bring them into earth’s reality because he had knowledge of their heavenly reality (John 5:19). He had confidence because he knew, and he knew that he knew.
I think both views are correct. The first describes our pursuit of wisdom, the second describes our stewardship of its possession. It is good to pursue wisdom through the exercise of maturing knowledge by searching, testing, discerning, and proving. Doing this is part of our job description as believers because it stands us on solid ground (Proverbs 25:2). The result is confidence in our conviction. Like Christ, we know, and we know that we know. Walking through life with this knowledge and understanding of wisdom empowers us to walk boldly. It allows us to speak truth when it is not popular, to make right decisions when they run against the current, to reject temptations, to endure and persevere when required, and to do all this with confidence.
Possessing knowledge of the understanding and wisdom of a matter is far greater than the initial kernel of knowledge that set us on our journey of exploration, examination, and testing. We now know fully and knowing that, we walk in greater truth and strength.