While studying philosophy at the University of North Dakota, I was introduced to the writings of Chinese philosopher Laozi (also pronounced Lao Tzu (604-531 BC). In one of his books, he made a statement that was very revealing. There are many variations of how the Chinese text was translated into English. For instance, one translator rendered it, “In the pursuit of knowledge, everyday something is added. In the practice of the Tao, everyday something is dropped.”1 But I also like the more precise translation that goes, “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.”
This is another way of encouraging anyone to learn something new every day to broaden their boundaries of knowledge. But to be wise, you must be open to the idea that whatever you knew about some concept may not be accurate, or you have the opportunity to add new facts to what you already know. In doing so, you remove what you knew to make room for what you now know that will change your viewpoint or expertise. In other words, our capacity to retain knowledge is limited, so out with the old and in with the new.
It has been said that knowledge is the accumulation of facts and experiences. Wisdom is knowing what to do with knowledge and the skill of applying it to make good choices. So in a way, knowledge is the accumulation of information learned through education or experience. On the other hand, wisdom is knowing how to apply your knowledge for the benefit of others.
Years ago it was reported in “The Independent,” a newspaper in England, that a journalist name Miles Kington was heard to say, “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing you don’t put a tomato in a fruit salad.” So the more you learn is of little value unless you also learn how to use it for what’s good. This led me to make up my own quote, “Knowledge is knowing the right thing to do; wisdom is knowing why it’s the right thing to do, and do it.”
King Solomon was the epitome of knowledge and wisdom. In his Book of Proverbs, he makes several statements on this subject. For instance, in one place he says: “[Knowledge] starts with God – the first step in learning, is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.”2 If someone ever asks you why you study the Bible or go to God for wisdom, just tell them that God is omniscient. If they aren’t sure they know what that means, just say to them, “He knows everything.”
When Jesus was asked, as a young lad talking to some elders on the Temple grounds in Jerusalem, where did He get such wisdom, He told them, “What I teach is not mine, but belongs to Him that sent me.”3 The Apostle Paul explained that Jesus “…has become to us Wisdom from God.”4 So as a Christian, you may know the Bible by heart and have memorized all 1189 chapters, but if you don’t know how to put it into action and why it is important to not only “do” but “be” what the Scriptures say about a child of God, then you may be rich in knowledge, but you are poor in wisdom. – Dr. Robert R Seyda
1 Tao Te Ching by Stephen Mitchell, Harper Perennial – Modern Classics, New York, 1988, Ch. 48
2 Proverbs 1:7 – The Message – a modern version of the Bible
3 John 7:16
4 1 Corinthians 1:30