By Ps Lee Kok Wah
This weekend we resume our sermon series on The Book of Revelation: Last Things First, after an eight-week hiatus. In tandem with our pulpit ministry, most CARE Groups will be studying Rev. 12-16 this month.
Revelation begins with “The revelation from Jesus Christ…” (Rev. 1:1, NIV). The purpose of this book is to lead us to an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ – an encounter that empowers us to follow Him on the journey of spiritual formation towards maturity.
The Apostle Paul, while mentoring Timothy, wrote to the latter: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16, NIV). The NASB translates “watch your life” as “pay close attention to yourself.” Beyond getting all his theology and teaching in order, Timothy was challenged by Paul at the level of personal character: “Know yourself, Timothy!”
Good sermons and Bible studies are important sources of spiritual food for the Christian, but just as the Apostle Paul had reminded Timothy, we are reminded that there is more to spiritual formation than knowing the right doctrine. There was an understanding amongst godly people over the centuries that true knowledge in the life of faith is always a “double knowledge.” In other words, the knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves are inextricably linked together in our journey towards spiritual maturity. Consider some of their thoughts on this subject.
Augustine (354-430): “Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know Thee.”
Julian of Norwich (1342-1416): “For our soul is so deeply grounded in God and so endlessly treasured that we cannot come to knowledge of it, until we first have knowledge of God, who is the Creator to whom it is united…And all of this notwithstanding, we can never come to the full knowledge of God until we first clearly know our own soul.”
John Calvin (1509-1564): “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves… The knowledge of God and the knowledge of self are bound by a mutual tie.”
When we fail to appreciate the interrelationship between knowledge of God and knowledge of self, our spiritual growth is stunted. Some Christians have mistakenly equated Christian maturity with a self-actualizing journey that ignores God’s ongoing work in their daily lives. Others have reduced “growing up in Christ” into an intellectual pursuit that equates Bible knowledge with genuine sanctification. The shallowness of spiritual formation in some may be due, in part, to their knowing many right answers yet failing to integrate those answers into the reality of their daily lives. Somewhere along the way, many Christians are either unaware of this notion of a “double knowledge” dynamic in the Christian life or have chosen to ignore it.
When it comes to our hearts, we must, as the Apostle Paul put it, pay attention. This sort of attention must be given in combination with an increasing attention to God. In many instances, we can become stuck in our spiritual formation not because we are ignorant of Scripture but because we are ignorant of our own hearts. To correct this, we must pay attention to our life stories and notice how God’s already-present action is shaping us. We must begin to grow into the questions of our life. The biblical answers that we already know cognitively must be personalized and lived out in our own journey. This will take on a shape particular to each life story and life stage. One size does not fit all.
In our work of disciple-making, we need to afford opportunities for those we are helping to “grow into their own questions of life” in the light of a growing knowledge of God’s character and work. To do so, we need to resist the impulse to give answers. We may meet a deeper need by offering a consistent presence, with patient listening, to help others pay attention to their hearts. The life of faith in Jesus Christ always involves a double knowledge.