[With thanks to Charles McLean for his post found here.]
As previously discussed, both 1 Cor. 13:8-14 and Eph. 4:11-14 promise the mature Christian a personal knowledge of Jesus–to know “face to face” or to have the “knowledge of the Son of God … attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” What does this mean?
First, this clearly is not referring to book knowledge. Non-Christians can read the Gospels, too. This is a knowledge only available to the mature Christian. Therefore, it’s unavailable to those outside of Christ.
Second, it’s a knowledge given by the Spirit. 1 Cor. 13 speaks of gifts of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge, in each case a gift that imparts divine revelation. We may never know the exact natures and differences among these gifts, but this much seems clear.
Indeed, it’s hard to imagine that in Ephesians 4 Paul wasn’t referring back to this marvelous passage–
(Eph. 3:16-19) I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
The prayed-for gift is to be received “with power through his Spirit in your inner being”–not by reading the Bible or attending a school of preaching or a Bible college. This knowledge comes straight from God. This knowledge is Christ dwelling in our hearts. Moreover, it’s coming to grasp the unimaginable breadth of Christ’s love.
This promise is closely paralleled by Hebrews 8, quoting Jeremiah’s remarkable prophecy–
(Heb. 8:10-12) “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 11 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
This promised knowledge is written on our hearts directly by God, rather than by our efforts are reading God’s word. The Israelites had God’s word, read it diligently, and yet “God found fault with the people” (v. 8). Human effort is just not good enough.
This is not to deny the role of the Bible in attuning our hearts and minds to receive this knowledge. Obviously, we wouldn’t even know to pray for such knowledge but for the written word. But the word is not itself sufficient.
Third, this is not doctrine–not in the sense of rules and regulations. The knowledge of Jesus we are promised is not merely knowing how to worship or ordain an elder. Again, we would hardly need divine help to read a set of bylaws! We can’t reduce Jesus to a rulebook.
No, it’s understanding Jesus’ love and his character. As I’ve argued elsewhere, you cannot truly understand what’s been written until you understand the author. As we better understand the Christ’s heart of compassion, we understand what’s been written all the better–and so understand Christ that much better–in an unending, resonating process, sustained by the Holy Spirit.
To adapt apostle’s analogy, it’s the difference between a picture of your blind date and meeting your blind date. The picture tells you enough to want to experience the real thing. It’s alluring and promising. But what kind of man would find it sufficient? And no one marries a picture.
Just so, the Bible vividly paints a picture of Jesus, but it’s still just a picture. True relationship only comes about when we experience Jesus–not necessarily in visions but nonetheless experientially. We know just a little of Jesus when we are saved, and over time, we learn much more.
The Bible tells us much of this, but we can’t really grasp it until we experience it. In just the last few years, it’s been as though the Gospels were completely rewritten for me, because what I read now is vastly different from what I used to read! My knowledge of Jesus has completely re-wired by eyes so that I see things much differently and more truly.
But my knowledge of Jesus is hardly limited to scripture. Jesus reveals himself through his creation as well as other Christians. I see him in the poor and needy and in the flow of history. He who sustains all things is in all things for those who have spiritual eyes.
This is one reason it just drives me NUTS when people complain about Christians testifying or bearing witness to Jesus, insisting that we haven’t seen Jesus ourselves. How very, very sad to be part of Jesus’ body, to be encompassed within the bride of Christ, and to have never met Jesus!
Yes, Christians can testify and bear witness because we’ve seen the mighty works of Jesus in our lives and in the lives of our Christian friends. We point telescopes to the sky and see Jesus building galaxies just for fun. We build gigantic atom smashers and see Jesus building atoms out of waves and fields–every subatomic particle obeying strict laws of nature just because Jesus wishes it. And we see Jesus melting and changing hearts across the world. Oh, yes, we can testify!
Finally, the passages tell us how this kind of knowledge is gained. Eph. 3 teaches us to pray for such knowledge (for ourselves and for others). Indeed, prayer is one place where we draw particularly close to Jesus because prayer is where we are often the most honest about ourselves–making ourselves open to his presence.
Eph. 4 teaches us to start with works of service and then to move toward unity in faith in Jesus. In other words, serve others and participate in and build Christian community.
1 Cor. 13, of course, is all about love, and this is surely the path to knowledge of Jesus. But love is not just a warm fuzzy feeling. Love must be realized in action–those “works of service.” You see, you come closest to Jesus as you serve people who need Jesus. As you become Jesus to a lost and hurting world, Jesus will be in you. How could it be otherwise?
“We are destined to a place in Christ where we know the Father, not by intermediate means, but personally, spirit-to-spirit. Understanding the Father by the revelation given to others is only a step toward our destiny, not an end in and of itself. Do not become enamored with the partial when the fullness is yet to be revealed.” — Charles McLean