Knowledge

Chapter 9

“Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge” Proverbs 1:7 (NLT)

Introduction

The Oxford English Dictionary defines knowledge as:

  • expertise, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the
    theoretical or practical understanding of a subject,
  • what is known in a particular field or in total; facts and information or
  • awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation.

From this we can see that there are two kinds of knowledge. There is knowledge that and then there is knowledge how. When doing mathematics, one will know that 2 + 2 = 4. However, you have to know how to add numbers in order to do mathematics.

In this session, we will concentrate on the first kind of knowledge – the “knowledge that” kind. We define how to use that knowledge – the “knowledge how” kind, as wisdom, and will deal with that in the next session.

Returning to the first kind, the famous Greek philosopher, Plato, stated that for a statement to be classified as knowledge, it must be believed, true, and justified. If Simon
makes the statement “We can cross the bridge with a ten ton truck,” it can be assessed as follows: Simon believes (subjective) it to be accurate as it seems to be a sturdy bridge. He also knows from external information that the statement is true (objective) as he has seen an engineer’s report at the entrance to the bridge stating that the maximum weight the bridge can take at a time is 100 tons. Finally, he justifies his statement by reasoning that since there is only the one ten ton truck about to cross the bridge, it is less than the 100 ton maximum and therefore the bridge should be able to support the truck.

It is easy to discern that the above definition is not absolute as there are too many factors which Simon may not be aware of. The engineer’s report may date back fifty years and
the structural damage caused by an earthquake twenty years ago may have a disastrous effect on the crossing.

Philosophy recognises these shortcomings, and hence philosophers are comfortable to accept the fact that they may never get to an absolutely true and accurate definition of
knowledge. Yet, the Bible does not shy away from the concept of knowledge. It deals with knowledge over a hundred and fifty times, starting right at the beginning with the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

The author of Proverbs unequivocally states that the “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7 – NLT). In Job we read of God as “Him who is perfect in knowledge” (Job 37:16 – ESV). Paul writes to the Colossians that “in him (Christ) lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3) and John says that God “knows everything” (1 John 3:20).

Imitators of God

As with our discussions on character, we will again look at our ultimate example, God, who
has perfect knowledge and whom we are called by Paul to imitate (Ephesians 5:1).

Wayne Grudem defines God’s knowledge as follows: God fully knows himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act.

This definition highlights several aspects of God’s knowledge that we may imitate. These are that God knows (1) himself, (2) all things actual, (3) all things possible, (4) and He has complete knowledge, that is, He is always fully aware of everything.

We will study each of these aspects of God’s knowledge individually and see how this can be applied to business.

Self-knowledge

Paul deals with God’s self-knowledge best when he writes to the Corinthians But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:10-11 – NLT) The implication in business is that we have to know our own capabilities. Unlike God, we are not omniscient and omnipotent, but are individuals with differing skills, talents, and interests. There is a beautiful Afrikaans saying, Skoenmaker, hou jou by
jou lees
, meaning that you should not attempt to do things that you are not qualified or able to do. When assessing your role in your business or in your employment situation, consider what your natural, God-given strengths are. Consider whether you use these strengths to the best of your ability and as effectively as possible. However, you should not stop there. You should also consider your weaknesses. However, instead of getting depressed about your inadequacies, rather identify these, and do something about it. One of the biggest factors contributing to business failure is lack of administration in a
business. Incidentally, this is also one of the skills that is most lacking in the typical entrepreneur. Therefore, if you do not have a particular skill, for example administration, do not use it as an excuse or to justify why the business is not taking off. Find help and get someone to help you fill the gap. Not every person can do everything, but every person should know almost all there is to know about himself. Use this knowledge wisely.

Knowledge about all things actual

God knows all the tiny details of our lives. He knows every need of ours, even before we ask him (Matthew 6:8) and he has numbered all the hairs on every head ever made
(Matthew 10:30). Lack of detailed knowledge is another aspect that causes many business failures. God charges Israel in Hosea 4:5-6 “You stumble day and night, and the prophets stumble with you … my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you as my priests …” Even though God is talking about the law in this passage, the principle is equally relevant to the manager of a business. There are many areas in business that we have to be masters in. Some of these will
include our products and systems, we need to know what the competition is doing, the state of suppliers, the welfare and satisfaction levels of customers, what is happening with staff morale. In addition to this we need to know how the business is doing financially – what the profit levels are, cash flow, and whether you are on target against budget. Finally, it is imperative to have adequate knowledge about the law in the area in which you operate as well as industrial regulations. A comprehensive list of things that a business manager should know is outside the scope of this study. However, it will be time well spent to sit down and make a list of what you should know about in your business. This, together with the knowledge you obtained about yourself, will enable you to identify what you can do, and where you need to find help. However, make sure that all areas are addressed.

Knowledge about all things possible

There are some instances in Scripture where God gives details about a possible event that does not end up happening. One example is the story of David in 1 Samuel 23:11-13 when he was hiding from Saul in the city of Keilah. David first asked God whether Saul will come looking for him in the city and God answered in the affirmative. David then asked whether the men of the city will hand him over to Saul, and again God answered in the affirmative. In the end, David left the city, and none of these events came to pass. This does not mean that God did not know what was to happen in the future, but rather that God knew what the possibilities were and how individual decisions would work out. God is a master scenario planner. In business planning, it is imperative that one analyse events and circumstances, evaluate possible future events and the scenarios that may play out and put contingency plans in place – and, please, planning is not an “unspiritual” activity. The greatest story on earth is called the “salvation plan” God had for His people. God is a God of order, and so we should be. The old saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” will
always remain true.

Complete knowledge

God knows everything in one simple act and is always fully aware of everything. If He wishes to tell us the number of grains of sand in the world or the number of stars in the sky, He would not have to embark on a project to determine the required information. These and all the other things that He knows are always fully present in His consciousness. The business world has given the human equivalent the name “business intelligence” and it refers to all the essential indicators in respect of the activities of a business. The crucial component is that you should have this information available at your fingertips, and you have to be able to see how the information pertaining to the different areas of your business interrelate. For a business that sells product, an example of some of the important indicators would be information pertaining to gross profit percentages per line item and in total. It would also include information about cash flow, including
outstanding debtors. When combining information in these two different areas, you can see which customers pay the best for product that achieves the best gross profit percentage. On the other side of the coin, you may find that the customer you perceived as your most valuable asset, may turn out to be the one who buys only product on which you make very small profits, or even losses! Of course, it will take some serious thinking to determine what information you need about which areas in your business. However, this is worth the effort and it may surprise you to see how the different areas of your business really interrelate. Be warned – one of the biggest mistakes many small business-owners
make, is to think that the business is too small to warrant any kind of systematic analysis of information. The need to do this will always be there – it is just the effort to compile and analyze the information that will differ according to the size of the business concern.

Conclusion

There are four aspects to God’s perfect knowledge:

  • He knows Himself completely. Even though He has no strengths and weaknesses, we do, and should know what they are. Focus on the strong areas, and get help in the weak areas;
  • He knows all things actual. We cannot hope to know everything there is to know about all the aspects of our businesses, but we must try. The knowledge can
    then, through wisdom, i.e. the use of knowledge, be turned into value;
  • He knows all things potential. Even God does planning. He planned the salvation of the world since the time of the fall. If God plans, so should we.
  • God has complete knowledge of everything. This implies that he understands the
    interrelationship of information across all areas in the world. If we emulate this, we will be able to take appropriate action because we are fully informed.

Finally, we should never forget that a “word of knowledge” is a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians
12:8), and that God may intervene by providing knowledge in a supernatural way. We just need to be open to receive the word from God.

Further reading

Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem, 1994, Zondervan;

Individual study

  • List your personal strengths and weaknesses. Examples would include visionary thinker, being a go-getter, administrative skills, good or bad at personal time management, good or bad delegator, and so forth. There are no right or wrong answers. Spend time with someone close to you to discuss this honestly. Then identify which skills you use best in your business, and where your weaknesses are dragging your business down. For the weaknesses, think of a way in which you can find help to address these.
  • List the areas in your business where you need regular and accurate information. Examples would include those listed in the notes above, but remember that the notes are not exhaustive and every business is different. No two businesses will
    be the same, even if they are in the same industry.
  • Think of the areas where your business is at risk. One aspect of risk management is to identify areas that are not under your direct control. You will then think
    through the various possibilities, and plan accordingly. For example, if you import raw materials, you are subject to exchange rate variations. You may decide to take forward cover, or to reduce your exposure. List the areas of your business where you have exposure. Then decide on what can be done to minimise risk.
  • Think of all the information listed in question 2. Determine the interrelationships between the various individual areas are, and evaluate how you can use this
    information to focus your efforts on the most important areas.

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Christian business principles, based on Biblical Truth