How Humility Tempers Knowledge

Happy to share this post on Bethany McIlrath’s blog today!  Visit her directory for more posts on idolizing knowledge.

I am a recovering know-it-all.

It didn’t help to grow up in an environment where knowledge was valued at a premium. Good grades were a must, as was the ability to speak with intelligence on just about every subject.

That’s really hard to pull off when you’re young and still learning.

But I wanted to please, so I tried.

And failed.

In high school and college, I took part in conversations that were over my head.  I didn’t really have anything to contribute, but I wanted to appear smart.  So I’d fake it, scraping bits and pieces of loose knowledge together to offer a seemingly intelligent response.  Yet I secretly feared someone would call my bluff and see through my desperate attempt to cling to my know-it-all mask.

What a fruitless pursuit.

I didn’t gain closeness with the smart kids, the fellow know-it-alls puffed up in their own knowledge, wanting only to prove themselves.  I sought acceptance and intimacy, impossible to find in a contest of the minds where opponents seek to dominate.

This pursuit continued until I was in my thirties.  The cost was steep.  My puffed-up knowledge created awkward situations and turned people away.  Some people told me I was intimidating.  I hated that label.  That’s not how I saw myself.  But as my faith life became more alive and personal, I sought to change it.

I studied the scriptures.  Jesus knew EVERYTHING, yet he was so humble, washing his disciples’ feet on the very night they would all desert him.  He intentionally subverted his knowledge to interact with regular human beings like me.  If Jesus humbled himself, surely I could do the same.

I reflected on my education and work experience.  I was in the gifted program in high school and graduated with high honors.  Disillusion came crashing down on me as a college graduate.  Instead of creating art and writing poetry, I answered phones and sorted mail for a dollar over minimum wage.  Again and again my work experience stood in high contrast to my education and my expectations.

As I reflected on those times, I realized God had used my trials to humble me.  I no longer saw myself as fully capable of answering every question and solving every problem.  He humbled me through work, and that was good for me.

I reflected on my childhood.  The person who overvalued knowledge probably regretted not pursuing higher education, and unintentionally cultivated toxic seeds.  I think they struggle deep inside with a lack of self-worth and cover it over with layers and layers of knowledge.  I didn’t notice that as a child.  I have compassion now I see that truth.  I also see how a lack of humility has cost this person many relationships.  I don’t want to bear that cost in my own life.

Recently I took a spiritual gifts inventory, similar to the test I took 20 years ago.  In both tests, knowledge was in my top three strengths.  Knowledge is a gift God gives me.  It belongs to him, and he is trusting me to use knowledge for his glory.  He wants me to draw people to him with knowledge, not push them away.

The only way I can draw people to God with knowledge is to temper it with humility.  Knowledge is strong and powerful.  It will overwhelm people, like a too-bright beam of sunlight on my houseplants.  If I filter the light by tilting the blinds of humility, knowledge promotes health and growth.

I like this verse in 1 Peter 5:6 (NLT):

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.

I’m no longer on a quest to puff myself up with knowledge.  I have hope that God can teach me a new way to use what I’ve learned.  He’s gifted me with knowledge, but he’s also granted me humility.  I am hoping God will continue to soften my heart with humility and temper my knowledge with wisdom.

Now I’m pursuing humility with a passion, trusting that God will lift me up in honor as he so chooses.  I want to be rewarded more for humility than knowledge, placing a premium on what God values most.

Questions for reflection:

In what ways do you struggle with puffed-up knowledge?

How can following Jesus’ example of humility breathe life into your relationships?


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19 thoughts on “How Humility Tempers Knowledge

  1. Sarah, I participated in this series as well. Wonderful post as you point us to stay humble, knowing any knowledge we obtain is from God alone. Blessings!

    1. Hi Joanne, I saw your post too, and it’s great! Such a good topic for a directory. Blessings to you too!

  2. Loved this, Sarah! Thanks for participating : ) For different reasons I also thought knowledge was at a premium and took part in many conversations and activities where I secretly feared someone would call my bluff. And then, despite higher education and leadership opportunities, the Lord led me to humble positions too. So much you share here resonates with me- I love how you describe humility as the blinds filtering in the light of knowledge. What a fantastic illustration. Thanks again!

    1. Bethany, I’m so grateful to link up with you! Lots of good stuff on the directory. Blessings to you, friend!

  3. This speaks loudly of those of us willing to do and be so much more or less than we truly are just to fit in. I did not use knowledge, although I am somewhat smart. I used other modes to fit in and be accepted. I am still learning at 69! God knows just what I need and when. He disciplines and loves me all the same. Thank you for a beautiful post.

    1. Thanks for your visit today, Linda. We all have different ways of trying to fit in. I am still learning too!

  4. I LOVE this reminder that although we may have wisdom and knowledge, we are called to be humble and that means not flaunting it. I can relate that when we try and prove ourselves, we fall short in both intimacy and real relationship. In the effort to gain those things, we actually scare people away. Beautiful reminders here, Sarah!

  5. I think it’s wise to walk in the balance between having knowledge and humility. Thanks for sharing how God worked humility in you. I have so many stories of how He humbled me. 😉

  6. Humility is hard to wrap our brains around at times. It is only with Jesus that we are able to balance His grace and truth with a sense of humility in how we live our lives. Thank you for this offering today. Glad to be your neighbor at Glimpses.

    1. Thanks for visiting, Mary! I will catch up on reading blogs today, and I’ll make sure to visit yours!

  7. Ugh. Gathering knowledge is one of my things so this post is great for me to read, Sarah. I’ve had a fear of seeming stupid so humility is SO key to my walk in Christ. I want this, too: “I want to be rewarded more for humility than knowledge, placing a premium on what God values most.”

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