What is Perfect Knowledge?

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

In previous devotionals we have discussed the many meanings of the word “knowledge” as well as the word “science.” Science used to be a synonym for knowledge, but in modern times has taken on a much more narrow meaning that constrains it to only the physical realm.

In the famous “love chapter” of 1 Corinthians chapter 13, Paul makes this statement about knowledge: “as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1 Corinthians 13:8-10) So what knowledge is Paul talking about, and how can it “pass away?”

In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul is comparing spiritual gifts that are given to the church for the mutual edification of the church. In chapter 12 the church is described as a “body.” Some of these manifestations of the Spirit are temporary in nature, in contrast to love, agape love, which is eternal. The word knowledge in this context does not have the more narrow meaning that our modern day culture associates with science, the observation of physical facts. It refers to a kind of knowledge that is obtained through a relationship; in this case, a relationship with God through his Spirit. This kind of knowledge is communicated to us by someone else who possesses the knowledge.

We utilize this kind of knowledge in our every day life. If I want to possess knowledge about how a car operates, for example, I can learn that a car operates on gasoline in two different ways. I can try operating the car with some other liquid or fuel source and find out directly through experimentation and observation, or I can rely on someone else’s knowledge either told to me directly, or learned by obtaining the information provided by others, such as books. Knowledge obtained without direct observation of the facts is only as reliable as the reliability of the source of my “second-hand” information. Most of our knowledge is obtained in this way, even in the physical world. We usually learn this knowledge from others – not from direct “scientific” discovery.

The knowledge that we obtain directly from God through his Spirit is an imperfect knowledge. Paul compares it to looking through a dim mirror. Glass mirrors were apparently not invented until the 13th century, and burnished metal was used for mirrors in the city of Corinth in Paul’s day. An image seen in these mirrors was not very clear. Likewise our knowledge of God, a knowledge based on a relationship, is not very clear at this time. The reason for this is because we are imperfect while we are still living in our sinful bodies. Our spirits can be immediately recreated through the rebirth process, but our bodies will not be transformed until after our physical death. So our sinful flesh becomes a lousy filter for God’s knowledge that is given to us through the Spirit.

But a day is coming, after we die the physical death, where we will be able to look at God face to face! “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” In that day the sinful flesh will have been removed and no longer be able to obstruct God’s word to us. We will hear him and see him perfectly – there will be no doubt as to whether or not he is the one speaking to us.

So until that day, how do we obtain God’s knowledge? We work hard to minimize sin’s obstruction of hearing God’s word in our life:

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh– for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Romans 8:12-14)

“Perfect knowledge” then is not defined by “knowing everything”that exists in the physical realm. As created beings, that is impossible for us, even in the future after our physical death and we take on new perfect bodies. Only God can know everything about his creation, the physical realm. Perfect knowledge then is defined by having a perfect relationship. It is knowing without doubt who God is, and what he is saying.

Jesus is a perfect example of this kind of knowledge. Even though the world was created by Jesus before he took on human form and came to earth as the Son of God, once he came to earth and was born into the flow of human history, he was constrained in his knowledge by his human body. There were certain things he did not know:

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. (Matthew 24:36)

And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” (Mark 5:30)

However, Jesus had no earthly father, and he had no sin in his flesh. So the obstruction of sin was not present in Jesus’ body to prevent him from having perfect communication with God:

Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19)

Imagine the power of a human life perfectly in tune with God’s Spirit, doing nothing but exactly what God was communicating to that person! This is the kind of life Jesus lived; doing only what God was leading him to do, and accomplishing God’s perfect will in his life (and death). Jesus’ life serves as an example for us to follow and strive for:

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Perfect knowledge then is not defined by how much we know about the physical universe. That kind of knowledge “puffs up” and makes one arrogant. Perfect knowledge is defined by how well we know God, and how closely we allow God’s Spirit to lead us day by day, rather than giving in to the sinful desires of our flesh.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-25)

So let’s strive to be like Jesus who said: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” If you have been born again into God’s kingdom, God’s Spirit lives in you, and you have the ability and opportunity to have sweet fellowship with God and learn everything he wants you to do today. Are you taking advantage of that opportunity?

Since we are imperfect vessels to hear God’s word, make sure you take time out each day to read and meditate on his written word, the Bible, which can impart more knowledge to you than all the “science” books in the world combined could ever impart. Let God do the talking, and you do the following. Your life will be radically changed.