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Knowledge: What It Is, Why We Need It, and How to Obtain It

Sacrament talk given on June 21, 2015.

My talk is a continuance of the month’s theme on Christlike attributes. When we think of what it means to be Christlike, we usually think of characteristics such as charity, mercy, obedience, and virtue, not knowledge. But the Doctrine and Covenants reveals that “the glory of God is intelligence” (93:36) and that God “comprehendeth all things” (88:41). Jacob in the Book of Mormon said God “knoweth all things, and there is not anything save he knows it” (2 Nephi 9:20), and Ammon said, “he has all power, all wisdom, and all understanding; he comprehendeth all things” (Alma 26:35).

Knowledge and intelligence are not interchangeable words, however. Elder Bednar, in his book Increase in Learning (which I highly recommend everyone read), explains the hierarchy of learning.

Generally, knowledge refers to facts, information, and abilities obtained through experience or education. . . .
[The Prophet Joseph Smith said], "God has more power than all other beings, because He has greater knowledge." . . .
Understanding is the keystone that is erected upon the cornerstone of knowledge and precedes intelligence. Interestingly, the word understanding is described in the scriptures in relation to the heart. . . .
The word understanding as used in the scriptures does not refer solely or even primarily to intellectual or cognitive comprehension. Rather, when the Holy Ghost confirms in our hearts as true what we know in our minds, understanding occurs. . . .
Understanding is a spiritual outcome; it is a result. 
Intelligence is the righteous application of knowledge and understanding in action and judgment. It is the capstone that is constructed upon the cornerstone of knowledge and made stable by the keystone of understanding. . . . [U]nderstanding leads to righteous action. . . .

Intelligence is always linked to righteousness. . . .

Interestingly, knowledge is associated with diligence. Significantly, intelligence is linked to obedience. . . .

We might ordinarily think of doctrine as something we study, something we learn, and something we strive to remember. However, the Lord indicated in this revelation [D&C 101:78] that doctrine is something you and I should act in. Ultimately, the Savior is interested not just in what we know but [also] in spiritual intelligence--in how we apply what we know for righteous purposes. . . .

Intelligence is living in such a way that the doctrines of the Church are active in us--an active and integral part of who we are, and what we are, and what we do, and what we think.

Obtaining knowledge is the first step in becoming intelligent. It is important to know what type of knowledge we need to gain. D&C88:77–80 explains:

Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;
Of things both in heaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—
That ye may be prepared in all things . . .

We need not only heavenly knowledge, but also worldly, such as history, geography, politics, and culture. When it comes to secular education, there is not one right way to seek it. President Kimball said, “Some are inclined toward formal university training, and some are inclined more toward the practical vocational training. We feel that our people should receive that kind of training which is most consistent with their interests and talents. Whether it be in the professions, the arts, or the vocations; whether it be university or vocational training, we applaud and encourage it.” There is also the informal education we gain from reading, watching the news and documentaries, visiting museums and historical sites, attending cultural events, traveling, and talking to people.

Gaining an education allows us to provide for our temporal needs and to understand and help our brothers and sisters. It encourages us to discover and develop our talents, which we can also use to bless others and build up God’s kingdom.

In our efforts to seek wordly knowledge, we must be careful not to let it lead to pride and rebellion. Nephi warned: “When [men] are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God” (2 Nephi 9:2829). We must balance secular learning with spiritual learning and obedience. Only then will we have true and righteous wisdom.

Spiritual knowledge will also help us in our educational goals. A few examples that come to mind are one man who became literate by reading the Book of Mormon, a young man who suffered a brain injury and relearned to read also by reading the Book of Mormon, and missionaries who learn their mission language through scripture study (like Elder Groberg in The Other Side of Heaven.)

The scriptures tell us how to increase our spiritual knowledge, understanding, and wisdom:

  • Study the scriptures (2 Nephi 32:3)
  • Rely on the Holy Ghost (Moroni 10:5)
  • Ask for divine help (James 1:5)
  • Serve God (D&C 76:57)
  • Seek out of the best books through study and faith (D&C88:118)
  • Attend church and learn from each other (Moroni 6:5, D&C88:122) [which can also be done through home and visiting teaching, and attending seminary and institute]
  • Keep the commandments (John 7:17), including the Word of Wisdom (D&C 89:19) [by taking care of our bodies, our minds are clearer and stronger and better able to learn and retain information]
  • Fast and pray (Alma 17:23)
  • Be diligent and obedient (D&C 131:19)

It can be a daunting task studying the gospel, especially the scriptures. Elder Caussé promised, “God would indeed be unjust if the gospel were only accessible to an intellectual elite. In His goodness, He has ensured that the truths regarding God are understandable to all His children, whatever their level of education or intellectual faculty. In reality, the fact that a principle can be understood even by a child is proof of its power. President John Taylor said, 'It is true intelligence for a man to take a subject that is mysterious and great in itself and to unfold and simplify it so that a child can understand it.'”

If you are having a hard time grasping the gospel, start with the primary teachings. It is important to have a strong foundation of the basic principles of the gospel to build upon. We must also remember to be patient with our learning, just as we are with our children’s. Knowledge comes “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” (2 Nephi 28:30). 

If we find ourselves losing knowledge and understanding, it is a sign we are being disobedient (D&C 93:39) or prideful and complacent (2 Nephi 28:30). The task to become intelligent like God takes a lot of work and perseverance, but it is absolutely essential to our salvation. Elder Rector, a former general authority, said,

Ignorance is expensive; in fact, it is the most expensive commodity we know anything about. Certainly we make many mistakes through ignorance. If it is a violation of a commandment of God which we have never received and thus do not know, then the Lord does not hold us guilty of the sin. “… to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) And in Paul’s words, “… where no law is, there is no transgression.” (Rom. 4:15) But even though we may not be guilty of the sin because of our ignorance, neither can we receive the blessing, which is predicated on obedience, without rendering obedience to that law. Therefore, we are denied the blessing through our ignorance. If it is a traffic law we have violated through ignorance, the penalty assessed us is exactly the same as if we had known. Also, if we stick a finger in an electric light socket, we will receive the same shock, irrespective of our knowledge of electricity. I repeat, ignorance is expensive. Particularly is this true since the Lord has decreed, “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” (D&C 131:6)

We will receive blessings as we increase in knowledge, understanding, and intelligence:

  • We will have joy (D&C 42:61)
  • We will have happiness, peace, and lengthened life (Proverbs3:13) [because if we’re making wise choices, we aren’t putting ourselves in physical and spiritual danger.]
  • We will attract more intelligence, wisdom, truth, and light (D&C 88:40)
  • We will have power to overcome evil (D&C 93:37)
  • We will know gospel mysteries and our understanding will reach to heaven (D&C 76:510)

We are also promised that we will be able to take our intelligence with us into the next life and have an advantage over those who have not gained wisdom (D&C 131:1819). We can be glorified as our Father in heaven through becoming intelligent like Him.


DAD said…
wow - a lot of knowledge in one article

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