The Difference Between Knowledge And Wisdom


By now, you know how much I like movies. I write and talk about them a lot in my teachings because they serve as a common bond between us. Most of us have seen the same list of popular movies over the years, so when I see something in one of them that has a commonality between us, I bring it up for its illustrative purposes.

I have been surprised over the years to learn that there are some folks out there that haven’t seen ANY of the Star Wars movies. Ever. That’s ok, you understand; I just thought everyone had at least seen ONE of them (probably Ep. IV – A New Hope).

For those that have, and for those that haven’t, let me set up the scene. In Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi visits an old friend named Dex Jetsetter to learn about a dart used in an assassination. They meet at the diner where Dex works, and Obi-Wan asks Dex about the dart. Obi-Wan tells Dex he’s run the dart by his analysis droids, but they can’t identify it. Dex points out the unique markings on the sides, noting that analysis droids only focus on symbols. He then tells Obi-Wan that he thought even he would have more respect for the difference between knowledge and wisdom.

Here’s the clip from the movie:

It was this scene that my son and I talked about recently, and it begged the question? What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom?

Here is the answer, and it’s my own coined phrase (although you’re welcome to swipe and used it, if you’d like):  Knowledge becomes wisdom when it’s turned into action.

Sounds like quite an oversimplification, doesn’t it? Let’s take a look a bit deeper into the meaning.

Knowledge alone doesn’t do very much for us. The internet is replete with knowledge, but it we don’t look for it, it is useless. Before the internet, encyclopedias were the go-to source for knowledge. But if we never cracked open the covers on the books, we learned nothing. Of course, there is this one book out there that has contained all of the knowledge of good and evil, all of the knowledge of living well on Earth, all of the knowledge needed to secure eternity and the afterlife. It’s the same thing, though; unread, it has no value. To obtain knowledge in the first place, one must take action to acquire it. Only plants get better through osmosis; brains never do.

So, when does this knowledge, for which we have worked so hard to attain, become wisdom? When it is used to do something meaningful. The most meaningful, wise thing we can do is learn about Christianity and serve God. In Matthew 7:24, Jesus tells us, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” He reinforced the point that knowledge alone of his teachings was not enough; only using that knowledge to take action would make a man wise.

The book of James also reinforces that knowledge becomes wisdom when its turned into action. In James 3:13-18, it is written:

“Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here’s what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn’t wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn’t wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn’t wisdom. It’s the furthest thing from wisdom—it’s animal cunning, devilish plotting. Whenever you’re trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others’ throats. Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.”

Wisdom always comes from the application of knowledge toward a righteous goal, never from knowledge itself. Former U.S. President Calvin Coolidge once remarked:

“Nothing in the World can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines persistence as “firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action”. Again, we see that knowledge must be combined with action to create wisdom.

I hope this has led you to think of knowledge and wisdom as two distinct terms, each with its own purpose. Knowledge is what we internalize to make action possible. Wisdom comes when we apply knowledge to ignite action. Zig Ziglar used to say that “you have to be before you can do and do before you can have.” He was absolutely right, and, no doubt, he understood and taught this based on his Christian faith. Knowledge is the “be”, action is the “do”, and “have” is the wisdom. By applying the concept that knowledge becomes wisdom when turned into action, you will become not just a brain full of facts. You will become a person that can apply those facts to spark achievement in your life and in the lives of others. That is the ultimate form of wisdom.

May God bless you, now and always.

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