In 376 A.D. a young student of Latin Philosophy by the name of Augustine commenced his journey in search of “knowing God”. He journeyed for 11 years in search of God through gnostic philosophy before the day came, that God revealed Himself to him. He was sitting by a tree, when he overheard children playing a game and shouting, ‘…pick up and read, pick up and read…’ Augustine immediately ran to find his friend who had a copy of Paul’s letter to the Romans. There he opened the letter and his eyes fell on: ‘Let us behave decently, as in the day time not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather clothe yourself with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.’ (Rom. 13:13-14, NIV) This scripture brought such conviction to Augustine’s heart that he left his decadent lifestyle to pursue God’s holy calling.
Augustine’s conversion appeared to catch him by surprise. Knowing very little about God and the Bible, in a matter of moments through the power of the Holy Spirit he received a “knowledge of God” that could not be attained anywhere else other than through a divine encounter with his Creator. Through this experience with God, Augustine began his journey of faith in Christ. His desire was to live in a monastery where he could study the scriptures and things pertaining to God, but he soon found himself actively involved in Church ministry; teaching, discipling, praying for the sick, pastoring and caring for the people. It was through his service to the people that I believe Augustine gained his greatest revelations and insights to become one of the most influential Fathers of the Faith in church history.
Why do I believe that Christian service is so important to knowing God?
In the Old Testament the English word for “know” is predominantly translated from the Hebrew word yada. The word has multiple layers of meaning and implications such as:
1. To KNOW by observing: Gen. 8:11. ‘When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.’
2. To KNOW by experiencing: Gen. 4:1. ‘Adam made love to (knew) his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.’
3. To KNOW by serving: Dan. 11:31-32. ‘With flattery he (the enemy of God’s people) will corrupt those who have violated the covenant, but the people who know their God will firmly resist him.’
Many of us believe that our relationship to God will increase by the knowledge that we obtain through studying Him or by the experiences that have with Him, but in fact, whilst both observation and experience are vital elements of building a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ our greatest revelations come through engaging others in Christian service. Why? Observation and experience usually involve us receiving from God, whereas serving involves us giving, sacrificing and sometimes suffering for God.
If we observe the life of our Lord Jesus Christ, we see that He lived a life in service unto others and He gave His life ultimately to redeem others. Everything about Him was about others and everything He did brought restoration and wholeness to people’s lives. His devoted life unto others, simply, reflected God on this earth. His life was not about what He could get, or what He was entitled to, it was about what He could give and what He could contribute to this earth.
Knowing God comes in part through our observation and experience of Him, but a greater knowledge of God can only be possessed through our service and sacrifice in what we contribute to others on this earth.
As Augustine learned through his search for God in philosophy, knowing God is never a passive exercise of collating information about Him. Knowing God truly comes through active, participative service as exemplified through the life of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Executive Vice President)