Ability and Ignorance
In his trilogy, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, author Ransom Riggs takes his readers on a fantasy journey into the lives of some unusual young people kept under the protective care of their matron, Alma Peregrine. Jacob, the hero of the series, discovers his particular peculiarity quite by accident and seeks to use it for good as the story unfolds. At one point, the villain of the story seems to have Jacob in a predicament in which his talent can be used for nefarious purposes. Upon this realization, the young hero soliloquizes, “I was the perfect automaton: blessed with ability, but cursed with ignorance.” Though Jacob’s story reaches a happier conclusion, this thought well surmises a very real problem faced when God and His word are not taken seriously. Far from fiction, the villain Satan will certainly seek to use ignorance to his advantage.
There is no doubt that God both expects and desires one to use abilities to pursue spiritual good. Jesus made this point in His parable of the talents; each worker was expected to fully utilize what the master had given. When the third servant failed in his assignment, the master chided: “You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who had the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:26-29). Jesus’ point is that the Lord provides great opportunities for service and expects these opportunities to be taken. Failure to use what the Lord has given results in loss.
Before God given ability can be put to effective use, there is the prerequisite of knowledge. As the Apostle Peter discusses partaking of the divine nature, he admonishes, “Supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge” (II Peter 1:5). Peter prefaces this idea by reminding his readers that knowledge is based on knowing “Him who called us to His own glory and excellence” (1:3b). Simply stated, effective use of ability can only occur when one knows the source of the ability. This, however, serves only as the foundation. After understanding that God provides ability, one must also understand how God wants the ability to be used. Failure to comprehend God’s intentions makes one the perfect automaton for Satan.
The Bible is filled with warnings about false teachers. Peter and Jude, in particular, focus on the danger they pose. To this end, Peter stated, “And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed” (II Peter 2:2). There are false teachers whose entire purpose is to thwart the will of God; they are interested in themselves and what can be gained from their duplicity. There is, however, another type of false teaching which comes from those with ability and ignorance. Unlike the men previously described, these have no ulterior motive; they simply desire to preach and teach. Their problem occurs because they have yet to establish the necessary knowledge to accurately portray the message of God. Apollos serves as an example of ability and ignorance: “He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John” (Acts 18:25). When those better studied than Apollos heard his message, action was immediately taken: “He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately” (vs. 26). Fortunately, Apollos demonstrated the necessary humility to listen to the correction and accurately teach the message of salvation.
Every Christian must take to heart the need for knowledge. Every Christian should be active and busy in teaching the message of God, yet realize that a good understanding must come first. It is for this reason that James gives the warning, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). James certainly is not discouraging Christians from teaching; after all, numerous other New Testament passages command Christians to teach (i.e. Titus 2:4). Instead, he admonishes that the duty be taken seriously, with the realization that both God and man are listening.
Men who preach the gospel certainly do not know everything and, throughout their lives, they will continue to grow in knowledge. However, before they begin to preach they must have a foundational level of knowledge about God, salvation, and the message presented. Though a man may desire to preach immediately after becoming a Christian and has the oratorical ability to do so, he must first put in the time necessary for knowledge. As well, those who conduct Bible classes must make sure they have the appropriate knowledge to help others in understanding the Word. Though one may have great ability of presentation, this can easily lead to teaching error if not buttressed with solid biblical knowledge. This should never discourage one from teaching, but instead encourage personal growth in God’s word.
A child of God whose ability is put to good use through accurately teaching the Word will certainly prove to be a five talent servant. May each dedicate his or her life to learning the will of God and may each tirelessly use God-given abilities and opportunities to help others better understand His message. It is to these humble souls that God will speak words of joy: “Well done good and faithful servant”; thus, one will not become the “perfect automaton,” but instead a servant made perfect by His loving Lord