Knowledge really does have value, and increasing knowledge really is important. The key lies in the foundation of that knowledge. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7). Knowledge is to be cunning and aware rather than ignorant, and the Bible states that its foundation is the fear of the LORD. "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). In this case, beginning is the commencement or first occurrence of wisdom. Wisdom, skill for life, can't even start without the fear of the LORD.
Certainly the Bible is important in terms of knowledge and wisdom, which can grow over years of reading and hearing the Bible. The most valuable wisdom, however, doesn’t come from merely reading the Bible. The key is not one's accumulated biblical knowledge, but rather one's attitude toward that knowledge. If the knowledge is matter-of-factly acknowledged or is an end in itself, the profit will be limited to the mental. When one's Bible knowledge illuminates the vast difference between God and man, however, and man places himself in his rightful position, he can then have spiritual profit.
When one realizes his actual position before God, he ought to be filled with a strong desire to please Him. He ought to shudder at the thought of violating God's commandments or misunderstanding His truth. That is the fear of the LORD, which is crucial for growing in true knowledge and wisdom. When someone fears God, therefore desiring to please Him, he is impelled to search the Scripture to find out what is right and wrong. He now has strong motivation behind the gaining of biblical knowledge.
The fear of the LORD creates the difference between mental profit and spiritual profit. Wisdom speaks in Proverbs 8:12-14. "I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion. The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate. Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine."
A wise person who fears God will hate what God hates (verse 13). This man, with a strong desire not to offend God, hates evil, pride, arrogance, the evil way, and the perverted mouth. He will have to study the Bible to learn what these (and other) offences are, and his fear of God causes him to take these offences seriously.
On the opposite side, a wise person who fears God will love what God loves and will embrace the qualities mentioned in verses 12 & 14. He will long for wisdom, prudence, knowledge, discretion, counsel, sound wisdom, understanding, and power. Again, he will have to examine Scripture to find fuller understanding of what God desires, and he will dedicate himself to learning and then doing those things.
With this foundation and motivation, man can have great understanding for decision-making and for life. He can now profitably counsel himself and others, because instead of speaking from his own thoughts or experiences, he will be sharing God’s thoughts. Accompanying his solemn desire to do what is pleasing before a great God is a realization that God has the answers that he doesn’t have. He is dependent on God to open his eyes.
Specifically addressing young men regarding harlots, the early chapters of Proverbs illustrate how wisdom helps with life choices (6:23-24, 7:4-5). God-fearing wisdom changes the entire path of life. It affects how one lives, helping him to evaluate and see dangers. Wisdom "walk[s] in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice" (Proverbs 8:20).
Illumination and guidance do not happen to everyone who reads the Word of God, but to those who humbly fear the Lord. With the barriers of pride and self-reliance properly broken down, God can effectively show His truth. "Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way. Who is the man who fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant" (Psalm 25:8-9,12,14).
Wisdom can indeed be found. "I love those who love me; and those who diligently seek me will find me" (Proverbs 8:17). Wisdom is freely offered to all who seek, regardless of their innate natural ability. "'Whoever is naive, let him turn in here!' To him who lacks understanding, [wisdom] says, 'Come. . . . Forsake your folly and live, and proceed in the way of understanding'" (Proverbs 9:4-6).
The power of wisdom through the fear of the LORD is illustrated dramatically by those who lack both qualities. When "there is no fear of God before their eyes" (Romans 3:18), man is "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (II Timothy 3:7). "Professing to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:22). Men with no fear of God get both basic and major things wrong. They lack knowledge and wisdom about earth's origins and its end, about the role of government and the rearing of children, about natural disasters and global warming, about end-of-life issues and abortion, about morality and entertainment, about finances and education.
Rather than condemning others, those who have godly knowledge must be careful to follow it. It is dangerous to know the right thing and ignore it, but blessed to know the right thing and do it. "Heed instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. But he who sins against [wisdom] injures himself; all those who hate [wisdom] love death" (Proverbs 8:33 & 36).