Is Competence Christian?

Most of us immediately recognize that the answer, of course, is yes. But there is no shortage of overspiritualizers out there today who like to rain on the parade of common grace, and sometimes (strangely enough) the quest for competence can be wrongly labeled as idolatry.

Hence, it is important — not to mention interesting — to see the biblical foundation behind truths that are very clear simply from the light of nature alone. Competence is one of them.

One of the most fascinating passages here is Proverbs 2:2-4, where competence is said to be a component of wisdom, and we are exhorted to seek it diligently.

You don’t see this directly in many translations, because they tend to translate the term for “competence” here simply as “understanding” (and, obviously, there’s a relationship). But Tremper Longman brings this out most clearly in his more precise translation of the passage in his commentary on Proverbs:

My son, if you grasp my speech and store up my commands within you, bending your ear toward wisdom, extending your heart toward competence — indeed, if you call out for understanding, shout for competenceif you seek it like silver and search for it like hidden treasure…

So, to everyone who has an innate desire to do good work and be effective at what you do: be encouraged. This desire is not unspiritual, but is a reflection of the image of God in you. It is a very spiritual thing to be competent; indeed, God exhorts us to it.

  • Mark

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding but I would have responded “no” to the question is competence Christian. If competence is Christian then how do we explain unbelievers that are leaders in their field of expertise? How do we explain Christians who are incompetent in their work? It would seem that competence would be something that is creational or common and has nothing to do with salvation or redemption. Am I missing your point?

    • Matt Perman


      Thanks for your thoughts. My point above is that competence is Christian in the sense it is good and right for Christians to pursue competence. That is, competence is not something Christians should reject. The precise reason there is this temptation for some is because of the great point you make–competence in most fields is a gift of common grace, and not unique to Christians. So sometimes Christians can feel like it is “unspiritual” to pursue–that we should _only_ pursue things that are uniquely Christian. My point is: we should seek to excel in things that are gifts of common grace, like competence (and, more than that, excellence) in our fields, just as we should seek to excel in spiritual things.