Tuesday
May192009

Always Learning

As our young people return their skulls full of mush to America’s schools and universities for prompt filling, learning is fresh upon all our minds.

The mind is very much like a muscle in that it needs to be taken out and exercised on a regular basis lest it grow weak and worthless. Intellectual apathy leads to mental atrophy, but this is no less true when it comes to interest in the revealed word of God. America has a love affair with the New York Times’ bestsellers, but its affection for the Holy Bible has clearly declined.

So many, even among believers in Christ, cannot be troubled to read, study or meditate upon the word of God at all, let alone on a daily schedule. So many other things to read – romance novels, television listings, Twitter feeds, cereal boxes! Who has time to leaf through yet another of John’s letters?

While we become expert in the minutiae of other people’s lives, our knowledge of God’s will fails to increase. More to the point, it declines as the things we once knew disappear (see Matthew 25:29).

Is the danger not obvious? Where Ezekiel and John were instructed to ingest God’s word as a symbolic acquisition of the message, we are surely starved in the spirit if we do not adopt just as rounded a diet. God’s word is milk for the novice, meat for the mature. 

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation – if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (First Peter 2:1-3). New disciples will never grow if they feed only upon junk food. The milk of the word is an assortment of its basic principles – “instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (Hebrews 6:2).

The novice grows to maturity as he leaves behind childish ways and graduates to an appetite for meatier courses. For “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14). The Holy Spirit uses punishing words to describe Christians who should have become mature, but have actually regressed in their discipleship (see First Corinthians 3:2, Hebrews 5:12-13).

Solid food belongs to those who invest time in their spiritual diets –  reading, studying and meditating upon God’s word. Paul counseled Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (Second Timothy 2:15). Rightly handling God’s word is dependent upon a familiarity with it that comes only from personal observation and experience.

First century Christians did not have the luxury of consulting a leather-bound copy of the Old and New Testaments, or of visiting the world wide web on a laptop or smart phone. They listened to inspired men preach, read their rare letters, and then compared what they learned to what was already established in precedent works of the Old Testament or other living and inspired men. 

The audience in Berea was of this sort, being “more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). 

Today, some religious groups are controlled by a clergy in which it is assumed most of the ability to interpret and proclaim Scripture resides. What if, however, this clergy is unreliable, dishonest or simply mistaken? Audiences that are incapable of Berean investigation are doomed.

It is vital to our personal spiritual health and the soundness of local congregations that Christ’s disciples exercise their interest and ability in searching the Scriptures thoroughly. Contentment with clergy insight is complacency. 

Peter – an apostle, prophet, preacher and pastor, but surely no Pope – urged his readers to be constant learners. 

“Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (Second Peter 3:14-18).

Grow in grace and knowledge, without any terminal degree of achievement that would cause you to stop progressing in your command of God’s word. Know placement in the canon, chronology and context. Know the writer’s intent and where to make application. Treat God’s word like an inspired owner’s manual for life and the human spirit. 

And yet, there are some who are daily Bible readers but who still are vulnerable to error and delusion – “weak women” for instance, “burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (Second Timothy 3:6-7). People like these women can become so burdened with past guilt that they are susceptible to extremes – either ascetic restraint or immoral license. Some learn but never become knowledgeable because they are given to binding and loosing where God has not, being more convinced of their own opinions than the will of God. 

Real growth surrenders self-direction to divine insight, trusting in God for guidance, but also seeking it out diligently and daily in the Scriptures.