By Kathy Johnston
I’ve been pondering a lot, lately, whether one can place too much emphasis on Bible study. My first thoughts were “no way”! But as I considered this thought for a while, I realized the answer could be a resounding yes as well as an emphatic no. It all comes down to the motive of the heart, the purpose for why we study God’s word.
Scientists estimate the average distance from the brain to the heart to be 18 inches. If the knowledge your brain obtains through Bible study never makes that short journey from the brain to the heart, it’s a study in futility. You can read lots of commentaries, use Strong’s concordance to do word studies, and memorize huge portions of the scripture… But if you haven’t allowed the Word to become alive and active in your heart, “piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12), then your efforts have gained you nothing.
Jesus spoke to the Pharisees about this very thing in John 5. The Pharisees knew the word inside and out, front to back! They memorized amazingly huge portions of it. They knew the prophecies and commandments by heart. And yet, when the very One of whom the prophecies were written about was standing in right in front of them in the flesh, they didn’t recognize him. In fact, they considered him a threat to their way of life and to their religion. They wanted to kill him!
How could this be? Their Creator God was standing there speaking directly to them, face to face, and yet they could not see him for who he really was… because they hadn’t read the scriptures to know him. They had read and memorized the word for their own gain, puffing themselves up with their knowledge of the scriptures. They weren’t looking to know the God who the scriptures were written about. They thought it was the knowledge of the scriptures that would save them. They missed the whole purpose of the scriptures! They studied the Word of God for selfish prideful gain, and Jesus recognized that. He saw the true, prideful condition of their hearts. They had all the head knowledge, but their souls were like whitewashed tombs. They looked good on the outside with all their knowledge, but they were dead on the inside.
What do we have to learn from the Pharisees? Why am I even saying this? Well first of all, I would never discourage anyone from study of God’s Word. But I think it’s important to recognize that there can be a danger in placing too much emphasis on the “how-to” of bible study instead of the “why” of bible study. Jesus is not looking at how much time we spend in bible study, he’s looking at the condition of our hearts. His desire is for us! He loves us and wants us to know him!
We ought to be searching the scriptures for him… not just to know about him, but to know him, his character and who he is. We need to allow him to search our hearts as we read his Word. The closer we draw near to him as we read and study, the more we begin to see the truth of our own character and who we are apart from him. When I see how patient God is as I read through the pages of the Bible, I realize
how impatient I really am. When I discover God’s unwavering faithfulness, I recognize just how unfaithful I can be and have been in the past. His word and the knowledge of him, helps me see the places in my heart that need to change.
When we recognize that, we see how desperately we need him. It should humble us, not puff us up. It takes the focus off of ourselves and puts it all on him.
If the knowledge we obtain in bible study doesn’t change our heart and sanctify us, then what’s the point? To quote John Piper, “Jesus meant for truth in the head to waken passion in the heart.”
I in no way am saying these things to discourage anyone from studying God’s word!! Far from it! The Heritage Women’s ministry places great emphasis on Bible study! But I say these things to you and to myself so that we keep our focus where it needs to be. We study his word to know him. And as we begin to discover who he really is, we can allow that knowledge to penetrate not just our brains, but more importantly our hearts. The Holy Spirit, through his Word, will begin to change us, shape us and sanctify us into what he intended us to be as we surrender to him.
Let’s not diminish our reading and studying of the bible to merely gaining head knowledge. The Pharisees demonstrated where that leads…spiritual pride! But let’s read and study with humble and submitted hearts motivated to know Jesus Christ, and to be transformed into his image. Let’s read it so that our lives will become living testimonies of the gospel to the world around us.
Let’s dig deeper, draw nearer and grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.