Monday, February 11, 2008

Don't Just Be A Bible Scholar (Transcript)

As I give this message, I've just returned from a Bible Conference. I'll tell you the truth, I've gone to a lot of Bible Conferences over the years, and I love them. I really enjoy getting together over a weekend and listening to some good Bible expositors, preachers and teachers, teaching the Word of God that I love, along with a bunch of other people who also love the Word.

There is a camaraderie of intensiveness, usually combined with music and worship, that you pretty much only get at a Bible Conference. It can be hard work, if you really pay attention, but it's also a lot of fun.

Coming away from this latest Bible Conference, however, I'm reminded of something that I have to keep reminding myself of, when I get a big fat head full of Biblical truth crammed in me, in a space of three days, or even daily when I “study my Bible”.

Let me illustrate this reminder by asking you a question. I'm going to give you two descriptions. And I'd like to ask you which description you would prefer to be a description of you.

1. “They really know their Bible. They are a real student of the Scriptures. If you've got a Bible question, they can answer it.”

Sounds pretty good, doesn't it? Here's the second description.

2. “They really know Jesus. They really spend time with the Lord. When they give answers, they are spiritual, life-giving answers.”

Which description would you rather have true of you? He really knows his Bible, or, he really knows Jesus? Now I don't mean to say that a person can't have both. In fact it should ideally be that way. But my reminder to myself is that biblical scholarship doesn't always equate to a spiritual fellowship with Jesus Christ.

One of the most important verses in the Bible is John 5:39. Jesus is speaking and He says, primarily to the Pharisees,

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me;”

Now before I explain why this is one of the most important verses of the Bible, let me clarify something, if I haven't already.

I love the Bible. I love the Word of God. I believe that those of us who own a Bible are the most privileged in the World. Many of us have not just one copy, but several copies, and that is a great and precious privilege.

And I'm well aware of 2 Tim. 3:16. Let me read it for you. It says,
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;”

I'm well aware of that, and I of course agree with that. The Scripture is inspired by God and profitable. All Scripture.

I'm also well familiar with Colossians 3:16. Let me read that for you. Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. “

The Word of God, the Word of Christ should dwell in us richly. I believe that. I love the Word of God, I love the Bible.

But an even more important verse than those, as far as our purposes here, is John 5:39. And let me read it one more time for you. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me;”

Another way of saying what Jesus is saying to these Pharisees is, “You're Bible Men. And you think being Bible Men will give you life. But what you don't understand about these Scriptures [and Jesus was speaking at this time of the Old Testament] what you don't realize is that these Scriptures bear witness of Me, they point to Me, the promised Messiah. And if you miss that, you've missed the ultimate point of those Scriptures.”

Well, how true that is, and it's even more true of the New Testament Scriptures.

I'd like to give you four reasons why John 5:39 is one of the most important verses in the Bible. Four reasons why you shouldn't just be a Bible scholar:

1. Relationship is more important than raw data.

Let me give you a dictionary definition of data (or say tomayto, I say tomahto):

“Factual information, especially information organized for analysis, or used to make decisions.”

Look at those two aspects of data, “for analysis”, and “used to make decisions”.

Isn't that often why we study the Bible? We either want to analyze it to the nth degree, and I confess I love that. I love digging down into the fine points, dissecting a passage and squeezing every bit of analytical juice out of that scriptural orange. Or we merely use it to "make decisions". We are prone to think of the Bible data as rules and regs and reduce it to a manual.

That's data. But what the Scriptures teach over and over is that relationship, in this case to our Lord Himself, is far more important than raw data. You see, Jesus is more important than the facts about Jesus. The Lord is more important than the facts about the Lord.

It's important that He be understood as our Sacrifice Lamb, our Advocate, our Defense Attorney, our Shield, and our Defender. But also our Savior, our Lord, our Brother, our Friend, our Beloved. He is our Beloved, and we are His beloved.

And the important thing there is to understand that that relationship with Him is even more important than the information about Him, as important as that information may be.

2. A Guide Is More Important Than A Guidebook

I've always disliked the idea of thinking of the Bible as some kind of Owner's Manual. I've heard that through the years. You know, “Things are broken in your life? Get back to the Owner's Manual. He's the Creator, He's the One who made you, and you need to get back to that Book to learn how to fix things.”

And although there's a certain amount of truth to that...which is more important, a Guide, or a Guide Book?

Now I don't want to press the point too far, but which would you rather have, when you have a little problem with your computer, a fine-print Microsoft Manual, or a friend who helps you click a few buttons and get things right again?

If you're traveling to Rome, you're a lot better off with a Guide taking you step-by-step, place-by-place, having a relationship with you, showing you the sights, giving you background information, giving you understanding. How much better that Guide is than having a book on “How To See Rome on $100 A Day”, or whatever.

Likewise, in the Scripture, a Guide who is the Holy Spirit, who is Jesus Christ Himself, is far more important than looking at the Scripture as an Owner's Manual.

3. Life Is More Important Than Lists

Now I happen to like Bible lists. I'm a geek there. So is my son, surprise surprise. There are several books in print with titles like “Wilmington's Book of Bible Lists”. And these books are interesting, and you can learn a lot from them. All the Kings of Judah, all the wells in the Bible, the Ten Commandments, and other laws and rules. All kinds of fascinating lists.

But the Scripture makes it clear over and over that Life is more important than lists.

Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” That's one of His major purposes in coming to this world, is that we, believers, may have life and have it abundantly.

Now, could you say, “He who reads his Bible everyday has life?” No. That's not a given. He who reads his Bible everyday may not have life.

I want to read to you a wonderful passage in the Bible. Listen to this from 1 John 5:11,12, “And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”

Is it true that he who reads his Bible everyday has life? No, not necessarily, but he who has the Son has life. Life is more important than lists.

4. Spiritual Understanding Is Better Than Scholarship

Now scholarship is a fine thing, when it comes to the Scriptures. I believe we ought to study. I believe we ought to be diligent in our learning of the Scriptures.

I believe we should learn to discern between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, for example. I believe we should have a scholarly understanding of how Jesus took our sins on the Cross, and was able to declare us righteous, justified.

I believe we should have a scholarly understanding of our identity in Christ as a New Creation, forgiven of all our sins.

I believe we should learn about Grace, the radical Grace by which we are not just saved, but by which we live, no longer under Law, but under Grace. And why this means that sin shall no longer be master over us.

I believe there are a lot of things that we should be scholars in when it comes to the Scriptures. But spiritual understanding is better than scholarship, or more important than scholarship.

I don't know sometimes whether to laugh or cry over some of these Time Magazine or Newsweek Magazine features with titles like “Who Is The Real Jesus?” Or the Jesus Seminar, where a bunch of scholars get together to share their thoughts on who Jesus is, without any spiritual understand whatsoever.

What the Bible says is that the “natural man cannot understand spiritual things, for they are foolishness to him. He can't understand them, for they are spiritually discerned.” - 1 Cor. 2:14

The natural man, that means the one who is not born again, can't understand spiritual things. So his scholarship means nothing. Spiritual understanding is better than scholarship.

But it's not just the unbelieving scholars who miss the spiritual understanding in their scholarship. As believers, we too are prone sometimes to study the “stuff”, without seeing, and warming up to, and fellowshipping with, the One that the “stuff” is about.

Fellowshipping With The Lord

Well, in closing then, I'd like to read a quotation from a man named Norman Douty. He writes this: “Come to the Word for one purpose, and that is to meet the Lord. Not to get your mind crammed full of things about the Sacred Word. But come to it to meet the Lord. Make it a medium, not of biblical scholarship, but of fellowship with Christ. Behold the Lord.”

And then in 2 Corinthians 3:18 we see the value of this “beholding the Lord”:

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”

So we see why it's important to have that relationship, rather than just the raw data. To have that Guide rather than just a guidebook. To have that life, rather than a bunch of lists. And to have that spiritual understanding rather than just scholarship.

Be a Bible scholar, fine. But don't JUST be a Bible scholar. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me.”


Mark D. Vilen said...

Great article! I've learned that Bible scholarship doesn't always equate with spiritual maturity. Sometimes too much Bible "knowledge" can also be a bad thing---as the word says, "Knowledge puffs up." I'd rather have revelation from the word, rather than just knowledge.

Good thoughts! Keep up the good work.

Vancouver, WA

Only Look said...

Wow. Ironic that you would post this today, when I have sort of been thinking about this truth quite a bit the last few days....well really for the matter, the past year or so. But today I sort of posted a similar strain of thought borne of years of struggle with this truth. Years ago my brother used to call me a Bible worshipper to put it bluntly. While I don't agree with all of his understanding I do see what he was trying to wake me up to and I am thankful that God used my older brother in this way. I can't believe the pride that God was so patient to be longsuffering with in my life. I look back and wonder how he could love such a proud bookworm, but now Know that He was simply trying to show me just how much He really does love me. Its amazing to be loved by God isn't it? How amazingly patient He is.

Grace upon grace,


oh yeah...good post:-)

Terry Rayburn said...


Thanks for the good comments.

Terry Rayburn said...


I hear you. All of us who love the Word can be prone to elevate it above the Lord Himself, or at least have it take the place of Him.

We receive the monthly newsletter of a VERY prominent Pastor who is known for his exposition of the Word. My wife and I half-humorously, half-seriously, lament each month how little his newsletter mentions Jesus (almost never). Yet it's filled with honoring "The Word", "The Word", "The Word".

Only Look said...

Yeah they want to be instant in season and out of season in preaching the word but forget the reason for the season:-)

Terry Rayburn said...