We should study our Bibles, right? Of course we should. It’s a given, obvious, no question about it. I’ve written lots of posts about my struggle with consistent Bible study, and the habits I’ve formed that help me follow through on my good intentions. Just recently I compared the Bible to love letters my husband wrote me when we were dating.
One morning I was doing just that—reading my Bible, underlining verses that particularly caught my attention, scribbling notes in the margins—when I noticed something I’d never seen before. (It amazes me how God can point out new things in words I’ve read over and over for the last 40 years!)
In John 5:39-40, Jesus continues a conversation He’s having with the Pharisees: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”
A few verses later (v.46), Jesus goes on to tell them, “If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about me.”
Think of all the commentaries that have been written—volumes and volumes about historical context, possible interpretations, lexicons analyzing every word. Many theologians have an intimate knowledge of Scripture, yet aren’t even believers. My own mother claimed to have read the Bible all the way through but died an atheist. Just like the Pharisees who poured over the Scriptures, even memorized entire books, they miss the very Person the books point to. They miss Jesus.
Of course, most of us who spend time reading our Bibles are already believers, and we definitely know God. Yet, at times, it seems we too are like the Pharisees.
Last week I wrote a post focused God’s power, or more accurately, it’s absence in most churches. In that context, I commented that many churches seem to have substituted the Bible for the Holy Spirit. We’re big on words and explanations and low on His indwelling power. We love to study and increase our understanding, but falter when it comes time to put it all into practice.
An older Sunday school teacher at our previous church taught the young adult class for years. Every Sunday he’d open by asking everyone a simple question. He’d remind them of the previous week’s lesson, then ask, “How did that change your life?” How were they different because of what they’d learned? Had it made a difference? And every week no one could tell him that they were different because of what they’d learned from the Bible.
Finally, he stopped teaching.
I love being a student. I was successful in school (it was much easier than real life!), and I still read a lot of nonfiction. It’s tempting to approach the Bible as just another textbook. Don’t we describe it as Life’s Instruction Manual? I come prepared with my highlighter, notebook, and Cliff’s Notes. Those are helpful tools, but ultimately useless unless the Holy Spirit breathes life into the words I read. The Bible is special in that God both inspired it, and uses it to speak to us, but it isn’t an end in itself. Rather, it’s a doorway to intimacy with God. We are to look past the words of truth to the Truth Himself.
I need to keep in mind the big picture… the Word is Jesus.