In the first paragraph of the first chapter of J.L. Dagg’s Manual of Theology he writes: “In religion, men appear naturally fond of the difficult and the obscure; perhaps because they there find escape from the disquieting light of clearly revealed truth.” Here he sums up one of the major problems in the church and her members. What Jesus has done for us is complete. It is a simple thing: Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand! Why then do we have to add so much to it? Why do we make it so hard on ourselves and so difficult to “remain” in Christ?
I have struggled with this throughout my life. When I haven’t, I probably should have been, that is, devotion vs. study. Oh there is so much to know about the Bible! Greek, Latin and Hebrew, Theology, doctrine—so many great books to read, so many distractions from the Word of God. It is so easy to find, one day, that we are knowledgeable about many “biblical” things but ignorant about the Bible and, more specifically, the Author whom it reveals. In Mark DeVine’s excellent book Bonhoeffer Speaks Today: Following Jesus at All Costs, it appears that Bonhoeffer struggled with the same thing. According to DeVine, most of the academia of his day read the Bible as you would read any other book. Worse, it seems that they were adding it to their own knowledge and other information to come up with the real message of God’s Word. It was relegated to the position of valued resource; a long step down from the Inspired Word of God.
I hope I never reach the place in my life where the Bible becomes just another book on the shelf. And yet how many times, when preparing for a lesson, do I catch myself starting with commentary and quarterly rather than prayer and the Word? It’s like the pastor who sees or hears something that would make an excellent illustration and then proceeds to build a sermon around it. That could work, I suppose and in all honesty it probably happens fairly often. (I would respect that pastor far more than the one who bought his sermon on the Internet!) Invariably, though, the best lessons and sermons are the ones whose roots stretch deep into the Bible and our own reading and devotional study of it.
It is a difficult thing to reconcile these two positions. It is easy to reach the point where Morning and Evening or My Utmost for His Highest become the extent of our personal worship. Time is scarce these days and time for Bible study or devotion is even harder to come by. Time must be made, choices must be made as well and when a person dives into the Word on a regular basis it becomes the priority. And here is the trap: separating the two. Our study must be our devotion. Our knowledge of the Word of God must be by that disquieting light. Study yes, but never for its own sake. Are you weighted down with a load of books and treatises on this or that biblical subject? Are you one of those whose study is laden with information and knowledge? Are you puffed up with quotes and phrases from the popular author of the day? Have you become one who is “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (2 Timothy 3:7) Jesus calls out to you and to me in Matthew 11 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Jesus says “learn from Me”, the one called “the Word made flesh” by John in his gospel. This is the Word of God and it must be the starting point for all of our endeavors for the Kingdom. When we reach the point where all we do is focused through the fine optics of the Gospel, then and only then shall we be effective in our ministry for Christ.