Filled with scripture and ignorance? That seems oxymoronic, does it not? After all, we know that the sum of God’s word is truth. We know that the scriptures have been “breathed out” by God. We believe that the words of God are as a lamp unto our feet. How could someone be filled with scripture and ignorance? It is more common than we might think.
Consider with me a couple of examples. One from the Bible, and one from my own life.
When we turn our New Testaments to the Gospel of John, and we read the 5th chapter the world that we are stepping into is very different from our own. It is a world that would look quite strange to us. We see the pagan influence on the culture as we read about a pool, that supposedly had mystical/miraculous healing powers. So many of the sick, paralyzed, and afflicted people would gather around and wait for their chance to be healed. Then, Jesus entered the picture and for one man, everything changed. Jesus healed a man who hadn’t been able to walk for 38 years! Possibly, all of his life. What a sight that must have been! Can you picture the joy on this man’s face? Can you hear his shouts of triumph? Can you picture the nonstop tears of joy flowing from his face?
However, this story wasn’t all “sunshine and rainbows”. Many Jews began causing some heartache for this man as well as for Jesus. Why? Because the healing took place on the Sabbath. Not only did Jesus heal on the Sabbath, but He even had the audacity to claim that God was His father! Jesus began a lengthy explanation to His accusers concerning His inability to do anything without the Father, He speaks about coming Judgement, He speaks about resurrection, He speaks precious words of life. Then, He makes a statement that should give all believers pause —
John 5:39 ESV
39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,
Notice what Jesus just said? He is addressing people who search the scriptures. He is addressing people who believe that in the scriptures, they will find life. These people, who searched the scriptures and had a high view of the scriptures… missed the whole point. They missed the Son! They missed the savior. They missed Jesus.
These people were no doubt sincere in their searching of the scriptures, and they obviously had a high view of the text, but yet… They still “missed it”.
Now it is my turn. 14 years ago I walked into my office for the very first time. I couldn’t believe it. I was now a “minister” I had the title and everything. I sat behind my desk and began to think about what I would preach this coming Sunday. I could think of no better topic with which to “kickoff my ministry” than to preach about the “Word of God”. I wanted to make sure that I held up the scriptures high. I wanted to make sure that I spoke about the inspiration of the scripture, so I went to 2 Timothy 3:16-17. I wanted to make sure I let the people know that the Bible and only the Bible could serve as a lamp unto their feet. So, I went to Psalms 119:105 For the final point that I wanted to drive home, I went no other place than–
Hebrews 4:12 ESV
12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
Why? Because I wanted to assure the congregation that the Bible is living and active. It has an ability to cut to the heart. It has the ability to sort out our thoughts and intentions if we will allow it to. We need to cling to the Bible for these reasons. I was proud of that sermon. So proud in fact, that I believe I preached it a few more times in various locations.
There is a tricky thing to keep in mind when studying the scriptures. Context. It changes everything, and yes… Context can sure ruin a good sermon. There was a problem with my preaching that sermon. I ignored context. As a result I made some applications that the original authors were not actually making. I’ll leave it to you to study those texts and arrive at how they should rightly be applied. The point is, I wanted to make some “points” and I went to certain verses to prove my points. The points I was trying to make weren’t bad, but they were not always the same points that the original author intended to make.
There are many more obvious passages that I have quoted in my preaching through the earlier years without realizing the context, or the proper meaning, for instance, did you know that Phil 4:13 is not a pep talk before a football game? Of course you know that, but sadly, there was a time that I didn’t think twice about quoting the passage in that context.
Back to the point. When I was baptized into Christ I was given a “ready reference” that had lists of verses to go to to discuss any subject, generally aimed at “proving a point”. In some ways, this was helpful to me as I began to grow in Christ. It was helpful for me to see “why” we believed certain things that we believed. It wasn’t a bad tool to have. However, when we begin our study of a given topic with the conclusion in mind, we are often blind to what is in front of our eyes.
It can be tempting for preachers to litter their sermons with 100 scripture references (I know, I’ve done it) in order to “prove” a point or worse, in order to “sound better”. It can be tempting as listeners ( I know, I’ve done it) to hear sermons like that and think, “Man! That guy knows his Bible!” and walk away more impressed with the messenger than we are the message.
My challenge for myself and for you is a simple one. Do your best every time you approach the Bible, to take off your blinders. Empty your mind of “conclusions” until the study has been done. Do not ever, in preaching or personal study set out to “prove” a point. Set out to see, know, understand, and follow God. We all have biases. We all have a few scriptures that are ready to be quoted from memory that may not mean what we think they mean. Let’s learn from the Jews in John 5. Let’s not be content with searching the scriptures but missing the point. Even if that means that the context of a passage is going to ruin my next sermon… it probably wasn’t a good sermon in the first place. 🙂 Let’s press on to greater study, and love for the text.