Is there a point when too much Bible study can be hazardous to our spiritual health? The first time I heard this question, my initial thought was heresy or this is an outright attack on God’s word. Also, I recently read an author who made a statement (and I paraphrase): There are times when we should stop growing in Bible knowledge.
At first glance, these thoughts might sound ludicrous or dangerous, but as I read on, I soon got the wisdom they were trying to convey.
No, they weren’t saying the Bible was dangerous or that knowledge was a bad thing. Obviously, we need a minimum amount of knowledge to understand or believe God’s work, his intentions, and his wishes. If you observe the Apostle Paul’s writing style, you will notice that he starts his epistles with doctrine or principles, and then he progresses into practice. Naturally, application always jumps from the diving board of knowledge and wisdom.
The problem comes in though when believers begin to measure their spiritual growth by how much they know. I’ll admit that I’m the chief sinner here. I’m guilty of this in many areas, including my writing and blogging. I love to share new ideas with others–and sometimes, that is for selfish reasons. Sorry, but that’s just the truth. And how many times have I thought I was sharing a new piece of information, when often it’s just a rehashing of ideas that have visited generation upon generation. Will knowing a new piece of information really make a difference in your growth? Maybe. Or maybe it will falsely lead you to believe so.
Here are a couple of Bible versus that I believe support these thoughts.
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.
John 5:39-40 (NIV)
Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.
1 Corinthians 8:1 (NASB)
In the first passage, Jesus was chastising the Jewish leaders because they were reading way too much into the scriptures. They thought they perfectly understood things, while the God of the Universe stared into their faces and they rejected him. And, obviously, the Jewish leaders entertained the idea that having a vast or superior knowledge of scripture somehow placed them in a higher standing with God, therefore securing their eternal destiny. They were dead wrong.
In the second passage, Paul discusses a gray area in the early church: Is it okay to eat meat that was sacrificed to idols? Paul rehashes his ideas in Romans 14. Today, especially in the Baptist Church setting, it might be a question of whether or not we can have a glass of wine with our meal? Or what’s the right kind of music a believer should listen to?
The gray areas are where we need to have the most patience and exercise the most love. Here is where our maturity will be tested the most. On the one hand, we don’t want to cause our weak brothers to stumble, and on the other we shouldn’t call something law, when it’s really just a recommended practice.
I could go on. There are other scriptures like James 1:22 or James 2:14-24, which suggest that knowing stuff can be deceiving. Here, James is trying to stress the value of doing (or being) as opposed to just knowing. I have known people who were masters of the scripture, and yet, they still struggle with pornography. Or believers who faithfully attend church, Sunday after Sunday, but have broken ties with a friend, a family member, or a neighbor. Or a community group leader who doesn’t practice what he teaches. A deacon who is trying to cause a split. A ministry leader who judges the ones he’s ministering to. You get my point.
Trying to measure our spiritual growth by how much we know can disable us with pride and lead us down the path of self-deception. On the other hand, if we measure growth by how much we love others or emulate Christ, then I think we’re making a much healthier choice.
In the end, what am I saying? Maybe we should stop being Bible bookworms. Maybe stop buying self-help book after self-help book. Maybe attend fewer sermons. Instead, wouldn’t it make more sense to begin practicing all that knowledge we keep storing away? Would it really hurt us to love a little more as opposed to learning more?
Please share your thoughts. Do you have any ideas on how we can become better practitioners of God’s word, as opposed to just being scholars?