Last time I wrote about Rick Warren’s attempt to make peace with the world, and in doing so how he ignored a great deal of Scripture. This led me to ask, ‘Instead of only complaining, how can I help believers not do this?’ Well, the only real help I can offer is to tell people to study the Scriptures daily. But does saying ‘study this’ really help? Do people know how to do this in a way that is pleasing to God? I must say that for the church generally, this is not the case; people do not automatically know how to study the Scriptures in the way that will help them see what God is saying to them. You see, God’s words were not written directly to us; they had a different intended audience. More, the Scriptures were written 2000 or more years ago in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) that we do not speak. They addressed cultures that were very different from ours, with expectations we have never heard of, let alone make for ourselves. Further, Scripture itself tells us that we are unable in ourselves to understand what is written, (1 Cor 2:14) and so, must rely on supernatural aid to actually understand the words written for our benefit. (1 Cor 2:12-13)
This makes it sound almost impossible, and something that most people will simply be unable to do! Who wants to learn THREE Languages, study thousands of years of culture and turn into a spirit because “…he is not able to understand them [the Scriptures] because they are spiritually discerned?” (1 Cor 2:14c, ESV) However, this is a great over-reaction, but it seems to be the one Pastor Warren made when he made his comments. He chose not to study the topic because he thought he knew the answer. In this, we see the first thing we must avoid, and that thing is fear. When we stand before the Scriptures far too often people make the error of fear, and this fear always leads to arrogance.
The first form of fear is that Scripture will be too complicated for us to understand, and so we become arrogant in our ignorance and think that we must already know enough. This results in asking questions like: ‘God would never make such hard material necessary, would He?’ Or, ‘Why would God require so much work in study for something that is a free gift?’ Both of these questions betray a fear of having to do work in study. That fear leads directly to an arrogance of the knowledge we do have, so in the end we end up thinking that we really do not need to study because that is just for eggheads, nerds and other forms of pastoral life.
The second error is the fear of thinking something you believed in the past was wrong, and that could never be, because after all, I have been a Christian for (insert however long) and learned it already from (insert from whom you learned it.)
Both of these fears (the fears that we are wasting time because we already know enough and fear of being wrong) lead to a massive block in our ability to understand God’s truth. This block is present because we have already decided that we do not want to know it because we are afraid of work or afraid of being wrong. This is one of the things the First Corinthians passage was talking about; both are examples of trying to understand with the wrong spirit. You are trying to understand through a prism of sin instead of through the Holy Spirit’s gift of illumination.
Therefore, the very first principle of studying Scripture must be coming to the work knowing you need to know. Either through more work or knowing that you might have been wrong and therefore need correction; but, regardless of reason, you need to know. This is very hard to do, but as believers, we must all have this exact form humility if we have any chance of understanding Scripture. After all, God certainly knows more than we do, and any place where we disagree with Him we are wrong. We must do more than just say this; we must repent of our wrong attitudes and live as though we believe it. Therefore, we must approach the Bible first with humility, asking the Lord to cause us to learn His truth through our humble personal study. We must also be willing to set aside our fleshly beliefs (such as it is too much work, or that we already know), and fully examine the Scripture to find the truth; all the while remembering that the truth is not native to us, and comes only as a gift from God.
We will look at further principles in future entries, but for now be humble before your God and admit you do not know it all and must learn from the Great Teacher!