“Why do you continue to use a calculator for data entry, when you can learn how to program an excel sheet?” A Thai friend of mine was interning and was quietly frustrated at the older employees’ negative attitude towards learning a new skill.
I recall that in Singapore many years ago, a campaign was started for Lifelong Learning. The reason was that Singapore’s economy was changing, and workers needed to update their skills or even pick up new ones in order to work in the new economy. Such a campaign was necessary because experienced workers often tend to resist changing the way they used to do things, simply believing that they ‘know enough’ for their job.
Unfortunately, some Christians also take a similar approach towards Christian doctrine. They might suppose that since all they need to know is ‘Christ Jesus and him crucified’, they do not need to get all intellectual and trouble themselves with much reading in-depth. Even pastors may put off further theological study, whether at a seminary or through self-study. That could be because they are burdened with pastoral work, family duties, or making a living (especially lay pastors). Sometimes, they might actually deem further study unprofitable, sadly because think they ‘know enough’ already.
Today I want to encourage you to keep learning, and not to stop at familiar parts of the Bible. All scripture is indeed profitable, and not just those parts which speak directly about faith and the gospel. In Luke 24, we read that Jesus expounded to two disciples on the road to Emmaus how Moses and the Prophets wrote of him. What was result? The hearts of the disciples burned within them (verse 32); it could be said their zeal for the kingdom was rekindled. Likewise, Paul had declared to the Church at Ephesus the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). If it was unprofitable, why would he do it?
Though Christians should never stop reading and rereading the Scriptures, as they mature, it is to their benefit if they also read commentaries, apologetics, church history, or stories of saints in the past. Though these are not inspired Scripture as we know it, they are still very useful and edifying. In commentaries we learn what the Holy Spirit taught faithful men in the past concerning the Word. In apologetics we reason anew that God is true. In church history we become reassured that God will always preserve a people unto himself, as he had done throughout old testament times until now. In the stories of saints past, we see how our brothers and sisters in the faith bore witness with their lives.
There is a wave of anti-intellectualism in some Christian circles today, especially those which emphasize ‘spiritual’ experiences. Some even claim that faith is illogical, and God’s thoughts are beyond ours, so we should try to know him with our hearts rather than with our minds. This is actually a false dichotomy: in ancient times the concepts of heart and mind were intimately linked. Furthermore, Jesus Christ was described by John as the Word, or logos in Greek, so why should his followers shun logic?
It is true that there are many mysteries which we cannot fully comprehend, such as the marriage union, or how Christ can be both God and man, or even divine predestination – but God has still given us knowledge of such things that we may understand enough to praise him for. And the mature Christian will receive such doctrine as meat for the soul, and be transformed continually from one degree of glory to another. Indeed, as the saying goes, God did not give us the Scriptures to increase our knowledge, but to change our lives.
And Christian leaders especially must lead in having a teachable spirit and good attitude toward learning. Paul writes in his pastoral letter, ‘Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.’ (2Timothy 2:15) The instruction to be diligent is sometimes translated as ‘study’, which is agreeable with the context. We may surmise that Paul instructed his protégé to study the word of truth. In discipleship, the mentor must show forth an example, and Paul seemed to have done so: in the concluding remarks of his same letter, he asked Timothy to bring him his books and parchments.
Or perhaps we may consider Elisha: since he frequently passed by the home of a Shunammite lady, she and her husband prepared a guest room for him (2Kings 4:10). Other than a bed, what was in the room? A table, a chair, and a lamp – most likely, the prophet was known to read even at night!
Of course you might say, “Those two were apostle and prophet – I am not called in the same way as they were.” But, isn’t it the same Holy Spirit which dwells in you? Wouldn’t it delight you to be taught by him?
Now if we already desire to take Paul, Elisha, or Ezra for our example, envisioning the amount of studies ahead can be daunting. We know so little and obviously we cannot learn everything in an instant. I have heard new believers lament of how much they have to ‘catch up’ to reach the level of Bible knowledge their peers in church have. Well, I want to encourage you, too.
I think the knowledge of heavenly things is like a borderless frontier. For those of us who have been Christians for many years, we know we will never reach the end of our learning journey, no matter how ‘great’ we might become in the eyes of others who have yet to travel as far. God still teaches us new things ever and anon. So we remain humble, refusing to let knowledge puff ourselves up by exclaiming, as did Paul when he realized a little of God’s merciful ways, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33) Meanwhile, we invite all to share in our wonder, and lovingly beckon to those who are behind, “Come up further.”