December 5, 2016 | By Brent Hall
Most Christians know they should read their Bible on a regular basis. But what if I told you God cares more about how we read our Bibles than how often we read our Bibles? Please don’t hear me wrongly, reading the Bible every day and filling our hearts and minds with God’s Word is healthy for our lives. But it can also be dangerous if we’re not careful. I can hear someone saying, “Well, a pastor said it’s dangerous to read my Bible; therefore, I won’t read my Bible.” No! I want to encourage everyone to dive into the Scriptures on a daily basis as a healthy discipline, but I want to make sure we dive in without crashing against the rocks.
The danger I want us to avoid is religious pride. We can use the Bible to think ourselves superior to others if we’re not careful. How many of us have experienced another person’s condescending attitude during a group discussion or personal conversation? Their brain was big, but their heart was small. They were passionate, but not compassionate. This is why Paul says, “Knowledge puffs up while love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).
The Pharisees knew the Bible better than any other person in their day. Some Pharisees had the entire Old Testament memorized and most knew all 613 Old Testament laws. They could quote these laws and expected everyone to follow these laws. But Jesus said this to these religious experts, “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). Jesus is saying that they had lots of knowledge about the Bible, but they missed the very intention of the Bible. It went straight over their heads. But before we beat up on the Pharisees, what about us? What about me? I know I’ve been guilty of religious pride, missing the heart of God’s love. It’s so easy to do!
Assuming we’ve prayed and asked for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, let me suggest two simple questions we can ask ourselves when reading Scripture that might serve as guardrails from religious pride..
- How does this challenge/help me to love Jesus more? All the big ideas in Scripture connect to Jesus in some way. Does it tell you about His character, love, expectation for followers, etc.? While it might take some steps to get there (which is why a good commentary can be useful), I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say all of Scripture somehow ties to Jesus Christ.
- How does this challenge/help me to love people more? This is a step we should not overlook. The thing is: most Pharisees really did believe that they loved God. God’s argument, though, is that if you don’t love people (including that Christian who is struggling with sin), you don’t truly know the God of the Bible. 1 John 4:7 “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” When we stop asking this question, we miss the heart and mission of God for our daily lives.
It really is that simple. I’m not saying that studying theology and growing in our understanding of God’s Word isn’t important. I love studying the Bible/theology. But if we ever get away from these two questions, we’ve missed it. After all, Jesus said the greatest commandment is pretty simple: Love God and love people, all the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments (Matthew 22:37-39).
For deeper reflection:
1) Have you ever felt judged by another Christian because of something you had done in your past or a shortcoming in your life? How did that feel? Did it encourage or discourage you to follow Jesus?
2) Have you ever looked down on someone because they weren’t as passionate as you in their faith?
3) Why do you think people slip into religious pride?