I truly believe that Bible study is beneficial and helpful but…
Once while inviting students to Bible study on the UIC campus, a student expressed that he wanted to go to medical school. So I told him confidently, “Studying the Bible will help you get into medical school.” He was quite surprised and very interested and intrigued. He said, “Really?” I said, “Absolutely!” He was persuaded. He joined UBF, came faithfully to Sunday worship service, as we studied the Bible every week for a few years. Then he was accepted to medical school. That was the last time I saw him. Well, Bible study surely worked! I guess it just didn’t work the way I had expected.
Yes, Bible study helps us. But what can go wrong? What I’ve found most interesting is that during Jesus’ time those who knew the Bible were the very ones determined to discredit, dishonor and eliminate him. They also believed that they were the ones who were truly obeying what the Bible (Torah) taught. Can this happen today among Christians who know their Bible well and who believe that they are truly obeying the Bible? Can I be so deceived by my own knowledge and study of the Scriptures over the last 35 years since 1980 when I became a Christian?
This also happened during the time of Isaiah about 750 years before Christ. The “chosen people” obeyed what Moses taught. They faithfully made sacrifices and offerings. They gathered regularly to worship in the temple. They kept their religious festivals, as we Christians might celebrate Easter and Christmas every year without fail. Was God pleased with their worship and obedience? God says, “Stop bringing useless offerings…I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly” (Isa 1:13).
What a surprise! God was not pleased with their Bible study and obedience. God was basically saying, “Stop all your church activities and Bible study!” Imagine saying this in church today…
Similarly, God told Isaiah about the “Bible people” he was going to minister to when he was called by God (Isa 6:8). Even though they knew their Bibles, yet their ears, eyes and hearts would be deaf, blind and hardened (calloused) toward God’s word through Isaiah (Isa 6:9-10). They come to God with hymns of praise, appearing piously at the temple (Isa 29:1), yet God indicts them for their distant hearts (Isa 29:13a). They thought they were really studying the Bible well, but God says that their Bible study is merely human rules taught by their Bible teachers (Isa 29:13b).
In Jesus’ time and Isaiah’s time the prophets, priests and religious leaders knew their Bible and taught the Bible. But Jesus said that they neglected what was most important in Bible study–“justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Mt 23:23). Though the Bible teachers were diligent in trying to “raise disciples” Jesus said that their disciples were “twice as much a child of hell as (they) are” (Mt 23:15). Ouch! It’s no wonder that they crucified Jesus!!
So is Bible study not helpful? It can be when we let God be God and not try to play God over others. We love others by letting God work his magic and miracle in transforming their lives by His grace and by His Spirit. Thomas Merton says it best:
“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
Did I love others? I can blame my Bible student for quitting Bible study after he got what he wanted and entered medical school. But based on Merton’s definition, I wasn’t truly loving him by allowing him to be perfectly himself. I only wanted to raise him as a UBF shepherd. He knew it. I knew it. I did not deeply celebrate his admission into medical school, because I regarded that it was more important that he became a one to one Bible teacher for UBF world campus mission. I wanted him to be like me, as though I am the standard of how a Christian should be. It is sad.
So yes I do believe that Bible study can truly help us. But not in the way that I used to impose my will and preference on others through Bible study.
Has Bible study helped you? Others?