As another school year rolls around, the mind turns to the topic of education. It is a good thing to be learning and the absolute best thing we can study and learn is the word of God. Other topics may be useful for the pursuit of temporal matters, but only God’s word has the power to sanctify and save (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15; Romans 1:16).
For this reason, God repeatedly commends us to the study of, and mediation upon, His word. Jesus prayed, “sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth (John 17:17; ESV).” The Psalmist noted that the man of God meditates upon the word of God daily and constantly (cf. Psalm 1:2), and the Berean Jews were commended by God for their readiness to hear the Word and then study the Word (cf. Acts 17:11).
And yet not all study is created equal. The apostle Paul warned Timothy about a certain kind of teacher who would lead the gullible astray. He says concerning these individuals, that they are, “always learning and never able to arrive at the knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 3:7; ESV).”
How tragic to spend all one’s life learning and learning, but never actually learn the lessons of value. If it is the truth that sanctifies (cf. John 17:17) and sets men free (cf. John 8:32), then it is imperative for us to know the truth if we wish to have the salvation Christ brings.
Some, naturally, never arrive at the knowledge of the truth because they never bother studying at all, but that is not the sort Paul is speaking about. So, we should ask ourselves, how does one spend a lifetime learning, and yet manage to miss out on arriving at the knowledge of the truth? Let us explore three possibilities…
Some never learn the truth because they study the wrong things.
We would not expect to learn how to speak French by studying the Mandarin tongue; and we would not study Constitutional Law expecting to learn Chemistry. To learn a particular subject, it is naturally necessary to study that subject. If one spends all their time studying the various opinions of men, it is not surprising if they never actually learn the opinion of God. To arrive at a knowledge of God’s Word, which is the truth we need, it is important to actually study the Word itself.
Some never learn the truth because they don’t study to learn.
Just as it is important to study the right subject, it is important to study with the right motivation. It is possible to study desiring only to confirm those things we already believe. Every session of study becomes another opportunity to affirm bias and dogma rather than a pursuit of those things that might challenge and change us. If we only ever study the things we already know, we should not expect to learn something new. Jesus wanted teachers of His word to bring out things both old and new (cf. Matthew 13:52). To do otherwise is to stagnate and refuse to advance into the knowledge of the Truth.
Some never learn the truth because they never engage with that which they study.
It is not enough to read God’s word. The writer James declared, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works (James 2:18b).” Jesus said, ““If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32; ESV).” God’s Word is not meant to be a mere intellectual pursuit but rather a life-affecting message which is confirmed through obedience. It is the man who actually walks according to the truth who comes to the full understanding of the truth. If we study and study but never apply what we learn, then we are going to be in danger of ever studying but never arriving.
The study of God’s Word is a vital endeavor but lets ensure that we are studying the right material, with the right motivation and with the intention of putting that which we learn into practice.
The church of Christ invites you to study the Word of God with us as we endeavor to live according to its precepts. We meet at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise if you have any questions or comments, please share them with us.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.