September 27, 2016

"Not merely hearers"

It occurs to me that I face a peculiar challenge as a committed Christian (and even more so as a pastor). The Bible is near me all the time. It’s a tool I use every day. It’s the bedrock of my worldview. It’s like a soundtrack, almost always playing in the background (and very often in the foreground) of my life – one to which I have grown quite accustomed, and with which I am becoming ever more comfortable. I read it regularly. I study it as a life’s calling. I enjoy preaching it. I enjoy hearing a good sermon, too. And lately I have been on the lookout for just the right actual Bible as well … one that will bring my preferred version, formatting, cover, and so on into one finished product. And all of these are good things! It is a blessing to have the word of God around us all the time, to genuinely enjoy it, and to have access to it in so many well-presented ways! And, whether we are pastors or not, many of us can relate to much of what I’ve just written.

But I wonder, sometimes, if we don’t dupe ourselves into thinking that the aforementioned (often quite enjoyable) interactions with the word of God necessarily equate with maturing Christianity. In other words, I wonder if the fact that some of us often read the word of God, and hear the word of God, and even enjoy the word of God – reading it in different formats or translations, hearing it preached well and rousingly, enjoying its comforting promises – I wonder if our nearness to (and even enjoyment of) the Scriptures in these ways sometimes dupes us into forgetting to ask whether we’re actually putting what they say into practice!

I’ll give you an example from my own life. There are certain preachers out there that really get my attention – men whose handling of the word of God comes with that “intellectual freshness” that John G. Paton wrote about in the Christian environment in which he grew up. But, much as I enjoy listening to these men open the word, do I then do anything about what I heard? Often, I am afraid, I stop simply at having enjoyed the word, rather than really making effort to apply the word. And the same may be true, someday, when I find that perfectly bound and printed NASB Bible! It may be a real pleasure to hold goatskin in my hands, and to read from a near perfect typeface. But will I merely enjoy the experience, or will I do anything about what I read?

And I suspect that I am not the only one who struggles with just this sort of disconnect! For instance, I have gotten a more-than-usual amount of feedback on our recent sermons on the family … for which I am grateful! I am sure the subject matter has a lot to do with that, and it is encouraging to hear that so many people are really interested in the biblical material on husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, children, and so on! It’s also encouraging that so many ladies came back from the recent women’s conference encouraged by what they heard there! But there is a danger, you know – namely that we could really enjoy hearing all these things laid out in a systematic way; that we could delight in the warm pictures of biblical family life or womanhood that we’ve had painted before us; that we could even like being challenged with some truths that maybe we hadn’t previously thought much about … and yet, while enjoying such things, the danger is that we could walk away from them the way we might do from a really good piece of music – moved, delighted, warmed, but not necessarily with a paradigm shift for how we are going to do life!

And that’s okay when we’re talking about music, or about a movie, or a book of fiction. For these things are generally meant, basically, for enjoyment. And speaking of things meant for our enjoyment, it’s not even wrong to admit that we really enjoy reading the Bible, or hearing it taught … because God intends that we should! His word is meant to bring joy (Jeremiah 15:16)! 

But the word is also meant to bring change! We are meant, not only to taste its sweetness, but to follow its instructions!

Now don’t mishear me! I am glad that the word of God is often enjoyable to me! And I am glad when it is so for you! Indeed, I hope that, for all of us, it only becomes all the more so! But let’s not stop there! Let’s not just hear and enjoy the Bible, but put it into practice as well! “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).

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