Why do we learn?
Dr. Bill Mounce
I have been involved in higher education for most of my life. I come from a long line of teachers. My father was a professor. I taught at the university and graduate level, and now I help run BiblicalTraining.org, the greatest repository of biblical teaching the world has ever seen.
So I am committed to learning. After all, Jesus tells us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:29-30). Or as I like to say it, we should have an “informed love” of God.
But Jesus reserved his greatest condemnation for the most learned people in the history of Judaism, which is really saying something. The scribes and Pharisees knew every inch of the Hebrew scriptures, but as such, they were not able to even enter the Kingdom of God (Matt 5:20). So what’s the big deal with learning?
I love the cycle in Colossians 1:9–12. Paul prays that God fills the Colossians “with the knowledge of his will.” How does that happen? “Through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives.” What is the purpose this Spirit-filled learning? “So that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.”
Paul then follows with four participles explaining what a “life worthy of the Lord” looks like:
- ”bearing fruit”
- ”growing in the knowledge of God”
- ”being strengthened”
- ”giving joyful thanks”
Note Paul’s cycle:
- He prays that we are filled with the knowledge of who God is.
- The purpose of that knowledge is so that we bear spiritual fruit.
- As we bear fruit we cycle back around and continue to grow in our knowledge of God.
Knowledge for knowledge’s sake puffs us up with pride (1 Cor 8:1); but godly knowledge that is given feet, that changes how we live and bears fruit, will cycle back around and we will continue to grow in our understanding of the character and activity of God.
The problem with the Pharisees, with much of modern education, and the problem in many “Bible preaching” churches, is that there is no cycle. People learn to learn, but it doesn’t change them. We all know people who have sat in good churches or gone to good seminaries, who can cite the Catechism, questions and answers, win the Bible drills, and yet are addicted to pornography and gossip. There is no growth because they see knowledge as the end in and of itself.
Paul’s goal is that God will so work in the lives of the Colossians that they will live lives worthy of God, which means their lives will change, bearing fruit.
So please, when you learn, don’t be content with the head knowledge. Make the long and arduous journey the 18 inches to the heart. Complete the cycle. If you don’t, are you any better than the Pharisees?
Jesus has a word for people who learn but don’t allow the learning to affect their lives: “fool” (Matt 7:26). But those who do complete the cycle, he calls “wise.”
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