By Aubry G. Smith
Years ago I discipled a young man who was a new believer, and his response to Scripture always startled me.
Most people would read a passage of Scripture, parse the Greek verbs, note interesting cultural or historical facets, think up hypothetical scenarios for applying the passage, and then move on to the next passage. But Dave read a passage and then went and did what he read—immediately and literally. He read the parable of the good Samaritan, then drove around town for several hours looking for someone to help, feed, and put up in a hotel for the night. After reading Jesus’ command to sell possessions and give to the poor, Dave sold his video game consoles and some furniture and gave the money to the poor. He read that believers should confess their sins, so he openly confessed everything to a wide-eyed group of near strangers.
While Dave’s early approach was extreme and even inappropriate at times, the heart behind his actions convicted many longtime believers about the way they read the Bible. Are we studying merely to increase our knowledge or to learn faithful obedience? Dave’s actions were confrontational to those of us who had grown content with hypothetical obedience as we soaked in more knowledge about the Bible.
Apparently, this was an issue in the early church, as well. James, the brother of Jesus, wrote to Jewish-background believers and exhorted them:
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in the mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (Jas 1:22–25).
“Looking intently” into Scripture certainly involves understanding what the author intended to communicate to his original audience—from which we are separated by vast amounts of time, culture, language, and geography. Deep study is essential for avoiding misinterpretations. But interpretation cannot be the final step. Obedience must follow, James says, or our study of Scripture is as useful as an amnesiac’s gaze in a mirror. Perhaps at times we use those cultural and time barriers as excuses not to fully obey. What use is it if I can tell you about the particular verb tense in a passage, but I cannot submit my fears to the Lord in prayer? What use is it if I can tell you about ancient methods of Roman currency and taxation, but I hoard my wealth and live with tightly closed fists?
It wasn’t just Dave’s obedience that drew us in, though. His faith in what God said in his word was so rich and deep. Dave could obey so quickly because he trusted what the Bible said, rather than rationalizing away its commands. Perhaps this is why obedience is so important: it reveals how deep our trust in God is. John wrote that those who truly know and love Jesus obey him (1 John 2:3–6).
Instead of being content with studying the Bible merely to gain knowledge, may we always press forward into a more trusting and obedient faith.