“First world problems.”
You know the phrase. It’s become synonymous with complaints about slow wireless speeds, shipping that isn’t free, and groceries that aren’t organic enough for our tastes. At least where I’m writing from this morning, there is an abundance of resources, and that affords us as consumers the ability to complain about things that would never enter the minds of previous generations, or current contemporaries living in other parts of the world.
The human heart has a remarkable capacity for dissatisfaction, doesn’t it?
I wonder this morning, though, if the same idea behind the phrase might also be applied to us as Christians. As a Christian living in North America, I have a wealth of resources at my fingertips. I have more books than I have read, more study tools than I know how to use, more opinions on any given text than I could possibly scan. There is an abundance of information about the Bible and what it says. But this is where the first world problem comes in.
Because we have so much information, it is entirely possible for us as Christians to regularly sit together, make theological arguments, examine the text from every which way, and overall increase our knowledge. We can know more precisely than ever before exactly what the text says.
And yet we might never get around to actually doing what the Bible says.
Surely you’ve been in a small group or a discussion with another Christian that left you intellectually energized. You spent an hour or so debating different aspects of theology, parsing words in the text, examining every detail of what the Bible tells us. You asked tough questions, wrestled with the answers, and then walked out excited about the next conversation you might have around this subject. But what did you do then? What was the end of this information?
Once upon a time, I watched GI Joe cartoons as a kid. And each episode would conclude with a short, 30-second vignette when one of the cartoon characters would give an educational message to all the kids in the audience. The segment would include with the catch phrase, “Knowing is half the battle.” That might be true. It might be true not just for public service announcements, but also for Christian doctrine.
Knowing might be half the battle – but it’s not the whole battle.
The Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day were mighty good at fighting half the battle. They had done their research, secured their arguments, and knew their history. They were familiar with every stroke of the pen of God’s book, and they weren’t shy about letting others know it. But Jesus cut through their intellectual pride:
“The scribes and the Pharisees are seated in the chair of Moses. Therefore do whatever they tell you, and observe it. But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they teach. They tie up heavy loads that are hard to carry and put them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves aren’t willing to lift a finger to move them. They do everything to be observed by others: They enlarge their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love the place of honor at banquets, the front seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by people” (Matt. 23:2-7).
“Observe what they tell you,” says Jesus, “But don’t do what they do. Which is not much.” Analyzation is a poor substitute for obedience.
If you find yourself, friends, in a position where you are leading a discussion; if you are a Bible study teacher; if you are facilitating a small group; if you are having breakfast over the Word with another brother; don’t stop at half the battle. Press yourself and others into obedience. Spur each other on. For the Bible is not an informational book given to us merely to boost our intellect. Instead, the Bible carries with it the authority of God’s Word. As such, our job is not only to know it, but to position our lives under it. To know the Bible, and to do what it says.