I’m sure you’ve heard of someone referred to as too smart for their own good. That seems to be an oxymoron of some kind, but I believe it bears enough truth to examine. I’m a teacher, so of course I feel strongly about education and the benefits it can bring in our lives. I think it’s great for someone to continue learning throughout their life, always adding to their depth of knowledge. At the same time, I also believe that we can constantly study and analyze subjects to the point where we fail to notice the simple, minor details anymore. It’s a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees.
A great example of this is spoken about in the book of Acts when Paul was in Athens. Athens during biblical times would’ve been similar to our largely populated and educated metropolitan areas of today. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with Paul over the religious ideas he was presenting (Acts 17:18) and like most disbelievers today, they began to insult him, assuming their knowledge trumped Paul’s thoughts and testimony. Paul was used to this type of behavior in response to his ministry. He even told Timothy to, “Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20), and watch out for those who are, “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).
The philosophers of this time, much like those today who hold themselves in high regard because of their perceived wisdom, spent all of their time studying and debating the thinking of the day. The problem is that most of philosophical thought is studied through the eyes of the viewer and the opinions of the day. It means there’s no standard, that everything is relative and we can make our own standard to meet our needs as we go. Much of the atheistic talking points today center around this idea as well, that we should use our collective knowledge to develop a moral standard that’s good for everyone. I’m sure you can see the impossibility of that endeavor because we are inherently selfish creatures, usually seeking to make things more comfortable or palatable for ourselves.
Sadly, many churches and Bible colleges are adapting a form of this thinking as well. Religion for some has become strictly about Bible knowledge and “study to show thyself approved” (2 Timothy 2:15) and worshipping in truth above all (John 4:24). Notice how I quoted verses as reference for those thoughts. That’s because they are entirely true. But like the Pharisees who only focused on following the law, we can only focus on learning and not have any motivation to put our learning into practice. It’s good to find truth, but it’s even better to do something with it (James 2:26). Any extensive study of the Bible must ultimately lead to spiritual renewal and good works or it’s simply just study for the sake of knowledge.
Just like there are career college students who sputter along aimlessly and never graduate and put their education to work , there can be Christians as well who only focus on learning and none of the doing. Paul was possibly able to convince some in Athens of the saving power of the gospel because he was out working instead of debating. If anything, we can learn from Paul that the gospel is at its most powerful stage when it is lived and not just learned.