Always Ready to Learn
Knowledge alone has never been the intent of our God. But we are also encouraged to savor the tasty morsels of wisdom in Scripture.
One of the most attractive aspects of our community is our lifelong commitment to learning. We begin as young children, soaking in the lessons from our dedicated and loving parents and Sunday School teachers. Throughout our teen and adult lives, we regularly gather to learn, an essential aspect of fellowship.
Bible classes, Bible Schools, youth weekends, study weekends—all designed to supplement a strong personal pursuit of knowledge and spiritual wisdom. And we can’t get enough! What we share in common is a desire to learn more about the unfathomable word of God. Even in our latter years, discovering a new Bible insight or principle can be just as exhilarating as when we first discovered one in our early teens. We must never stop learning.
If we look a bit more closely at Solomon’s proverb, we see three behaviors that are associated with learning. First, “intelligent people are always ready.” Readiness occurs when we attend a formal class or read independently; it also comes from the correction the LORD brings into our lives. We must always be ready to learn. Hebrews 12:11 tells us that chastening is a powerful way to learn, but only if it brings about the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” to those who have their minds “exercised thereby.” If there’s no exercise of the mind, no learning, then there is no peace in our lives.
We must never stop learning.
Secondly, Solomon says intelligent people have “their ears open,” always hearing and assessing. It demands that we have minds willing to be challenged. We want to hear the thoughts of others about Scripture. But, like the Bereans, we are also responsible for assessing what we hear based on a sound investigation through Scripture. This discipline can be a challenge for all of us. Mental constructs and comfortable thinking may prevent us from transforming our minds.
But Solomon indicates an important third dimension: a fundamental acceptance that we don’t know everything, no matter how wise or experienced we are in the Scriptures. Let’s never lose sight of this principle. No man or woman has come close to an exhaustive knowledge of Scripture, and none of us fully understand the wisdom and depth of our God. We are all in need of education.
Beyond this, there is a progression in knowledge. For example, the Apostle Paul fully understood who Jesus was; in fact, he intimately met him. He deeply comprehended the resurrection and gave exquisite instructions about how it would occur. Yet, to the Philippians, Paul said, “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death.” (Phil 3:10 NLT).
To the Corinthians, Paul commented that he knew “in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Cor 13:12). Life in Christ is about a progressive “getting to know” our Lord. It is much more than book learning. It is the knowledge that comes from a lifelong relationship.
Learning readiness is an increasing challenge, as the world expects complexity delivered as sound bites. I am concerned that too often, brothers and sisters and young people listen to a class or exhortation exceptionally passively. Readiness to learn is not compatible with Bibles lying nearby or closed on our laps.
Our heavy use of presentation technologies (e.g., PowerPoint) may have fueled this scenario. The speaker presents a large selection of passages and has much to cover. It can take a lot of work to keep up. However, we must never approach Bible study as if it is similar to entertainment. The brother leading the class is doing just that—leading. We are walking along with him, examining the same references and developing the wisdom the passages provide.
When verses are projected for all to see, it would be far better if the full audience were prompted to open their Bibles to this same passage consistently. I can’t count the number of times that the speaker cited a couple of verses for proof-text, only for me to find even more impactful verses further down the page in my open Bible.
Solomon spoke frequently about the need to apply oneself to the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.
- My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding. (Prov 2:1-2 ESV).
- Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge. (Prov 22:17 ESV).
- Apply your heart to instruction and your ear to words of knowledge. (Prov 23:12 ESV).
When I have spoken to young people about learning readiness, I encourage them to open their Bibles, look up the verses, and have a pencil (preferably a 0.5MM lead) and a handy notepad. If electronics are used instead, readiness is similar. One of the ways we can assess if we have been ready to learn is whether we have taken any notes, written down questions, or underlined any key passages. Peter wrote to “gird up the loins of your mind.” (1 Pet 1:13). That’s Passover language, indicating that our minds, like the feet of the children of Israel, needed to be ready to go—girded up, prepared for deliverance. Whatever your preparation is for learning, commit to doing it consistently.
It is just as essential to be ready to learn from our life experiences. As I look back at my life, I can see in hindsight how the LORD and His angels worked in my and my family’s life. The way my mother first heard of the Truth. The mentoring I received from my parents and godly brothers and sisters. How I was led to my wife. How I have learned from disappointments and tragedies. Yet this is all clear to me now because it is hindsight.
be ready to learn from our life experiences
Readiness to learn is also about finding God in the present, the way He works in our lives right now. We come to recognize windows of service opportunity. We have a clearer view of our own behavior and motives when we are frustrated, upset, or even envious. We see more clearly what God wants us to learn from those He puts in our life presently. We accept His loving rebuke in real-time, not by reflection decades later. Readiness to learn is having our eyes wide open to what God wants us to know from the events of our life. I want to take the same “readiness” approach for Bible study to see how God works in my life.
The second part of the proverb deals with listening with open ears and assessing what is right. Of course, this has always been a challenge, and we read throughout the Scriptures about men like Hymenaeus and Philetus, who erred, “saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.” (2 Tim 2:17-18). There would be “grievous wolves” that would be “speaking perverse things.” (Acts 20:29-30).
In our age, access to information has never been greater or easier. But, as we know, there is significant misinformation and disinformation. The Internet can offer some good ideas and expose us to poison. Peter spoke of the “pollutions of the world.” (2 Pet 2:20). To judge the validity of internet information requires spiritual readiness to assess and learn.
When Solomon built the Temple, he reached out to Hiram, king of Tyre. The men of Tyre had unique skills that the people of Israel did not possess. They knew how to cut and float timber down the Mediterranean to Joppa. The men of Tyre also had stone quarrying skills. One man, Huram, who lived in Tyre (as his father was a man of Tyre but was of the tribe of Naphtali), was especially skilled in all works of brass. (1 Kgs 7:13-14).
But it is important to note that all these materials from Tyre: timber, and the workings of brass, were under the close supervision of Solomon. Solomon could use these external resources but was also personally responsible for using them correctly!
This example is a wise way for us to consider any resources at hand. Using resources and insights from outside the community can be good—but with caution. Our own hymn book is a good example. The compositions of many of our hymns are from several hundred years ago. Many original lyrics were written by men and women who held confused and incorrect doctrines. Our faithful brothers and sisters compiled our hymn book from these people but carefully ensured the verses we sing were corrected or adapted for our use.
When we want to access Bible information from sources outside the Scriptures, we must adopt a Berean commitment to see “whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11). Christadelphians have historically taken large portions of our spiritual insights from external sources. F. F. Bruce (1910-1990) and Richard Rackham (1863-1912) have been cited frequently in Christadelphian works and are among my favorite Biblical scholars. But you must use these sources carefully and cautiously; you are responsible for testing their conclusions, just as we do with all writers.
Any true Bible student is quick to confess that the more they learn, the more they know they need to learn. I have been blessed for the last three years to be part of a Bible reading group on Zoom that meets for 90 minutes each weekday to do the daily readings. This group has wonderful Bible students, varying daily from 20-30 brothers and sisters. We read from different versions, which almost always enhances our understanding of passages, and we share questions and observations.
We all confess that we are humbled every day by the Word of God. There are unlimited details to study, which provide insights and wisdom. They share notes from our Bible margins (Yes, they had their pencils present in all those classes!), spanning often more than 50 years of regular attendance at Memorial meeting, Bible classes, and Bible Schools. They are priceless treasures! Beyond this, a member often shares a personal story or insight. These are sometimes in the form of a painful personal experience coupled with the resulting learning. We are a learning organization! And I can’t think of a more powerful Bible experience I have had.
I admire those who have a thirst to know the “why.” Acceptance of a position or an understanding must be founded in careful examination of the Scriptures—not simply because we have always seen things a certain way or that a revered brother long ago had a particular opinion. I can’t help feeling that faith based on identifying and applying Scriptural principles is a far firmer ground than relying on compliance with tradition.
I’d like to share one more principle about the value of lifelong learning. As our minds mature, we can become more receptive to certain types of learning as we age. Young children learn through being trained. (Prov 22:6). The Oxford KJV has a marginal note that a child’s training means to “catechize.” This activity encompasses telling or imparting the truth to a young child as we know it. But that cannot be the end of our learning. As our brains mature, we must have open hearts to allow the word to speak to us.
When I was young, I was not naturally drawn to David. I couldn’t really relate to his struggles, and it seemed that he was so depressing at times. I was drawn to courageous men like Elijah, Moses, Samson, and Daniel. However, as life has continued by the grace of God, I can now deeply identify with David. I know what it means to be betrayed. I know what it feels like to have my personal plans and strategies blow up. I know the feeling of losing loved ones and disappointment in relationships. I know the intensity of facing my own failures and craving to have God restore me. Aside from the Lord, David has soared to be my favorite Biblical character. Life itself opens our minds and hearts to the Word. The emotional psalms of David now speak directly to my soul.
Our experiences in life teach us the need for forgiveness and God’s incredible mercy and grace. We learn to value forgiveness and edification because we need both. What I couldn’t see as a young man is now immensely relevant and clear. That’s why learning is lifelong.
Later in this issue, Bro. David Levin will discuss how our salvation is not tied to how much we know. It is by grace and the bearing of fruit. Knowledge alone has never been the intent of our God. But we are also encouraged to savor the tasty morsels of wisdom in Scripture. How wonderful it is that we live in a day with so many ways to learn. Translations of the Bible in almost every language are readily available. We have access to study resources at the tips of our fingers. While we have breath, let us always be ready to learn. Have your pencil ready!