When I was first courting Sis. Barbara McIver (now Booker) in Toronto, Ontario, some years ago, I made the mistake of letting her father, a gruff old Scotsman, see my well-marked Bible. At least he seemed gruff and old to me, although Barbara assures me he was totally loving and kind-hearted and no older than I am now. Of course, then I saw him from a different perspective as the fellow who might be taking his beloved daughter away from him.
I wasn’t exactly showing him the marginal notes in my Bible for the purpose of currying his favor. But I suppose I didn’t mind if he saw that I was putting quite a bit of time and thought into Bible study. He took one look, and harrumphed: “Let’s hope you are writing those thoughts in your mind, and not just on the pages of your Bible.” Then he tromped off to the kitchen, leaving me staring at my handiwork. After that, I pretty much kept my Bible notes all to myself, or now they are hidden in my laptop.
Examining our motive
So why do we (if we do) make notes in our Bibles? Hopefully, as an aid to memory and not to be seen by men or women, or prospective fathers-in-law.
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, TO BE SEEN BY THEM. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven…And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners TO BE SEEN BY MEN. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full…And when you make notes in the margins of your Bibles, be careful that such ‘study’ not become a fountain of pride, TO BE SEEN BY MEN, and marveled at by them, thus ensnaring you in a web of self-righteousness and patting of your own back. If so, then beware: for that will be your only reward.”
The first two verses above are Matthew 6:1 and 5; the last I just stuck in to see if you were paying attention. It’s straight from the George Booker version.
If our Bible notes are only intended as an aid to memory, then the next question is: “Do we use them as such?” The point here is: what is our motivation for personal Bible study? Is it to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (II Pet. 3:18)? Or is it to impress others? If it is the latter, then beware those searing words of our Lord: “They already have their reward!”
Writing the word on our heart
Although we should never criticize anyone for studying his or her Bible, we can surely exhort people to examine their reasons for doing so. The very best is found in John 17:3: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
Simply put, we are to be transformed by the Word of God, coming to know God and His Son, and to reflect the image of His Son so that we may belong to their eternal family.
Anything different, anything less than that goal, is so much window-dressing and and self-deception. It is whited sepulchers; it is washing the outside of the cup; it is tithing of mint and anise and cumin. It is the hollow tinkling of a few coins in God’s treasury, while selfishly thinking we can keep the rest for ourselves.
George Booker, Austin, Texas