The brutal truth is there are many who do study the Word but don’t profit from it.
There are many who are in the Word every day, who can quote the Bible backwards and forwards, know their theology better than John Calvin himself but who are no better for all their study.
In fact, they are worse.
Jesus talks about people like that. In fact, he was constantly confronting people like that. The religious leaders of his day had spent years studying the sacred writings. Many of them knew the Word better than many of us. The rabbis in Jesus’ day memorized long portions of Scripture. They used to say that a man who repeated a chapter out loud one hundred times was not to be compared with a man who repeated it aloud one hundred and one times. One rabbi recommended four hundred repetitions of a certain passage for a dull passage, and then four hundred more. These men devoted themselves to studying and interpreting the Word of God. Yet, in spite of all their diligence, they weren’t profiting in the least.
There are many illustrations of that. Perhaps you remember the story in the gospels where Jesus was out with his disciples and they were plucking some heads of grain on the Sabbath. The Pharisees were bothered by what they were doing so they came up to Jesus to confront him about it.
They said, “Look your disciples are doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath.”
Do you know how Jesus responded?
He asked them, “Have you not read…”
Now, they had read. That’s the point. They had read the Old Testament. They knew it well. But, Jesus knew they hadn’t understood it and therefore they hadn’t profited from it.
I’m sure you’ve known people like that. I grew up in a Christian family and have been in church all my life and have been around many people who profess to be believers. As a result, I’ve met many people who know the Bible very well who at the same time were just not living it out. I’ve counseled many different men and women who knew what the Bible said and yet didn’t seem to benefit much from their knowledge of it.
In light of what we’ve seen about the power of Scripture, that reality, that people can study and study the Bible and not profit from it at all, kind of stuns us, and leaves us asking – how can that be?
You have to think about that or else you are going to become pretty frustrated. I’m calling you to study your Bibles on a regular basis. I’m calling you to make listening to the Word of God top priority in your life. I’m saying that’s essential if you are going to grow in your spiritual life. But I have to warn you, it’s possible to study your Bibles on a regular basis and to listen to sermon after sermon and still not profit from it.
The reason for that is simple. There’s more to benefiting from Scripture than merely reading it.
There’s a sense in which studying the Bible is a lot like studying any other book. It takes many of the same skills. You have to know something about the meaning of the words that are used, about the literature that is being used, about the purpose. But there’s also a sense in which studying the Bible is different than studying any other book. One of the differences between studying the Bible and studying other books is that certain things must be true of the person who is studying the Bible if he is going to understand it and profit from it.
We’ll just look at one today.
To really profit from the Word you must be born again.
An unbeliever can understand certain things about the Bible. He can study the Bible and understand the meaning of words and particular sentences. It’s not as if when he opens up his Bible the words are somehow miraculously turned into garbly-gook. The unbeliever can read that Jesus came to earth and understand what that means as a fact. He can read that Paul was thrown in prison and understand that happened as a fact. He can know what the Bible says just like you know what the Bible says.
But in spite of all his study the unbeliever doesn’t benefit from his study of the Word because he won’t submit to what it means. He by nature is opposed to Scripture.
Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 2:6 that the unbeliever, because he lacks the Holy Spirit, has a basic bias against God’s Word. He doesn’t come to the Word of God in a neutral manner. “Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.” He has accepted the world’s wisdom and so he won’t understand God’s.
Paul gives a proof of that in verse 8, “None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had they would not have crucified the Lord of glory…” The fact that people reject Jesus proves they don’t understand the wisdom of God. And the reason they don’t understand the wisdom of God is because they don’t have the Spirit. Verse 10, “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”
That means if a person is going to understand the wisdom of God the Spirit has to work. That’s why the unbeliever won’t profit from Scripture. He doesn’t have the Spirit.
Paul says in verse 11, “No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God…” That’s why we as believers can understand and interpret this book. “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” We can understand this book because the Spirit opens our eyes and helps us understand what God says.
Paul pounds the point home in verse 14, “The natural person does not accept the things of Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” The unbeliever’s mind is made up even before he picks the Bible up. He rejects Scripture because the things of God seem foolish to him. And the things of God seem foolish to him because he lacks spiritual discernment.
Whereas, verse 15, “The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself judged by no one. For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” The believer can understand God’s Word because he is not alone. He has the Spirit teaching him. A person needs more than mental intelligence if he is going to benefit from the Word. He needs the Spirit to work on and open up his heart.