April 6, 2012

Obedience surpasses knowledge

As a Bible study teacher, I cringe at that old saying, “Those who do, do; those who can’t do, teach.” As I read my old journals I also cringe, for I see a life-long pattern that has kept me from spiritual maturity, the false idea that Christian growth is based on knowledge rather than obedience. It is easy to learn truth and then teach it to others. Doing what I have learned is a greater challenge.
While playing Scrabble with some friends, one of them said that making words from the letters of your opponents was always easier than making your own words. When I was a child watching my mother compete in the curling rink, I noticed that the folks on the bench always knew how to make all the shots. When I see someone in hot water, I can always tell them how to get out of it. 
Yet as I read those journals, my own failures stand out. I knew the answers, but instead of doing what I knew, I lamented at my slowness to learn.
My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept! (Song of Solomon 1:6)
This Old Testament verse uses a figure of speech. The New Testament puts it in plain and simple terms.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24–27)
Paul knew that he could preach all he liked, but if he did not practice what he preached, his work would be not approved, but rejected. In modern times, too often this has become a reality. Prominent men in the Christian church have fallen into sin and ruined their ministry and their testimony. For whatever reasons, they failed to take care of their own spiritual well-being.

Hudson Taylor, English missionary to China and founder of the China Inland Mission, lived from 1832-1905. He said of the above verse from the Song of Solomon, “Our attention is here drawn to a danger which is preeminently one of this day: the intense activity of our times may lead to zeal in service to the neglect of personal communion; but such neglect will not only lessen the value of the service, but tend to incapacitate us for the highest service.”

If “intense activity” of his times led to this problem of being too busy for personal communion and thus a failure in ministry, today is much worse. However, as dangerous as being too busy is to my spiritual life, being disobedient to what I do know is even more dangerous. Knowledge can swell the head, but without follow-through, knowing truth can leave the heart untouched.

Lord, I cannot change the folly of my past. You died for my disobedience, sins of ignorance, and those things that I knew I should do, but didn’t. I have no excuses. The only remedy is confession and repentance, then pressing on toward the goal set before me with a greater sense of humility and a fuller awareness of my need for Your grace.

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