One of my favorite things to do while working out, cleaning, cooking . . . just doing all those daily life things . . . is to put on a podcast, a sermon, or a teaching by one of my favorite bible teachers, preachers, or christian podcasters.
I “follow” a lot of different people, and I’m not going to name any of them here because that’s not the point of this. I love gleaning and learning from those called into the ministry in one way or another, but here’s the thing, the very dangerous “trap”, if you will, that I think so many Christians, myself included, easily fall into, we elevate these teachers to a place they were never meant to be and rely on them for all of our biblical wisdom rather than praying, seeking God, and studying the bible for ourselves. I follow these men and women of God. I listen to and learn from them, and I will continue to listen to and learn from them. But I must never forget that they are human. They are not infallible. Only God is perfect, and these men and women are not to be put up on a pedestal and idolized.
So there are three things I do as I listen to and learn from others and seek to study God’s word for myself:
- When I hear a teaching that is something pretty obviously new or even something I’ve heard before but question (and if you’re new to Christianity it may all seem “new” so I encourage you to lean into study and fellowship with both other believers and also on your own), I first ask myself, “Does this not only not contradict God’s word, but does it align with both God’s word and His nature? Is scripture being manipulated and twisted to fit the narrative of the teacher? What is the context?” All of these things are so important. On a personal note, my husband will regularly call me out if I take a solitary scripture and misuse it out of context (don’t worry, he’ll do it to you too). Let’s be real, it’s not my favorite thing, but it keeps me accountable. We often hear of a “fresh word . . . a fresh revelation” . . . from God . . . but y’all, to be really clear, if it doesn’t align with God’s word, the bible, and His nature then it’s not from Him. If the interpretation of the scripture is something we’ve never heard, and we’re just not for sure, then we need to dig deeper, we need to study and pray and seek wisdom on whether or not it’s an accurate interpretation.
- Which leads into the second point and practice . . . I love to use devotionals, studies, and teachings as a starting point. But I need to crack the bible open for myself. I need to read scripture in context. I need to study it on my own. Sometimes I pull up concordances and lexicons and various commentaries, but the reality is, for the most part, the bible is not a super confusing book. Are there passages of scripture that are harder to grasp and understand? Absolutely. And that’s why we have pastors and teachers and ministers to help us when we have questions. Having said that, over a lifetime of reading God’s word, I’ve found that the more I read and study and pray for the Holy Spirit to help me when reading, the more I am able to grasp. But make no mistake, the bible was written for you and for me to read. And there will be times when we look at scriptures we’ve read a thousand times before and see them in a new light because of our current circumstances. Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Further, someone else should not always be the one to tell us what we are thinking and believing regarding God’s word. And before anyone flips out, again, I am not discounting the need for theologically sound bible teaching. It is so incredibly necessary. But the bible is there for us to dive into personally. That’s where our intimate relationship with Jesus is developed*
- I don’t just follow one or two people when it comes to teaching and preaching. Proverbs 11:14 “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” I am picky about who it is that I learn from, but I also try to listen to and learn from a variety of voices. I think it’s easier to fall into idolizing a person when we are single mindedly only listening to one or two people’s teachings. No one person is going to get it right 100% of the time. We all fall short. That’s a fact that we have to accept, but if what is being taught puts a check in my spirit more often than not, if the teaching doesn’t pretty consistently line up with the word and is more opinion than bible teaching, and/or the character of the teacher is not matching the character that a man or woman of God should have, then, no matter how much I love them as a person, they are not going to be a voice I choose to follow.
At the end of the day, I want people to know that Jesus wants a relationship with them, personally. That’s really the cry of my heart. That you can have that relationship intimately and personally with Jesus. So yes, definitely, listen to teachers and preachers . . . use bible studies and devotionals and commentaries . . . read books and teachings both new and from those that have gone before us . . . go to church (obviously, this past year has been weird with COVID so be safe and use wisdom)! These are all essential and intricate facets of our growth that we cannot ignore. Disregarding the need for sound teaching and fellowship as believers is dangerous because they are very necessary parts of the foundation of our faith, but they are not the only parts. You also need to know that you can and should pray (which is a whole other post . . . but y’all don’t complicate prayer . . . it’s simply communication with God), and read, and learn from the bible on your own with the help of the Holy Spirit because that’s where deep growth happens. If you’re looking for a place to start, the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John . . . particularly the book of John) are a great starting point.
* Note: As far as bible translations, we are careful in our home about which we use. Personally, my husband and I both use the NKJV. I’ll often reference The Amplified or the NASB versions, and I’ll sometimes use the NIV for comparison. I’ll also look up the original text in the Hebrew or Greek to see what the words were originally. Bible Hub is a great resource for digging a bit deeper. Some translations are word for word (which is what I mostly prefer), some are thought for thought (the NIV falls in this category . . . a lot of people are big on being anti-NIV, but overall, it’s very good and one of the easier translations to read, and our son uses the NIV alongside the NKJV), and some are paraphrased (which, if I’m honest, we are both the most cautious with and do not often use). I’m not going to dive any deeper into the strengths and weaknesses of the various translations. There are a lot of great resources by real experts out there. I have linked a chart comparing most translations here. Just take the time to know what you’re reading. And I will add this, if the scripture in the translation you’re using is wildly different than anything you’ve ever seen before, you need to proceed with caution.
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