By Ben Swift
Though I am an old doctor of divinity, to this day I have not got beyond the children’s learning – Martin Luther’s Tabletalk.
For most of us in our adult years, memories of our childhood become fragmented snapshots from a time that once existed in vivid reality. While some serve as useless photographs that carry no real importance, others can continue to teach us about ourselves and life as we come to see their significance in later years.
As a child I attended the same church as well-respected theologian, Leon Morris. Without really knowing it, I had the privilege of hearing him preach from time to time. Although I didn’t know much about this man, being so young as I was, I have come to appreciate a lesson learned from him many years down the track.
If you were to ever walk through Morris’ house, as I recall doing with my father many years ago, you could not help but be struck by the piles of books that lay around the room. It was as though the shelves had for quite some time, run out of residential space and the librarian no longer worked there. But this was certainly a reflection of a great mind at work, seeking to be continually filled; a sponge always ready to soak up the things of God. This scene completely aligned with the stories my father used to tell me about Morris working all hours to complete his doctorate, often in the seat of his car as he travelled in his ministry. Leon Morris, like many great minds throughout history, did not see knowledge as a certificate to be framed and hung, but rather a life-long pursuit to be completed on the day of Christ’s return.
Morris’ desire to learn about the things of God and to become more Christlike in his daily walk, was perhaps most evident in his willingness to humbly listen to whoever preached in the church he was sitting in at the time. Can you imagine, as a preacher, climbing the stairs to the pulpit, notes in hand trembling slightly as you reflect on the importance of the task, only to look out to see one of the world’s leading theological academics seated in the pews? But Dr Morris was never there to critique. I’ve been told that if one was to look in his direction during any sermon, you would not find a man taking notes but rather a man with his eyes often closed, listening to what God had to say through the lips of whoever was speaking.
Surely, any one of us can learn from these types of lessons. If a man of far greater understanding than most can, in humility, seek to learn from God through whatever vessel he chooses to work through at the time, then why shouldn’t we? This, the attitude of becoming a sponge for God’s truth, is one we would all do well to emulate.
Why is this so important? Cultures change, and worldly priorities change to a degree, but the Word of God stands firm like an immovable stone in the stream of life. It is through this unchanging Word that all ultimate truth and wisdom are to be found in Christ. We can only become sponges, ready to absorb this truth whenever God speaks to us and through whoever’s mouth he chooses to speak. Of course, having said this, we must always test what is being taught with Scripture itself, but that’s not the focus of this article.
The incredible thing about biblical texts is their ability to continually uncover deeper levels of understanding and new insight, despite our having heard or read them many times before. For this reason, it’s a sign of immaturity to claim, “I’ve heard it all before.”
Consider the words of John Stott:
“God hides from the intellectually arrogant and reveals himself only to ‘babies’, that is, to those who are sincere and humble in their approach.”
The only way we as Christians can continue to receive illumination or enlightening when it comes to developing a deeper and richer knowledge of God, is to remain childlike in our faith, relying humbly on the Holy Spirit to minister to us. As J.I. Paker suggests in his book, ‘Concise Theology’, “The way to benefit fully from the Spirit’s ministry of illumination is by serious Bible study, serious prayer and serious response in obedience to whatever truths one has been shown already.”
Take for example a sermon I recently heard, focusing on Exodus 12, a passage I have heard many times before. Through the words of the minister, God provided me with a new piece of insight that I had not yet uncovered from the layers of richness within this story.
“Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household… You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat.” (Exodus 12:3-4)
While I understood the link between the sacrificial lambs in the Exodus story with the perfect and final sacrificial lamb of Christ, there was another insight to be made. God had made it personal! Each family had to play their part in the sacrificing of an unblemished lamb to represent their family. It is through this process that each Israelite would become fully aware of their part in the sacrifice just as we all need to come to understand our personal role in nailing Jesus -The Lamb of God- to the cross, not only for the sins of the world but for our personal sin.
While my new found insight into the Exodus account is just a small example, I believe it highlights an important point. If we really do seek knowledge, wisdom and understanding when it comes to God, humility, surely, must play its part. We would do well to learn from the Dr Morris’ of this world. We can never become so arrogant as to assume that we know much at all. Instead, as children of God, we should remain open to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, always being ready to unwrap the next layer of giftwrap from what God reveals to us.