I think if we can biblically answer each of these questions, then we will see why we should study theology before we spend the majority of our time preaching the gospel and feeding the poor. Today, I am just going to address the first question, why study theology, and leave the other two questions for later posts in the series. But before I address this first question, I want to let you in on my personal feelings about studying theology, seminary, and the large amount of time it takes to do this in our earthly lives.
There is no doubt that, to get an education in what the Bible teaches us, in sound doctrine, much time is required. Much mental and spiritual effort must be expended, so much so that it may very well negatively affect your physical health if you are not careful. I have experienced that myself. I know that my health (physically) has declined since I became a Calvinist, because my concern for looking good and exercising was moved to the backburner, replaced by a greater zeal to study theology and share the truths of Scripture and the true gospel with others. Two and a half years later, I am about 20 pounds heavier and in general I don't feel all that healthy.
Please don't misunderstand me. There is nothing "godly" or "spiritual" about neglecting your physical health at all. I am not trying to brag at all- in fact, I am trying to point out my sinfulness. We are to take care of our bodies that God has given us, just as we are to take care of the minds and hearts that God has given us through studying God's Word, thinking biblically, living biblically, and praying biblically. While spiritual has priority over the physical, the physical should not be neglected. Before I head off to college in late August, I hope to be 15 pounds lighter.
The point is, we should mentally exhaust ourselves with the Word of God. It is the Bread of Life, and if we are truly born again, then our heart craves the Truth and needs it to survive and flourish. Knowing the truths of God, what He is like, what He has done for us, what He is going to do for us, why He is doing all this, and what we are supposed to do, and why we are supposed to do it, is the very purpose of reading the Bible- we are to study it to learn all these things. Once we learn these things, we can then live in light of what we have learned, preaching the gospel biblically and from the right motivation, graciously feeding the poor biblically and for the right reason, helping others grow in the faith biblically and for the right reason and motivation.
This is why we should all be studying our Bibles, laboring to learn the depths of its teachings, so that we can rightly live the way God has called us to live. This is why we have pastors and elders and theologians, to teach us the deeper things of God, the things that all of us should learn and treasure and, once we have gained the knowledge of these deeper truths, rejoice in God and praise Him for them. They magnify His goodness, His holiness, His graciousness, His justice, His love, all of His attributes, and they show us how to be the image bearers of God that we were created to be.
The problem is, most people who call themselves Christians do not seem to have the same passion to know God. No Christian actually says that per se, but they do say things like, "Well, I just want to serve other people like Jesus served, I don't need to read the Bible and weighty books on how to do that, I just need to read what Jesus tells me to do, and then do it."
As if it is that simple, right? I can assure you that it is not. Obviously, we still have the sin nature to deal with, even as Christians, so in order to serve like Jesus, we have to understand the nature of our sinfulness, to the very core, and then learn how Christ broke the slavery we had to our very own sinfulness, and how to live by the Spirit to put to death the deeds of our sinful flesh. That's a lot more difficult and complex than the prevailing, shallow, "just do it" theology that sweeps the churches today. We need God's grace to do anything good, we need God's grace to even savingly believe the gospel and love Jesus. The problem is, many people are so shallow biblically that they do not even realize this, and have been taught and believe all their life that they have the strength in themselves to believe and love Jesus, and to live like Jesus- they just need a little boost from God to help get them over the hump, kind of like an energy drink.
What others do not realize is that outward obedience does not equate to obeying God. In other words, one can outwardly do what the law of God demands, yet do it for a purpose or motive that is sinful, and therefore is actually committing sin, even though outwardly it would appear that a person is being obedient.
To give a really simple example, if I hold the door for an old lady as I leave a restaurant, many in their may praise me for being a gentleman. And maybe I am being a gentleman, maybe I do really care for that poor old woman with her walker who would have a difficult time trying to open the door and walk out- or maybe I am just interetsed in the praise of men. Or maybe the only reason I am holding the door is because I am afraid of what others might say if I didn't hold the door for the old lady.
To hold a door open for an old lady to garner the praise of men or to avoid the spite of men is sin. It is sin because, ultimately, it is a self-righteous, self-serving, self-glorifying motivation. The act itself is not righteous, the heart motive and purpose for the act is what is important, fundamentally.
An employer can give his employee a raise, but he may do so just because he wants to have sex with his employee. Mother Theresa fed the poor, but had said that she did so to gain entrance into heaven and earn favor with God. When the heart motivation is evil, it does not matter what we do, it is sinful. This is why we find verses in the Bible like Isaiah 64:6 that say "all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags."
And this is why we must study the Bible, to learn the right motivation and desire that we should have. It is not enough to simply say, "All I want to do is be obedient to God" and then never study the Word to learn how to be obedient, or even what it means to be obedient. A person who says they want to be obedient to God and live like Jesus, yet has no love for Scripture and to rigorously study the Word to learn how to be obedient is a liar, a hypocrite.
The Scriptural support for what I am saying is found on nearly every page of the Bible, but I jsut want to share one passage with you, 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
That says it all, doesn't it? Every single verse of Scripture teaches us, corrects us, shapes us, molds us, enables us to live righteously and to love and think and desire righteously- to be righteous. It is the study of Scripture, the laborious studying of the Word of God and listening to the preaching and writing of chosen pastors and theologians whom God has appointed accompanied by the power of the Holy Spirit that sanctifies us and gives us the passion and desire to live and love and serve and preach like Jesus.All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The scary thing is, just as we can have a zeal for God, and yet the zeal itself be not according to knowledge and sinful (Romans 10:1-3), we can also have a zeal for serving others and it not be according to knowledge and sinful. In fact, the reason some people do have a zeal for others that is not according to knowledge and is sinful is because they have a zeal for God that is not according to knowledge and is sinful.
And this is the very link between studying and serving. Without rigorous study of Scripture, without learning true, biblical theology, we cannot live the way Christ has called us to live. We cannot serve like Christ, we cannot love like Christ, we cannot be like the One we are supposed to be.
So the short answer to the question I posed in the title of this post is simply that we cannot preach the gospel, feed the poor, and love like Jesus unless or until we know why we are to preach the gospel, feed the poor, deny the sinful deeds of the flesh, and so on.
Knowledge is power, knowledge is the remedy- true knowledge, true wisdom, that is. God says in Hosea 4:6:
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
Proverbs 2 says all this as well:
1 My son, if you receive my words,
And treasure my commands within you,
2 So that you incline your ear to wisdom,
And apply your heart to understanding;
3 Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
4 If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
5 Then you will understand the fear of the LORD,
And find the knowledge of God.
6 For the LORD gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;
7 He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a shield to those who walk uprightly;
8 He guards the paths of justice,
And preserves the way of His saints.
9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice,
Equity and every good path.
10 When wisdom enters your heart,
And knowledge is pleasant to your soul,
11 Discretion will preserve you;
Understanding will keep you,
12 To deliver you from the way of evil,
From the man who speaks perverse things,
13 From those who leave the paths of uprightness
To walk in the ways of darkness;
14 Who rejoice in doing evil,
And delight in the perversity of the wicked;
15 Whose ways are crooked,
And who are devious in their paths;
16 To deliver you from the immoral woman,
From the seductress who flatters with her words,
17 Who forsakes the companion of her youth,
And forgets the covenant of her God.
And Romans 12:2 teaches us to "be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."
So that is why we should study theology- it is precisely so that we can preach the gospel rightly, live rightly, and meet the physical needs of others rightly. This is why I do not believe I am sinning by spending years in my life studying the Word of God, going to Bible college, and eventually going to seminary. Yes, it will take up much of my time. Yes, it will mean that the time and energy I have to share the gospel, do mercy ministry, and things of that nature will be drastically reduced, but that is not sin.
What would be sin is if I just took all the knowledge that I gained, and did not use it to live righteously and to love others, preaching the gospel to them and helping them grow in their faith. Head knowledge alone is not why we are to study Scripture. We are to study Scripture so that we may be equipped for every good work, and, once equipped, to do every good work that we can, both to God and man.