My friend has a book title in her head: "Exercises in Missing the Point." She constantly files away examples when someone majors on minors to the point that they miss the forest for the trees. In John 5, Jesus address the Pharisees who have completely missed him in their deep searching of Scriptures. This is a passage that should give pause to all of us who love Bible study, because we too can miss the point.
I love truth. Perhaps because I walked in deception for so many years, I am vigilant about not believing any more lies. This vigilance, however, has a shadow side. I could easily become a portrait in my friend's book if I allow myself to miss the priority of love.
Love - the greatest commandment. Love God, love others. Love permeates the New Testament. We're told it's the way we fulfill the law. We're instructed to love deeply, sincerely, and continually. Even our presentation of truth is to be done in love. In fact, in one of the most well-known New Testament passages, Paul tells us that without love we are "nothing". We're not just falling short, we're completely failing to communicate when love is not behind every word we speak. Love is our defining mark as believers in Jesus. Our love for God, for each other, and for the world authenticates our message. Our failure to love speaks louder than any words.
Within the body of Christ, we are called to pursue sound doctrine. But even here, love should reign. The reality is, sound doctrine does not equal perfect theology. As you read this blog you will find times when my theology falls short. Bible studies, however well-researched, well-written, and well-presented, are not Scripture. The only perfect theology is found on the pages of the Bible, and the minute we start interpreting our biases and prejudices and cultural lenses can lead us astray. That's why God gives us the Holy Spirit and the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, and we can help each other stay within the bounds of sound doctrine on the essentials of the faith.
But that won't mean we won't have differences on non-essentials, or approach essentials from different angles. That's why we need to be in unity with other believers who can enrich our understanding within the bounds of sound doctrine. For example, sound doctrine about Jesus attests to both His full humanity and full divinity. Some churches emphasize His humanity without diminishing His deity; they remind us that He knows our weaknesses, understands temptation, and entered into His suffering with full physical consequences, so He has compassion on our physical suffering as well. Other churches emphasize His deity without diminishing His humanity; they remind us that He is Lord, that He gave up communion with the Father to come to earth, and that His priority for us is spiritual and eternal. Approaching a different emphasis with love rather than judgment will enable us to learn from the best of each other.
Paul had plenty of people picking him apart. In Thessalonica, Jewish leaders acting out of jealousy led the citizens in an uproar against Paul's team, picking out the doctrine of the Lordship of Christ and using it as a hook to get the people to reject the teaching. Paul's next stop introduced him to a completely different bunch of people. The Bereans are often held up as examples when assessing doctrine. However, it's not usually noted that they weren't looking for errors; instead, they were seeking to confirm truth. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11).
The Bereans were eager, and they went back to Scripture for confirmation. The Bereans give me to the sense of someone who wonders if the Gospel could be too good to be true and then find out that it is indeed true! What joy, what thrill to hear an awesome teaching and then see it confirmed in the Word! I'm so thankful that God gives us teachers, evangelists, prophets, pastors, to teach us His Word and help us see things from a different angle. Yes, we have to go back to Scripture. We have to test everything against the Word of God, and He's given us the Holy Spirit to assist in that process. But in an attitude of love, we can seek what we can learn from others who are sound on the essentials, even if they differ on non-essentials or approach Scripture from a different angle or with a different cultural background.
In our quest for truth we must never forget that truth is ultimately a Person, Jesus Christ. We encounter a person, not a boxed-in set of beliefs to check off our list. When we pursue Him, He will lead us to a unity of faith around some key doctrinal essentials. As we walk together in those truths, we must never forget the priority of love. What we do will speak louder than any theology textbook or Bible study, regardless how accurate it might be.
Love God, love others. Take it in and live it out. And let's help each other not miss the point. Like John wrote in his second epistle, let us love in truth.