by J. Randal Matheny, editor
“Woe to you experts in religious law! You have taken away the key to knowledge! You did not go in yourselves, and you hindered those who were going in” (Luke 11:52 NET).
Spiritual knowledge permits access into the Kingdom of God. The key may be identified with Scripture, which gives access to that knowledge. Instead of ushering people into the kingdom, the scribes kept people out. Likely, Jesus refers to himself, since the scribes rejected him and dissuaded others from following the Christ.
How can we give people the key to knowledge? Here are some practical points.
#1. Emphasize the proper things. Some things are “more important” than others (Matthew 23:23). Some commandments are weightier than others (Matthew 22:34-40). All the truths God has revealed are important, but not all reach as far and as wide as others. This is why we emphasize so much the character and nature of God, his purpose and plan in Christ.
#2. Put an understandable Bible in people’s hands. Some teachers know their subject, but talk over the student’s heads. Near the end of one semester, a college professor agreed with the students to give them all a grade of “B.” Since they couldn’t understand him, they were all failing. To keep from looking bad, he made a deal with them.
When we put a Bible in people’s hands that they can’t understand, we’re like the college professor. Except at judgment day, no deals can be made. When we insist on using Bibles in our teaching and preaching that keep people from comprehension, we are taking away from them the key of knowledge.
#3. Teach people the whole will of God. We all have our favorite Bible books and verses, or teachings which resonate more with our circumstances. Paul didn’t preach his favorites, but “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). He told them what they “needed to hear” (v. 20 NLT), that is, what was helpful. If the Lord thought it good for the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles into “all truth” (John 16:13), it behooves us to pass on to others the full content of God’s revelation. Piecemeal doesn’t cut it.
#4. Teach people how to study and think for themselves. Scribalism develops dependency upon experts. Academics tend to drive the issues, prove their points by citing authorities, create a “shock and awe” theology by wowing the masses. Though by no means their exclusive provenance, religious experts tend to have the hardest hearts and the proudest chins.
Putting a concordance in people’s hands (or, these days, a Bible search program or site), rather than answering questions, might just be one of the best favors we do others. Jesus often asked, “Have you not read?” And he challenged people, “Judge for yourselves” (Luke 12:57; cf. John 7:24).
#5. Teach people context. Instead of cherry-picking verses to stitch them into a lesson, showing others how to keep reading the text in order to understand the context will open many doors of knowledge. Sometimes, citing fewer verses leads to greater understanding.
#6. Teach people how to be saved and remain saved. Bible study is no academic exercise. Proving the existence of God doesn’t put people into his presence. Apologetics has its place, but is not proclamation of the gospel. It scares me to see how much energy we’re spending on things that do not get to the point of salvation. We can teach the biblical perspective of cultural issues all day long without actually showing the way to the Cross. Paul told his son in the faith, “Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you” (1 Timothy 4:16). That’s the goal.
#7. Teach people how to teach others. Not with evangelism classes, but by example in personal evangelism. But, first, not a few preachers and elders will have to learn how.
The scribes thought they were hold out the key of knowledge to people, but they were yanking it out of their hands. Let’s make sure we’re not like them.
by J. Randal Matheny, editor