Note that I am most certainly not saying that you should avoid reading or studying the Bible (more on that below). You should read and study the Bible, you just shouldn’t do these things when you do.
1. Don’t Read and Study the Bible Simply to Learn Facts.
If we use the heart-head dichotomy here, we’re talking about using the Bible to fill our heads.
I know people who know all the eschatological views and the Scriptural arguments and proof-texts pro and con. I know people who can refute the false teachers, who love it when Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons come to their door because they can argue the Scripture for hours. I know people who know every minor character in every incidental story in the Old Testament and who could challenge a ThD to a Bible trivia contest and win.
Sadly, knowing trivia and facts is not that same as knowing God’s Law as taught in Psalm 1:2. Many of these same people can’t be bothered actually to go to church regularly and participate in the life of the body because they “find nothing to challenge” them. The man I mentioned who can argue with the false teachers also can’t control his temper. The man I mentioned who knows all the eschatological views is haughty and arrogant and looks down on people who don’t know as much as him. He wants to be a teacher but I pity the pastor who gives him a teaching position almost as much as I pity the people who will sit under him.
Knowing the Bible is supposed to teach us love (1 Timothy 1:5). Learning facts is good, it’s important because it’s foundational. But your study of God’s Word cannot end there.
2. Don’t Read and Study the Bible Simply to be Inspired.
This is the heart aspect of the heart-head dichotomy.
The Bible is not a collection of statements designed to inspire you to live life to the fullest and realize your true potential. It is the story of God’s dealings with his people. It is about how God is making a people for himself and his working in and through those people to make a creation fit for his glory.
God does not exist to serve as your cheerleader. Jeremiah 29:11 and similar oft-abused passages really have very little to do with whether you get this job, get that promotion, get into this school, or any of those things that, as important as they are in this life, pale in comparison to the plan God has for the universe and your part in that plan.
Such a way of looking at the Bible is really a little selfish, don’t you think? As if God sent his Son to die in fulfillment of centuries of prophetic speaking simply to get you that promotion at the job you don’t really like all that much anyway just so you can upgrade from the Ford Fusion to the Ford Taurus which will be in the junkyard in a decade anyway.
Surely God has bigger things in mind than that.
3. Don’t Read and Study the Bible Simply to Win Theological Arguments.
Sadly, too many churches (of all different stripes) have spent more time defining themselves against the theological and ecclesial landscape, usually in a way that elevates themselves, and not enough time simply doing what they’re called to do.
To be more blunt, what I mean is, we (this is a generic “we”) spent too much time talking about why we are a true church and why others aren’t, or why we’re better than the church down the street, that we almost died spiritually because we couldn’t simply be the church.
Some people learn the theological facts (see number 1 above) and end up turning every evangelistic opportunity into an argument because they confuse apologetics with evangelism, or, worse yet, they think that if they win the argument, their job is done.
So are you saying I shouldn’t read and study God’s Word?
NO! A thousand times NO! (Don’t make me explain what a false dichotomy is, really.) The Word is life, the Word is power, the Word is strength! You must read and study it.
The righteous person loves God’s Law (Psalm 1:2a). The meditate in it day and night. (“Meditate” = “hagah,” literally “to mumble to oneself.”) They are consumed with the Word of God such that they are constantly rehearsing it to themselves because they want to live it!
And they don’t use this obedience as a tool to manipulate God to receive earthly blessings.
God’s Word is meant to be lived out. That means, reading God’s Word to hear what God has said, not what you want God to say. It means using God’s Word for the purpose for which it was intended, not for your own ends.