For most adults, childhood memories become fragmented snapshots from a time that was once vivid reality. While some are useless photographs that carry no real importance, others continue to teach us 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, I have come to appreciate a lesson learned from him many years down the track.
If you were to ever walk through Morris’ house, you could not help but be struck by the piles of books that lay around the room. It was like a library where the shelves had long been out of space and the librarian had quit. But this was actually a reflection of a sharp 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 at all hours to complete his doctorate, often in the seat of his car as he travelled for his ministry. Leon Morris, like many great thinkers throughout history, did not see knowledge as a certificate to be framed and hung but rather as a lifelong 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 a leading theological academic 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.
If a man of far greater understanding than most can, in humility, learn from God through whatever vessel he chooses to work through at the time, then why shouldn’t we? This 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 shift to a degree, but the Word of God stands firm like an immovable stone in the stream of life. It is through unchanging Scripture that ultimate truth and wisdom are to be found in Christ. We can only be sponges, ready to absorb this truth whenever and through whoever’s mouth God chooses to speak (always testing what is being taught with Scripture itself).
The incredible thing about biblical texts is their ability to continually uncover deeper levels of understanding and 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 actively hides himself from some (the arrogant), while revealing himself to babies… that is, those who are humble in their approach”.1 The only way we as Christians can continue to develop 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 JI Packer suggests, “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”.2
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 insight that I had not yet uncovered from the layers of richness within this story:
Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbour shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. (Exod 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, I had never noted that God had made it personal! Each family had to play their part in sacrificing an unblemished lamb to represent them. 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, it highlights an important point. If we really do seek knowledge, wisdom and understanding when it comes to God, humility must play its part. We would do well to learn from Dr Morris and his like: we should 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 remove the next layer of wrapping from the gifts God reveals to us.
1. John Stott, Evangelical Truth, Langham Global Library, 2013, p. 34. ↩
2. JI Packer, Concise Theology, Tyndale House Publishers, 1993, p. 155.↩