Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!”
- Acts 26.24
When the holy man with his companions appeared before the king, the greatness of his learning caused him to stand high in the favour of the king and court.
- Jonas, Life of St. Columban, Italian, 7th century
Like the apostles before them, Celtic missionaries were nothing if not learned.
Their primary subject of study was the Scriptures, but they also immersed themselves in the fathers of the Church, the great classics of Greece and Rome, the culture of their day, and the world around them. They studied Biblical languages; reflected on the patterns, creatures, and courses of creation; and created new cultural forms consistent with their Christian worldview.
They started schools and academies for training scholars, pastors, and missionaries, and they copied ancient texts to make sure the generations that succeeded them would always have the best available resources for learning.
They were the most learned men of their day, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the Frankish king should have been impressed with Columbanus and his companions.
But the same learning that can earn us an audience with kings can bring down the scorn of fools. Festus didn’t know what to make of Paul – articulate, learned, savvy, a Roman citizen hawking the religion of a crucified Jew. I rather suspect his interruption of the apostle’s speech was more an act of nervous self-defense than an integral part of his examination.
Learning makes folks nervous sometimes, it’s true; but in the service of the Gospel, sound learning can be a powerful instrument for conviction. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, if we’re not interested in learning, we may not really be all that interested in Jesus. The root word for disciple is, after all, learner.
Jesus is the fullness of all the wisdom and knowledge of God (Col. 2.2, 3). All of Scripture, and even all creation, is but one big Rorschach test, and the answer is always, “Jesus.” The more we study Scripture, the more Jesus emerges as the primary theme and focal point of it all. The same is true as we’re studying creation and culture. That may seem unlikely, but keep asking questions about what you’re reading or observing, and sooner or later you’ll get to Him Who is the Fount of all wisdom and knowledge, in Whom all things consist, and Who upholds all things by His Word of power.
So let’s not despise wide reading and careful study, just because some folks today either find learning difficult and tedious, or look askance at the acquisition of knowledge in pursuit of truth.
Rather, like Columbanus and Paul, let us learn Jesus (Eph. 4.17-24), by learning all we can about as much as we can. Thus we may adorn the Gospel of the Kingdom with the beauty of truth, not only from Scripture, but also from every realm of creation and every area of life.
Because all truth is God’s truth; the more we know of it, the better equipped we will be to serve the cause of the Gospel – whether our learning is considered a blessing or a bugbear by those who hear us.
How much learning is enough? Well, probably more than any of us is getting at present. How can you begin to improve, so that you learn Jesus more clearly, deeply, and joyfully?
Psalm 86.10-12 (Andrews: Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven)
For You are great; You wondrous deeds do;
You are the only and sovereign Lord.
Teach me Your way, let me give heed to,
With all my heart, Savior, all Your Word!
Lord, be gracious to me; Lord, be gracious to me!
Praise Your Name forever, Lord!
Lord, am I as good a student of Your truth as I ought to be? Where should I begin to improve my understanding of Your truth?
As you pray…
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T. M. Moore, Principal
All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Jonas, p. 22.