Can we do too Much Bible Study?

The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.

– Ecclesiastes 12:11-13 (NAS)

I enjoy working out and getting exercise. It keeps me engaged in life, healthier and able to do things that I might have long given up on if I was not working out. But I am also discovering as much as I have the discipline to exercise every day and push myself pretty hard I am learning that too much exercise can cause injuries and strains because I’m not giving my body enough rest. Studies also suggest that as we get older (over 40) it is almost better to exercise less (3x / week instead of 5 or 6x / week) and give our bodies more rest if we truly want to increase our capacity for health and fitness. That sounds completely counter intuitive but it is true.

You may have read the title and thought – no way can we study the Bible too much! But there is a principle expressed in these last few verses in Ecclesiastes 12 that might challenge that idea. The excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body… and the heart and the mind and the spirit too. The danger is about constantly consuming information and never allowing it to change anything except the way we may think about things. If there is a context that this can easily be true it is usually in the academic halls of working through a Masters or Doctorate study.

The point I want to make is a little more precise. I like to think of our life as composed of six key elements: beliefs, values, priorities, behaviors, habits and character. When we spend time in Bible study it feeds into our beliefs, values and priorities and is excellent. But if all that study does not translate into changing our behaviors, habits and character then I will propose that you are doing too much Bible study and not enough of applying your life to that truth so that it actually changes our behaviors, habits or character. The basic point is that study without applying our life to truth (as opposed to just thinking about it) is being hearers of the Word and not doers of it. We know that Scriptures are explicitly against just hearing the truth without being doers of the Word but we may find that we struggle with this far more than we think.

However, I am not advocating neglect. The clear predominate struggle for most Christians is not spending too much time in the Word but too little. On the one had our hearts and minds can become polluted with all kinds of extraneous stuff from life. Some good and some of it not so good; some significant and some trivial; some relevant to life while some distracting to life. We may spend all kinds of time ingesting massive amounts of ideas, philosophical approaches to life, and volumes of concepts about science, history, and news and far too little time in God’s Word. This problems shows stagnation rather than spiritual depth.

Notice the last part of verse 13 – “when all has been heard, fear God and keep his commandments.” Notice there is a relational part – fear God; and there is a responsibility part – keep His commandments. Fearing God without obeying God becomes disobedience if not hypocrisy. Study without obedience can cause an obsession for knowledge but can stifle our love for God and even make us arrogant (1 Cor. 8:1)

Here is the question: when was the last time you read something form God’s Word and then purposefully and intentional took action in some relationship or responsibility strictly on the basis of what that verse or truth was telling you? Your answer, to be a good answer, should not be nebulous, vague or ambiguous. You should be able to say, “I read Matthew 5:23-24 and realized by the prodding of the Spirit that my friend had something against me so I immediately went to him, asked his forgiveness and resolved the issue.

Brad Little