7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:7)
Through the Bible: 2 Timothy 1-4
If you take 2 Timothy 3:7 out of context, it sounds like it could be a positive trait. Don’t we always want to be learning? Doesn’t Paul actually encourage Timothy to do this a few verses later, when he writes, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed” (verse 3:14)?
Many of you have been on this journey of reading through the Bible this year, and I am guessing that in a few days, lots of you are going to flip back to Genesis and start the whole thing over again. And if you do, you will find brand new insights next year that you didn’t see this year. It’s not that the Bible has changed from year to year; it’s that you have. So “always a student, never a graduate” is a good thing, right?
Not so fast. Verse 7 is the conclusion of a long list of character traits to avoid. Beginning in verse 2, Paul tells Timothy to avoid those who are “lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” Then, in verse 5, he describes people who “have the appearance of godliness, but deny its power.”
This is where “always learning but never arriving at a knowledge of the truth” can be such a temptation for people like us—people who have committed to reading the Bible through, and can’t wait to do it again. We can be so excited about the knowledge we are gaining—going in depth on a Greek or Hebrew word, learning something about first century culture that gives us a new understanding about a verse, and so forth. All of those things have the appearance of godliness.
But beloved, we are not reading for information. We are reading for transformation. The purpose of reading God’s word isn’t so we can ace Bible Jeopardy. The apostle John ended his gospel by saying “These things are written so that you may believe” (John 20:31). There is a goal to our study. And if we are “always learning but never arriving at a knowledge of the truth,” then we miss the goal.
If I am taking a cross country trip to see the Grand Canyon, there are probably a million stops I could make along the way. And I would learn something at all of them. But if I never make it to the Grand Canyon, then all the trivia I learned throughout the journey would be just that—trivial.
Beloved, I pray you have found joy in the journey this year! But I pray that the journey has had a clear destination—that you have arrived at a knowledge of the truth.