“Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” The originator of this old adage is greatly debated, but one contender is Thomas Overbuy. In his 1616 work, Characters, he wrote, “Absence doth sharpen love, presence strengthens it.” Another old line that’s still with us is, “You don’t know how much you will miss something until it’s gone.” Combining these two pieces of homespun wisdom provides a sentiment many Christians have felt over the past few weeks.
Technology has provided marvelous vehicles of communication for a quarantined nation. In particular, it has been a blessing in providing a means for group Bible study to continue. However, while God should be thanked for this blessing, it also serves as a reminder of the greater blessing of Bible students who come together in person for no other purpose than to better self and one another in the Word. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” is a good proverb to describe what happens when this takes place. (Proverbs 27:17, ESV)
I’ve always loved “Bible class,” and appreciation for these times of study has grown more as I have grown older. Borrowing from Overbuy, its absence for the past several weeks has for me “sharpened love” and reminded me of the strength gained when it is present. However, I must also confess that the second line mentioned above has also come into play in not knowing how much I would miss such gatherings until they were gone. Perhaps this temporary absence of “iron sharpening” experiences will help all of us to find greater appreciation for this blessing from God and remind us that such blessings must never be taken for granted. If you have not felt this sharpened love for Bible classes, it might be a good time to consider the great opportunities that are provided in such meetings:
The Bible is studied! The psalmist exclaimed, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). Times of collective study provide a tremendous occasion to better understand this light that guides through a dark world and draws us closer to God.
Wisdom is available. The writer James admonished, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (1:5). One way God fulfills this promise is by exposure to those who are good students of His word. Speaking from the authority of God, while tempering conversation with personal experience, seasoned Christians impart ways of successfully drawing closer to God and real-life strategies for faithful living.
Points of view are offered. Interpretation is essential for understanding the Bible. This certainly does not follow the postmodern logic that the Bible means whatever the reader decides it means; however, interpretation entails coming to understand the original intent of the biblical authors as they were guided by the Holy Spirit. Bible classes can provide an invaluable resource when a well prepared teacher and well-studied students discuss biblical meaning. Such times provide key pieces of understanding or focus that might have been looked over in private study.
Fellowship is extended. The biblical concept of fellowship focuses on like-minded people joined together in pursuit of God. While so many good things occur in Bible class, we should never forget the encouragement received from joining with others who have committed themselves to lives of faithfulness. In this regard, strength really can be found in numbers! Encouragement is provided so that those joined in this brotherly fellowship can press forward spiritually.
Through God’s mercy, we look forward to a time when we can again assemble in person. Until then, may we each savor the great blessing of Bible class and look forward to the time when presence will bring great strength. May we each come to a greater appreciation for the strength we find in our fellow saints and their dedication to our great God.